With the NFL season heading down the stretch, it’s time to do one of our favorite things here at CBS Sports: Argue about who’s going to make the playoffs.

As we head into Week 12, all 32 teams in the NFL are still mathematically alive for a postseason berth, and yes, that even means the Browns. Although the Browns would need about 50 things to happen between now and the end of the season, they could potentially sneak into the playoffs with a 6-10 record. If you’re dying to know how exactly that’s even possible, you can click here and find out

As for the playoff projection, here’s how it works: Over the next six weeks, we’ll publish a projection every Wednesday, predicting who will make the postseason. Sure, the Jaguars seem like a lock to make the playoffs right now, but what if Blake Bortles turns into Nathan Peterman and starts throwing five interceptions per game every week for the rest of the season?

If that happens, the 7-3 Jaguars could easily be staring at 9-7.

Included in these projections will be data from number-cruncher Stephen Oh of SportsLine.com. As a matter of fact, let’s start with some of that data: According to SportsLine, fans in New England, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh can go ahead and book their playoff tickets because those three teams have a 99 percent chance of making the postseason. 

That doesn’t mean they’ve clinched a spot, it just means that SportsLine doesn’t really think it is mathematically possible for those three teams to miss the playoffs at this point. 

On the other hand, SportsLine gives the Bears, Browns, 49ers and Gians a zero percent chance of making the playoffs, so those four fan bases can go ahead and start planning for next season, or at the very least, you can start studying mock drafts. By the way, although those four teams are technically alive to make the postseason from the NFL’s point of view, SportsLine doesn’t think it’s mathematically possible, which is why they’re grouped together here. 

One more note: Remember, this is a projection based on how we think the regular season will play out. If you want to see the current playoff standings, you’ll want to click here to see Will Brinson’s thorough breakdown of what the playoff race looks like as we head into Week 12.

AFC Playoff Projection

(Team, projected record after 16 games, strength of schedule listed if in top-five easiest or hardest)

1. Patriots (14-2), AFC East champion: If Bill Belichick was hoping he’d be able to rest his 40-year-old quarterback before the regular season ends, it’s starting to look like that’s not going to be possible and that’s because the Patriots are going to need to win pretty much every game for the rest of the season if they want to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

Remaining schedule: Miami, at Buffalo, at Miami, at Pittsburgh, Buffalo, at N.Y. Jets (30-30 combined record)

2. Jaguars (13-3), AFC South champion: Even if Blake Bortles were to self destruct down the stretch, the Jaguars would probably still win enough games to earn a first-round bye. And yes, we just used “Jaguars” and “first-round bye” in the same sentence. The Jags have the third-easiest schedule left of any team in the NFL, which bodes well for their playoff chances. The computer actually thinks the Jaguars are a lock for the postseason: SportsLine says the Jags have a 99 percent chance of making the playoffs.  

Remaining schedule: At Arizona, Indianapolis, Seattle, Houston, at San Francisco, at Tennessee (24-36 combined record, tied for third-easiest remaining schedule)

Book the Jaguars for the playoffs. 

3. Steelers (13-3), AFC North champion: The most intriguing game left on the entire AFC schedule might just be the Week 15 showdown between the Steelers and the Patriots. There’s a good chance the winner of that game could end up with home field advantage and you can probably guess who we’re projecting to win since the Steelers are here and the Patriots are at the top. 

Remaining schedule: Green Bay, at Cincinnati, Baltimore, New England, at Houston, Cleveland (26-34 combined record)

4. Chiefs (11-5) AFC West champion: Even if you stumble to the playoffs, it still counts as making the playoffs and that’s actually what the Chiefs might end up doing. Thanks to the fact that they play in the AFC’s weakest division, it might not matter that the Chiefs are currently in the middle of a midseason meltdown. The Chiefs have the third-easiest schedule over the final six weeks, which is why we like them here. 

Remaining schedule: Buffalo, at N.Y. Jets, Oakland, L.A. Chargers, Miami, at Denver (24-36 combined record, tied for third-easiest remaining schedule).

5. Chargers (9-7), wild card: Can the Chargers come out of nowhere and steal a wild-card spot? If they can beat the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, there’s no reason the Chargers can’t make a playoff run down the stretch. Despite their easy schedule, the computer hates the Chargers, giving them just a 13.1 percent chance of making the postseason, which is worse than the Titans, Bills and Ravens

Remaining schedule: At Dallas, Cleveland, Washington, at Kansas City, at N.Y. Jets, Oakland (23-37 combined record, second-easiest remaining schedule in the league).

6. Titans (9-7), wild card: The Titans will likely be big underdogs in each of their final two games, so if they want to make it to the postseason, they better be sure they don’t blow it over the next four weeks when they play exactly zero teams that currently have a winning record. 

Remaining schedule: At Indianapolis, Houston, at Arizona, at San Francisco, L.A. Rams, Jacksonville (26-34 combined record).

