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Analysis

Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons: NFL playoff contenders or pretenders?

From the rising Los Angeles Rams to the stumbling Buffalo Bills, Sky Sports NFL's Phoebe Schecter gives her verdict on some of the league's playoff contenders or pretenders; watch the Buffalo Bills against the Kansas City Chiefs live on Sky Sports this Sunday

Can Jordan Love guide Green Bay to the playoffs?
Image: Can Jordan Love guide Green Bay to the playoffs?

The NFL playoff race has reached the home stretch in one of the most wide-open seasons in recent memory, with surprise teams occupying postseason spots and expected contenders battling for their place.

Sky Sports NFL's Phoebe Schecter gives her verdict on some of those around whom there remain question marks when it comes to their playoff credentials...

Atlanta Falcons (6-6, 1st NFC South)

Falcons 2023 rankings

Offense Defense
Total 18th 10th
Passing 22nd 11th
Rushing 6th 15th
Scoring 24th 7th
EPA/play 25th 7th

If the NFC South overall wasn't so terrible, I don't think we would even be talking about them. They happen to be the best of a bad bunch. It feels unfair that they are even a playoff team. They have a lot of talent and the fact that Desmond Ridder has got them this point is kind of crazy. They have good players on defense, they have Bijan Robinson who has been integral really in helping them to get to where they are as well. It is a shame they are in the conversation, for me they are taking a spot away from a team who actually deserves to be there.

How long have you been looking for Kyle Pitts to be that that guy? Drake London has stepped up a couple times, Jessie Bates III has been the best thing that has happened for them this year, he's been incredible. I just I don't see them contending with some of the top teams that are in the playoff contention, I just don't see how they survive.

Verdict: Pretender

Remaining fixtures: vs Buccaneers (5-7), @ Panthers (1-11), vs Colts (7-5), @ Bears (4-8), @ Saints (5-7)

Buffalo Bills (6-6, 2nd AFC East)

Bills 2023 rankings

Offense Defense
Total 4th 12th
Passing 5th 8th
Rushing 10th 20th
Scoring 5th 5th
EPA/play 4th 14th

How they do this weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs is going to be huge, but their schedule is so tough after it. I think the bye week is going to be really helpful for them just because they needed a break physically and mentally, it's going be the tale of what happens next.

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Defensively they are missing so many players but still they have been able to do more with less. Leonard Floyd has been awesome, but that defense is aging. Offensively, Josh Allen is still like an MVP and was just incredible against the Eagles. You have got Khalil Shakir stepping up and Stefon Diggs is still the guy, and they could have won that game against the Eagles if Gabe Davis and Allen are on the same page. If you look at their games, so many they have lost have been by like one touchdown and it's almost like they've been on the cusp of turning things around.

Verdict: Ask me after the Chiefs game!

Remaining fixtures: @ Chiefs (8-4), vs Cowboys (9-3), @ Chargers (5-7), vs Patriots (2-10), @ Dolphins (9-3)

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Highlights of the Buffalo Bills against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 12 of the NFL season

Green Bay Packers (6-6, 3rd NFC North)

Packers 2023 rankings

Offense Defense
Total 17th 18th
Passing 18th 10th
Rushing 20th 30th
Scoring 18th 9th
EPA/play 9th 22nd

This is a team that is full of youth, and they're starting to pull together at the right time. They are playing with house money in the sense that there was no real pressure on them to be successful this year because it's Jordan Love's first year. But what he and they have been able to do is so impressive, with his connection to Christian Watson, Jayden Reed and Romeo Doubs, I really like what Jordan Love has done.

It's been cool to watch him take some shots and not be afraid in the past couple of games, and I think that speaks a lot to the mentality there. Their defense has been improving and against the Chiefs they were super competitive, even if the Chiefs weren't firing on all cylinders. I loved Jaire Alexander, I think he's awesome. Jonathan Owens this year has been great, Quay Walker has come on, Rashan Gary is making a difference again, they have been fun to watch. The start of the year for Matt LaFleur would have been about this young team learning and finding its way, and now they are figuring out what it looks like it's been cool to see. Let's also not forget Jordan Love has been under Aaron Rodgers, getting all these incredible years of experience.

