The NFL playoff picture is going into hyperdrive this month as the home stretch of the season is coming. With five weeks to go in the regular season, there are several teams that are still in the mix for a playoff spot. The Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots are still on the verge of taking one of the final playoff spots in the AFC while the Washington Commanders are a half game back of the final playoff spot in the NFC.
Playoff seeding certainly changes every week, but which of the teams that are within striking distance still have a shot of stealing one of those playoff spots? Let's rank some of the teams on the outside looking in that have a legitimate shot of making the playoffs.
There is one qualifier for this exercise. The teams need to be within two games of the final playoff spot to make this list, which eliminates the Green Bay Packers from this discussion.
1. Washington Commanders (7-5-1)
The Commanders are only a half game out of the final playoff spot in the conference, falling out of the No. 7 spot after Sunday's tie with the Giants. Washington still can snatch a playoff spot by beating New York when the Commanders return from their bye in Week 15, giving them the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Seahawks have also lost two of their last three games and have games against the 49ers (8-4), Chiefs (9-3), and Jets (7-5) coming up. There's a golden opportunity for the Commanders to get into the playoffs, even with a brutal finish to the schedule that includes the Giants (7-4-1), 49ers, Browns (5-7), and Cowboys (9-3).
2. Los Angeles Chargers (6-6)
While the Chargers have been disappointing this year, the eventual return of Mike Williams will significantly help this team in the passing game. Add Justin Herbert getting healthier by the week and Los Angeles seems primed to make a run.
The next two games on the schedule are brutal (Dolphins, Titans), but the Chargers finish with the Colts (4-8-1), Rams (3-9), and Broncos (3-9). A split with Miami (8-4) and Tennessee (7-5) and taking care of business in the final three games get Los Angeles to 10 wins -- which may be enough to get in the AFC playoffs.
3. Detroit Lions (5-7)
How does a team two games under .500 have a good shot at making the postseason? The Lions have won four of their last five games after a 1-6 start, staying alive in the playoff race. The offense has been averaging 28.4 points during the stretch while allowing 19.8.
The next two games are against Minnesota (10-2) and the New York Jets (7-5), but Detroit has proven it can score with any team in the league. The offense makes Detroit dangerous going forward, but the margin for error is slim. The Lions have to win their next two games to have a shot at the final playoff spot. They finish with Chicago (3-9), Carolina (4-8), and Green Bay (5-8).
4. New England Patriots (6-6)
Back-to-back losses have significantly hurt the Patriots' playoff chances, but New England does hold the tiebreaker over the Jets after sweeping them earlier this year. The Patriots have a favorable schedule coming up with the Cardinals (4-8) and Raiders (5-7), but have crucial matchups against the Bengals (8-4), Dolphins (8-4), and Bills (9-3) to close the year.
The schedule does not favor New England going forward.
5. Las Vegas Raiders (5-7)
Winning three in a row has given the Raiders an outside shot of making the playoffs, as Las Vegas sits two games back of the Jets. The schedule is also favorable over the next few weeks, starting with the Rams (3-9) this week. Las Vegas then faces New England (6-6) in what is essentially an elimination game for an opportunity at the playoffs, followed by a showdown with Pittsburgh (5-7).
The Raiders finish off the season against the 49ers (8-4) and Chiefs (9-3), so winning the next three games is a must before they get to that point. The odds are long, but Las Vegas still has a shot.
6. Atlanta Falcons (5-8)
The Falcons are on this list because they are still mathematically alive in the NFC South race, trailing the Buccaneers by 1.5 games in the standings -- with Tampa Bay owning the head-to-head tiebreaker as well. Atlanta has a bye this week before facing New Orleans (4-9), Baltimore (8-4), and Arizona (4-8). The Falcons then finish up with the Buccaneers (6-6).
Bottom line: Atlanta has to win games.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7)
The Steelers have won three of four to stay alive in the AFC playoff race, but the margin for error is thin. Pittsburgh has to beat Baltimore (8-4) this week to stay alive to make the Carolina (4-8) game in Week 15 mean something.
If the Steelers have an over .500 season, it would be impressive at this rate -- whether Pittsburgh makes the playoffs or not.
8. Cleveland Browns (5-7)
Sure the Browns have Deshaun Watson back, but are they better off with him as he still gets accustomed to playing in an NFL game again? Playing the Bengals (8-4) and Ravens (8-4) in the next two games isn't helping matters either.
Cleveland is the ultimate long shot to make the playoffs, but beating Cincinnati will certainly improve its chances. The Browns might have to win out at this rate.