Just missed

Ravens (9-7): Although Baltimore didn’t make the cut in our first projection, I do have some good news for Ravens fans: The computer absolutely LOVES you, which is saying a lot because machines usually aren’t capable of love. According to SportsLine, the Ravens have a 60.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, which is much higher than the Chargers (13.1 percent), who currently occupy one of our wild-card slots. 

NFC Playoff Projection

(Team, projected record after 16 games)

1. Eagles (14-2), NFC East champion: If the Eagles are going to slip up, it would probably come starting in Week 13 when they have to play three straight games on the road. Of course, if the Eagles have proven one thing this year, it’s that they don’t ever slip up, which is why we have them in the NFC’s top spot. 

Remaining schedule: Chicago, at Seattle, at L.A. Rams, at N.Y. Giants, Oakland, Dallas (27-33 combined record)

2. Vikings (13-3), NFC North champion: If the Vikings are going to win the NFC North, they’re going to have to go on the road to do it. Over the next five weeks, the Vikings have to play on the road four times and none of those games will come against a team that currently has a losing record. If the Vikings don’t beat the Lions on Thanksgiving, we could see them tumble all the way down to a wild card spot by the end of the season. 

Remaining schedule: At Detroit, at Atlanta, at Carolina, Cincinnati, at Green Bay, Chicago (31-29 combined record)

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings’ Turkey Day showdown in Motown is huge for the NFC playoff race. 

3. Saints (13-3), NFC South champion: If you’re looking for the division that’s most likely to turn into a bar room brawl over the final six weeks of the season, it’s the NFC South. The Saints’ grip on first place could be gone as soon as Sunday if the they lose to the Rams and the Panthers beat the Jets. 

Remaining schedule: At L.A. Rams, Carolina, at Atlanta, N.Y. Jets, Atlanta, at Tampa Bay (34-26 combined record)

4. Rams (11-5), NFC West champion: To win their first division title since 2003, the Rams are going to have to navigate their way through a schedule that includes the Saints and Eagles over the next three weeks. Of course, it doesn’t really even get any easier after that, because the Rams then have to go to Seattle where the division title will likely be on the line. Although we only have the Rams finishing one game ahead of the Seahawks, the computer seems pretty confident that the Rams are going to take the division. SportsLine is giving L.A. a 68.3 percent chance of winning the NFC West, which is more than double the chances being given to the Seahawks (31.5 percent). 

Remaining schedule: New Orleans, at Arizona, Philadelphia, at Seattle, at Tennessee, San Francisco (34-26 combined record).

5. Falcons (11-5), wild card: The Falcons picked the right time to impress us. If Atlanta hadn’t beaten Seattle on Monday, we’d probably have the Seahawks in this slot instead of the Falcons, but they did beat Seattle, so the spot belongs to them. Falcons fans might want to send Blair Walsh a fruit basket. The one worrisome thing about having the Falcons here is that they play the hardest schedule in the NFL over the final six weeks of the season. 

Remaining schedule: Tampa Bay, Minnesota, New Orleans, at Tampa Bay, at New Orleans, at Carolina (39-21 combined record, hardest remaining schedule).

6. Lions (10-6), wild card: If you’re wondering how the Lions got this spot over the Seahawks and Panthers, it’s because they only play one team that currently has a winning record over the final six weeks of the season. 

Remaining schedule: Minnesota, at Baltimore, at Tampa Bay, Chicago, at Cincinnati, Green Bay (29-31 combined record)

Just missed

Panthers (10-6): In our projection, the Panthers and Falcons both go into their Week 17 showdown at 10-5 with the winner getting to the playoffs. Based on the fact that Carolina is on the outside looking in, I think you can guess what we predicted would happen. There is some good news for Panthers fans, though:  The computer really likes your chances of making the playoffs. SportsLine is giving the Panthers a 66 percent chance of making the postseason, which is higher than the Falcons (58.2 percent), Seahawks (48.7 percent) or Lions (39.7 percent). 

Seahawks (10-6): The Seahawks have never missed the postseason since drafting Russell Wilson in 2012, but it’s starting to look more and more like that could happen. The biggest thing standing in the way of a Seahawks playoff berth — besides all of their injuries — is the fact that they have a stretch run that includes games against the Eagles, Jaguars and Rams in consecutive weeks. Of course, Wilson has defied the odds thousands of times before, so if he carries Seattle to a postseason berth, it wouldn’t be a complete shock. 

Cowboys note: After watching the Cowboys cruise to a playoff berth with a 13-3 record last year, we don’t really see any way for them to make the playoffs this season. We have them finishing the year at 8-8. The computer has also basically written the Cowboys off, giving them just an 8.8 percent chance of making the postseason. 

Wild-card round 

(Based on this week’s projections)


(5) L.A. Chargers at (4) Kansas City

(6) Tennessee at (3) Pittsburgh

Byes: New England, Jacksonville


(5) Atlanta at (4) L.A. Rams

(6) Detroit at (3) New Orleans

Byes: Philadelphia, Minnesota

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