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What Week 9 means for the 2020 NFL playoff picture

At the 2020 season’s halfway mark, the NFL’s contenders and pretenders have begun to separate from one another.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Every team in the NFL will have played at least half its 16 games by the end of Week 9, providing a useful snapshot as to how the playoff picture has unfolded so far. Already, a handful of teams in either conference have established themselves as contenders, but a few more could join their ranks in the near future with victories this week. In the same vein, other clubs will find themselves on the outside looking in should they falter Sunday and in the coming weeks.

In the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts face off in a game of significant magnitude. Not only will the victor have the inside track for the top wild-card spot in the conference, but both will keep pace or make up ground in their respective divisional races. The Ravens have already dropped a head-to-head tilt with the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers, who will have a hard time losing against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Accordingly, Baltimore has little margin for error to add another conference loss to its résumé. The Colts have a little more wiggle room in their chase of the Tennessee Titans, but a victory would still make a significant difference.

An even more interesting matchup will unfold in the other conference where the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will battle it out for NFC South supremacy. At present, the Buccaneers hold a slight edge over the Saints in the standings and have home-field advantage Sunday. Still, New Orleans expects to regain the services of Michael Thomas, their All-Pro receiver who has not played since the team’s season-opening victory over Tampa Bay. Another victory over Tom Brady and company would put the Saints in first place within the division and seal the head-to-head tiebreaker.

While not as directly impactful on the playoff picture as either of the aforementioned matchups, Sunday’s tilt between the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills will provide useful insight into both teams. The Seahawks hold a slight edge in the NFC West, the league’s most competitive division. Any loss would open the door to the Arizona Cardinals, who beat Seattle two weeks ago. As for Buffalo, a defeat wouldn’t have nearly the same impact on the AFC East standings, but it would cast further doubt on a team that has looked pedestrian after a hot start to the season.

AFC playoff picture

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-0 — at Cowboys
2. Kansas City Chiefs: 7-1 — vs. Panthers
3. Buffalo Bills: 6-2 — vs. Seahawks
4. Tennessee Titans: 6-2 — vs. Bears
5. Baltimore Ravens: 5-2 — at Colts
6. Indianapolis Colts: 5-2 — vs. Ravens
7. Cleveland Browns: 5-3 — BYE

In the hunt: Las Vegas Raiders (4-3), Miami Dolphins (4-3), Denver Broncos (3-4)

Ravens (5-2) @ Colts (5-2)
Broncos (3-4) @ Falcons (2-6)
Seahawks (6-1) @ Bills (6-2)
Bears (5-3) @ Titans (5-2)
Panthers (3-4) @ Chiefs (7-1)
Texans (1-6) @ Jaguars (1-6)
Raiders (4-3) @ Chargers (2-5)
Steelers (7-0) @ Cowboys (2-6)
Dolphins (4-3) @ Cardinals (5-2)
Patriots (2-5) @ Jets (0-8)

NFC playoff picture

1. Seattle Seahawks: 6-1 — at Bills
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-2 — vs. Saints
3. Green Bay Packers: 6-2 — vs. 49ers
4. Philadelphia Eagles: 3-4-1 — at Giants
5. New Orleans Saints: 5-2 — at Buccaneers
6. Arizona Cardinals: 5-2 — vs. Dolphins
7. Los Angeles Rams: 5-3 — BYE

In the hunt: Chicago Bears (5-3), San Francisco 49ers (4-5), Detroit Lions (3-4)

TNF: Packers 34 - 49ers 17
Broncos (3-4) @ Falcons (2-6)
Seahawks (6-1) @ Bills (6-2)
Bears (5-3) @ Titans (5-2)
Panthers (3-4) @ Chiefs (7-1)
Lions (3-4) @ Vikings (2-5)
Giants (1-7) @ Washington (2-5)
Steelers (7-0) @ Cowboys (2-6)
Dolphins (4-3) @ Cardinals (5-2)
Saints (5-2) @ Buccaneers (6-2)