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NFC Playoff Picture 2013: Breaking Down Scenarios for Remaining Teams

Dec 22, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) and  quarterback Michael Vick (7) speak during pre game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2013

The NFC playoff race is a mess.

In other words, it is a wildly entertaining time for fans who prefer the NFC to the AFC, a conference much less interesting entering Week 17, minus a race for the No. 6 seed.

Things are sexier in the NFC, where two games to close the season will act as division championships, all crowns are up for grabs and both wild-card spots are at stake.

For the teams still eligible for the playoffs, Week 17 is do-or-die time.

 

NFC Playoff Standings
Rank Team Record
1 x - Seattle Seahawks12-3
2 x - Carolina Panthers11-4
3 Philadelphia Eagles 9-6
4 Chicago Bears 8-7
5 x - San Francisco 49ers10-4
6 New Orleans Saints 10-5
7 Arizona Cardinals 10-5
8 Dallas Cowboys 8-7
9 Green Bay Packers 7-7-1
z=Clinched Division, x=Clinched Playoff Berth

 

This is especially the case for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, as both sides will meet from Solider Field to decide the NFC North champion. The loser will miss the postseason.

Chicago won this matchup at Lambeau Field in Week 9 via a 27-20 outcome, but the Packers are back to full strength with quarterback Aaron Rodgers set to make his return, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:

Chicago's Jay Cutler seemed nonchalant about what could be game-altering news, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:

But the Bears and Packers are not the only teams playing in a division title game. This is also the case for the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, two teams that will meet on the year's final edition of Sunday Night Football to determine the NFC East champion—the loser also misses the playoffs. 

The Cowboys will be without quarterback Tony Romo, and Eagles quarterback Nick Foles seems focused and confident in his return to his hometown, as he told the team's official site:

It's exciting to be back and we're going to go out there and play our game. We feel like we're confident and ready for this spot. Now we have to go out and do it, and play Eagles football, play for each other. That's what we intend to do.

The simplicity of the NFC ends there.

NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal sums up the situation best:

The Seattle Seahawks currently lead the NFC West and can clinch with a win over the St. Louis Rams or a loss by the San Francisco 49ers.

But about those 49ers that Rosenthal alluded to—a win over the Arizona Cardinals and a Seattle loss would give the 49ers the NFC West. But add in a loss by the Carolina Panthers, and the 49ers steal the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Speaking of those Panthers, Cam Newton and Co. can clinch their first playoff berth in five years and grab the NFC South title with a win over the Atlanta Falcons or a loss by the New Orleans Saints.

Dec 22, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) is sacked as Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) comes from the left and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) holds Brees's jersey and free safety Mike Mitchell (21)
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Those Saints sit at the No. 6 seed and need a win over the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the 49ers to beat the Cardinals to ensure they make the postseason. However, the Saints are nearly unstoppable at home and need a loss by the Panthers to steal the NFC South crown and get a bye and home-field advantage.

Finally, the unfortunate 10-win team currently on the outside looking in is the aforementioned Cardinals. Not only do they have to knock off the 49ers, the Cardinals also must pray the Saints lose their first home game of the season, which would allow the Cardinals to slip into the postseason.

While rather complicated, the last week of the season will be a wild one for the NFC. As is always the case, the teams fortunate enough to make it in can put together an epic run to win it all, so momentum gained is just as important as getting to the postseason itself.

 

Note: All playoffs scenarios courtesy of the league's official website.

 

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