Playoff Picture: How the bracket looks right now

Week 10 won’t bring much clarity to the NFL playoff race. The teams with good records continued winning, for the most part, to keep pace with the other teams with good records.

Let’s take a closer look, with some help from ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). What you see below are how the six seeds in each conference would fall if the season ended Sunday night.


AFC

The Steelers did just enough against the mostly punchless Indianapolis Colts, putting together a late fourth-quarter drive to complete a comeback victory. They now sit atop the AFC North by three full games, and that Week 15 matchup with the Patriots at Heinz Field is looming larger by the week in terms of final playoff seeding.

A fifth consecutive victory Sunday night suggests the Patriots are doing what they usually do at this time of year: Figure out their issues and correct them. They hold a seeding tiebreaker over the Chiefs at the moment because of one less conference loss. (The Patriots are 4-1 in the AFC, while the Chiefs are 4-2). For the sake of drama, let’s all hope that the Patriots and Steelers keep pace with each other until at least Week 15.

The Chiefs got a chance to regroup during the bye, after losing three of their previous four games, and emerged just a game behind the AFC pace. Even better: Their Week 11 opponent is the New York Giants, perhaps the league’s most hapless team at the moment. (The Chiefs are currently 11.5-point favorites in New York.) They’ll follow that game with matchups against the Bills and at the Jets. In other words, the Chiefs have a great opportunity to get back on track.

A home game against an AFC North opponent wouldn’t seem to carry big playoff implications for the Titans. But their late victory over the Cincinnati Bengals capitalized on the NFL’s biggest leverage game of the weekend, according to FPI. A loss would have been the Titans’ fourth in the conference. That’s not good for wild-card tiebreakers, and it would have left them a 43 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to FPI. As it stands now, they hold a head-to-head tiebreaker for the AFC South lead and have a 77 percent postseason chance.

You can spit and sputter all you want about how ugly the Jaguars played in the fourth quarter and overtime in Sunday’s victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. But at 6-3, the Jaguars are exceptionally well-positioned for their first trip to the playoff in 10 years. FPI considers it a near-lock at 98 percent, and it’s not hard to understand why. Their seven remaining games include matchups against a trio of teams that have three or fewer wins: the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers. Wins in those three games, as well as in a Week 17 showdown against the Titans, could be enough to win the division.

The Bills are going in the wrong direction as they enter the most geographically difficult portion of their second. Their defense has allowed 81 points in its past two games, both losses. They’ll travel cross country in Week 11 to play at the Chargers, and then halfway across to take on the Chiefs. Let’s just say that the sixth spot in the AFC is far from settled.

In the hunt: Miami Dolphins (4-4, playing Carolina on Monday), Baltimore Ravens (4-5), Oakland Raiders (4-5).


NFC

The bye treated the Eagles well — at least in their race to clinch the NFC East. The rest of the division lost Sunday, giving the Eagles a three-game lead with six remaining. And they’ll have a chance to bury the injury- and suspension-plagued Dallas Cowboys next Sunday night. But they still have three seven-win teams pressuring their bid to win home-field advantage. The Panthers could make it a fourth Monday night. It seems early to consider such matters, but the point is the Eagles’ realistic battle has shifted from the division to the NFC race.

Wondering why the Vikings are now perched in the second seed against the same three teams that last week put them at No. 3? Sunday’s victory at Washington was their fifth NFC win, pulling them even with the Saints at 5-1 in the conference. The Vikings’ Week 1 win over the Saints is now the (head-to-head) tiebreaker between the teams. Now comes a tough stretch that will start Sunday against the 7-2 Rams and continue with a quick turn at the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

The Saints did nothing wrong Sunday, other than playing an AFC team, to fall one spot in these rankings. If anything, their 47-10 victory at the Bills showed what a formidable team they’ll be in the playoff race and beyond. An offense with Drew Brees at quarterback, and a running game that that amassed 240 yards between the tackles alone on Sunday, is well positioned for December and January football.

The “gee whiz” portion of the Rams’ schedule is over. We’re about to find out just how good this team is. Only two of its victories have come against opponents who currently have a winning record. In Weeks 11 and 12, they’ll play the two teams directly ahead of them in these rankings. It will start Sunday with the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, followed by a home game against the Saints. They’ll navigate that schedule while trying to hold off the Seahawks, who trail them by only one game and already have a Week 5 head-to-head victory on the books.

The Rams’ upcoming schedule gives the Seahawks a decent chance to leapfrog into the NFC West lead. But the Seahawks are dealing with their own problems, most recently the season-ending Achilles tendon tear of cornerback Richard Sherman. Meanwhile, their continued inability to protect quarterback Russell Wilson — who is at an NFL-high 138 pressures, and counting — should spark constant concern about their most indispensable player.

The Panthers will have a chance to move up a spot if they defeat the Dolphins on Monday night. Their hope for winning the division likely will come down to a Week 12 game against the Saints. Stay tuned.

In the hunt: Atlanta Falcons (5-4), Detroit Lions (5-4), Green Bay Packers (5-4), Dallas Cowboys (5-4).

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