The NFL playoffs are just six weeks away, and the playoff picture is still very murky, but it is slowly beginning to take shape as the regular season winds down. Here's a look at the Week 12 matchups that will have the greatest effect on the postseason race.
Miami at Denver
The Broncos are in serious need of a rebound after getting thumped by the St. Louis Rams. In a game where the 7-3 Broncos were the heavy favorites, they got whipped by the Rams, 22-7. The Broncos now aren't even a lock to win their own division with the 7-4 Kansas City Chiefs and 6-4 San Diego Chargers nipping at their heels.
As for the 6-4 Miami Dolphins, they too are fighting for their playoff lives as they're tied with the 7-4 Pittsburgh Steelers for the No. 6 seed in the AFC North. Few expect the Dolphins to come in and win in Denver, but if they somehow can, it will be a tremendous boost to their playoff hopes.
There's also the potential scenario that Kansas City wins the West, leaving the Broncos fighting for one of the final two Wild Card spots with teams like Miami, which means a head-to-head win here is also important for both of these teams.
Detroit at New England
The Patriots are hoping to keep their roll going when they host the Detroit Lions in Foxborough for a clash of division leaders. The 8-2 Patriots have won six in a row after beginning the year 2-2. They have looked unstoppable over the past two months, over which they have scored 37 or more points in five games. The Pats' 32.3 points per game is just a shade below the Green Bay Packers' 33.0 for the No. 1 scoring offense in football.
The 7-3 Lions are more of a defensive-focused team, allowing an NFL-low 15.5 points per game. This will be a clash of contrasting teams, pitting perhaps the best offense in football against the best defense.
Despite their dominance, the Lions are still tied with the 7-3 Packers atop the NFC North, so they need to keep winning to remain ahead. The Patriots have a comfortable lead over the 6-4 Miami Dolphins, the only team that looks like a legitimate threat to dethrone the Patriots atop the AFC East.
Cincinnati at Houston
The 6-3-1 Bengals are back atop the AFC North thanks to the 5-5 Texans beating the Browns in Week 11. This also put Houston within striking distance for one of the two Wild Card spots. The Texans need to beat the Bengals this week to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, while Cincy needs to win to stay atop their division with more difficult games left on their schedule.
Baltimore at New Orleans
The Ravens and the Saints will meet in Week 12 on Monday Night Football. Coming off their bye week, the Ravens should be rested and ready to make one final push for the playoffs. Sitting at 6-4, Baltimore is less than a game out of first place in the AFC North.
Every game going forward is going to be critical to Baltimore's postseason hopes, starting when the Ravens travel to New Orleans to face the 4-6 Saints. While Baltimore is right in the thick of the playoff hunt, so are the Saints, who are tied with the 4-6 Atlanta Falcons for first place in the NFC South.
A win could be a significant boost for either team, but even the team that loses Monday night will still have a decent chance of advancing to the playoffs.
Arizona at Seattle
It seems like no matter what the 9-1 Cardinals do, they can't seem to prove themselves. After knocking off the Lions last week in the first game since the season-ending injury to Carson Palmer, the Cardinals still find themselves as heavy underdogs among experts heading into Week 12's showdown with the 6-4 Seahawks.
As for the defending Super-Bowl champs, they're currently on the outside of the playoff picture, and they are in desperate need of a win to remain in the playoff race. With two games against the 49ers approaching, in addition to road games at Arizona and Philadelphia, Seattle is now in a position where they have to win out at home.