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NFL playoff picture: Patriots’ postseason chances improve slightly in Week 12

Related: Patriots vs Cardinals recap: Last-second 20-17 win keeps New England’s playoff hopes alive

Arizona Cardinals v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The New England Patriots did their collective job in Week 12, even though it literally took every second to do so: they beat the visiting Arizona Cardinals on a field goal just as time expired, improving their record to 5-6 on the season. Accordingly, the Patriots also kept their chances at earning a spot in the postseason alive — at least in a theoretical setting given that they remain on the outside of the current playoff picture.

While they entered the weekend with an 8 percent chance of sneaking into the tournament, according to FiveThirty Eight, the numbers jumped up all the way to 12 percent following their 20-17 victory over the Cardinals.

Still below .500, though, the Patriots are currently the 10th ranked team in the AFC and a full two games behind the final wild card spots. While a lot can and will change over the final five weeks of regular season action, New England likely will need to win out in order to have a chance to leapfrog at least three of the teams ranked higher and ultimately sneak into the tournament for a 12th straight year.

At the moment, and pending the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens that has been postponed to Wednesday, the AFC playoff picture looks as follows:

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-1)
  3. Tennessee Titans (8-3)
  4. Buffalo Bills (8-3)
  5. Cleveland Browns (8-3)
  6. Miami Dolphins (7-4)
  7. Indianapolis Colts (7-4)

In the hunt: Baltimore Ravens (6-4), Las Vegas Raiders (6-5), New England Patriots (5-6)

While the Steelers and Chiefs continue their fight for the top seed and the first-round bye associated with it, and the Titans and Bills are in a comfortable spot atop their respective divisions, the rest of the AFC remains highly competitive. The 8-3 Browns do have some cushion, but neither the Dolphins nor Colts can allow themselves plenty of slip-ups with the Ravens and Raiders — and even the Patriots — waiting behind them.

Needless to say that the next five weeks will be highly interesting, and a look at the upcoming schedules for the current wild card competitors illustrates this:

AFC schedule Weeks 13-17

Team Browns Dolphins Colts Ravens Raiders Patriots
Team Browns Dolphins Colts Ravens Raiders Patriots
Week 13 at Titans vs Bengals at Texans vs Cowboys at Jets at Chargers
Week 14 vs Ravens vs Chiefs at Raiders at Browns vs Colts at Rams
Week 15 at Giants vs Patriots vs Texans vs Jaguars vs Chargers at Dolphins
Week 16 at Jets at Raiders at Steelers vs Giants vs Dolphins vs Bills
Week 17 vs Steelers at Bills vs Jaguars at Bengals at Broncos vs Jets

As can be seen, New England’s schedule still features all three AFC East teams — a chance to make up some ground in the division — and a game against the lowly Los Angeles Chargers this week. Nevertheless, the team has a tougher slate remaining than the other clubs competing for wild card berths. The Ravens and Raiders in particular will be facing some very favorable matchups down the stretch, while the Browns, Colts and especially Dolphins cannot say the same thing about their respective schedules.

Of course, the Patriots have to look at themselves first and foremost. Getting a win this weekend will again be crucial to kick off a stretch of three straight road games that could very well decide the team’s fate.

The NFC’s playoff picture, meanwhile, looks like this:

  1. New Orleans Saints (9-2)
  2. Green Bay Packers (8-3)
  3. Seattle Seahawks (8-3)
  4. New York Giants (4-7)
  5. Los Angeles Rams (7-4)
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
  7. Arizona Cardinals (6-5)

In the hunt: Minnesota Vikings (5-6), Chicago Bears (5-6), San Francisco 49ers (5-6), Washington Football Team (4-7)

The NFC remains highly contested 12 weeks into the season, with no clear frontrunners establishing themselves atop the conference. While the Saints and Packers are both in a comfortable lead in the North and South divisions, the West and the East is still up for grabs. Of course, the NFC East remains, in its essence, some abstract art: the 4-7 Giants took the lead on Monday when the Philadelphia Eagles fell all the way from the fourth to the 15th seed after losing against Seattle.