NFL Playoff Picture 2012: Teams That Must Win to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 25: Christian Ponder #7 of the Minnesota Vikings rolls out to look for a receiver against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on November 25, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Vikings 28-10.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Although there are four weeks remaining in the NFL season, time is running out for a number of teams to make moves towards the playoffs.

The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons have already clinched their respective divisions. They do not need to worry about checking the standings for the rest of the year.

However, a few teams will not only need to keep winning, but also get some help from other teams around the league just to be in contention.

One loss for a few desperate teams can knock them out of the postseason hunt altogether.

These squads must win this week to avoid this fate.

Note: Check out for a full look at the playoff picture.


Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

Back-to-back losses to division rivals have put the Minnesota Vikings in a bad situation for the postseason.

Fortunately, the team will get a chance at redemption against both the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.

The Vikings also get the Bears at the right time, facing them this week after three losses in the last four games. 

Adrian Peterson has been incredible lately, averaging 157.8 rushing yards per game in the last six weeks. The running back has the ability to carry the entire team to a win if given the opportunity.

He alone keeps Minnesota alive in the playoff race, but the team must win this week to keep that hope going.


New Orleans Saints (5-7)

It will not be easy for the New Orleans Saints to reach the playoffs with a 5-7 record, but it is not impossible.

The next three games are against the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers; three teams that are directly ahead of the Saints in the standings.

New Orleans has the ability to outscore almost any team in the league. Still, Drew Brees needs to show he can shake off his terrible five-interception performance last week against the Atlanta Falcons.

At this point, one loss would effectively end the Saints' roller-coaster season, so they better come to play against the Giants.


New York Jets (5-7)

There is no reason that the New York Jets should even be alive in the playoff race after a crazy season.

Problems on and off the field have turned this team into a circus, and yet the squad is only two games away from earning a wild-card spot.

To make things even better, the remaining schedule is against four teams with a combined 15 wins on the year. 

This, combined with the small number of teams ahead of them in the standings, gives the Jets a legitimate chance at reaching the postseason.

However, Mark Sanchez has not been able to find his own team with the football and could hurt his team more than he helps it this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)

If there is one team you want to face at this point, it is the Philadelphia Eagles. Andy Reid's team has lost eight straight games and seems to have given up on the year. 

Still, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to take advantage of this opportunity to get back in the playoff race after two losses in a row.

With early losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, the Bucs will need an extra win to avoid the tiebreakers. This makes any loss incredibly costly.

Josh Freeman, Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson make an outstanding offensive trio, but the defense will need to do its part to keep the team alive this season.