Andy Lyons /Allsport
Let's approach this via the process of elimination. The four teams that are under .500 have no virtually no shot at this point. That means we won't even waste our time discussing the New York Giants (5-6), Indianapolis, Tennessee or Minnesota (all 4-6). Buh-bye. See ya next year.
That leaves Denver (6-5), Tampa Bay (5-5) and New Orleans (5-5). Here's our breakdown of the playoff chances of those three on-the-edge contenders:
1. Denver -- The Broncos have one more win already in the books, and still have their bye week upcoming, just before Christmas. That helps. Denver is sitting seventh in the AFC playoff field, just a half-game behind sixth-place Cleveland (6-4). By virtue of the Broncos' Oct. 28 defeat of New England, Denver holds the tiebreaker over the 6-5 Patriots.
The Broncos have just two more home games. Their five remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .540 (27-23), and Denver has three games left against teams at .500 or better. Still, their only real tough hurdles will be at Miami this week, and home against first-place Oakland on Dec. 30. A Jan. 6 trip to Indianapolis isn't looking as difficult as it once did.
Playoff probability -- 60 percent.
2. Tampa Bay -- The Bucs saved their season with Monday night's upset at St. Louis. And that's no hyperbole. With upcoming games at Cincinnati (4-6) and home against Detroit (0-10), the Bucs should be 7-5 entering the season's final four weeks. And they're going to need that cushion, because they finish with four teams that are currently .500 or better -- Chicago, New Orleans, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
The good news is that those last three games are all at home, where Tampa Bay has shown the ability to dominate in recent Decembers. Overall the Bucs have four home games remaining, and their six opponents combine for just a .492 winning percentage (30-31). But that's a tad misleading. Discounting the winless Lions, the other five are 30-21 (.588).
Playoff probability -- 50 percent.
3. New Orleans -- The Saints have the toughest road to the postseason by almost any measurement. New Orleans' six remaining opponents are a combined 33-28 (.541), but when you throw out this week's home game against Carolina (1-10), that percentage jumps to an intimidating .640. New Orleans' final five opponents are all currently at .500 or better, and it closes out the season with a daunting four-game stretch against St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington and San Francisco.
You'd like to point out that the Saints at least have four of their remaining six games at home, but even that's not a positive. New Orleans is just 2-2 in the Superdome this year, and 5-6 in that building in head coach Jim Haslett's two seasons.
Playoff probability -- 30 percent.