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NFL playoff picture: Patriots are one of the hottest teams in the league right now

Related: Instant analysis from the Patriots’ 24-6 win over the Panthers

New England Patriots v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The New England Patriots are one of the hottest teams in football right now. Coming off three straight victories — the latest of them a 24-6 road win over the Carolina Panthers — New England now owns the second-longest winning streak in the league and has improved its record from 2-4 to 5-4.

Those three wins have helped the Patriots climb into the AFC playoff picture for the first time all season. They now own the seventh seed in a conference without any obviously dominant teams:

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

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

The AFC is home to nine of the league’s ten five-win clubs: the Chargers, Bills, Raiders and Steelers are all 5-3, with the Patriots leading the group of 5-4 teams. Why are they ranked ahead of the others? Their 4-1 conference record, which is tied with the Raiders’ for the second best in the AFC behind only the Titans’ 5-1.

New England’s ability to win games against AFC opponents has positioned the team well, but the next few weeks will decide whether or not Mac Jones and company can actually stay in the playoff picture for the long haul. This week, for example, the Browns will be visiting Gillette Stadium in what projects as a pivotal battle for both teams.

A win would help the Patriots tremendously, and further improve their chances of making the postseason. Right now, FiveThirtyEight has New England’s playoff odds at 53 percent — sixth best in the AFC at the moment. The number was 47 percent last week, and as low as 21 percent after a Week 7 overtime loss against Dallas.

Needless to say that New England is trending in the right direction.

The NFC playoff picture, on the other hand, looks as follows:

  1. Arizona Cardinals (8-1)
  2. Green Bay Packers (7-2)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)
  4. Dallas Cowboys (6-2)
  5. Los Angeles Rams (7-2)
  6. New Orleans Saints (5-3)
  7. Atlanta Falcons (4-4)

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

The NFC remains rather top-heavy compared to the AFC, but the race for the playoff seeds still continues to be an exciting one. This week, it saw some movement up top: the Cardinals jumped back into the top seed after beating the 49ers — despite having to start backup quarterback Colt McCoy and missing Deandre Hopkins, A.J. Green and J.J. Watt.

They were able to do that because the Packers failed to win a very winnable game in Kansas City. However, Aaron Rodgers’ Covid-19 status pushed Jordan Love into the starting lineup and the former first-round draft pick appeared to be far from ready in the 13-7 loss.

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, meanwhile, jumped from the fourth into the third spot thanks to the Cowboys suffering a stunning 30-16 loss in Denver.