NFL

NFL playoff picture: Three-way NFC West race brewing

  • ESPN.com national NFL writer
  • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

The Cardinals’ victory via Hail Mary Sunday didn’t just thrill NFL viewers. It also helped shake up the NFC playoff race for the 2020 season. When the dust settled, the Cardinals were atop the NFC West and the Packers were holding the top spot in the conference.

We continue to base our weekly playoff picture analysis on a 14-team field. NFL owners did approve a contingency plan for a 16-team field last week, should the regular season be cut short by COVID-19. But that plan is subject to approval by the NFL Players Association, and the terms of its trigger — how many games would need to be canceled for it to be implemented — have not been publicized. We’ll use ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) to help project the coming weeks, with our usual disclaimer: There is a long way to go. Let’s jump in, starting with the lone undefeated team in the NFL.

AFC

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99.9%
FPI chances to win division: 83.7%

The Steelers were the first NFL team to nine victories and now own a full game lead on the Chiefs for the top spot in the conference. You know you’re humming along when your starting quarterback can miss the week of practice, as Ben Roethlisberger did because of COVID-19 protocols, and you still put up 333 passing yards and four touchdown throws.

The Steelers will finish their season with a quite lopsided schedule, with very winnable games against the Jaguars and Bengals and then four against strong postseason contenders (Ravens, Bills, Colts and Browns).

Up next: at Jaguars

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