Three weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers were 4-6 and looked to be left for dead, now, we're projecting them to make the playoffs.
The inclusion of the Packers is the biggest change in this week's projection. With a closing stretch of three games that includes the Bears, Vikings and Lions, it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see Green Bay go 10-6 and win the NFC North.
Of course, if the Packers are in, you might be wondering what that means for the Lions.
Well, let's get to this week's projection and find out. One thing you'll notice this week is that the race for the final wild-card spot in both the AFC and the NFC is going to be a street fight that goes down to the final week of the season.
Note: Remember, this is a projection based on how we think the regular season will play out. If you want to see the current playoff standings, click here to see Will Brinson's thorough breakdown of what the playoff race looks like as we head into Week 15.
AFC playoff projection
1. Patriots (14-2), AFC East champion: In the completely unpredictable NFL, it's nice to have the familiarity of the Patriots in the playoffs every year. Don't expect the Patriots to blow home-field advantage like they did last year. In 2015, the New England lost home-field to the Broncos, who went on to win the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the Patriots play the Broncos this week. This is called a revenge game, the Patriots are probably going to win by 20.
Patriots' remaining schedule: At Denver (8-5), N.Y. Jets (4-9), at Miami (8-5)
2. Chiefs (12-4), AFC West champion: The AFC West has been so wild this season that the Chiefs could conceivably go into Week 17 in a spot where a win would give them the No. 1 seed and a loss would knock them out of the playoffs. That probably won't happen though. The Chiefs just need to win on Sunday to clinch a playoff berth. If they go 3-0 down the stretch, they'll lock up a first-round bye, which is something that hasn't happened in Kansas City since 2003.
Chiefs' remaining schedule: Tennessee (7-6), Denver (8-5), at San Diego (5-8)
3. Steelers (10-6), AFC North champion: With games against the Browns and Bengals coming up, we can probably go ahead and pencil the Steelers' in for a wild-card round playoff game. The only question is: Will it be at home or on the road? If the Steelers beat the Ravens in Week 16, they're almost a lock to win the division, which would give them a first-round playoff game at home. In a weird twist of fate, we're projecting that the Steelers' first-round game will actually be against the Ravens.
Steelers' remaining schedule: At Cincinnati (5-7-1), Baltimore (7-6), Cleveland (0-13)
4. Texans (9-7), AFC South champion: For the third time in four weeks, we're putting the Texans here and that's because they currently hold pretty much every tiebreaker over the Titans. If the Texans and Titans end up with the same record at the end of the season, Houston will win the division. These two teams play in Week 17, but don't get too excited because the only way that game will mean anything is if they have the same record going into the game. Basically, the Titans have to finish one game ahead of the Texans, so if Houston were to go 2-1 down the stretch, Tennessee would have to go 3-0. The SportsLine computer really likes the Texans, giving them a 64 percent chance to win the division while the Titans chances are listed at just 33 percent.
Texans' remaining schedule: Jacksonville, Cincinnati, at Tennessee
5. Raiders (12-4), wild card: Since the Chiefs hold basically every tiebreaker over Oakland, the only way the Raiders are winning the division is if they finish one full game ahead of Kansas City. For some reason, it doesn't seem like that's going to happen. However, there's no reason for Raiders fans to be sad because their team can clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2002 if they beat the Chargers on Sunday. Also, a wild-card game against the AFC South would almost be the same as bye for the Raiders: They're 3-0 against the division this year.
Raiders' remaining schedule: At San Diego (5-8), Indianapolis (6-7) at Denver (8-5)
6. Ravens (9-7), wild card: The sixth seed int he AFC is a jumbled mess as there's a decent chance that the Ravens, Broncos, Dolphins, Texans, Titans and Bills could all end up 9-7. The Ravens are currently in the best position to steal this spot because they have head-to-head wins over the Bills and Dolphins. They also currently have a better record (7-3) against AFC teams than the Broncos (5-4), Titans (5-4) or Texans (4-5). If six teams were to be tied at 9-7, the conference record tiebreaker would likely decide the playoff berth, and as you can see, the Ravens are sitting pretty in that aspect.
Ravens' remaining schedule: Philadelphia (5-8), at Pittsburgh (8-5), at Cincinnati (5-7-1)
Broncos (9-7): The Broncos might want to call Peyton Manning and see what he's doing this week because their offense is in a total free fall. With games against the Chiefs, Raiders and Patriots still on the schedule, it's hard to imagine the Broncos sneaking into the postseason at this point. The defending Super Bowl champions are on life support.
Dolphins (9-7): If the Dolphins can close the season with a 2-1 record, they'd have a great shot at the playoffs, but doesn't seem very realistic at this point. Not only do they close the season with two road games (Dolphins, Bills), plus the Patriots, but they'll have to win those games with Matt Moore as their starting quarterback. Moore hasn't started a game since 2011.
The good news for the Dolphins is the Moore seems to think he can get the job done.
Out of Miami, Denver and Baltimore, the computer actually hates the Ravens the most (I'm not sure if anyone told the computer that Moore is now Miami's starter). SportsLine says the Ravens only have a 32 percent chance of making the playoff, while the Dolphins and Broncos have both been given a 40 percent chance to make the postseason.
