The 2018 Holidays are upon us, which is another way of saying it's time to start closely dissecting NFL playoff scenarios.
With six weeks remaining in the regular season, each conference's field of six is slowly coming into focus with one team, the Los Angeles Rams, already on the verge of officially wrapping up a division crown … though that can no longer happen Monday night against Kansas City.
All three Thanksgiving courses will shed further light on the postseason's outlook with Chicago, Washington and New Orleans all trying to solidify their positions while Dallas and Atlanta hope to emerge from the fringes.
Here's how the NFL playoff picture looks after Week 11's Sunday afternoon games:
1. New Orleans Saints (9-1): NFC South leader. They're averaging 48 points per game over the past three weeks. They claim the top spot for the moment given their Week 9 victory against the Rams.
2. Los Angeles Rams (9-1): NFC West leader. Seattle's win over Green Bay on Thursday means the Rams have to wait at least one more week until they're able to secure what seems like an inevitable division crown.
3. Chicago Bears (6-3): NFC North leader. A loss to Minnesota Sunday night would move the Vikings into this spot.
4. Washington Redskins (6-4): NFC East leader. They've been sneaky good all year, but QB Alex Smith's gruesome leg injury Sunday would seem to leave the door wide open for Dallas or Philadelphia to make a major move.
5. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1): Wild card No. 1. They remain in the field regardless of Sunday night's outcome at Soldier Field but would certainly prefer to assume first place in the NFC North.
6. Carolina Panthers (6-4): Wild card No. 2. After consecutive losses, objects in rear-view mirror (Cowboys, Seahawks) are suddenly closer than they once appeared for final berth.
In the hunt: Dallas Cowboys (5-5), Seattle Seahawks (5-5), Green Bay Packers (4-5-1), Atlanta Falcons (4-6), Detroit Lions (4-6), Philadelphia Eagles (4-6)
1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1): AFC West leader. They have a clear path to home-field advantage, though the Chargers are still lurking while the Patriots own the head-to-head tiebreaker should it come into play.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1): AFC North leader. It wasn't pretty, but their sixth consecutive victory put them 2½ games ahead of the competition in their division and a half-game ahead of New England in the race for the conference's second bye.
3. New England Patriots (7-3): AFC East leader. Not a fun bye week following that embarrassing loss in Nashville. But little reason to believe Pats won't earn a 10th consecutive division crown and 16th in 17 seasons when Tom Brady was the predominant starter under center.
4. Houston Texans (7-3): AFC South leader. A remarkable turnaround continues with a seventh consecutive victory stacked for a club that started 0-3. A Week 1 loss to the Patriots drops Houston's seeding.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-3): Wild card No. 1. Their six-game win streak went up in smoke after being upset at home by Denver. But the Bolts are still a solid bet to make the playoffs, even if their hopes of overtaking the Chiefs in the AFC West just took a broadside.
6. Baltimore Ravens (5-5): Wild card No. 2. "If the season ended today" — such infamous, superfluous words for this kind of drill … since the season … has a long way to go. But, for now, Baltimore would get the spot given its superior record (5-3) in conference games over Miami and Indianapolis, the highest-ranked clubs from the other divisions. (A preliminary tiebreaker to rank teams within divisions eliminates the Bengals and Titans … for now.)
In the hunt: Cincinnati Bengals (5-5), Indianapolis Colts (5-5), Miami Dolphins (5-5), Tennessee Titans (5-5), Denver Broncos (4-6)
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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