NFL playoff picture 2021 - Standings, bracket, scenarios after Cowboys-Saints, plus Week 13 outlook


On the fade route, Dak connects with Gallup.

Michael Gallup makes a leaping grab for a Cowboys touchdown. (0:30)

The time is 11:35 PM.

The picture update for Week 13 of the NFL playoffs goes a little like this.

The Cowboys are almost certainly going to win the NFC East, whether you think they are good or bad, in disarray, balanced or with glaring holes. They snapped a two-game losing streak with a 27-10 victory against the Saints Thursday night.

The Saints missed out on a chance to get back into the playoffs and now have a hard time returning to the playoffs.

The current trajectory of either team won't be changed by this weekend's games. The Cowboys are in a good position in their division, and the Saints will be watching a lot of teams in the wild-card race. There are six weeks left until the playoffs begin and here is a look at where the league stands. We lay out the possibilities and likelihoods. After the Broncos and Chiefs game on Sunday night, we will post again after the Bills and Pats game on Monday night.

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A group of people.

1. The Baltimore Ravens are 8-3.

The quarterback of the top seed in the playoffs threw four picks, but his team still won. You can see that as a sign of strength for the Ravens. The conference is up for grabs among a half-dozen teams and their presence at the top of the rankings shows that. Can the Ravens hold off the other teams? We don't often say this, but the Ravens have a chance to advance their quest when they play the PittsburghSteelers on Sunday.

Next stop: at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

2. The New England team is 8-5

The reason we think the team is one of the best is because they give us reasons. They've won six in a row and five in a row by at least 18 points. They have a point differential of plus-144. It's crazy that this has happened with Mac Jones, who is playing well but not among the league's top 10 in Total QBR. In Week 13 of the season, the New England will be able to lock down the AFC East when they travel to Buffalo. The chances of winning the division are less than home-field advantage, but they are legitimate possibilities for the Pats.

Next stop: at Bills.

3. The TennesseeTitans are 8-4.

The good news is that the two-game losing streak hasn't really hurt their standing in the AFC South, where they have a two-game lead with five games left to play. They'll have a bye in Week 13 and then play the two teams that are going in the wrong direction. The question is not whether the team will make the playoffs, but whether they can make a deep run given their health and the results of their past two games. At the moment, the answer is not certain.

Next up: vs.

4. The Kansas City Chiefs are 7-4

The playoff positioning of the Chiefs will not change after their bye week. The other three teams are all 5-5, but they have a full game lead. The division is still very much in play. The Broncos and Raiders are two of the four teams the Chiefs will play in their final six games.

Next up: Broncos.

5. The Cincinnati Bengals are 4-7.

The team that lost two games in a row before its Week 10 bye looks different than the one that did not. They've defeated the Raiders and Steelers by a combined 57 points. They have a one-in-four chance of winning the AFC North, and they have gotten themselves to the point where they like their chances of making the playoffs.

Next up is the Chargers.

6. The Buffalo Bills are 4-7.

The Bills are about to head into a brutal stretch of their schedule, so they better hope they've figured it out. They will play the red-hot Pats twice in four weeks, with a game at the Buccaneers mixed in.

Next up: New England.


On Monday Night Football, Bart Scott and Dianna Russini preview the game between the Bills and the Pats.

7. The Los Angeles Bolts are 5-5.

The Bolts have lost their past four games, including the Week 12 defeat to the Broncos. They've turned in the wrong direction after a 4-1 start, but they're still in the top seven thanks to their head-to-head victory over the Raiders in Week 4. It's another story if they can stay here. The Bolts haven't been playing well in the playoffs since October. They are on the edge.

Next stop: at Cincinnati.

In the hunt for the football team.

The Raiders are from Las Vegas.

We can't do anything but give our thanks to the Raiders, who had a three-game losing streak entering their game against the Cowboys. They went into AT&T Stadium and won a war of attrition, and now have a home game against Washington.

The Denver Broncos are 5-5.

The Broncos came out of their bye with a dominating performance against the Chargers, their third win in their past four games. It gave them a chance to at least have a chance in the end. The Broncos will play four of their remaining six games against divisional rivals.

Here's how the playoffs looks at the moment and what might happen in the future.

Who is currently in the playoffs?

The Playoff Machine is a program on the ESPYS.

The Football Power Index is a measure of standings.

