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NFL Playoff Picture: Giants are in; will Texans, Steelers follow?

The NFL’s playoff picture gained one new entrant Saturday evening. Tampa Bay’s loss in New Orleans means the New York Giants are assured of a place in this year’s playoffs — their first postseason appearance since 2011. And a few more teams could join the field in the next 24 hours or so.

But the story of Saturday so far is one of injuries to star quarterbacks. Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota and Oakland’s Derek Carr both went down with broken legs, which means both teams have bigger problems right now than how the projected seedings line up.

That said, here's a look at the NFL playoff picture with four games left to play in Week 16:


1. New England Patriots (13-2). The Jets weren't even a speed bump on the Patriots' road to the AFC playoffs. If they win or if Oakland loses next week, the Patriots will secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC field. The worst they can do is end up at No. 2.

2. Oakland Raiders (12-3). Oakland clinched its spot last week. If the Chiefs lose to the Broncos Sunday (or if the Raiders win or the Chiefs lose next week), the Raiders will be AFC West champions. Of course, the bigger issue right now for Oakland is that it is going to have to play its postseason games with Matt McGloin or Connor Cook at quarterback.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5). It's pretty simple for the Steelers. Beat the Ravens at home Sunday, and they are AFC North champions. Lose, and the Ravens will be in the driver's seat for the division (having beaten Pittsburgh twice), and the Steelers will have a hard time getting in the back door of the wild-card race.

4. Houston Texans (8-6). Pretty simple for the Texans, too. Tennessee's loss to Jacksonville means Houston can clinch the AFC South by beating the Bengals on Saturday night. If the Texans lose, then they'll have to beat the Titans (who are now without Mariota) in Nashville next week.

5. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4). The Chiefs can still claim the AFC West and a much higher seed than this. But to do so, they need to win their final two games (at home against the Broncos Sunday, at San Diego next Sunday) and hope the Raiders lose in Denver next week. But if the Chiefs win and the Ravens lose Sunday, Kansas City at least clinches a playoff spot.

6. Miami Dolphins (10-5). After a 1-4 start, the Dolphins have won nine of their last 10 games to move to the very brink of the postseason. They're in if they win next week, but if Denver loses Sunday, they won't even have to worry about doing that. If Denver beats Kansas City Sunday, Miami's clinching party has to wait a week, but they'd also move into the No. 5 seed on the strength of the common-opponents tiebreaker with the Chiefs.

Surging: Miami's regular-season finale next Sunday is at home against the Patriots. Assuming they get into the playoffs, any game they play against the Patriots would be in New England. But next week offers the Dolphins a chance to show themselves — and New England — that they can play with the Patriots. In Week 2 in Foxborough — before the offensive line came together and Jay Ajayi emerged — the Patriots with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett built a 31-3 lead on the Dolphins and held on to win 31-24.

Slipping: Houston's AFC South rivals had rough days. Tennessee lost its quarterback and a game to the 3-12 Jaguars. Indianapolis lost in Oakland and is eliminated from postseason contention. The Texans' road got a lot easier thanks to disappointing performances from the two teams in back of them.

Worth noting: The Steelers are a perennial playoff team, but it hasn't been easy. If they win their division, it will only be the second time they've done that since 2010. Their 2014 team was a division champion as well.


1. Dallas Cowboys (12-2). Dallas has everything wrapped up that can be wrapped up — a division title, a bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. When the Cowboys get back from Philadelphia next Sunday night, they won't have to leave Texas again all season (Super Bowl LI is in Houston). The question for the Cowboys is what to do about resting and/or protecting their players or keeping them fresh for January games.

2. Atlanta Falcons (10-5). With their win and the Buccaneers' loss, the Falcons have clinched the NFC South. And thanks to Seattle's loss, Atlanta has a chance to clinch the No. 2 seed in the conference and a first-round bye with a Week 17 home victory over the Saints.

3. Detroit Lions (9-5). This is the most fragile seeding in the whole picture. If Detroit wins or ties Monday night in Dallas, it clinches a playoff spot. But if the Lions lose Monday and lose next week to Green Bay, they could be out of the playoffs entirely.

4. Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1). They came all the way back and somehow still lost a home game to Arizona because of a missed extra point. Seattle is the NFC West champion, but it might have cost itself a chance at a first-round bye. As of now, Giants-Seahawks is a projected first-round matchup. At least that game would get great ratings.

5. New York Giants (10-5). The Giants didn't get it done Thursday against the Eagles, but the Saints helped them out by beating the Buccaneers and clinching the Giants a spot in the NFC field. The Giants are locked into the No. 5 seed no matter what happens. They cannot improve or weaken their seeding, and they will open the playoffs at the home of whichever team finishes in the No. 4 spot.

6. Green Bay Packers (9-6). Green Bay is still holding on to the last spot here, but it could end up a good deal higher if it can add one game to its five-game win streak. Beat Detroit next week, and the Packers are NFC North champs and get to open the playoffs at home.

Surging: Washington might have cost itself a playoff berth with its home loss Monday night to Carolina, but it rebounded nicely Saturday and is still in the race. If Detroit loses at Dallas on Monday and Washington beats the Giants next week, it will have a better record than the Packers/Lions loser.

Slipping: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't eliminated, but a lot has to happen for them to get in at this point. It's possible that they could get in with a win, a Washington loss and a Green Bay loss, but some strength-of-schedule type tiebreakers that currently favor the Packers would have to switch in Tampa Bay's favor, and that may not be possible.

Worth noting: The Minnesota Vikings (7-8) started the season 5-0 but were eliminated from playoff contention with Saturday's loss in Green Bay. They traded their first-round pick to the Eagles for quarterback Sam Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater got hurt, and now they face an early and uncertain offseason.


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