The Detroit Lions are back in the NFC’s top six, thanks to a heart-stopping win over the Vikings coupled with Chicago’s devastating loss in Denver. With three weeks left in the regular season, the Lions and Falcons control their own destinies in the wild-card race — with Atlanta still holding a an outside shot at the NFC South title.
Chicago, meanwhile, fell to 7-6 after letting a 10-0 lead slip away late to Tim Tebow and the Broncos. The Bears now sit one game back of both Atlanta and Detroit, tied with the Dallas Cowboys, who lost Sunday night to the Giants and fell to second place in the NFC East.
Here’s a look at the current NFC playoff picture:
No. 1 seed: Green Bay Packers (13-0) — Remaining games: at Chiefs (5-8), vs. Bears (7-6), vs. Lions (8-5)
No. 2: San Francisco 49ers (10-3) — Remaining games: vs. Steelers (10-3), at Seahawks (5-7), at Rams (2-10)
No. 3: New Orleans Saints (10-3) — Remaining games: at Vikings (2-11), vs. Falcons (8-5), vs. Panthers (4-9)
No. 4: New York Giants (7-6) — Remaining games: vs. Redskins (4-9), at Jets (8-5), vs. Cowboys (7-6)
No. 5: Atlanta Falcons (8-5) — Remaining games: vs. Jaguars (4-9), at Saints (10-3), vs. Buccaneers (4-9)
No. 6: Detroit Lions (8-5) — Remaining games: at Raiders (7-6), vs. Chargers (6-7), at Packers (13-0)
Still alive: Chicago Bears (7-6), Dallas Cowboys (7-6), Arizona Cardinals (6-7), Seattle Seahawks (5-7)
The Falcons’ schedule makes them a near-lock to get to 10 wins, which means that the race is very much on for that final playoff spot. Chicago hosts Seattle next week, while Dallas travels to Tampa Bay — making Detroit’s game at Oakland a monster one for the Lions’ hopes. If they can pull out a win there, they might only need a split in their final two to reach the postseason.
Here’s how things look in the AFC through Week 14:
No. 1: Houston Texans (10-3) — Remaining games: vs. Panthers (4-9), at Colts (0-13), vs. Titans (7-6)
No. 2: Baltimore Ravens (10-3) — Remaining games: at Chargers (6-7), vs. Browns (4-9), at Bengals (7-6)
No. 3: New England Patriots (10-3) — Remaining games: at Broncos (8-5), vs. Dolphins (4-9), vs. Bills (5-8)
No. 4: Denver Broncos (8-5) — Remaining games: vs. Patriots (10-3), at Bills (5-8), vs. Chiefs (5-8)
No. 5: Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) — Remaining games: at 49ers (10-3), vs. Rams (2-10), at Browns (4-9)
No. 6: New York Jets (8-5) — Remaining games: at Eagles (5-8), vs. Giants (7-6), at Dolphins (4-9)
Still Alive: Tennessee Titans (7-6), Cincinnati Bengals (7-6), Oakland Raiders (7-6), San Diego Chargers (6-7)
The race there is on as much for the top spots as for wild-card berths. Depending on the AFC North winner (Baltimore or Pittsburgh) and tiebreakers, the top three seeds in the AFC could shift several times in the next three weeks. As it stands right now, Houston would have home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
The Jets, meanwhile, slid into the No. 6 spot by virtue of a win over Kansas City Sunday and the Bengals’ loss to Houston. New York has a tricky closing stretch, while the Titans have a favorable last three weeks — at Indianapolis, vs. Jacksonville and at Houston (in Week 17, when the Texans may be resting starters).
Monday night’s game pits St. Louis against Seattle. For the Seahawks to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, they must hold serve at home.