With just four weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, we are seeing the true contenders jockey for playoff position.
The AFC remains top-heavy with the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers firmly in control of the top two playoff spots. The Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars are battling for the AFC South crown. The Kansas City Chiefs are just trying to survive and hold off a group of .500 teams vying for the a wild card spot and the AFC West title.
In the NFC, several teams could still finish with the No. 1 seed. The NFC is much more competitive, but still has the top-end quality to match the AFC. As many as four teams could stake claim to the top spot, led by the 10-2 Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles.
As we head toward the goal line of the 2017 season, here's what is trending upward and downward in the NFL.
Minnesota Vikings making history in February
The Vikings have a very legitimate shot at making Super Bowl LII, especially if they hold position as the No. 1 seed in the NFC. In doing so, they would would be the first team to play in their home stadium, though not the first to play for a championship in their home town (the Los Angeles Rams lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV in Pasadena, Calif. and the San Francisco 49ers beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX in Stanford, Calif.).
The Vikings have set a few dubious playoff firsts in the past, as the first team to lose four Super Bowls and first team to win 15 regular season games and not play in the Super Bowl. Perhaps it's time for them to set a postseason first they can be proud of.
The likelihood the New England Patriots win the AFC
The Patriots are dominating again while the rest of the conference looks a step below. The Steelers are still in the hunt and should give them a fight, but unlike the Pats, they haven’t dominated the weaker teams they faced in recent weeks.
The Patriots have won each of their last four games by at least 18 points, including victories over AFC playoff hopefuls Oakland and Buffalo, while the Steelers have three wins of three points against playoff outsiders Indianapolis, Green Bay and Cincinnati. Their Week 15 matchup will likely decide the top seed for the AFC.
Cleveland Browns’ chances at winning a game this season
There may be some rubber-necking going on, but the Browns' quest for futility has made them a storyline to watch for the rest of this season. The 2008 Detroit Lions are the only NFL team to lose all 16 games in a season; the Browns are currently 0-12 with four games left, two at home and two on the road. They play the Packers this week at home, followed by the Baltimore Ravens at home and finally road contests at the Chicago Bears and Steelers to close it out.
Their best chance to avoid a winless season is this week. With Green Bay still fighting for the postseason, it seems unlikely, but if the Packers get the same Brett Hundley that turned the ball over four times against the Ravens, the Browns will get their win.
The Kansas City Chiefs winning the AFC West
One month into the season, the Chiefs were the darlings of the NFL. They were undefeated and had beaten the Patriots at Foxborough in their Super Bowl celebration in Week 1. Everything looked great after five weeks on both sides of the ball.
Since starting 5-0, things have gone completely awry. KC is now 6-6, tied for the division lead with the suddenly hot Los Angeles Chargers and the dangerous Oakland Raiders. And the opponents haven't been world-beaters; the Chiefs have lost to at least three non-playoff teams,.
They have struggled to score points at times during the downward spiral, but when they have, the defense hasn’t been able to get stops. Every week, something different has disappointed the Chiefs faithful. They are well on their way to suffering the same fate as the Vikings from last season: start 5-0 and finish 8-8 without making the playoffs.
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