After tonight's 24-9 win by San Francisco 49ers over the Arizona Cardinals, the NFC West just go a little closer. The Niners now sit at 6-7, two games behind the West—leading Cardinals (including sweeping both games this year) with three games to go.
If only the Niners could have made one more play at Minnesota in Week 3 in Brett Favre's miracle game. They also had a fourth quarter lead at Indianapolis in Week 7, but almost all NFL teams have those types of games in the course of a 16 games season.
As Bill Parcells is fond of saying, "You are what your record says you are." In the NFL, there are no moral victories, and Al Davis is fond of saying, "Just win, baby!"
These two quotes arguably are the best NFL quotes of all time and because of the limited schedule each season, give the true meaning of the league.
However, if the season ended today, the Cardinals would be in the playoffs as NFC West Champ, hosting a first round game against the Green Bay Packers, the top NFC Wild Card entrant. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles, as NFC East Champs, would host the Dallas Cowboys, the No. 6 seed.
A quick look at the schedule shows that these teams have the same opponent in the final week of the season as they would in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see Philadelphia at Dallas in Week 17, then Dallas having to go to Philadelphia a week later, with Green Bay traveling to Arizona in Week 17, then having to travel back down there again.
That has probably never happened before in the Wild Card era.
And each of the teams could be playing for playoff positioning in Week 17. It is obvious the Cowboys have the toughest schedule of the five teams (including the New York Giants) vying for the final four spots in the NFC. I know that the Niners and Atlanta Falcons are both still alive, but they really aren't.
Here are the remaining schedules for the current top four:
The Eagles host San Francisco and Denver, then travel to Dallas.
Let's assume the Eagles win both home games. Even though both teams are tough, they have to travel across the country—not easy.
Also, let's assume the Cowboys split (L at NO, W at WASH).
Arizona should have no problem with their first two games, both WINS.
And Green Bay is playing well, so we will give them wins at Pitt and vs. Seattle.
Then entering week 17, that leaves the Eagles at 11-4, Arizona at 10-5, Green Bay at 11-4 and Dallas at 9-6. Assuming the Giants win their games at WASH and home vs. Carolina, they will be tied with the Cowboys for the final spot also at 9-6, with the tie breaker in hand.
If the teams play out as predicted, how will they handle the back-to-back games?
Would the Packers stay the entire week in Arizona or travel back and forth? Also, would each team play "vanilla" football or show the other teams some wrinkles to force them to prepare for extra plays and schemes? If Philadelphia had the No. 3 spot wrapped up (and they hold the common opponent tiebreaker over the Cardinals), would they lay down a little against Dallas (and not risk injury) or play them tough to help the Giants?
While Philadelphia matches up better against the Cowboys, they already have beaten the G-Men twice this season.
Three of the four teams are pretty well set. It is up to the Dallas Cowboys to keep up their end of the bargain.
And with the rock band The Who playing at half time of the Super Bowl, the Cowboys would gladly "Bargain " for the best they ever had!