Verdict: Contender, they can win a playoff game if they get in!

Remaining fixtures: @ Giants (4-8), vs Buccaneers (5-7), @ Panthers (1-11), @ Vikings (6-6), vs Bears (4-8)

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Jeff Reinebold describes the Packers' win over the Chiefs as a 'magical night' and hails the performances of quarterback Jordan Love

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6, 3rd AFC North)

Steelers 2023 rankings

Offense Defense
Total 26th 21st
Passing 28th 19th
Rushing 14th 22nd
Scoring 28th 6th
EPA/play 24th 9th

Mike Tomlin can only hold the Steelers together for so long. We have seen them kind of implode a couple of different times now. It is almost like they are not keeping up schematically with other teams in the league, and sometimes I wonder if it's because Tomlin is kind of old school where the culture is that they will just out-physical everybody they come up against. Defensively it's kept them in some games. But now they lose Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky might be the starting quarterback going forward, it's not going to help the situation.

It's tough as well because I think they were hoping Pickett would have developed so much more in his first full year as starter, I think he regressed a little bit and he's not really using his legs in the same way we saw him in college. He has just got Pat Freiermuth back, Diontae Johnson has his moments, George Pickens is still an incredible receiver and Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren have been good out of the backfield recently, but they just can't pull everything together in all three phases of the game. I think Pickett regressed a little bit and he's not using his legs in the same way we saw him in college.

Verdict: I have to say pretender!

Remaining fixtures: vs Patriots (2-10), @ Colts (7-5), vs Bengals (6-6), @ Seahawks (6-6), @ Ravens (9-3)

Indianapolis Colts (7-5, 2nd AFC North)

Colts 2023 rankings

Offense Defense
Total 14th 26th
Passing 16th 16th
Rushing 12th 26th
Scoring 8th 28th
EPA/play 19th 13th

It's great watching Gardner Minshew, he is erratic and a risk taker and will put the team on his back. I think so much credit needs to go to Shane Steichen and what he's been able to do with the team. First off he comes in as a first year head coach and then sees Anthony Richardson go down injured, and still he is getting the most out of his players. Michael Pittman Jr is having a great year, Josh Downs has emerged and so I think it makes them dangerous, especially because Minshew gives them a chance. Jonathan Taylor is a little big banged up right now but Zack Moss has been great as the next guy up. You wonder what they could be if they can all stay healthy. We have seen Isaiah McKenzie do some great things on special teams as well. They are chipping away as the season goes by.

You look at their schedule and they are playing the Cincinnati Bengals and then the 7-5 Steelers. It seems crazy to say but they could be playoff contenders, especially when you look at what they do on defense. Look at guys like E.J. Speed and Zaire Franklin, they are getting after it at linebacker.

Verdict: Let's say contenders, they could go in and cause a team some problems in the playoffs.

Remaining fixtures: @ Bengals (6-6), vs Steelers (7-5), @ Falcons (6-6), vs Raiders (5-7), vs Texans (7-5)

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Speaking on Inside The Huddle, Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold discuss the Miami Dolphins' season so far and why sealing home matches in the playoffs could be crucial to their success

Los Angeles Rams (6-6, 2nd NFC West)

Rams 2023 rankings

Offense Defense
Total 13th 16th
Passing 15th 15th
Rushing 15th 16th
Scoring 13th 14th
EPA/play 11th 16th

I feels like Sean McVay definitely gets overlooked at times because of the likes of Kyle Shanahan and the Andy Reid, but his team is another one where they are beginning to take off right now. Matthew Stafford has come back from his thumb injury and looks great. Then you have Puka Nacua who is quick, so strong physically and he and Cooper Kupp together are such intelligent receivers with the way they read a defense are can be on the same page as Stafford. Then you throw in Kyren Williams who has been incredible over the past couple of weeks. It is a team that knows how to win. The question is what's the problem on defense, where they still have Aaron Donald as the main man but with a bit of a supporting cast.

Verdict: Contenders

Remaining fixtures: @ Ravens (9-3), vs Commanders (4-9), vs Saints (5-7), @ Giants (4-8), @ 49ers (9-3)

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