NFC Playoff Picture: Nine Teams, Four Spots Remain

Richard ReschCorrespondent INovember 17, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 01:  Kevin Boss #89 of the New York Giants makes a catch for a touchdown in the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles on November 1, 2009 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With the NFC South and NFC North all but locked up, there are four remaining playoff births up for grabs in the NFC.

While divisional leaders Dallas and Arizona have the upper hand, their hard work is not nearly over. The Eagles, Packers, Falcons and Giants are all 5-4, and are right in the playoff hunt.

At 4-5, the 49ers, Panthers and Bears are on life support, but their dreams are not dead yet.

What it all boils down to is that with seven games remaining, there are nine NFC teams fighting for four spots in the playoffs.

Cardinals (6-3)

The Cardinals have a two game divisional lead over the 49ers, and have by far the easiest remaining schedule. They still get to face the Lions once and the Rams twice, giving them three easy wins. They must travel to Tennessee to play an improved Titans team and finish up at home against an improved Packers team, but these are two games they should win. 

A home game against the Vikings will be tough, and they must also travel to San Francisco to play a huge divisional game on Monday night.  But even with these tribulations, the Cardinals missing the playoffs would be an epic collapse.

Opponents Record: 23-40

Opponents Over .500: 2

Three Home, Four Away

Cowboys (6-3)

The Cowboys have a one game lead on the Giants and Eagles, and they have yet to play divisional doormat Washington. They still face tough battles against the Giants, Eagles, Saints and Chargers, but a game against the Raiders should be a gimme.

With three games they should win easily, the Cowboys only have to beat one more good team to secure ten victories. It's tough to imagine the Cowboys missing the playoffs.

Opponents Record: 33-30

Opponents Over .500: Four

Four Home, Three Away

Eagles (5-4)

Though their remaining schedule seems similar to the Cowboys, they do not get to face a cupcake team like the Raiders, and only get to face the Redskins one more time. On the flip side, they have already played the powerful Saints. 

Still, Philadelphia's schedule includes some tough road games, including the Bears, Falcons, Giants and Cowboys. Home games against the 49ers and Broncos wont be walks in the park either.

Opponents Record: 33-30

Opponents Over .500:Four

Three Home, Four Away

Giants (5-4)

The Giants do not have an easy game on their schedule, and if they lose at home to the Falcons, they can pretty much forget about the playoffs. 

Their easiest opponent is the Redskins, but that game is in a hostile opponent's stadium on Monday night. If the Giants are going to make the playoffs, they'll have to win some games in prime time, as three of their remaining five games are at night, including a Thanksgiving battle in Denver. 

The good news is that their key games against the Eagles and Cowboys are home games.

Opponents Record: 37-26

Opponents Over .500: Five

Four Home, Three Away

Packers (5-4)

Green Bay may have saved their season with a huge win against the Cowboys, and now they might have the easiest schedule of any of these teams. Their games at Pittsburgh and Arizona will be very difficult, as they should be significant underdogs in both contests.

Home games against the Ravens and 49ers should be tough battles as well, and it's never easy to play in Soldier Field, even against the woeful bears. But games against the Lions and Seahawks should be walks in the park. That is, if the offensive line can stop acting like a revolving door for pass rushers.

Opponents Record: 29-34

Opponents Over .500:Three

Three Home, Four Away

Falcons (5-4)

Although they only play three teams with records better than .500 (Giants, Eagles, Saints), all three of them will be very tough games. Don't be fooled by the easy opponents record, that is mostly due to the fact that they play Tampa Bay twice, whose 1-8 record does not accurately represent the way they have played since Josh Freeman has taken over as quarterback. 

Their two games against the Bucs, as well as games against the Jets and Bills are certainly games the Falcons should win. But there's a good chance they will have to win all four of them, plus one against one of the tougher opponents if they are going to make the playoffs.

Opponents Record: 28-35

Opponents Over .500:Three

Four Home, Three Away

49ers (4-5)

At 4-5, the 49ers have some serious catching up to do. Luckily, they have one of the easiest schedule remaining. If they can survive their next five games, they finish the season at home against Detroit and then on the road at St. Louis. At this point, the Lions and Rams will be falling all over themselves to get the #one overall pick. 

But before their soft landing, the 49ers face four teams with winning records, as well as the Seattle Seahawks.  If they can beat one of the Packers or Eagles on the road, and one of the Jaguars and Cardinals at home, they'll have a good shot at 9-7.

Heck, if they can win all of the games they should, and beat the Cardinals at home, they'll have an outside shot at winning the division.

Opponents Record: 26-37

Opponents Over .500:Four

Three Home, Four Away

Panthers (4-5)

Carolina has played much better lately, and they may even be one of the better teams in the NFC.  But their awful start, combined with their treacherous schedule will likely leave them out in the cold. 

If the Panthers cannot sweep their next three games (Dolphins, Jets, Buccaneers), they may have no room for error in their last four games.  That's bad news, considering the fact that they finish the season against the Patriots, Vikings, Giants and Saints.

Opponents Record: 38-25

Opponents Over .500:Five

Four Home, Three Away

Bears (4-5)

The Bears have an interesting schedule: two games remaining against one-win teams (Rams and Lions) and two games remaining against eight-win teams (Vikings twice).

Even if they can win three of those four games, they might have to win out against the Eagles, Packers and Ravens; three teams fighting for playoff spots.

Opponents Record: 33-30

Opponents Over .500: Five

Four Home, Three Away