With the National Football League entering the final leg of the season, playoff hopes have started to actualize — at least for some teams. The New England Patriots, as per usual, will take an easy sweep of the American Football Conference East division while the Pittsburgh Steelers seem a shoe-in for the top spot in the AFC North. That leaves two tight races in the AFC South and AFC West. In the South, the Tennessee Titans look to avenge their narrow denial of the playoffs last year, going up against the unexpectedly talented Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags, led by newly minted running back Leonard Fournette, will look to their final regular-season game when they face off against the Titans in what may be a win-or-go-home situation. The two teams’ upcoming schedules are nearly identical, making the final game all the more likely to be the deciding factor. The Jaguars nearly led the league in losses last year with a 3-13 record, making their flight to the top all the more dumbfounding. 

The West is looking particularly sad this season, with the sub-par Kansas City Chiefs leading the pack with a 6-6 record. The Chiefs have been dismal as of late, losing their last four games, including one against the horrific New York Giants. The Chiefs have somehow held onto a share of first, tied with the Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders.

Moving toward the National Football Conference, the Philadelphia Eagles have come out of nowhere, led by soon-to-be-star quarterback Carson Wentz. The Eagles have it made in the East and with the dismal Giants and suspension-plagued Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles will strut into the playoffs with swagger. The NFC North looks much the same, with the Minnesota Vikings benefiting from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ injury. The Vikings have had their ups and downs but have found their way with a stellar duo in running back Latavius Murray and quarterback Case Keenum. 

In the NFC South, there lies a three-way race for the playoffs, pitting the New Orleans Saints against the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons. The Panthers took a lead in the standings over the Saints this week after their head-to-head matchup, while the Falcons fell to 7-5 after a loss to the Vikings.

In the West, it looks like the change of scenery was all the now-Los Angeles Rams needed. With a first-place seat in the division, the Rams need only to overcome the Seattle Seahawks to crack the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Rams still have a tough road ahead, though, facing the Seahawks, Titans and Eagles in their final five games. 

The times are changing in the NFC, and the shakeup has made the races all the more exciting. If the playoffs were to start today, not one NFC division leader from last year would be a division leader this year, and the Falcons would be the only team to have made the playoffs in both years in the NFC. 

The conference has been changing due to new players stepping up to carry their teams on their backs. Wentz and Keenum have been particularly outstanding, with Wentz only in his first professional campaign and Keenum never having played like this in the past. However, with the regular season coming to a close, these two gunslingers are proving their worth: their respective teams have become legitimate contenders.

Needless to say, the playoffs will be exciting as always. Yet with the looming fear of missing out, this time of year runs a close second for many fanbases. But in the end all is for naught, as reasonable people can agree that the 2017-2018 Super Bowl champions were chosen long ago in the early games of the preseason —the universally hated New England Patriots. With quarterback Tom Brady having another MVP-caliber season, little can be done to stop them.