All things considered, Week 17 plays out this way in the NFC.
The Packers have the No. 1 seed, and the 49ers head to St. Louis with motivation intact and enough offensive firepower to go along with the tough defense to win their 13th game of the season, earning them the conference’s No. 2 slot.
It doesn’t matter what happens in New Orleans at the same time. The Panthers will most likely lose to the Saints, but the Niners’ better conference record gives them the edge over the 13-3 Saints, who earn the third seed.
That leaves the wild-card entries of Detroit (10-5) and Atlanta (9-6). The Falcons get the easiest of the two games, as they play the free-falling Buccaneers. A win seems secure, but this is where it gets interesting.
With the 14-1 Packers already having secured the No. 1 seed in the playoff picture, their game against Detroit seems meaningless. A win keeps Detroit out of New Orleans, where they got their doors blown off earlier this year. This is a game that Detroit needs more than the Packers.
It will be interesting to see if the Lions can put together a good effort outdoors and win.
A loss and a Falcons win drops the Lions to No. 6. If Atlanta and Detroit finish with the same record, Detroit gets the fifth seed. It’s a huge difference in that it enables them to avoid travel to the Black Hole of the NFL, otherwise known as the Superdome in New Orleans.
As projected, here’s how the NFC playoffs will set up:
Wild Card Weekend
- Atlanta at New Orleans
- Detroit at New York/Dallas winner
Winner: Giants or Detroit over Dallas
NFC Divisional Games
- Detroit at Green Bay
- New Orleans at San Francisco
That’s not to say upsets cannot happen. They do. Consider that only twice since the 1993 playoffs have both No. 1 seeds from the AFC and NFC met in the Super Bowl.
With that scenario in mind, here’s how the 49ers rate against all possible NFC playoff teams.