With the first nine weeks of the season completed, we're starting to get a much better sense of the playoff races in the NFL. Some teams can start counting themselves out unless they start winning soon. As soon as this Sunday, in fact.
The Bills are currently holding position as the No. 6 seed in the AFC at 5-3, which gives them a surprisingly big advantage over the eighth-place Ravens at 4-5. Only the Dolphins sit between those two teams at 4-4, but given Miami's hefty offensive struggles at different points of the season, it may not be long before the AFC playoff seeds are fairly well defined.
However, in the NFC, things are much different and standings could change dramatically from hour-to-hour as scores trickle in each week. The Seahawks improved to being the first wild card team after beating the Cardinals on Thursday, but Seattle's 6-3 record is still just two games better than Arizona -- the 12th-place team -- at 4-5.
So, the "must-win" games are definitely worth tracking by now, as are the "should=lose" games. Let's rank all the teams in action this weekend based on how essential a win is going forward at this pivotal point in the season.
The race for the No. 1 pick
1-7, at 49ers
The Giants are the team "best" served to lose this week, as a loss to the 49ers would drop them to 1-8, improve the 49ers to 1-9 and keep them in the race for the top overall pick next year. The Giants could be the team most in need of drafting a franchise quarterback, especially when you consider the potential salary cap ramifications if they find a replacement for Eli Manning, who is scheduled to make more than $22 million in each of the next two seasons. A win almost guarantees that the Giants won't be picking ahead of San Francisco, and that's something that could really slow down their necessary re-rebuild of 2018.
0-9, vs. Giants
San Francisco is also in a position of a loss actually helping in the long run. Players and coaches on both sides won't be planning to do that, but the GMs and owners know what's really best for their franchises. The 49ers may not be as in dire need of a QB after trading for Jimmy Garoppolo, but they don't want to lose the potential power they'd have if they secure the No. 1 pick; John Lynch has already shown a willingness to move down and grab extra picks in those situations.
0-8, at Lions
If Cleveland wins, it'll open the door for the 49ers or Giants to swoop in on that top overall pick, and the Browns really need to stop squandering their opportunities to draft a franchise QB. It's unlikely that they'll get a win in Detroit, so 0-9 is probably on the horizon.
2-6, vs. Jets
There's nothing left for Tampa to play for other than Dirk Koetter's job, and new leadership might be better for both the franchise and Jameis Winston. The Bucs are allowing a passer rating against of 101.9, which is a lot better than what Winston was doing before he got injured.
Not much pressure either way
3-5, at Rams
They aren't going to make the playoffs with Tom Savage and there's little shame in losing a non-conference road game against a 6-2 team.
4-4, at Bears
They could stay in the wild card race, but why? There's basically zero chance that Green Bay will make the playoffs without Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers can take advantage of an unexpected chance to add a top-10 pick for next season.
3-5, vs. Steelers
There are incentives for Indy to keep winning even though the Colts are not good enough to compete for the postseason: The more wins for Jacoby Brissett, the better. Not only does it make him a more viable trade candidate should Andrew Luck get healthy, but it improves his status as a backup option should Luck remain shelved. And if they lose to the best team in the AFC, so be it.
3-5, at Titans
At this point, Cincinnati has little to gain or lose regardless of the end result. The Bengals are not good enough to compete for the Super Bowl but also not bad enough to pick in the top three. Winning makes it more likely that coach Marvin Lewis sticks around for another season.
4-4, at Panthers
Monday night may be the third time this season that Miami is held scoreless. A win keeps the Dolphins in the wild-card race, but their defense is not nearly good enough to make them anything more than an 8-8 team.
3-5, vs. Packers
The more wins for Mitchell Trubisky, the better. Especially if he can win his debut against the Packers, regardless of whether or not Rodgers is on the field. Chicago is 3-18 against Green Bay since 2009.
3-5, vs. Patriots
A win over the Patriots on Sunday Night Football has all the makings for a lead story on "SportsCenter," but keeping their sliver of playoff hopes alive seems like a lost cause. Yes, the schedule gets a lot easier after Sunday, but the Broncos are not going to win another Super Bowl with Brock Osweiler starting games.
4-5, at Buccaneers
They could definitely get back to .500 this week, which may be enough for Todd Bowles to guarantee himself another year at the helm, but ultimately the Jets will still miss the playoffs. They face the Panthers, Saints, Patriots, Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos in the home stretch.
