NEW YORK — The playoff races became clearer this weekend. And cloudier.
The Packers earned a first-round bye and the Saints secured a postseason berth Sunday. Green Bay (13-0) will own NFC home-field advantage with another victory as it pursues perfection.
New Orleans will win the NFC South by beating Minnesota this week if Atlanta loses to Jacksonville.
Houston, for the first time since the Texans were born in 2002, made the playoffs, winning the AFC South.
New England is again on the verge of capturing the AFC East. Baltimore and Pittsburgh might go all the way to New Year’s Day to decide the AFC North and possibly AFC home-field advantage, but both have comfortable leads for a wild-card spot, too.
San Francisco grabbed its first division crown in nine years a week ago, then blew a game at Arizona on Sunday. Still, the Niners and Saints should battle for the other first-round bye in the NFC.
The rest of the picture is about as well-defined as the weather: one day, the Cowboys look good, the next day they are ugly. Same for the Giants, Raiders and Bengals.
In the chase for wild-card berths, there’s no predicting what the Falcons, Lions and Bears might do in the NFC. Nor the Jets and Titans in the AFC. The best record among them is New York’s 8-5, a shaky 8-5.
Even the Seahawks, Cardinals, Chargers and – hold your breath – Eagles remain alive.
“We played like men today,” Eagles defensive end Jason Babin said after a 26-10 victory at Miami lifted them to 5-8, hardly a playoff pace in most years. “Do we have a chance for the playoffs? Maybe. We were kind of out of it, but guys in this locker room decided, ‘We’re going to play and have fun and show you guys we love the game.’ I think that really rang true the whole day.”
One thing seems certain: When the NFL season concludes Jan. 1, there should be plenty of meaningful games, both for division championships and wild-card slots. The Cowboys and Giants will face off in the Meadowlands, probably to decide the NFC East. Baltimore is at Cincinnati, with perhaps the division and a wild-card spot on the line. If Seattle and Arizona keep winning, they will face off for what could be one of the most unexpected wild cards since the NFL
implemented them after merging with the AFL. Detroit visits Green Bay, which could be going for 16-0. The Lions are trying to squeeze into the postseason for the first time since 1999.