Thanksgiving is finally here. While this year’s Turkey Day slate may not quite be the most exciting we have seen, these final weeks of November mark the most the start of the homestretch of the NFL season.
With a new playoff format in 2020, the race for the top seed in each conference is more important than ever. Earning the one-seed this season gets you the conference’s lone bye, an extra week of rest between the playoffs and regular season. Today we look at where each conferences race for the top seed stands with just over a month left in the season.
The race for the top seed in the NFC is still wide open. While the NFC East has existed out of the race entirely, there are still six teams within at least two games of first place with six more games left to play.
The New Orleans Saints (8-2) still find themselves atop the pack after beating their arch-rival Atlanta Falcons last week despite future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees missing the game with a rib injury.
While Brees’ injury did not hurt them last week, it puts their standing going forward in question. Taysom Hill did enough to get the victory against a poor Falcons defense on Sunday, but will he be able to keep the team winning at a point in the season where they may not be able to afford slip ups?
Behind the Saints are the duo from the NFC West. The Seattle Seahawks (7-3) and Los Angeles Rams (7-3) are tied for first in the division and are both the new favorites with Brees potentially out long term.
Los Angeles defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) this week, just days after knocking off the Seahawks to take first place in the division. While the Rams have not looked the prettiest this year, they have gotten wins when it matters, and now they have two important tiebreakers in the bag that could be crucial down the line.
The Green Bay Packers (7-3) fell this week to the Indianapolis Colts, but still should have the NFC North in the bag. The second place Chicago Bears are a 5-5 team moving the in the wrong direction. But the Packers’ overtime loss decreases their chance to take off as clear favorites for the number one seed.
A dark horse to watch out for are the Arizona Cardinals (6-4). Arizona is two games out of the race but have ample chance to make up that gap down the stretch. The only two games they have left on the schedule against teams with winning records are their two divisional games against the Rams. If they manage wins in both and win the games they are supposed to win, they could easily vault up the standings while also knocking down a rival.
While everyone seems to be alive in the NFC, the AFC has become a two-team race.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0) remained undefeated after a dominant victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11. 16-0 is a real possibility at this point, but they still have a few tough games left on the schedule.
It starts on Thanksgiving when they will face their arch-rival Baltimore Ravens. In Week 14 they travel to upstate New York to face a Buffalo Bills team that will be hoping to lock up the AFC East. In Week 16, the Colts come to town in a game that could potentially lock up the AFC South for themselves. Then they finish the season travelling to Cleveland to face a Cleveland Browns team that may be playing for their postseason lives.
Winning six in a row is tough in the NFL, but they have already done that and them some to get this far. The next six weeks will be tough, though.
The team waiting for them to slip up the most are the Kansas City Chiefs (9-1). The Chiefs pulled out a close win against the Oakland Raiders on “Sunday Night Football.” The Raiders are the only team to hand them a loss this season.
Kansas City also has a few tough games left on the schedule. In Week 12 they travel to Tampa Bay. In Week 14 they travel to Florida again, meeting the Miami Dolphins—a team with a history of stealing games off of conference favorites. The ultimate test comes in Week 15, where they will be on the road once again in New Orleans in a potential Super Bowl preview against the Saints.
Despite being 10-0, the Steelers still do not look like strong favorites to finish first in the conference. They really cannot afford to slip up down the stretch, but the Chiefs tough schedule could but them to breathing room.
NFL Week 12 power rankings