Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 17-14, Monday night on a late touchdown pass to rookie, Jimmy Graham.
The Saints improve to 11-4 and the Falcons fall to 12-3. While Atlanta still has a firm grasp on the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the loss tosses an extra wrinkle into the NFC playoff picture. Here is a look at the updated playoff standings and a preview of what the first round matches might look like.
The Falcons just need a win over the Carolina Panthers to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If they lose and the Saints win, then New Orleans goes into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. But considering the way the Panthers are playing, Atlanta shouldn't have too much trouble with them.
The Bears were impressive in a 38-34 win over the New York Jets on Sunday and are now in a prime spot to grab the second first-round bye in the conference. They need the Eagles to lose tonight, but even if Philadelphia beats Minnesota, the Bears could clinch the No. 2 seed by beating the Green Bay Packers next week.
The Eagles face Minnesota tonight, but they have little to play for besides pride. Philadelphia has clinched their division and will need lots of help to get the No. 2 seed. But considering who they might be playing in the first round of the playoffs, they'd be well-advised to make sure they win their remaining games just in case.
Philadelphia closes the season against Dallas next week.
The Rams face off against the 6-9 Seattle Seahawks next week. Whoever wins that game will represent the NFC West in the playoffs as the No. 4 seed.
The Saints have clinched a playoff berth, but still have a shot at the No. 1 overall seed. They need to beat the Buccaneers next week and have the Falcons lose to the Panthers to grab the NFC South title and the top spot in the conference. But they'll more than likely be playing the NFC West champion in the first round of the playoffs.
Right now the Packers are clinging on to the last and final playoff spot in the NFC based just on their strength of victory. However, the 9-6 New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hot on their heels. Green Bay needs to just beat Chicago next week to clinch their spot.
Here's what the three remaining NFC teams in the playoff chase need to do to keep playing football past next week.
New York Giants, 9-6: They need to beat Washington next week and have Green Bay lose to Chicago.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 9-6: They need to beat New Orleans next week and have both New York and Green Bay lose.
Seattle Seahawks, 6-9: They just need to beat St. Louis next week.
Assuming the playoff standings stay the way they are right now, here is a preview of the playoff games in store.
1. The Philadelphia Eagles would host the Green Bay Packers. The two teams met in the first week of the season with the Packers coming away victorious in Philadelphia, 27-20. The Eagles started that game with Kevin Kolb as their quarterback, but only managed to score three points in the entire first half. With Vick expected to start this time around, the Eagles should be able to do some damage against the league's second-ranked defense.
2. The St. Louis Rams/Seattle Seahawks will host the New Orleans Saints in the other playoff matchup. These two teams have also met in the regular season. The Saints pounded Seattle, 34-19, in Week 11 and then pounded the Rams, 31-13, just three weeks later. This game has the potential to be the greatest home playoff loss in NFL history.
Picks: Eagles, Saints
1. The Falcons would get the New Orleans Saints in a rematch between two NFC South rivals. The Saints lost to the Falcons early in the season, but beat Atlanta Monday night. In each case, the road team has won, so let's assume that trend will continue and Drew Brees will continue to play like a championship quarterback. The Saints might be playing the best football in the entire conference.
2. The Bears would then host the Eagles in the other matchup. Chicago beat up on Philadelphia, 31-26, in Week 12, a game in which Vick threw his first interception of the season. The cold weather should favor the Bears' defense and help them neutralize Vick on offense.
Picks: Saints, Bears
The Bears would next host the Saints in the NFC Championship. We all know that defense wins championships, and no remaining team is better on the defensive side of the ball than the Chicago Bears. But can Jay Cutler really be the quarterback of a Super Bowl team, or will Drew Brees lead the Saints to a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance? There have been six Wild Card teams in the history of the NFL to win a Super Bowl, but none of them have come from the NFC. Sorry, New Orleans.