The Indianapolis Colts are 6-6)

The Colts' three-game winning streak ended with an odd home loss that featured 27 consecutive pass plays from their offense, presumably in part to beat a defense that was geared to stop Jonathan Taylor. We found out that the quarterback can't carry the team. They have a chance to get back on track against the Texans.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 5-5.

Yeesh. The team doesn't look like it's close to a playoff team. The path won't be easy against the Ravens.

The Cleveland Browns are 3-6.

The Ravens will be the opponent when the Browns return from their bye in Week 14.

The NFC is a part of the game.

1. The Arizona Cardinals are 9-2

Kyler Murray is expected to return to the lineup. They will need to be strong. The strength of their remaining schedule is 18th in the NFL, but the eyeball test suggests it's more difficult than that. Three of the five games are on the road, and two of them are against teams with winning records. TheColts will be a tough out in Week 16. Through Week 12 of the season, the Cards have the best road record in the league.

Next stop: at Bears.

2. The Green Bay Packers are 9-3.

The Packers and the Cards have the same head-to-head record. Three of their remaining games will be at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are perfect this season. Ford Field is where they'll play the winless Lions in one of the two road games. The Packers are very much in the running to be the top team in the conference, both on the field and in the playoffs.

Next up: Bears.


Domonique Foxworth and Tim Hasselbeck argue that they trust Rodgers more than Brady with the Packers.

3. The Buccaneers are 8-3).

Since a two-game losing streak had everyone around the league worried, the Buccaneers have won two games in a row. It's hard to argue that the team isn't back on track. Their remaining strength of schedule is ranked 22nd, and only one opponent with a winning record is on it.

Next stop: at Falcons.

4. The Dallas Cowboys are.

It wasn't pretty, but the Cowboys snapped a two-game losing streak on Thursday night in New Orleans and took another step toward locking down the NFC East title. Even if the Eagles, Giants and Washington all win this weekend, the Cowboys' chances of winning the division would still be 92.4%. There will be a lot of takes about the way the Cowboys played, including a bungled two-minute drill at the end of the first half and a failure to close the game out when taking over possession midway through the fourth quarter. We should probably refrain from judging the final result because of the absence of five coaches and two players.

Next stop: Washington.

5. The Los Angeles Rams are 7-4

It's fair to ask if the Rams will make the playoffs. They have lost three games in a row, with quarterback Matthew Stafford throwing pick-sixes in each of them. The Rams will have a chance to regroup on Sunday with a home game against Jacksonville, but their remaining schedule is the most difficult in the league.

Next up: a game with the Jags.

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6. The San Francisco 49ers lost.

At the right time, the 49ers are figuring things out. They have won three consecutive games and four of their past five, and the victory over the Vikings in Week 12 will give them a head-to-head tie-breaker if needed at the end of the season. They're playing better right now than all but one of their final six opponents, and an argument could be made that they're playing better than ever. They'll overtake the Rams in the playoffs in a matter of weeks.

Next stop: at the Seahawks.

7. The Washington Football Team is 5-5.

Yep, you read that right. Thanks to the best conference record in the league, the Vikings are the final wild-card team. Washington has won three in a row, and its remaining schedule is pretty interesting. It will play the Raiders on Sunday and then play the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants in the final five games of the season.

Next stop: Raiders.

In the hunt for the nearest store.

The Minnesota Vikings are 5-5.

The Vikings are playing without Dalvin Cook, so they are fortunate to be playing the Lions on Sunday.

The Atlanta Falcons have a losing record.

After starting the season with a loss, the Falcons went on to win in Week 12 over the Jags. The Falcons are still in the wild-card picture thanks to a head-to-head tie with the Saints. They have a pretty significant obstacle on Sunday when they host the Buccaneers.

The Philadelphia Eagles are 4-7.

There is no way to sugarcoat it. In a loss to the Giants in Week 12 the Eagles scored just seven points. It's fair to ask if they'll squander one of the easiest remaining schedules, which continues on Sunday at the Jets.

The Carolina Panthers are 4-7.

Since a three game winning streak, the panthers have lost seven of nine. Their fade from the playoff picture is nearly complete, but they will have a bye week followed by a winnable game in Week 14 against the Falcons to delay the inevitable for a little longer.

The New Orleans Saints have a losing record.

The Saints would have moved into the 7 spot and raised their chances for a playoff spot to 54.2% if they had won Thursday night. They lost a winnable game and now have a 20% chance of making the playoffs.