6-2, at Colts
Yes, it is important for the Steelers to win and stay in first place in the AFC, but they also have some wiggle room because five of their final seven games are at home. The Steelers should beat the Colts this weekend, but "must" they? It's a loss they could recover from, and it doesn't seem like anyone in the AFC is going to do better than 12-4.
6-2, at Redskins
A win would keep them very much alive for a bye week in the playoffs, but they are already 56 percent likely to win the North, according to FiveThirtyEight. Does that account for the fact that the Packers are no threat and the Lions are eventually going to fall out of the race? Minnesota has wiggle room, and a road loss to a non-division opponent is more than survivable.
Keep playoff dreams intact
3-5, at Jaguars
There's a modicum of hope that the Chargers can rebound to give the Chiefs a run for the AFC West. They have a proven quarterback and enough of a defense to compete down the stretch, and beating the Jaguars would do everything needed to prove that. It would also close the gap between them and some potential wild-card competition.
4-4, vs. Vikings
Coming off their big win over the Seahawks, Washington can really prove itself as a contender by toppling the Vikings. Unfortunately, it's already been swept by the Eagles and is not likely to sneak into the postseason. Washington must win to stay alive in the race.
4-4, vs. Browns
A win keeps them alive in the NFC wild-card race, and a loss would not just drop them further behind Seattle and Carolina, it would come against the Browns. It's impossible to justify yourselves as a contender if you lose to Cleveland. The Lions' remaining schedule is still one of the easiest in the league, but it could be too little, too late.
The race is on
5-3, vs. Bengals
Tennessee and Jacksonville are tied for the AFC South lead and both host 3-5 teams. The Titans won the first head-to-head meeting over the Jags, so that gives them a little bit more rope to work with. A win or a loss shouldn't do too much damage to either of their chances at winning the division, but they're both in the thick of it, so every game is important.
5-3, vs. Chargers
The Jags just need to do a little bit more to prove themselves and become more consistent. They have yet to win during an even numbered week this season. Plus, more opportunities for Jalen Ramsey to spit facts at somebody.
6-2, at Broncos
The Patriots rank first in total yards and last in total yards allowed, but they've given up an average of just 12.75 points per game over their past four. Getting a conference road win to improve to 7-2 would be a lot sweeter than losing to Osweiler, which would feel quite bitter.
6-2, at Bills
In 2017, there's little to no shame in losing on the road to the Bills, and it's a non-conference game anyway, but the Saints could fall out of the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC with pretty much any loss.
6-3, vs. Dolphins
If New Orleans wins and Carolina loses, there's almost zero chance that the Panthers can win the NFC South. Losing a home game against a team the Panthers should beat would just further drive home the point that Cam Newton is a long way away from his MVP campaign … and a long way away from having seen "Titanic," apparently.
Now is the time
6-2, vs. Texans
A loss this weekend sends the Rams from first to second in the NFC West, whereas a win keeps the Seahawks at bay by one game. Furthermore, a loss at home to a Watson-less, Watt-less Texans team would show that the Rams have more growing pains ahead. They also need this win because the following six games form perhaps the most brutal stretch for any team in the NFL, including four road games and contests against the Vikings, Saints, Eagles, Seahawks and Titans. Los Angeles really can't lose this game.
5-3, vs. Saints
To end a 17-year playoff drought, you have to start doing things differently. Beating the NFC's hottest team outside of Philly would definitely qualify as "different" for the Bills. A loss would all but end their chances of taking the AFC East from New England's cold grip.
5-3, at Falcons
The biggest game of the week features the Cowboys traveling to Atlanta, with a loss sending either team to the edge of desperation while the winning team gains an edge in momentum for the home stretch. The biggest thing on the line for Dallas is getting an in-conference road win in the first of six games without Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys would prove a lot with a win, but they'll feel a ton of pressure if they take an ugly loss and drop further behind the Eagles. Luckily, Zeke is not the best player on the Cowboys.
4-4, vs. Cowboys
The reigning NFC champions might lose their chance to defend that title if they lose this game. Falling to 4-5, which could put them as many as three games back of the Saints, would basically be the end of 2017 for the Falcons. They travel to Seattle next Monday night, with games against the Vikings and Panthers plus a pair against New Orleans still looming. This is as close to "must-win" as you can get in Week 10, especially for a team that surely thought it would be doing a lot more winning this season in general.