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NFL Wild Card pictures historically muddled at dawn of Week 13

Geno Smith Seattle Seahawks Geno Smith

Division races have started to solidify after 12 weeks of the NFL season, but with just six games remaining on the schedule for most squads, the wild-card picture is looking historically messy. 

Seven divisions are led by at least two games, with the NFC South the lone division with a tie at the top: the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints both sit at 5-6.

The mess begins in the fight for the three remaining Wild Card slots for January's playoffs.

In the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys (8-3) have a firm hold on the top slot, but nine teams are currently within two games of the second slot. 

NFC Wild Card standings

Team Record Playoff odds (per ESPN's FPI)
Dallas Cowboys  8-3  99% 
Seattle Seahawks  6-5  41% 
Minnesota Vikings  6-6  58% 
Los Angeles Rams  5-6  36% 
Green Bay Packers  5-6  46% 
New Orleans Saints  5-6  50% 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7), New York Giants (4-8), Washington Commanders (4-8) and Chicago Bears (4-8) are all long shots to make the playoffs, but they enter Week 13 just two games behind the current third wild-card team, the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota is on a much-needed bye week, and they're expected to have superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson back in the lineup when they return to action against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 14.

The downside of having their bye week now is that the Rams, Packers and Saints all play Week 13 and can hypothetically finish the week in a four-way tie for the final wild-card slot. 

The picture doesn't get much more clear when remaining strength of schedule and wild card seeding tiebreakers are factored in.

NFC Wild Card seeding details

Team Record Remaining SOS by win percentage Record in conference
Seattle Seahawks  6-5  .582  5-3 
Minnesota Vikings  6-6  .553  6-3 
Los Angeles Rams  5-6  .536  4-4 
Green Bay Packers  5-6  .391  4-3 
New Orleans Saints  5-6  .402  2-4 

The primary tiebreaker for Wild Card seeding is head-to-head record, followed by record in-conference. 

Minnesota holds the best record among Wild Card contenders for in-conference games, but their daunting end-of-season includes two matchups with the division-leading Detroit Lions.

Meanwhile, the Packers have a tough test in Week 13 against Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, but they get matchups against teams at the bottom of their respective divisions every week afterwards - the exception being a battle with the Vikings in Week 17. 

The Saints have an imposing matchup in Week 13 before their schedule eases up, as they're set to take on the Lions.

You can watch the Saints battle the Lions LIVE on TSN1/3, and the TSN App on Sunday, Dec. 4, with coverage starting at 1pm ET / 10pm PT.  

AFC Wild Card 

In the AFC, a surprisingly similar picture has taken form: the four division leaders hold two-game leads after wins in Week 12, but four teams are sitting at six wins entering Week 13 for the final Wild Card slot.

AFC Wild Card standings

Team Record Playoff odds (per ESPN's FPI)
Pittsburgh Steelers  7-4  74% 
Cleveland Browns  7-4  68% 
Houston Texans  6-5  53% 
Indianapolis Colts  6-5  44% 
Denver Broncos  6-5  29% 
Buffalo Bills  6-6  22% 

It's the North leading the charge for the Wild Card in the AFC, with both the Steelers and Cleveland Browns sitting atop the rankings at 7-4 - however, both teams have had their issues this season.

Pittsburgh ranks 28th in scoring and 26th in yardage offensively, and fired their offensive coordinator Matt Canada after their Week 12 defeat. Cleveland is led by P.J. Walker after their top quarterback, Deshaun Watson, was forced out of the lineup for the season with a shoulder injury.

The Cincinnati Bengals, who are without star quarterback Joe Burrow for the rest of the season, are a game behind the Texans at 5-6, and the Raiders are a game and a half back at 5-7.

Behind them, three surprising teams share a 6-5 record for the final Wild Card slot. The Texans and rookie QB C.J. Stroud are leading the pack, per ESPN's Football Power Index playoff odds rankings. 

Buffalo suffered another crushing defeat in Week 12, as they let a late lead slip away and lost in overtime on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. They are on bye in Week 13, but their schedule doesn't get any easier when they return - a meeting with the Chiefs awaits in Week 14.

AFC Wild Card details

Team Record Remaining strength of schedule by win percentage Record in conference
Pittsburgh Steelers  7-4  .441  5-3 
Cleveland Browns  7-4  .477  5-3 
Denver Broncos  6-5  .439  3-4 
Indianapolis Colts  6-5  .477  4-3 
Houston Texans  6-5  .469  3-3 
Buffalo Bills  6-6  .545  3-5 

Every team in contention for the three AFC wild-card slots has a reasonably soft remaining schedule - with the exception of the Bills, who get a game against the New England Patriots (2-9) but also play division leaders in three of their final five games. 

Conference record will be key in deciding the Wild Card spots, and the Steelers and Browns are each a strong 5-3 in that regard with six games remaining on the schedule.