The Week 12 results have shaken up the NFC playoff picture. Losses by the Lions, Giants and Bears have fueled the playoff hopes of Dallas and Atlanta.
If the season were to end today, here’s how the NFC playoffs would look:
Division Champs: Green Bay (11-0), San Francisco (9-2), New Orleans (8-3) and Dallas (7-4).
Wild Cards: Atlanta (7-4) and Chicago (7-4)
Contenders: Detroit (7-4) and New York Giants (6-5)
Now, let’s review the Week 12 results and playoff implications going into the stretch run of the 2011 NFL season:
New York Giants (6-5)
The Giants continue their free-fall in the standings after being soundly thumped by Drew Brees and the Saints on Monday Night Football.
This was an embarrassment of apocalyptic proportions for the Giants, whose season now hangs precariously in the balance.
The Giants' slide will likely cost head coach Tom Coughlin his job unless his banged up bunch can find a way to beat the Green Bay Packers (11-0) in Week 13.
Good luck with that.
The Lions failed to capitalize on a solid first-half performance in the Thanksgiving Day 27-15 loss to the Packers—by the defense, that is.
Now, the defense has been hobbled by injuries to key members of the secondary (FS Louis Delmas and CB Chris Houston) and the suspension of DT Ndamukong Suh.
The Lions offense seems incapable of sustaining a drive, and can’t overcome the major penalties that have been plaguing them throughout the season.
With the core values of the team coming under fire in the national media, the Lions have to circle the wagons in a key Week 13 matchup against the red-hot New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football.
If Lions fans can find solace in this once promising season gone sideways, it’s this little factoid: Last year’s Super Bowl XLV champions were 7-4 after Week 12, and finished their epic run with 15 players on IR.
Chicago’s NFC playoff hopes now depend upon the ability of the Bears coaching staff to develop Hanie to a mediocre performance level while scrapping much of their sophisticated offense in the process.
Now, the Bears face Kansas City in a Week 13 windy city game where retread QB Kyle Orton will be motivated in his first Chiefs start against the team that unceremoniously dumped him.
I’d anticipate Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to blitz the Bears on at least 70 percent of their defensive snaps. Expect the Bears to give Orton similar treatment.
Welcome home, Kyle!
This will be a low-scoring defensive battle in which the Bears are anything but a lock to prevail. In fact, defensive points on the board will likely determine the winner.
The Falcons have solidified their NFC playoff chances by virtue of their victory over the Vikings in Week 12. While other playoff contenders faltered, the Falcons have achieved a comfort level that will carry them through the remaining schedule with little difficulty.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense has been gaining momentum at just the right time, and the defense is making good on preseason expectations for success.
Now the Falcons travel to Houston in Week 13 for a game that once looked very iffy. Key injuries to Texans quarterbacks have now made this a very winnable affair.
Atlanta’s playoff hopes look better with each passing week, and they still have an outside shot at the NFC South crown if New Orleans hits a couple of speed bumps along the way.
The Cowboys dispatched the Dolphins 20-19, albeit with considerable difficulty on Thanksgiving Day.
While Dallas hardly resembles a polished playoff machine, they seem to be getting better in small increments while the Giants don’t seem capable of mounting a serious challenge down the stretch in the NFC East.
Dallas travels to Arizona for a tune-up against the woeful Cardinals (4-7). The ’Boys will continue to improve their hold upon the division crown unless they beat themselves.
We’ve seen the Cowboys beat themselves, haven’t we?
New Orleans (8-3)
The Saints' convincing thrashing of the Giants in Week 12 has put the NFC on notice. The Saints are for real, and will be a contender for that coveted home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
With the Falcons in hot pursuit in the NFC South, the Saints' position still seems rather comfortable considering the team's performance of late.
Now comes the Detroit Lions in a Week 13 showdown that will have far-reaching implications on the 2011 NFC playoff landscape. A loss by the Saints would bring Atlanta back into the NFC South championship hunt.
A loss by the Lions will put their playoff hopes on serious life support.
San Francisco (9-2)
The 49ers proved that they can be beaten by a good Ravens (8-3) team. They are nonetheless a heavy favorite to be the second playoff seed in the NFC playoffs by virtue of their residence atop the NFL’s weakest division—the NFC West.
In Week 13, the ‘Niners welcome the St Louis Rams to “The City” for what looks like a beatdown on paper.
Just another get well game for the 49ers.
Green Bay (11-0)
The other little Packers factoid of the week is that they haven’t locked up the division championship—yet, that is—in spite of their unblemished record.
The Thanksgiving Day 27-15 win over Detroit showcased the depth of talent on this, the best football team on the planet.
Yes, the Packers are rolling, and one is left to wonder if anything can derail this Packers undefeated season.
The Packers travel to New York for a date with the sliding Giants in Week 13. Can the Giants post the upset of the season against Green Bay?
No way, Jose.
Jay Cutler’s thumb, Detroit’s willingness to implode and the Giants' collapse have brought the NFC playoff picture into sharper focus.
The emergence of Dallas and Atlanta as serious playoff contenders leaves the Bears, Lions and the Giants scrambling for the sixth seed.
Based upon the schedule alone, the Bears look to be in a favorable position to prevail by the narrowest of margins.
Can the Bears, Lions or Giants mount a charge? Yes, but it had better start in Week 13. The Bears look like a slight favorite to beat the Chiefs at Soldier Field. The Lions and the Giants? Not so much.
We can now look forward to the usual assortment of lame excuses being proffered by the three teams fighting for that last NFC playoff spot as their seasons hit the skid going down the stretch.
First up—the New York Giants.