With one week left to go in the NFL season, the only thing that has been settled in the NFC is that the Atlanta Falcons will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Five slots have been filled, with one more still to go and positioning yet to be settled.
All the shuffling around that has been going on for the last few weeks will finally come to a head. It may not be exactly what we expected even after Week 16, but that is why we love the NFL in December.
Here is a look at the playoff picture in the NFC, starting with our predictions for the six teams that will be vying for the right to play in the Super Bowl.
No. 1 Seed: Atlanta Falcons, Predicted Final Record: 13-3
The Falcons already locked up the No. 1 seed with their victory over Detroit in Week 16. A home game against Tampa Bay to close out the regular season will bring them to 13 victories, the same number they had two years ago when they were the top seed in the NFC.
No. 2 Seed: Green Bay Packers, Predicted Final Record: 12-4
After a slow start, the Packers will enter the postseason as one of the hottest teams in football. They have won nine of their last 10 games. However, their resume does leave a lot to be desired.
Since defeating Houston in Week 6, the Packers' victories have come over the likes of St. Louis, Jacksonville, Arizona and Detroit, twice. That win over Minnesota in Week 13 is starting to look a lot better, though they will have to do that one more time to guarantee a first-round bye.
Even though the Vikings were able to stifle the Texans in Week 16, it is hard to envision them knocking off the Packers a week later with the latter having so much to play for. The Packers will end the season as the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
No. 3 Seed: San Francisco 49ers, Predicted Final Record: 11-4-1
Despite Sunday's setback against Seattle, the 49ers still control their destiny in the NFC West and can end up as the No. 2 seed if the Packers lose. While I don't see that scenario happening, the 49ers could sleepwalk their way through Sunday's game against Arizona and win.
While I expect to see a much better effort from the 49ers against the Cardinals, one storyline to keep a close eye on are the injuries that are starting to mount up for Jim Harbaugh's crew. They lost Justin Smith to an elbow injury two weeks ago, and he had to miss the Seattle game.
Vernon Davis suffered a concussion, while Mario Manningham went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury in the Seattle game. That is the very definition of adding injury to insult.
No. 4 Seed: Washington Redskins, Predicted Final Record: 10-6
Which Is The Best Team In The NFC?
The game between the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 is one I keep going back and forth on. The Cowboys are firing on all cylinders offensively right now, so they could pick apart Washington's porous secondary.
But the Redskins have a dynamic offense, at least if Robert Griffin III is back to full health after taking it easy against Philadelphia, and the Cowboys have had their own problems and injuries on defense.
Playing Dallas at home in prime time, the Redskins will clinch their first postseason appearance as NFC East champions since 1999.
No. 5 Seed: Seattle Seahawks, Predicted Final Record: 11-5
One of the final pieces of the NFC playoff puzzle was put into place in impressive fashion on Sunday night, as the Seahawks destroyed NFC West rival San Francisco and kept their hopes for a division title alive.
Even though they have a winnable game against St. Louis at home, I think the 49ers will take care of their business, leaving the Seahawks with a game against Washington the following weekend.
No. 6 Seed: Chicago Bears, Predicted Final Record: 10-6
Despite fading down the stretch, the Bears will manage to sneak into the postseason basically by default. They need to defeat Detroit on the road to keep their hopes alive, while hoping for the Packers to defeat Minnesota.
Since you already know that I think the Packers will win, it makes sense that this is the way things would shake out. That will set up a postseason rematch of the Monday Night Football game from Week 11, when Colin Kaepernick entrenched himself as the 49ers starting quarterback.
It is just odd to think that the Bears will have to root for the Packers to win, but when the playoffs are at stake, drastic measures have to be taken.
NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
|No. 1 Seed Atlanta Falcons (13-2) Clinched NFC South & Home-Field Advantage|
|No. 2 Seed Green Bay Packers (11-4) Clinched NFC North|
|No. 3 Seed San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) Lead NFC West; Clinched Playoff Berth|
|No. 4 Seed Washington Redskins (9-6) Lead NFC East|
|WILD CARD LEADERS|
|No. 5 Seed Seattle Seahawks (10-5); Clinched Playoff Berth|
| No. 6 Seed Minnesota Vikings (9-6)|
|IN THE HUNT|
|Chicago Bears (9-6)|
|Dallas Cowboys (8-7)|
|New York Giants (8-7)|