NFL Playoff Picture after Rams beat Saints on TNF

The Los Angeles Rams dominated the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football. Here's how the NFL postseason picture looks.

Ugo Amadi, Puka Nacua
Ugo Amadi, Puka Nacua / Katelyn Mulcahy/GettyImages
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The Los Angeles Rams hosted the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football, a battle of .500 teams with significant postseason stakes. For the Saints, it was win and move into first place in the NFC South, or lose and fall out of the Wild Card pack. The final score was 30-22, Rams.

Frankly, the game wasn't as close as the score indicates. New Orleans did not show up until a too little, too late push in the fourth quarter. The Rams advance to 8-7, currently in sole possession of the NFC's No. 5 seed — the second Wild Card spot behind the uncatchable 10-4 Philadelphia Eagles. The Saints fall half a game behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South standings, with the Atlanta Falcons (somehow...) still in hot pursuit.

Both conferences are currently embroiled in competitive Wild Card races. We can't expect clear favorites to emerge until the final bell sounds on Week 18. This upcoming Sunday will feature several make-or-break matchups. Not every first place spot is sealed either. The Saints are within striking distance in the NFC South, as are the Eagles (tied 10-4 with Dallas in the NFC East) and the Colts (tied 8-6 with Jacksonville in the AFC South).

Here's how the brackets shake out after Thursday Night Football.

NFC Playoff Picture after Rams beat Saints on Thursday Night Football

1. San Francisco 49ers (11-3) x
2. Dallas Cowboys (10-4) x
3. Detroit Lions (10-4)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7)
5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-4) x
6. Los Angeles Rams (8-7)
7. Minnesota Vikings (7-7)

( 'x' denotes a clinched postseason berth)

The Eagles have lost three straight entering Sunday's matchup with the Giants. That's a softball set up on a tee — if the Eagles don't smack it out of the park, we should be deeply concerned.

The Vikings fell to 7-7 with a heartbreaking loss to the Bengals last week in Nick Mullens' first start of the season. He threw for 303 yards and two scores, but also tossed two interceptions (plus a pick-six that was called back on a lucky penalty). Kirk Cousins ain't coming back unless the Vikings make it to the Super Bowl, so it's on Mullens to right the ship when Minnesota hosts Detroit this Sunday.

NFC Wild Card standings

1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-4) x
2. Los Angeles Rams (8-7)
3. Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
4. Seattle Seahawks (7-7)
5. New Orleans Saints (7-8)
6. Atlanta Falcons (6-8)
7. Green Bay Packers (6-8)

The Packers and Falcons are in choppy waters right now. Atlanta is switching back to Taylor Heinicke at QB, but that's probably not enough to change their course. The Packers are a young group plagued by the mistakes of youth.

Both Minnesota and Atlanta will be playing with backup QBs the rest of the way. Seattle expects Geno Smith back in the driver's seat this Sunday after Drew Lock's majestic comeback drive to beat the Eagles on MNF.

AFC Playoff Picture ahead of Week 16

1. Baltimore Ravens (11-3) x
2. Miami Dolphins (10-4)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-5)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-6)
5. Cleveland Browns (9-5)
6. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
7. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

The Ravens are the team to beat in the AFC. Baltimore hasn't necessarily earned trust on the postseason stage in recent years, but John Harbaugh's track record is beyond reproach and the Ravens are the only consistent two-way team in the conference week to week.

Kansas City is going to end up first in their division, but that offense is way to finicky despite Patrick Mahomes' inherent greatness. The Dolphins are a buzzsaw on offense, but is Tua Tagovailoa really a postseason-level dude? Will the defense step up when it matters? Those questions are as of yet unanswered.

AFC Wild Card standings

1. Cleveland Browns (9-5)
2. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
3. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)
4. Houston Texans (8-6)
5. Buffalo Bills (8-6)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
7. Denver Broncos (7-7)

The Bills managed an impressive and essential victory over the Chiefs in Week 15. It's hard to imagine Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs simply missing the postseason. Still, there's ground to be made up. Notably, C.J. Stroud is slated to miss time with a concussion. That's a significant blow to Houston's postseason aspirations.

The Colts, Texans, Steelers, Bengals, and Browns will all play backup QBs next week. In short — the AFC Wild Card race is a blindfolded dart toss with no clear frontrunners or predictable narratives outside of Joe Flacco and the plucky Browns defense.

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