By Don Banks, SI.com
With plenty of twists and turns still to come -- and 15 NFC teams still alive -- here's our projection of what the NFL's playoff field will look like on the morning of Jan. 3. Come back next week for an updated field. As always, a reminder: Your actual results may vary.
|No. 1 (Bye)|
|No. 2 (Bye)|
||New England Patriots
No. 1: Pittsburgh (14-2)
Remaining schedule (projected results): vs. Baltimore (W), at Buffalo (L)
Skinny: The Steelers will wrap up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs this week against the Ravens. Let's hope it does them more good than in 2001, when the Patriots came into Heinz Field and beat them in the AFC title game.
No. 2: New England (14-2)
Remaining schedule: at Jets (W), San Francisco (W).
Skinny: Monday night's meltdown in Miami was so very un-Patriot-like, and it's probably going to cost them the chance to play twice at Gillette Stadium next month.
No. 3: Indianapolis (12-4)
Remaining schedule: vs. San Diego (W), at Denver (L).
The Skinny: The key game for the Colts will be date this week with visiting San Diego. Beating the Chargers will ensure the Colts wrap up the third seed and avoid the fifth-seeded Jets in the first round.
No. 4: San Diego (12-4)
Remaining schedule: at Indianapolis (L), vs. Kansas City (W).
Skinny: The good news? A playoff game in San Diego for the first time since New Year's Eve 1995. The bad news? The Jets are the only visitor to win at Qualcomm Stadium this year, in Week 2.
No. 5: N.Y. Jets (11-5)
Remaining schedule: vs. New England (L), at St. Louis (W).
Skinny: The Jets won't even get a first-round home game out of their finest season since 1998. That's what happens when you're in the same division as New England.
No. 6: Jacksonville (10-6)
Remaining schedule: vs. Houston (W), at Oakland (W).
Skinny: Who knew the Broncos' 7-6 loss at Jacksonville in Week 2 would give the Jaguars the tiebreaker they needed to claim the AFC's final wild-card slot?
|No. 1 (Bye)|
|No. 2 (Bye)|
No. 1: Philadelphia (15-1)
Remaining schedule: at St. Louis (W), vs. Cincinnati (W).
Skinny: Even without Terrell Owens, the Eagles remain the class of the NFC. But everyone else got a ray of hope this week.
No. 2: Atlanta (11-5)
Remaining schedule: at New Orleans (L), at Seattle (L).
Skinny: Maybe the weakest No. 2 seed in recent memory. The Falcons don't intimidate anyone but they've gotten just enough to get it done this season.
No. 3: Minnesota (10-6)
Remaining schedule: vs. Green Bay (W), at Washington (W).
Skinny: The Vikings' narrow win at Detroit, combined with the Packers' narrow home loss against Jacksonville, changed the equation in the NFC North. Minnesota will take care of business Friday at home against Green Bay.
No. 4: Seattle (9-7)
Remaining schedule: vs. Arizona (W), vs. Atlanta (W).
Skinny: The Seahawks will win the NFL's worst division in spite of themselves. We still say they should decline the bowl bid.
No. 5: Green Bay (9-7)
Remaining schedule: at Minnesota (L), at Chicago (W).
Skinny: Last year, the Packers clinched a playoff berth when Minnesota lost on the final play of the season at Arizona. This season, they backed in with a home loss to Jacksonville. Vince Lombardi is rolling over in his grave.
No. 6: Carolina (8-8)
Remaining schedule: at Tampa Bay (W), vs. New Orleans (W).
Skinny: Even that heartbreaking loss at Atlanta on Saturday won't kill the resilient Panthers. From 1-7 to the playoffs has never been done, and it's high time.
On the outside looking in (AFC)
Remaining schedule: at San Francisco (W), vs. Pittsburgh (W).
Skinny: Oh, if only the Bills were in the NFC. Buffalo will go 4-0 against NFC, but their 6-6 AFC mark will do the Bills no favors in terms of tiebreakers with Denver and Jacksonville.
Remaining schedule: at Tennessee (W), vs. Indianapolis (W).
Skinny: That Week 2 game-deciding Quentin Griffith fumble at Jacksonville will be the difference between Denver going to the playoffs or going skiing.
Remaining schedule: at Pittsburgh (L), vs. Miami (W).
Skinny: That Week 13 loss at home to Cincinnati was the death blow to the Ravens' playoff aspirations.
On the outside looking in (NFC)
New Orleans (7-9)
Remaining Schedule: vs. Atlanta (W), at Carolina (L).
Skinny: The Saints briefly mounted one of the more unlikely playoff drives, but in the end they'll miss out ... and so will head coach Jim Haslett.
Remaining schedule: vs. Chicago (W), at Tennessee (L).
Skinny: The Lions wouldn't be on life support if it weren't for that bungled extra-point snap Sunday against Minnesota. In the NFL, as in life, little things mean a lot.
Remaining Schedule: at Seattle (L), vs. Tampa Bay (W)
Skinny: The Cardinals can only look back and wonder what might have been if Josh McCown had not been yanked from the lineup for three weeks after a 4-5 start.
N.Y. Giants (6-10)
Remaining schedule: at Cincinnati (L), vs. Dallas (W).
Skinny: You can't lose five consecutive home games -- to Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- and still harbor legitimate postseason hopes. The 5-2 start was the mirage.
St. Louis (6-10)
Remaining schedule: vs. Philadelphia (L), vs. Atlanta (L).
Skinny: It gets uglier by the week, Rams fans. After that embarrassment of quarterback riches earlier this decade, the cupboard has gotten quite bare, hasn't it?
Remaining schedule: vs. Washington (W), at Giants (L).
Skinny: Dallas will end up 2-4 in the NFC East, and that's too tall of a hurdle to overcome.
Tampa Bay (5-11)
Remaining schedule: vs. Carolina (L), at Arizona (L).
Skinny: Cheer up, Tampa Bay, it could be worse. You could be Oakland, which didn't even win that Super Bowl 23 months ago.
Remaining schedule: at Detroit (L), vs. Green Bay (L).
Skinny: All season long, the Bears have lost games we thought they'd win, and won games we thought they'd lose. With a little bit of quarterbacking, who knows where they might have wound up?
Remaining Schedule: at Dallas (L), vs. Minnesota (L).
Skinny: That the Redskins even have a playoff scenario to consider entering Week 16 is remarkable enough. But there will be no Joe Gibbs magic in 2004.
Don Banks covers pro football for SI.com.