The NFC playoff picture will primarily be resolved in the NFC East and NFC West in the coming weeks.
The Atlanta Falcons currently sit atop the NFC playoff standings at 12-2 while the San Francisco 49ers hold the No. 2 seed, sporting a 10-3-1 record.
Both teams would have a bye if the playoffs were to end today, but as we all know, there's still two more weeks left in the season to decide the six teams that make the postseason.
If the Falcons can get a win at the Detroit Lions in Week 16, they'll clinch a first-round bye (h/t NBC Sports).
If Atlanta loses, it'll require a loss by either the Green Bay Packers or the 49ers.
In a crucial NFC West showdown on Sunday night, the 49ers will travel to the 9-5 Seattle Seahawks, who currently find themselves holding the fifth seed in the NFC.
A Seattle win would put it within a half game of the division lead while a San Francisco victory would clinch the division, as the NFL Network's Rich Eisen points out:
Big 49ers/Seahawks Sunday Nighter: 49ers win, they win the West. If the Seahawks win, they clinch a spot and the West can still be won.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) December 18, 2012
The NFC East picture gets hairy, as the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys are all 8-6 and are vying for playoff seeds.
The Redskins own the tiebreaker over both the G-Men and the Boys due to head-to-head win percentages (h/t ESPN).
Eisen again breaks down the playoff scenario for the Redskins in Week 16, tweeting:
Yes, the Redskins have a playoff clinching scenario, but it's involved: WAS win at PHI + NYG loss at BAL + CHI loss at AZ + MIN loss at HOU— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) December 18, 2012
Dallas has the tiebreaker over New York due to a better win percentage in divisional games, but if Big Blue wins their next two games, they'll clinch a playoff seed.
For now, the Minnesota Vikings (8-6) hold the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC, but they'll need a win on Sunday to keep their position.
As usual, the current playoff picture makes for an intriguing end to the season.
Current NFC Playoff Picture
|No. 1 Seed Atlanta Falcons (12-2) Clinched NFC South|
|No. 2 Seed San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) Lead NFC West; Clinched Playoff Berth|
|No. 3 Seed Green Bay Packers (9-4) Clinched NFC North|
|No. 4 Seed Washington Redskins (8-6) Lead NFC East|
|WILD CARD LEADERS|
|No. 5 Seed Seattle Seahawks (9-5)|
|No. 6 Seed Minnesota Vikings (8-6)|
|IN THE HUNT|
|Chicago Bears (8-6)|
|Dallas Cowboys (8-6)|
|New York Giants (8-6)|
|St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)|
| New Orleans Saints (6-8)|
REMAINING NFC SCHEDULE
Atlanta: vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago
San Francisco: at Seattle, vs. Arizona
Green Bay: vs. Tennessee, at Minnesota
Washington: at Philadelphia, vs. Dallas
Seattle: vs. San Francisco, vs. St. Louis
Minnesota: at Houston, vs. Green Bay
Chicago: at Arizona, vs. Detroit
Dallas: vs. New Orleans, at Washington
New York: at Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia
St. Louis: at Tampa Bay, at Seattle
New Orleans: at Dallas, vs. Carolina
I think Atlanta wins at Detroit and clinches the first-round bye.
I've also picked the 49ers to clinch the division with a win over the Seahawks in Week 16, which you can read more about here. I then have them hanging onto the No. 2 spot and first-round bye come January.
Having won the NFC North, the Packers stay at the third seed.
For the NFC East champ, I'm going with the Redskins. They're the hottest team in the division right now, and as we've seen time and time again, it's all about getting hot at the right time.
In the fifth spot, I like the Seahawks. Their defense is too good to be sitting home in January and I think Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch find a way to get these guys into the playoffs.
And—drum roll, please—for the sixth and final seed in the NFC playoffs, I'm rolling with the Giants.
Eli Manning & Co. always seem to find their way into the postseason and play well when it matters. I think the Giants beat the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16 and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 to clinch a playoff spot.
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