2021 NFL Playoff Picture, Standings: Bills and Saints both in postseason hunt ahead of Thanksgiving matchup

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The Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints will close out the Thanksgiving Day slate with a game that has important implications on the NFL playoff picture. Live coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. ET with Football Night in America. The match-up will also be available via live stream on Peacock.

After getting off to a 4-1 start to the season, the Bills have dropped three of their last five games and the Saints have lost three straight games since upsetting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 8. Thursday night’s contest provides both teams with the chance to get back on track entering the latter-half of the season. Let’s take a closer look at the implications of Thursdays’ game on the AFC and NFC and look ahead to Sunday night’s division matchup between the first-place Baltimore Ravens and last-place Cleveland Browns.

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2021 AFC East playoff race

The postseason race in this division features two teams: the surging New England Patriots, who currently occupy first place with a 7-4 record and the 6-4 Bills. The 4-7 Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets, who have a 2-8 mark, round out the division with losing records.

Can the Bills defeat good teams?

The Bills’ 6-4 record does not tell the full story of the team’s performance this season. Though Buffalo boasts a winning record through 10 games, their only victory against a team with a winning record came in Week 5 when the Bills defeated the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills’ six wins have come against teams that have a combined record of 23-40 (counting the 4-7 Dolphins twice). Three of the Bills’ four losses have come against teams with winning records: the Steelers (5-4-1), Titans (8-3) and Colts (6-5). But Buffalo also dropped one surprising game to the 2-8 Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 9. In last week’s 41-15 drubbing by the Colts, Buffalo suffered its worst home loss since 2018. With four losses through 10 games, Buffalo has already dropped more games than it did in all of the last season when it finished with a 13-3 record.

It doesn’t help that Buffalo is facing its toughest stretch of the season in the coming weeks. After traveling to New Orleans, the Bills will play a key division matchup against the 7-4 Patriots. Then, Buffalo will travel to Tampa Bay to take on the first-place Buccaneers before playing the 5-6 Carolina Panthers in Week 15 and the Patriots again in Week 16 in New England. This stretch of games, particularly the two contests vs. Bill Belichick’s Patriots, will impact the NFL playoff picture as the Bills continue to fight for a postseason spot.

RELATED: How to watch the Buffalo Bills vs New Orleans Saints: Live stream, TV info, kickoff time for Thanksgiving Day

2021 AFC Playoff Picture:

The standings in the AFC continue to change every week as teams vie for a spot in the postseason. There are 12 teams with records of .500 or better through 11 weeks. The conference also features five teams that are within a half-game of the No. 6 and No. 7 playoff spots.

The Titans have a two-game lead over the Colts in the AFC South and continue to sit atop the AFC by maintaining a half game lead over the Baltimore Ravens. Even with a surprise 22-13 loss to the Houston Texans last week that snapped a six-game winning streak, the Titans maintained control of the conference.

The Ravens hold the No. 2 spot in the AFC behind the Titans after bouncing back from a tough loss in Week 10 to defeat the Chicago Bears last week.

After a 2-4 start to the season, the surging New England Patriots have established themselves as worthy contenders for the AFC crown. Bill Belichick’s team has won five straight games with rookie QB Mac Jones under center. But the next four matchups will play a major role in determining the Patriots’ fate as they face the Titans, Bills, Colts and Bills again.

The Chiefs have the fourth spot in the AFC following a convincing win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 11. The Kansas City defense has allowed 17 or fewer points in its last four games.

The Bengals round out the top five teams in the conference after a much-needed win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 11 that snapped a two-game losing streak.

What to expect when the Ravens host the Browns in a key AFC north matchup on Sunday Night Football:

The Ravens are in first place in the AFC North and the Browns are in fourth but just two games separate the division rivals, underscoring the importance of Sunday night’s matchup on the NFL playoff picture.

Baltimore managed to pull together a win against the Bears last week even though the team was without star signal-caller Lamar Jackson, who was sidelined with a non-COVID related illness and missed just the third game in his four-year career. In Jackson’s absence, Tyler Huntley made his first NFL start. An undrafted player from the University of Utah in 2020, Huntley managed to lead the Ravens to a game-winning drive to defeat the Bears and retain a one-game lead over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.

