NFC Playoff Race: Week 15 Contenders and Trends

Michael SuddsCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2011

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 11:  Cliff Avril #92 of the Detroit Lions reacts after a first quarter sack while playing the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on December 11, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Catch your breath yet? The Lions defense made it a little too interesting as they dominated early, only to let Vikings QB Joe Webb run roughshod over them until the final play of the game.

With the outcome of the game in the balance, Webb’s fumble at the 1-yard line might go down as the play that allowed the Lions (8-5) to reach the NFC playoffs—the play of the season. And for once, the refs missed a facemask penalty on Detroit’s DeAndre Levy to seal the win.

Ironically, the Lions offense put up 31 first half points (24 points off Vikings turnovers), the most first half points by a Lions team since 1985. It was enough for the win, 34-28. Just barely.

The big news for Detroit fans was the Denver (8-5) beat the Chicago Bears (7-6) in overtime.

The Bears had a seemingly comfortable 10-0 lead in the fourth quarter when Broncos QB Tim Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas for a late 10-yard TD. After a failed onside kick by the Broncos, the Bears failed to pick up a first down. On the final Denver drive, Matt Prater hit a 59-yard field goal to send the game to OT.

The Bears won the coin toss and drove down to the Denver 33-yard line. Here’s where Bears Marion Barber coughed up the rock.

Why the Bears failed to put the game on the leg of kicker Robbie Gould, I cannot begin to fathom. Tebow and the Denver offense made the Bears pay when Broncos kicker Matt Prater kicked a 51-yard FG to win the game.

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11:  Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos walks off the field after winning in overtime against the Chicago Bears at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 11, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Be
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

In other NFC playoff news, Atlanta was getting thrashed by Carolina until QB Matt Ryan caught fire in the second half. The Falcons (8-5) edged the Panthers (4-9) to hold serve in the NFC Wild Card race.

In another close contest, the New Orleans Saints (10-3) continued their mastery over the NFC South by surviving a tough meeting with the Tennessee Titans (7-6) by a 22-17 verdict.

Don’t look now, but the Arizona Cardinals (6-7) have crept back into the NFC playoff picture with a stunning upset of San Francisco (10-3). Who are these guys?

If the season ended today, here’s how the playoff picture would look:

Division champs: Green Bay (13-0), San Francisco (10-3), New Orleans (10-3) and New York Giants (7-6).

Wild cards: Atlanta (8-5) and Detroit (8-5). Atlanta owns the tie-breaker.

Contenders: Chicago (7-6), Dallas (7-6), Arizona (6-7), and Seattle (6-7).

Now, let’s take a peek at the Week 15 matchups and see what each team has on the line.


Arizona (6-7) and Seattle (6-7)

I mention the Cardinals and Seahawks because they have a slim mathematical chance of sneaking in the back door.

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 11:   Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys take a snap against the New York Giants at Cowboys Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Let’s just say that both face imminent elimination and need to run the table in order to survive.


Dallas (7-6)

Once again, Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey was iced on a game-winning FG attempt. Once again, the ensuing kick failed. Once again, the ‘Boys lose.

Here’s a little fun fact: Tony Romo is now 4-20 in December games he has played.

The Cowboys have now given away three games and are left scrambling for a win. Ironically, Dallas has a better shot at winning the NFC East than winning a wild-card berth.

Dallas has a get-well Week 15 game at Tampa Bay this Thursday. Personally, I’d like to see the bungling Cowboys make the playoffs. Wouldn’t it be sweet to play Dallas in the first round?


Chicago (7-6)

The bad news Bears are on a three-game skid, but might get some good news when Seattle (6-7) comes to town off a Monday Night Football win over the Rams.

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11:  Running back Marion Barber #24 of the Chicago Bears looks on from the bench against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 11, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Week 15 game against the Seahawks goes into the elimination game category for the Bears.

The Bears have a roughly one out of three chance of making the NFC playoffs.


Detroit (8-5)

The Lions will have their work cut out for them when they travel to Oakland (7-6) for a Week 15 game against a Raiders team that lost ugly in Green Bay.

The Raiders will be desperate for a win to keep their dwindling playoff hopes alive. They trail the surprising Broncos by a game in the AFC West.

A loss by Detroit would cripple their playoff hopes. After winning ugly in Week 14, the Lions have to raise their level of play for a big road victory.

What would be more embarrassing for the Lions, losing a wild-card berth or losing to Carson Palmer?

In any event, the Lions have assured their fans of the first non-losing season in a long, long time.


Atlanta (8-5)

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 11:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons calls out to his teammates against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Imag
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Falcons dodged a bullet with a come-from-behind victory at Carolina (4-9). In Week 15, the Falcons travel to Jacksonville (4-9) on Thursday night.

The Jaguars demolished Tampa Bay 41-14 in Week 14. Like the Lions, Atlanta will have to play with a greater sense of urgency because a loss could set up a collapse.



Of all the contenders who have yet to lock down a playoff spot, Atlanta looks to have the smoothest sailing.

Chicago and New York face elimination games in Week 15, leaving no room for error whatsoever.

Detroit needs a victory in Oakland to maintain its tenuous grasp on the final wild-card berth. The Raiders game is no gimme.

Finally, a reader (Thanks, Gerald!) was kind enough to turn me on to It's a great site that gives us a snapshot of the mathematical probability of every team in both conference playoff races. Give it a click!


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