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Ravens, 49ers aim for top playoff seeds as AFC, NFC races heat up

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Dec 27, 2023

The 2023 NFL playoff picture is coming into sharp focus in the final two weeks of the regular season. In the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens can clinch the #1 seed and home field advantage by winning one of their last two games. In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers also control their destiny for the top spot after a big win on Christmas.

With the postseason fast approaching, several division titles and wild card spots remain up for grabs. Here is the state of the playoff races in both conferences heading toward Week 17:

AFC

Division Leaders

The Ravens (11-4) hold a 1-game lead over the Bengals in the AFC North and currently own the head-to-head tiebreaker. If Baltimore wins at home against Miami this Sunday, it will lock up the division crown, a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

In the AFC West, the Chiefs (12-3) rebounded from their loss to Cincinnati by throttling Seattle on Christmas Eve. Kansas City can still overtake Baltimore for the AFC’s #1 seed by winning out and getting some help. Patrick Mahomes & Co. finish with home games against Denver and Las Vegas.

Wild Card Race

The Bills (12-3) are rolling with a 6-game win streak and should have no trouble securing the AFC East title. But Buffalo is battling Kansas City for the #2 playoff seed and an all-important first-round bye. Josh Allen and the Bills close out their schedule by hosting New England and visiting Cincinnati.

Team Record Week 17 Week 18

| Ravens | 11-4 | vs. MIA | at CIN
| Chiefs | 12-3 | vs. DEN | vs. LV
| Bills | 12-3 | vs. NE | at CIN

Behind that trio of division winners, as many as 10 AFC teams remain in contention for the 3 wild card slots up for grabs.

The Bengals (11-4) currently occupy the top WC position. But Cincinnati could still challenge Baltimore atop the AFC North if it sweeps its final two contests while the Ravens drop one. Matchups with Buffalo and Baltimore will test Zac Taylor’s squad.

After handling the Patriots in Week 16, the Dolphins (8-7) strengthened their grip on a wild card. Behind the arm of Tua Tagovailoa and explosiveness of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, Miami seems poised to return to postseason play provided it avoids a collapse. Games with New England and the Jets loom large for Mike McDaniel’s group.

In the muddled AFC South, Sunday’s showdown between the Jaguars (8-8) and Titans (7-9) will likely determine the division winner. After starting 0-2, Jacksonville has clawed its way back into contention. But Tennessee still has playoff life and already defeated the Jags head-to-head back in December. This race could come down to the final snap.

The AFC’s remaining wild card hopefuls at 7-8 — the Patriots, Steelers and Raiders — all need to win out and receive help to play into January. While unlikely, Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin have orchestrated late-season rallies before to reach the promised land.

So buckle up for what promises to be a drama-filled sprint to Super Bowl LVII. One loss could spell doom for several AFC playoff contenders, especially with so many 8-7 and 7-8 teams battling for position. But the big prizes — division titles, first-round byes home field edge — remain within reach for the teams at the top.

NFC

Division Leaders

On Christmas Night, the 49ers (12-4) made yet another statement, this time dominating Tampa Bay to hand the Buccaneers their sixth straight loss. Brock Purdy improved to 5-0 as a starter, George Kittle hauled in two touchdowns, and the Niner defense overwhelmed Tom Brady. Now San Francisco is one win from securing the NFC’s #1 seed.

Riding high from winning their first division crown since 1993, the Vikings (12-4) appear to be catching their stride offensively with Kirk Cousins finding Justin Jefferson for big plays again. Minnesota finishes against Green Bay and Chicago, so Kevin O’Connell’s team has a chance to be rolling entering the playoffs.

Though they fell to Tampa in Week 15, the Eagles (13-3) bounced back by waxing Dallas on Christmas Eve to clinch a postseason berth. Philadelphia will secure the NFC East and #1 conference seed by defeating either New Orleans or New York over the next two weeks. Jalen Hurts is expected back soon to direct an offense proving it can win with — or without — its MVP candidate quarterback.

Wild Card Scramble

Coach Dan Campbell and the Lions (8-7) are roaring toward the postseason after five consecutive wins. Building off their first division title in three decades, Detroit will play January football by beating either Carolina or Chicago. With weapons like Amon-Ra St. Brown and D’Andre Swift, this Lions offense can challenge anyone.

Despite losing quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Cowboys (12-4) righted the ship by throttling Philadelphia in Week 16. While Dallas is almost assured of a wild card spot, it still has an outside shot to chase down the Eagles in the NFC East. Mike McCarthy’s team finishes against Tennessee and Washington.

Team Record Week 17 Week 18

| 49ers | 12-4 | at LV | vs. ARI
| Vikings | 12-4 | at GB | at CHI
| Eagles | 13-3 | vs. NO | vs. NYG

The defending Super Bowl champion Rams (6-9) refuse to quit, and wins over Denver and Seattle kept their improbable push going. However, Los Angeles still requires victories over the Chargers and Seahawks plus help to sneak into the playoffs. Never count out a team led by Sean McVay, Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp.

And the upstart Seahawks (7-8) still harbor postseason dreams after hanging tough in Kansas City last week. But games with the Jets and Rams mean Pete Carroll’s rebuild faces a stiff test to play in January.

In the end, San Francisco and Philadelphia have the inside track to enter the tournament as the NFC’s top two seeds. But Minnesota, Dallas and Tampa — as long as Brady awakens from his December slumber — seem ticketed for wild card berths. Which leaves the Lions, Rams and Seahawks scrambling for one last golden ticket.

So between the AFC and NFC, the final two weeks promise white-knuckle drama with several potential playoff matchups in the offing. Division crowns, postseason positioning and even January tickets remain at stake. Strap in for a wild ride to cap the NFL’s 2023 campaign.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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