Everything You Need to Know about the Current NFL Playoff Picture

By Geoff Magliocchetti
Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks
Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks / Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

One of the best signs of the arrival of the holiday season? The networks break out those NFL charts with a portion of each conference's 16 teams labeled a "division leader", "wild card", or the dreaded "in the hunt".

Here's what you need to know about the current playoff picture as we move closer to the month-long hunt for silver molded into the shape of a football...


Current Bye Holders

1. New England Patriots (9-1)
The Patriots holding one of the AFC's byes is becoming as much of a holiday tradition as the Christmas tree and the dreidel.

2. Baltimore Ravens (8-2)
The rise of Lamar Jackson has allowed the Ravens to build separation in an otherwise disappointing AFC North.

Current Wild Card Playoff Matchups

3. Indianapolis Colts (6-4) vs. 6. Houston Texans (6-4)
This would be a rematch of last season's wild card match won by the Colts, who hold homefield advantage this time around.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) vs. 5. Buffalo Bills (7-3)
Buffalo has, for the most part, taken advantage of a manageable schedule to build separation between themselves and their wild card brethren.

Contenders From the Outside

Oakland Raiders (6-4)
A proper Oakland send-off via playoff trip is on hold due to their loss this season against Houston.

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5)
A Thursday night disaster in Cleveland notwithstanding, the Steelers have been respectable in the aftermath of the Killer B's loss.

Tennessee Titans (5-5)
Ryan Tannehill might not be the long-term answer in Nashville, but there's no doubt he has rejuvenated the Titans, who are seeking to break a streak of 9-7 infamy.

Cleveland Browns (4-6)
Thursday's game-ending debacle clouded not only the Browns' second straight win, but also the fact they have a very manageable slate to pull off a sneaky playoff push.

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6)
The return of Nick Foles under center got off to a hot start, but didn't have the desired effect, as the Jaguars were crushed in a crucial divisional showdown in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Los Angeles Chargers (4-6)
The Bolts have a big opportunity south of the border, but the mighty, and presumably angry, Chiefs await in Mexico City.

Key Current Tiebreakers
-Baltimore's win over New England could decide the AFC's top seed

-A similar Sunday night win for the Colts over Kansas City could help them earn the third seed. Kansas City would get that seed if they tied with a division-champion Houston squad, also via head-to-head.

-Should they need to settle for the wild card, Houston's 5-2 conference record gives them a wild-card edge over several other contenders whom they don't face head-to-head (Buffalo, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Cleveland)

Biggest Games Left (Conference Only)

Indianapolis @ Houston (11/21)
This Thursday night's matchup could wind up deciding the division and who gets homefield in a potential playoff rematch. A narrow 30-23 Colts win in October should be all the motivation the Texans need, but a shellacking in Baltimore certainly didn't help matters.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (11/24)
The AFC South's other matchup next week could wind up being a de facto elimination game.

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (12/1)
Cooler heads prevailing might be increasingly unlikely, as this instant rematch could get ugly with potential playoff momentum on the line.

New England @ Houston (12/1)
Finally given some respect via back-to-back primetime games, can the Texans prove they belong on the big stage?

Kansas City @ New England (12/8)
If the Ravens keep doing what they're doing, this one won't be for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, like many anticipated. Rather, the loser could end up playing on wild-card weekend.

Buffalo @ New England (12/21)
For the first time in forever, a December Bills-Patriots matchup could mean something. The NFL took notice, giving this game prime time status on its own Saturday night slot.


Current Bye Holders

1. San Francisco 49ers (9-1)
This San Francisco treat has hiccuped over the past two weeks, falling to Seattle and playing Arizona close, but wins are wins, and the Niners are inches from clinching their first playoff berth since 2013.

2. Green Bay Packers (8-2)
The resurgent Packers can't rest easy with the equally reborn Vikings hot on their tails in the NFC North.

Current Wild Card Matchups

3. New Orleans Saints (8-2) vs. 6. Minnesota Vikings (8-3)
Two postseasons ago, these two teams played a divisional classic. Could another await in the modern wild-card round?

4. Dallas Cowboys (6-4) vs. 5. Seattle Seahawks (8-2)
The Cowboys, earners of a playoff home game through division caveats, handled Seattle in last year's playoffs, but the hungry Seahawks now have Josh Gordon on their side.

Contenders From the Outside

Los Angeles Rams (6-4)
The defending NFC champions might've saved their season with an ugly 17-7 win over Chicago on Sunday night.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-5)
The wild card might be out of the question (as is the case for the equally 5-5 Carolina Panthers), but the Eagles hope to use the NFC East's mediocrity to their advantage

Key Current Tiebreakers
-Green Bay currently owns the last first-round bye over New Orleans thanks to a better, if not incomplete, conference record (5-1 vs. 6-2).

-Seattle could steal the top seed from San Francisco if their head-to-head tiebreaker comes into play.

-Dallas has room for error, especially on Sunday in New England, thanks to a dominant victory over Philadelphia earlier this season.

Biggest Games Left (Conference Only)

Seattle @ Philadelphia (11/24)
Both are in contention for their respective division under remarkably different circumstances. A loss for Seattle could mean no first-round bye. A loss for the Eagles could mean no playoffs entirely.

Green Bay @ San Francisco (11/24)
One quick look at the standings quickly shows why this game was flexed into next Sunday night's slot: it's a potential NFC title game preview.

Minnesota @ Seattle (12/2)
Kirk Cousins won a primetime game contributed in a 20-point comeback, but the Vikings still better be careful. Weird things happen in and to Seattle on Monday nights...

San Francisco @ New Orleans (12/8)
Anyone having qualms with San Francisco's schedule could be silenced if they emerge from their final stretch (which also includes an interconference game with Baltimore) with a winning mark.

Seattle @ Los Angeles (12/8)
Potential can only get you so far, but the Rams are far too powerful to go quietly into the offseason night.

Dallas @ Philadelphia (12/22)
The Dallas Cowboys and winner-takes-all games in December...now, where have we seen that before?

Green Bay @ Minnesota (12/23)
Bragging rights, legacies, playoff seedings, first-round byes...you name it, it well could be on the line when in this divisional meeting on the night before Christmas (Eve).

San Francisco @ Seattle (12/29)
It's early to tell, but the rematch between the Niners and Hawks appears to be the best of the Week 17 pickings to be flexed into the traditional "last game of the regular season" Sunday night slot.