With each passing week, the playoff picture is supposed to get just a little more clear. The keywords in that sentence are "supposed to," because the NFC playoff picture is still wide-open thanks to another weekend of unpredictable finishes in the conference.
Just one team, the Seattle Seahawks, has secured a playoff berth, but no team has secured any of the four divisions in the NFC. For now, the Seahawks, Saints, Eagles and Bears all lead their respective divisions before the final game between of the week on Monday night between the Lions and Ravens, which could dictate who leads the NFC North.
Heading into Week 16, here are the predictions for who will ultimately claim seeds one through six in the NFC playoffs at the end of the regular season.
|In the Hunt||W||L||T||DIV||CONF|
|Lions (Yet to Play)||7||6||0||4-1||6-4|
NFL.com ([x] Clinched playoff berth)
No. 1 seed: Seattle Seahawks (12-2)
With a win in over either the Arizona Cardinals this weekend or the St. Louis Rams in the final week of the regular season, the Seahawks would win their 13th game of the season and secure both the NFC West and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
With the Saints and 49ers at 10-4, the best record either team could finish with is 12-4, but both teams also face stiff competition in their final two games with the Saints playing the Panthers in Week 16 and the 49ers potentially battling for a playoff spot with the Cardinals in Week 17.
Given the fact that both remaining games for the Seahawks are at home, a place where they haven't lost all season, they will likely clinch the No. 1 seed this weekend and could potentially rest their starters in the final week against the Rams.
No. 2 seed: Carolina Panthers (10-4)
After suffering a crushing loss to the Saints in Week 14, the Panthers came out and beat the Jets handily to move closer toward shoring up a spot in the playoffs. But what the Saints did on the road in St. Louis is allow the Panthers a realistic shot at winning the NFC South when the two teams play this weekend in Carolina.
For head coach Ron Rivera, the playoff atmosphere has already started with this weekend's big showdown, according to the Panthers official Twitter account:
Ron Rivera says the next two games are like playoff games for the #Panthers. "Sunday's game is as big as it gets."— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 16, 2013
The Panthers defense clearly faltered against the Saints two weekends ago, but home-field advantage is huge for Carolina, while the Saints road woes have been prevalent this season.
The Panthers have lost just one game at home this year, coming in the form of a 12-7 defeat at the hands of the aforementioned Seahawks. But since that game, the Panthers have scored an average of 30.5 points at home while holding their opponents to an average of just 11.8 points.
Meanwhile, the Saints are 3-4 on the road and have lost four of their last five away from New Orleans. Since a 30-27 loss to the Patriots in Week 6, New Orleans hasn't scored more than 20 points on the road while allowing three of those four opponents to score 26 or more during that stretch.
If the Panthers can get the job done in Week 16, it could likely lock up both the NFC South and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs with a win over the hapless Falcons in the final week.
No. 3 seed: Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
What the Eagles proved in Week 15 with a loss to the Vikings was that the NFC East is still wide-open. What the Cowboys proved in the same week with a loss to Packers was that it is still the Eagles division to win.
Despite their loss, the Eagles still control their own destiny with two matchups against the Bears and Cowboys, two fellow NFC playoff contenders, coming up in their final two games. The question the Eagles will need to answer is whether or not they have what it takes to claim their stake as the No. 3 seed.
The Week 14 win over Detroit and Week 10 win over Green Bay means Philadelphia owns the tiebreaker over both teams, and a win this weekend against the Bears would give them another tiebreaker. Then there's the final contest against the Cowboys, which will likely dictate which team wins the NFC East crown.
If Nick Foles can continue his dominance over NFC North opponents and lead his team to a road win over the Cowboys, the Eagles will be flying high with a No. 3 seed in the playoffs in Chip Kelly's first season.
No. 4 seed: Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)
Two weeks ago, the Packers were mired in the middle of a five-game stretch without a win and looked more likely to finish in the cellar of the NFC North than making the playoffs. But after two straight wins, the Packers could control their own destiny if the Ravens can defeat the Lions on Monday night.
At 7-6-1, the Packers likelihood of contending in the playoffs could still be reliant on the return of Aaron Rodgers. The success of Matt Flynn in Week 15 showed that they are still a team capable of winning even in dire situations.
With a remaining schedule that includes facing the Steelers at home followed by a road game against the rival Bears in the final week of the season, it's an uphill battle. But if Green Bay truly is a team of destiny this season, they still need to win out and for the Lions to falter in one of their remaining three games.
No. 5 seed: San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
If the 49ers win out, they are guaranteed to clinch the No. 5 spot in the playoffs. With the Saints and Panthers playing this weekend, the winner would move to the No. 2 seed, the loser would drop to 10-5 and the No. 6 seed would fall behind the 49ers if they can handle the Falcons at home.
With a win-and-in situation for San Francisco down the stretch, their playoff hopes could still be doomed with a Week 17 loss to the Cardinals if Arizona can defeat the Seahawks this weekend.
But with quarterback Colin Kaepernick playing some of his best football this past weekend in a win over the Buccaneers, and a defense that hasn't allowed more than 17 points in seven of their last eight games, the 49ers look like a complete team that could pull off anything in the playoffs.
No. 6 seed: New Orleans Saints (10-4)
Currently, the Saints are the No. 2 seed and could still nearly clinch that spot this weekend with a win over the Panthers. But for all of the Saints offensive strengths at home this season, their aforementioned road woes are glaring.
Where the Panthers failed in Week 14 against the Saints was on defense. But during their six-game home winning streak Carolina has held opponents to 10 points or less three times and took care of a Patriots team prior to the Rob Gronkowski injury—an offense that looked very similar to the Saints' this season.
While the Saints chances at the No. 2 seed are very much still alive, they will have to take down the Panthers a second time to solidify that position. But if the same team shows up for Carolina that has at home all season, the Saints could be looking at just sneaking into the playoffs after finishing 11-5 with a win over the Buccaneers in the season finale.