Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos
at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 14, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.

NFL playoff picture, Week 13: Steelers, Chargers play key game

On Thursday night, the NFL playoff picture was shaken up in a major way. The Dallas Cowboys were able to pull off a considerable upset at home, beating the New Orleans Saints by the shocking score of 13-10.

With the defeat, New Orleans dropped to 10-2 and the second seed in the NFC, with the idle Los Angeles Rams moving a half-game ahead in anticipation for their tilt with the Detroit Lions this weekend. With the Saints holding the head-to-ehad tiebreaker, the Rams now control their own destiny but hold no margin of error.

Here’s how the playoff picture shapes up in both conferences as we head into Sunday’s action:

AFC

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
2. New England Patriots (8-3)
3. Houston Texans (8-3)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1)
5. Los Angeles Chargers (8-3)
6. Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

NFC

1. Los Angeles Rams (10-1)
2. New Orleans Saints (10-2)
3. Chicago Bears (8-3)
4. Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
5. Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1)
6. Washington Redskins (6-5)

Of all the games that will impact the playoff picture come Sunday, two stand ut above the rest.

The Patriots play host to the Vikings in the late window, affecting both races. Minnesota finally ws able to win in primetime last weekend, taking down the Green Bay Packers to essentially knock Aaron Rodgers and Co. out of the race. Now, Minnesota is trying to go big-game hunting two weeks straight with Tom Brady on the docket.

Should the Vikings win this game, it’s hard to see them not getting into the postseason. They still have some tough games including a road date with the Seattle Seahawks and a home matchup with the Bears. That said, Minnesota would be likely to reach 10 wins.

On the flip side, the Patriots have to win if they want the inside track to a first-round bye and any shot at home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. New England holds the tiebreaker on Kansas City and Houston for beating both earlier in the season, but the Chiefs aren’t likely to lose more than once if at all.

Finally, there’s the matchup between the Steelers and Chargers at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh is trying to bounce back after a couple of hideous road performances, including a Week 12 loss at the hands of the surging Denver Broncos. The Steelers are going to win the AFC North barring a total meltdown, but should they lose to Los Angeles, the fourth seed becomes a distinct possibility.

Meanwhile, the Chargers have to win or start looking at the reality of potentially missing the playoffs. It sounds crazy, but Los Angeles still has tough road games at Kansas City and Denver, while the Broncos and Indianapolis Colts enjoy easy schedules the rest of the way.

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