December 17, 2021 | SPORTS | By Ben Hayes-Lemon | Image courtesy of The Catalyst Archives

As 2021 comes to an end in just a couple weeks, the home stretch of the NFL season is already here. The playoff picture is beginning to take shape, and with some young leaders emerging from across the league, the postseason is sure to be filled with some incredible football.

For the first time since 1978, no team has officially clinched a playoff berth by Week 14. The Arizona Cardinals had the chance to become the first team to clinch their spot in the playoffs, but a tough loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday dropped them from the number-one NFC seed all the way to third in the conference.

The NFC playoff picture has some familiar teams to the past couple of years. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers lead the NFC North with 10 wins and three losses. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently leading the NFC South with a record of 10-3, led by Tom Brady, hoping to lead Tampa Bay to back-to-back Super Bowl wins.

The Cardinals, after losing to the Rams, dropped to third in the NFC playoff race, yet they still lead the NFC West. The Cowboys, with the return of Dak Prescott, currently reside in the number-one position in the NFC East. The Rams, standing at 8-5, are expected to make it to the playoffs as well. The rest of the NFC positions remain up in the air.

In the AFC, a leader has arisen in Mac Jones, who has taken the Patriots to the number-one seed not only in the AFC East, but in the entire conference. The Titans are also in the middle of a strong season. They are currently leading the AFC South.

The Chiefs have won six games in a row, occupying the top position in the AFC West at this point. The Ravens, headed by Lamar Jackson, lead the AFC North.

With some of the deepest rivalries in football, the AFC West has been one of the most competitive divisions. It has an unclear, constantly changing playoff picture. Going into Week 14, the 6-6 Raiders had the opportunity to face the 8-4 Chiefs with the hopes of pulling off an upset and ending the Chiefs’ five-game win streak.

Unfortunately for Broncos fans and Chargers fans alike, the Chiefs defeated the Raiders in a blowout, with a final score of 41-14.

With the Chiefs as a dominant force throughout the entire AFC and the Raiders almost certainly out of the playoff picture, it can be easy to write off the rest of the AFC West. However, both the Chargers and the Broncos have winning records (8-5 and 7-6 respectively) and neither team is ready to go down without a fight.

Although the Chargers are currently the number-five seed in the AFC just behind the Ravens, the next couple of matchups will define the season. They face the Chiefs, Texans, Broncos, and Raiders in the next four weeks; outcomes of those games will dictate if the Chargers make it to the playoffs.

The Broncos are in a similar position to the Chargers. They are set to face off against the Bengals, Raiders, Chargers, and Chiefs. With three divisional games left in just four weeks, both the Broncos and the Chargers are sure to have an exciting and emotional end to the season.

In honor of Demaryius Thomas, a Broncos legend who passed away at 33 this past week, the Broncos lined up with 10 men on the field, leaving Thomas’s position empty. They took a penalty for delay of game, which the opposing Lions respectfully declined in a true show of sportsmanship.

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