2011 NFL Playoffs: Breaking Down the NFC Wild-Card Race
Week 15 in the National Football League is underway and as all but two teams have three games remaining, now is as good a time as ever to see where things stand in the NFC wild-card race.
With their 41-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night, the Atlanta Falcons have basically secured a playoff berth. It’s not mathematically official yet, but it’s as close to a sure-fire bet as you can get right now.
This means there’s really one spot remaining for five other teams. Oh, what a finish it will be.
This article is going to break down the Falcons and the five other teams still fighting for that final wild-card berth in the NFC. Included with each team’s slide is their remaining schedule and what they need in order to make the postseason, especially for those teams on the outside looking in right now.
Here’s the latest on the NFC playoff hunt:
Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
As mentioned on the introductory slide, the Falcons with nine wins are almost a guaranteed playoff team. One more win locks them in but they can also secure a berth with a couple of other teams losing.
Here’s the wild thing for the Falcons. Right now, they’re a solid lock for the No. 5 seed. However, they’re just a game behind the New Orleans Saints (10-3) with a head-to-head coming up Week 16. The bad news is that this one is in the Superdome.
If the Falcons can beat the Saints and finish the season with a home win against Tampa Bay in Week 17, they have an outside shot to jump the Saints, win the NFC South and finish as high as the No. 2 seed.
I personally have no confidence in the San Francisco 49ers to finish as the conference’s No. 2 seed. If the Saints don’t capture that position, the Falcons will.
Detroit Lions (8-5)
The once-invincible Detroit Lions are limping their way down the home stretch.
The Lions might need to win out in order to get into the postseason picture. The road ahead isn’t exactly simple either. Detroit has to travel to Oakland and Green Bay. Sandwiched in between those games is a home date against the Chargers who can score points fast and furious.
Realistically, the Lions need to win at least two of the final three to feel good about where they stand in the playoff race. They could always back their way in with other teams losing out, but Detroit needs to handle their own business.
And for those wondering, the Lions will need to do one game better than the Falcons to jump them in the standings. The Falcons beat the Lions 23-16 back on Oct. 23 so they own the first and most important tiebreaker.
Chicago Bears (7-6)
Who would’ve thought at 7-3 that a run through the bad AFC West division would be the end of the Chicago Bears season?
Four straight AFC West foes have spelled problem after problem for the Bears, who once looked like a solid wild-card lock.
In the San Diego game, quarterback Jay Cutler broke his throwing thumb and was lost most likely for the regular season. The next week, the Bears got owned on special teams and fell to the Raiders. After that, the Chiefs KO’ed running back Matt Forte and likely ended his 2011 season. And then there’s Tebow’s Broncos, but there’s nothing else to say about that which hasn’t been said already.
No Cutler, no Forte, no chance. That’s the feeling around the city as far as where the Bears stand in the NFC. It’s sad some truly great defensive efforts have gone for naught as the Bears have lost three in a row.
Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
In one week, the Dallas Cowboys have fallen from the No. 4 seed and in the driver’s seat for the NFC East crown to the No. 8 seed, which would mean no playoffs.
The Cowboys have a chance to redeem themselves Week 17 when they travel to play the New York Giants—the team that beat them on Sunday Night Football a week ago. Those two will fight for the likely one playoff bid awarded to an NFC East team.
The rest of the schedule plays out nicely for the Boys. Tonight, they tackle the Buccaneers on a special Saturday night contest and then close out the home season Week 16 against the grounded Eagles.
It’s as simple as this for Dallas: win your games, handle your business, the East is yours.
Seattle Seahawks (6-7)
Seattle is one of the league’s hottest teams. They’ve won four of their last five games and have a really good shot to pick up a road NFC win this weekend at Chicago, who will be without Cutler and Forte yet again.
The reason for the emergence? Marshawn Lynch has scored a touchdown every week he’s played (either rushing or receiving) dating back to Week 4. The Seahawks are continuing to hand him the ball and let him carry the offense.
It seemed unlikely a month ago that the Seahawks would have a shot in hell at getting back into the playoff race, but they’ve managed to defy the odds.
It’s a long shot right now for the Hawks to play in January. Their schedule favors them, however. Their next three games are at Chicago, vs. the Niners and at Arizona. Winning two of those three is probable, but they need to win out to get nine wins and then they’ll still need help from other clubs.
Arizona Cardinals (6-7)
The longest shot to make the NFC playoffs are the Arizona Cardinals. They’re not out of the hunt yet, but unless they win out and have a Seattle collapse, they won’t have a horse in the race.
Arizona’s three remaining games aren’t that difficult. They get the miserable Browns at home, go to Cincinnati and close the season at home against the Seahawks. All three are must win games.
Even if this team makes the postseason, are they Lombardi Trophy contenders? No. So does it matter? Not really.
If San Fran didn’t win 10 of their first 13 games this season, the Cardinals and Seahawks at 6-7 would be fighting for the NFC West title. Ironically enough, one team from the West has won double-digit games and locked up their division before any other team.
Just goes to show, anything can happen in today’s NFL.
Brett Lyons is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.