Week 12 NFL playoff picture: Cowboys in first in NFC East

Look what we’ve got here. The Dallas Cowboys have overtaken the Washington Redskins for first place in the NFC East.

The Cowboys’ 31-23 victory on Thursday over the Redskins left the teams with identical 6-5 records. If the season ended this week, the Cowboys would win the tiebreaker because they have a better division record (3-1) than the Redskins (2-1).

Let’s reset the playoff picture after all three Thanksgiving Day games delivered postseason implications, including the ascendance of the New Orleans Saints to the top of the NFC race.


NFC

It has been evident that the Saints were the top team in the NFC since a Week 9 victory over the Rams. Now it is reflected in the standings, thanks to Thursday’s 31-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons combined with the Rams’ upcoming bye. The Saints can clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs by winning out, no matter what the Rams do, by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Next up: at Dallas Cowboys

Despite the bye, the Rams can clinch the NFC West on Sunday if the Seattle Seahawks lose when they visit the Carolina Panthers. But as noted, the Rams will need help from the Saints to overtake New Orleans for the No. 1 overall playoff seed.

Next up: at Detroit Lions (in Week 13)

You were wrong if you thought the Bears would stumble Thursday on an extremely short week — and without their starting quarterback. A 23-16 victory over the Lions concluded a season-defining stretch that produced three NFC North victories in a 12-day span. Only two games remain against teams that currently have winning records, and the division title — which would be the Bears’ first since 2010 — is within sight. FPI gives them an 80 percent chance to win the NFC North and a 95 percent chance to reach the playoffs, independent of Thursday’s other results.

Next up: at New York Giants

A third consecutive victory, coinciding with the Redskins’ third loss in four games, has the Cowboys in first place for the moment. It’ll get tougher in Week 12, when the Cowboys host the Saints. But the Redskins look cooked. Backup quarterback Colt McCoy inspired no confidence on Thursday that he can pilot this team to the playoffs. If the Redskins’ fall continues and the Philadelphia Eagles fail to catch fire, do the Cowboys win the division by default?

Next up: Home vs. the New Orleans Saints

Consecutive losses have loosened the Panthers’ grip in the NFC wild-card race. Fortunately for them at the moment, there are only six NFC teams with winning records. One thing is clear: The Panthers need to start stacking wins in an upcoming stretch that includes the Buccaneers and the Browns. They close the season playing the Saints in two of their final three games, a far-from-ideal scenario for clinching.

Next up: Home vs. Seattle Seahawks

Times are tough in Minnesota. The Vikings must navigate a tough schedule to catch up in the division standings — or even maintain their position in the wild-card race. After hosting the Packers in Week 12, they have consecutive trips to New England and Seattle. If the Vikings are over .500 at that point, they should consider themselves fortunate.

Next up: Home vs. Green Bay Packers

Teams in the hunt: Washington Redskins (6-5), Seattle Seahawks (5-5), Green Bay Packers (4-5-1), Philadelphia Eagles (4-6), Atlanta Falcons (4-7), Detroit Lions (4-7)


AFC

The positive side of Monday night’s wild loss in Los Angeles: The Chiefs have a bye week to rest, regroup and prepare for the stretch run. Two of their final five games are against the 2-8 Oakland Raiders, an important note as the Chiefs jostle for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Next up: at Oakland Raiders (in Week 13)

The Steelers’ remaining schedule, including home games against the Chargers and Patriots and a trip to New Orleans, isn’t easy. But the Steelers got hot when they needed to, and they are now on the brink of a playoff berth.

Next up: at Denver Broncos

The Patriots have a two-game lead in the division, with two games remaining against opponents that currently have winning records. They’ll have a chance to improve their standing in the conference in Week 15, when they visit Pittsburgh, if not before. For now, the Patriots are seeded ahead of the Texans because of their Week 1 head-to-head victory.

Next up: at New York Jets

With six games to play, the Texans are in strong position in the AFC South. In addition to holding a two-game lead over the Colts and Titans, they have a 5-2 conference record. That’s two games better (in the loss column) than the Colts and three better than the Titans, a helpful combination if and when a tiebreaker needs to be applied.

Next up: Home vs. Tennessee Titans

The Chargers missed a chance to put some heat on the Chiefs in the AFC West. Had they managed to hold off the Broncos last week, they would be within one game of the Chiefs. As it stands, FPI gives them just a 6 percent chance of winning the division. But it’s going to take a dramatic nosedive over the next six weeks for the Chargers to miss the playoffs. With 11 AFC teams at 5-5 or worse, FPI gives the Chargers a 91.7 percent chance to make the postseason.

Next up: Home vs. Arizona Cardinals

For the moment, the Ravens hold the tiebreaker advantage over the other four 5-5 teams. They have a better division record (2-3) than the Bengals and a better conference record (5-3) than the Colts and Dolphins.

Next up: Home vs. Oakland Raiders

Teams in the hunt: Cincinnati Bengals (5-5), Indianapolis Colts (5-5), Tennessee Titans (5-5), Miami Dolphins (5-5), Denver Broncos (4-6).

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