NFC Playoff Picture - Week 15

Things are coming more and more into focus in the NFC, and this week features a huge game between the Eagles and Giants that will further define the playoff picture.  Atlanta also has a straight forward clinching scenario, while there are some more complicated possibilities for playoff spots to be clinched.

1. Atlanta Falcons (11-2) – A win this week in Seattle clinches a playoff spot for Atlanta, but the Falcons have their eyes on a bigger prize.  Their biggest competition for home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs comes from within the NFC South, as the 10-3 Saints visit the Georgia Dome next Monday. If the Saints win this week and next, they’d clinch the division and the number one seed in the conference.

2. Chicago Bears (9-4) Chicago can clinch the NFC North, and thus a playoff spot, with a win in Minnesota and a Packers loss against the Patriots.  While Green Bay could still get to 10-6 and earn a split with Chicago (they play in week 17), the Bears’ 4-0 division record means the Packers, 3-2 in the division, would no longer be able to win a tiebreaker if the Bears picked up division win number five this week.  The Bears are also rooting for the Eagles, who they hold a tiebreaker over due to a head-to-head victory.  The Bears lost to the Giants, and thus would rather see the Eagles come out of the NFC East as they pursue a first-round bye

3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) – The Eagles can’t officially clinch a playoff spot this weekend, but they can come close. If Philadelphia beats New York, it’ll hold a one game lead and the tiebreaker with just two games remaining. Philadelphia would then set its sights on the two-seed and a bye, which would be attained by passing the Bears.  A loss this week, though, would leave the Eagles a game back of the Giants with the tiebreaker still up in the air.  The season series would be split, division records would be identical at 3-2 with a game remaining for each team in the NFC East, and the Giants would hold the edge in common games with a 5-2 record to the Eagles’ 4-3, with one common game remaining for each.  After that it goes to conference record, and the Eagles would be two games back with two games remaining. None of that bodes well for the Eagles, meaning that they’d likely be competing with the Packers and Buccaneers for the last wild card spot.

4. St. Louis Rams (6-7) – The NFC West lead is currently decided by a tiebreaker with the Seahawks, but the two teams meet in week 17 in a game that will likely decide the division.  This week, the Rams host the Chiefs while the Seahawks host the Falcons.  Both will be underdogs to avoid falling to 6-8.

5. New Orleans Saints (10-3) New Orleans visits Baltimore (9-4) this week, with the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a victory and a Tampa Bay loss, and a loss by either New York, Chicago or Green Bay.  Looking up instead of down, the Saints need to keep winning to keep pace with the Falcons heading towards their trip to Atlanta next week.

6. New York Giants (9-4) Unlike the Eagles, the Giants can clinch a playoff spot this week.  If the Giants win and the Bears, Packers and Buccaneers lose, and the Giants clinch a strength-of-victory tiebreaker over the Bucs, the Giants would be in.  A victory would also, as described above, put New York in the driver’s seat for the NFC East crown. A loss, however, could spell disaster.   It would throw the Giants into the pack with the Buccaneers and Packers.  New York plays Green Bay next week, which would determine that tiebreaker.  With a  loss, New York would be 7-3 in conference, identical to Tampa Bay, assuming a Bucs win over the Lions, which would get Tampa Bay to 9-5. From there it goes to common games – the Giants are 4-0 with one remaining, the Buccaneers are 3-0 with two remaining.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) – Tampa Bay might be in the most precarious position of any of the playoff contenders.  The Bucs are out of the running for their division, meaning they have to leapfrog the Giants/Eagles and hold off the Packers.  After this week’s game against Detroit, Tampa Bay hosts Seattle before visiting New Orleans. The Bucs did not play the Eagles, Giants or Packers, so the tiebreakers would all go to conference record.  The Buccaneers are currently 6-3, the Packers 6-4, the Giants 7-2 and the Eagles 6-3.

8. Green Bay Packers (8-5) – They’re on thin ice, but they do still have a shot at the division, sitting a game back of the Bears. They don’t have any chance at the tiebreaker though, so there isn’t much room for error and they need help – Chicago’s magic number is two. The Packers are big Giants fans, as they already hold a tiebreaker over the Eagles but have not yet played the Giants. That means an Eagles loss and a Packers win would move Green Bay ahead of Philadelphia in the wild card standings, if they were head-to-head. If the Buccaneers make it a three-way tie, Tampa Bay would edge in based on conference record.  Mission number one for Green Bay, though, is getting a very tough win in a trip to New England, where it may be without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who suffered a concussion last week.  A final decision on his status will be made on Saturday.

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