How the races shape up after Week 9, and which teams could rise and fall.
We’re nine weeks into the NFL season and the playoff race has taken a more defined shape. Four teams have lost two or less games — Kansas City, New England, the Rams and New Orleans — and seven teams can be counted as all but eliminated, if you’re prepared to doubt further Fitzmagic out of Tampa Bay.
The AFC playoff race has an argument for being stronger than the NFC’s:
- Kansas City Chiefs (8-1)
- New England Patriots (7-2)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1)
- Houston Texans (6-3)
- Los Angeles Chargers (6-2)
- Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)
In the hunt: Miami Dolphins (5-4), Baltimore Ravens (4-5), Tennessee Titans (3-4), Indianapolis Colts (3-5), Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5)
Kansas City and New England look set for a race to the top seed, given Pittsburgh’s difficult remaining schedule — the Steelers still have to face the Panthers, Patriots, Chargers, Saints and Bengals, in addition to their kryptonite, Jacksonville. Also, the Texans ran off six straight wins to take control of a rocky AFC South.
The Chargers are one of the league’s most underrated teams, and the potential return of tight end Hunter Henry in December from an ACL tear could boost their chances of securing at least a wild card spot. Cincinnati will battle Baltimore for the sixth seed, unless Miami or Tennessee can figure themselves out in time to factor in. The Jaguars, due for a return of Good Bortles, lurk at 3-5.
The NFC could change a lot by January:
- Los Angeles Rams (8-1)
- New Orleans Saints (7-1)
- Chicago Bears (5-3)
- Washington Redskins (5-3)
- Carolina Panthers (6-2)
- Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1)
In the hunt: Atlanta Falcons (4-4), Seattle Seahawks (4-4), Philadelphia Eagles (4-4), Green Bay Packers (3-4-1)
The Rams and Saints are the clear class of the conference. Chicago had their fun against the Peterman-led Bills, but it’s tough to trust Mitchell Trubisky, and given the strength of Minnesota and Green Bay behind them in the difficult NFC North, the Bears won’t be favorites to finish with the third seed.
The Redskins alternate between good, convincing wins (over Green Bay and Carolina) and disastrous collapses (against Atlanta and New Orleans). They benefit from a horrid NFC East, which still could see Philadelphia rise from the ashes.
Atlanta, Seattle and Green Bay have generally under-performed, though each has looked at least somewhat better recently, spurring renewed optimism around the NFC’s established class. Carolina, quietly excelling to the tune of a two-loss record, will have something to say about that, as will the Vikings, who have won four of their last five.