Head coach John Harbaugh said in his media availability this week that he is hopeful Jackson will be able to start on Sunday. The Ravens will need Jackson as their remaining schedule features opponents that all have a winning record and five of their last seven games are against division opponents.

Meanwhile, the Browns have been inconsistent in recent weeks, posting a 3-4 record after starting the season at 3-1. They showed signs of promise with a 17-14 victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 7 and a 41-16 rout of the Bengals in Week 9. But the offense, despite featuring one of the best rushing units in the league, has been largely quiet. Excluding the win against the Bengals, the Browns have not scored more than 17 points in their last six games.

RELATED: 2021 Sunday Night Football schedule: NFL live streams, how to watch on TV, channel, kickoff times

2021 NFC South division race

The NFC South is led by the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, who have a 7-3 record. The Saints are in second place in the division at 5-5, followed closely by the 5-6 Carolina Panthers and lowly 4-6 Atlanta Falcons.

Can the Saints find consistency under center in the post-Drew Brees era?

For the first time since 2005, the Saints needed to field someone at quarterback other than franchise great Drew Brees. Adjusting to life without Brees has not been easy though.

Sean Payton and the Saints elected to start QB Jameis Winston under center to start the 2021 season. Winston spent the first five seasons of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before joining the Saints in 2020. He led New Orleans to a 4-2 start this season before suffering a torn ACL and MCL in Week 8.

The injury paved the way for Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round pick by the Denver Broncos in the 2015 NFL Draft, to get the start. Under Siemian, the Saints are 0-3 and have fallen to .500 on the season. In the wake of the team’s recent poor performances, fellow QB Taysom Hill reportedly agreed to a four-year contract extension on Monday. When filling in for an injured Brees last season, Hill led the team to a 3-1 record.

With potentially three different quarterbacks under center for the Saints this season alone, the transition to the post-Brees era is still in flux.

2021 NFC Playoff Picture:

Unlike the AFC, the NFC features heavyweights at the top of the conference. The 9-2 Arizona Cardinals are back in the No. 1 spot after grinding out a road win in Seattle. The Cardinals managed to win without Kyler Murray, who is still recovering from an ankle injury, and star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has a hamstring issue.

With their win over the Seahawks, the Cardinals knocked the 8-3 Green Bay Packers into the No. 2 spot in the conference standings. While the Packers remain in first place in the NFC North, they failed to win a thriller vs. Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings in Week 11, falling just short, 34-31.

The 7-3 Buccaneers are at No. 3 in the AFC after a much-needed win against the ailing New York Giants in Tampa on Monday night. The win snapped a two-game losing streak that included dropped contests against the Saints and Washington Football Team.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys failed to stay ahead of the Packers by getting beat, 19-9, by the Chiefs in Week 11.

The Los Angeles Rams were on a bye last week but managed to stay within the top five of the conference due to the performances by other teams. The Rams will seek to rebound in Week 12 after two straight losses to the Titans and 49ers.

RELATED: When do the 2022 NFL playoffs start: Dates, schedule, TV channels, live streams, format

Current 2021 NFL Playoff picture

AFC Standings

Tennessee Titans (8-3)

Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

Buffalo Bills (7-4)

Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)

New England Patriots (7-4)

Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)

Los Angeles Chargers (6-4)

On the bubble:

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1)

Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

Las Vegas Raiders (5-5)

Cleveland Browns (6-5)

Denver Broncos (5-5)

NFC Standings

Arizona Cardinals (9-2)

Green Bay Packers (8-3)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3)

Dallas Cowboys (7-4)

Los Angeles Rams (7-3)

Minnesota Vikings (5-5)

San Francisco 49ers (5-5)

On the bubble:

Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)

Carolina Panthers (5-6)

New Orleans Saints (5-6)

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2021 NFL Playoff Picture, Standings: Bills and Saints both in postseason hunt ahead of Thanksgiving matchup originally appeared on NBCSports.com