We are 15 weeks through yet another glorious season of the National Football League, and we have all been reminded of one simple thing: We know very little in reality.
Here's a look at the NFC.
Only a couple of weeks ago it felt like nearly everything was mapped out. The Giants were supposed to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the winner of Bucs/Panthers Monday night game would get the other bye, the loser would get the fifth seed, Arizona was locked into the NFC West crown and a three seed, Minnesota or Chicago would get the fourth seed, and finally Atlanta, Washington, and Dallas will fight to the death for the final spot.
Much has changed in the past couple weeks though. Thanks to many moments for Eli like that which show in the picture, the New York Giants are promised a division title still, but are faced with the prospect of losing four in a row and not only losing home field advantage but not even getting a first round bye.
Tampa Bay is reeling now with their defense giving up approximately 1,500 yards rushing the past two weeks (Mild exaggeration), Jeff Garcia is hurt and are now in a three-way tie for the two Wild Card spots. Arizona did clinch a division title which probably has Gerald Ford rolling over his grave, but Minnesota has won six of their last seven (Including clobbering Arizona in their own building yesterday).
Now they look like they should get that third seed. Clinton Portis along with his favorite coach have Washington free-falling and now Philadelphia has a chance to sneak in as a Wild Card team. (Who by the way looked dead on the eve of Thanksgiving.) Oh and by the way, Kyle Orton and the Chicago Bears are still hanging around too just waiting for somebody to notice them.
To sum it all up, we know nothing. The teams in the NFC are all like 13 years old, they're up, they're down, they're up, they're down, and so on. I however, will try to look into the future to see where everyone is when the dust settles in two weeks, will I be wrong about something? Probably, but I live for this! Now the moment you have all been waiting for...The final NFC Playoff standings!
Before I can get to that, let us go over what we know before we get into what we don't know. If all of this seems very complicated to you, that's because it is-
1. The New York Giants won the NFC East division and have themselves guaranteed at least the third seed. They control their own fate, a win in Week 17 or a Minnesota loss this week to Atlanta will guarantee them a first-round bye. A win this week over Carolina will clinch them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
2. The Carolina Panthers have not even clinched a playoff spot let alone a division title, however, winning in Giants stadium this week would give them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, meaning that their magic number for a first round bye is also just one game.
3. Minnesota needs a lot to go wrong to not end up with at least the three seed. A win against Atlanta this week gives them the division title as would a Bears loss in either of the next two games. Their magic number compared to Arizona is only one game to hold onto the 3rd seed.
Also, if they win out and the Giants lose next week, Minnesota gets a first round bye. Minnesota could get a first round bye even with a Giants win but that would also require that Carolina lose at New Orleans the following week and Tampa Bay must drop one of their final games to an AFC West team rendering this scenario unlikely.
4. Meaning that Arizona is virtually locked into the fourth seed again barring a complete meltdown from Minnesota and they win out.
5. Bad News for Tampa Bay, back to back losses in the division have them in a three-way tie for a Wild Card Spot, they also lose the tiebreaker to Dallas. There is hope though, they catch AFC West opponents in their final two games, Dallas and Carolina have tough stretches to finish, and Atlanta has to play a red hot Minnesota team in the Metrodome.
They could finish seond or they could finish seventh and on the outside. Atlanta is in a similar situation needing to win out for any chance of a division title. They also need Dallas to lose at Philly in the last week for the opportunity to win the tie-breaker over them.
6. That is why the really important game for Dallas is actually in two weeks at Philly and not against Baltimore, it would not only effectively eliminate Philly from the playoffs but it would give them an edge in the tie-breaker over all three teams in the NFC South.
7. Philly's tie against Cincinnati continues to haunt them. All three teams they trail in the Wild Card have nine wins already, meaning it is likely that their only option is to win out and hope that either Tampa Bay or Atlanta drops one of their remaining games.
Now can they beat Cleveland tonight, beat the reeling Redskins on the road, and knock off Dallas at home? You bet they can, but it remains to be seen.
8. Chicago is technically alive but it does not look good, like previously mentioned they need to win out and hope for a Minnesota loss this week. Stomach punching losses to Atlanta and Tampa Bay will likely leave them out though.
Now do you feel like you have a better grasp of the NFC Playoff Picture? Probably not but you cannot fault a guy for trying. As for how I believe it will end up.
Sorry, try again next year
How did I arrive at this conclusion you might ask? Well, the defending champion Giants will respond and take out the Carolina Panthers who have struggled to win on the road this year giving them the top seed automatically. Carolina will then turn and lose on the road again to the New Orleans Saints with Drew Brees dying to play spoiler to their division title hopes.
Tampa Bay will take care of business against Oakland and San Diego, allowing them to swoop in to take the NFC South as well as the No. 2 seed. (Beat Minnesota in Week 11 to win the tie-breaker, leaving Minnesota with the three seed.)
This leaves Arizona of course for the four seed, the easy pick. The Dallas Cowboys will not only win that Week 17 matchup to knock out Philly but they will beat Baltimore the prior week to give them the five seed.
(Own tiebreaker over Carolina, Win % within the conference.) Carolina is saved though because the Cinderella Falcons led by Matt Ryan will ultimately bow out to the Minnesota Vikings this week to leave them one game back.
And there you have it! You can start simulating these matchups on Madden to come up with the Champion of the NFC. Of course as history has shown us this year, it won't be quite this easy, and the roller coaster ride is far from over. Enjoy it!