NFC playoff projection
1. Cowboys (13-3), NFC East champion: It's not panic time in Dallas yet, but it might be of they lose to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Despite their loss to the Giants, the Cowboys can still clinch the NFC East and a first-round bye this week if they beat the Bucs and the Giants lose to the Lions. On the other hand, if the Cowboys lose and the Giants win, Dallas will be getting dangerously close to throwing the division away. Maybe it is time to panic.
Cowboys' remaining schedule: Tampa Bay (8-5), Detroit (9-4), at Philadelphia (5-8)
2. Seahawks (11-4-1), NFC West champion: Although the Seahawks (8-4-1) are currently behind the Lions (9-4) in the playoff standings, we don't see that lasting much longer. The Lions have to play a murderer's row down the stretch (at Giants, at Cowboys, Packers), while the Seahawks will basically be getting the opposite of that with games against three teams that have a combined record of 10-28-1.
Seahawks' remaining schedule: Los Angeles (4-9), Arizona (5-7-1), at San Francisco (1-12)
3. Falcons (11-5), NFC South champion: The Falcons might've avoided their annual midseason collapse, but that doesn't mean they're out of the woods yet. If Atlanta were to slip up against either the Panthers or the Saints, that could actually knock them out of the playoffs. There's likely going to be an NFC logjam at 10-6, so the Falcons should probably do their best to avoid finishing 10-6. The Falcons also have to deal with the Buccaneers. The computer only likes the Falcons slightly more than it likes Tampa. SportsLine says that Atlanta has a 55 percent chance of winning the NFC South, while the Bucs have a 45 percent chance.
Falcons' remaining schedule: San Francisco (1-12), at Carolina (5-8), New Orleans (5-8)
4. Packers (10-6), NFC North champion: Three weeks ago, Aaron Rodgers said the Packers were going to run the table over their final six games, and after what Green Bay did to Seattle on Sunday, we have no reason not to believe him. If the Packers do run the table and get to 10-6, that means they will have beaten the Lions in Week 17, which means they'll have swept Detroit on the season to earn the head-to-head tiebreaker. For the 9-4 Lions to fall to 10-6, and lose the tiebreaker, that means they'd have to go 1-2 against a rough closing stretch that includes games on the road against the Giants and Cowboys, followed by a home game against Green Bay. To make things worse, Matthew Stafford is playing with an injured finger on his throwing hand. The Lions might not win a game the rest of the season.
If it makes Lions fans feel any better, the computer loves them. The number crunchers at SportsLine give Detroit a 75 percent chance of winning the division. The Packers' chances are listed at just 22 percent.
Packers' remaining schedule: At Chicago (3-10), Minnesota (7-6), at Detroit (9-4)
5. Giants (11-5), wild card: The biggest winner of Week 14 was definitely the Giants, who could now clinch a playoff berth as soon as Sunday after their big win over the Cowboys. A Giants win over the Lions on Sunday, combined with a loss by the Vikings, Redskins and Packers would put New York in the playoffs. All of those things probably won't happen, but we're letting Giants fans know so they can root against something this week besides Eli Manning interceptions.
Giants' remaining schedule: Detroit (9-4), at Philadelphia (5-8), at Washington (7-5-1)
6. Buccaneers (10-6), wild card: Tampa's biggest competition for this spot will likely come from Detroit and Washington. If the Redskins reach 10 wins (10-5-1), they'll get in over a 10-6 Bucs team due to their tie game in October. If the Lions reach 10 wins, Detroit is on pace to win the conference record tiebreaker and the record in common games tiebreaker. Let's just say the Bucs don't stack up well in tiebreakers, so the smart thing to do would be to win out.
Bucs' remaining schedule: at Dallas (11-2), at New Orleans (5-8), Carolina (5-8)
Lions (9-7): It hurts us to leave the plucky Lions out of the playoffs, but the fact of the matter is that they're going to be an underdog in each of their final three games this season. That means they're going to have to pull off at least one upset to get to 10 wins. This week in New York feels like their best chance for that win. It's not looking promising though: The Lions are 0-2 in outdoor games this season and they'll be outside on Sunday. As for the their other two games, they haven't won in Dallas since 2010, and they've lost three of their past four to the Packers. If the Lions do get to 10-6, they currently have a commanding edge in tiebreakers with almost every team and would likely get a wild-card berth at the worst.
The bottom line here: Being a Lions fan is terrifying.
Lions are currently the #2 seed in the NFC and could potentially miss the playoffs.— Michael Cleary (@MCleary_22) December 12, 2016
So that's mildly terrifying.
Redskins (9-6-1): Keep an eye on Week 17 because Washington's game against the Giants could turn into a de facto playoff game with the winner moving on to the postseason and the loser going home.
SportsLine says: If the Lions were to miss the playoffs, the computer handling our odds might break. SportsLine says the Lions have an 86 percent chance of earning a playoff berth, so it definitely doesn't agree with us. That's the highest number by far among the teams we believe are in wild-card contention. The Lions are followed by the Giants (78 percent), Buccaneers (61 percent), Redskins (52 percent), Packers (29 percent) and Vikings (18 percent).
Based on the computer simulation, the Lions would win the NFC North, and the Giants and Bucs would land the wild-card spots.
(Based on this week's projections)
(5) Oakland at (4) Houston
(6) Baltimore at (3) Pittsburgh
Bye: New England, Kansas City
(5) N.Y. Giants at (4) Green Bay
(6) Tampa Bay at (3) Atlanta
Bye: Dallas, Seattle