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NFL playoff picture: Patriots are starting to make some noise in the AFC

Related: Instant analysis from Patriots’ 27-24 win over Chargers

NFL: New England Patriots at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have finally beaten one of the AFC’s top teams, and they are now starting to make some noise in the conference. Going on the road to beat the Los Angeles Chargers with a final score of 27-24, New England now sits at 4-4 — back at .500 for the first time since early September.

While their record is not enough to propel them into one of the postseason slots just yet, they are now ranked eighth and might be able to take the next step with a victory in Week 9. That said, let’s take a look at the current playoff picture in the AFC:

  1. Tennessee Titans (6-2)
  2. Las Vegas Raiders (5-2)
  3. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
  4. Buffalo Bills (5-2)
  5. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
  7. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3)

On the bubble: 8. New England Patriots (4-4), 9. Kansas City Chiefs (4-4), 10. Cleveland Browns (4-4), 11. Denver Broncos (4-4), 12. Indianapolis Colts (3-5), 13. New York Jets (2-5), 14. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6), 15. Houston Texans (1-7), 16. Miami Dolphins (1-7)

As can be seen, the Patriots are not that far behind the three current wildcard teams. And considering their upcoming opponents over the next month relative to those of their closest competitors — the Bengals, Steelers, Chargers, Chiefs, Browns and Broncos — it would not be a surprise if New England found a way into the playoff picture by the end of November.

The Patriots, after all, are entering a four-game stretch of contests that could all be classified as “winnable” given the circumstances:

AFC wild card competitors: November schedules

Team Patriots Bengals Steelers Chargers Chiefs Browns Broncos
Team Patriots Bengals Steelers Chargers Chiefs Browns Broncos
Week 9 at Panthers vs Browns vs Bears at Eagles vs Packers at Bengals at Cowboys
Week 10 vs Browns BYE vs Lions vs Vikings at Raiders at Patriots vs Eagles
Week 11 at Falcons at Raiders at Chargers vs Steelers vs Cowboys vs Lions BYE
Week 12 vs Titans vs Steelers at Bengals at Broncos BYE at Ravens vs Chargers

As can be seen, the other current wild card competitors are facing more challenging schedules than the Patriots this month.

The three AFC North teams listed here are all going against one another at one point; the ailing Chiefs play three straight games against some of the best teams in the league before their bye; the Broncos appear to be on the verge of falling behind to begin with; the Chargers have an easier schedule but have lost the head-to-head tiebreaker against New England.

Add it all up, and it is no surprise that the Patriots’ playoff odds have increased significantly since last week. While the team entered Week 8 with a 26 percent chance to make the postseason, per FiveThirtyEight, that number has now jumped to 47 percent. Only six other teams in the AFC are in a better position from that perspective, so there is no denying New England is trending in the right direction after its so-and-so start.

Meanwhile, the NFC playoff picture looks as follows:

  1. Green Bay Packers (7-1)
  2. Arizona Cardinals (7-1)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (6-1)
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)
  5. Los Angeles Rams (7-1)
  6. New Orleans Saints (5-2)
  7. Carolina Panthers (4-4)

On the bubble: 8. Minnesota Vikings (3-4), 9. San Francisco 49ers (3-4), 10. Atlanta Falcons (3-4), 11. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5), 12. Seattle Seahawks (3-5), 13. Chicago Bears (3-5), 14. Washington Football Team (2-6), 15. New York Giants (2-6), 16. Detroit Lions (0-8)

The NFC playoff picture has seen some major changes compared to last week. The Packers took the top spot after beating the undefeated Cardinals, while the Buccaneers slipped down to fourth following a loss against the Saints — a team that is now in fifth place but will be without starting quarterback Jameis Winston for the rest of the season. The fifth-ranked Rams, meanwhile, have bolstered their roster by acquiring Von Miller via trade on Monday.

While more top-heavy than the AFC, the race for playoff spots will remain exciting in the NFC.