NFL Playoff Picture: NFC Postseason Picture Nearly Complete
With only one week remaining in the regular season, this is usually the time of the year when teams are hoping and praying for the most ridiculous scenarios to keep their favorite teams eligible for the postseason.
The NFC, however, is basically determined already.
Here’s what we know about the NFC: it’s down to only seven possible clubs for six seedings and there are still two divisional championships left to determine.
Other than that, most everything’s set.
There is still one more game of epic proportions to go on Monday night as the New Orleans Saints host the Atlanta Falcons. That game will go a long way in shaping the playoff picture.
This is what the NFC playoffs would look like right now if the season were to end tomorrow:
No. 1 Seed: Green Bay Packers (14-1)
With their 35-21 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night, the Packers wrapped up the NFC’s top seed with a week to spare. They also eliminated the Bears from playoff contention with the victory.
Going into Week 17 at home against the Detroit Lions, expect to see lots of Matt Flynn under center. There’s no sense in potentially harming MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers in a game that means nothing to Green Bay.
The contest is in essence meaningless for the Lions as well. They have already been guaranteed a playoff berth, so they may elect to rest their starters, too. They aren’t locked in as either the top or bottom wild-card team yet and may see resting their players as more important.
No. 2 Seed: San Francisco 49ers (12-3)
The Niners will be rooting hard for the Falcons in Monday night’s battle in the Bayou. Should the Saints lose against Atlanta, San Fran would secure a first-round bye and the No. 2 seed for good.
This would be huge for the Niners. Having the week off to prepare is one thing—no team from the east coast is going to want to travel thousands of miles to play. Home-field advantage all the way up to the conference championship game would be huge.
Even if New Orleans wins on Monday, San Fran can take care of business next week themselves as they travel to the 2-13 St. Louis Rams.
Should both New Orleans and San Francisco win out, the Niners own the tiebreaker.
No. 3 Seed: New Orleans Saints (11-4)
As the hosts of the final Monday Night Football game of the season, the Saints will be fighting for the NFC South crown against the division rival Falcons.
If New Orleans wins, the South is theirs. If Atlanta gets the road win, it keeps the possibility that the Falcons can win the South alive and would give the Niners the No. 2 seed.
Needless to say, it’s a much prettier scenario for New Orleans if the Saints win.
This is a team that, just like the Niners, would love to bring their playoff opponents to their SuperDome. The noise level in that place is rocking. False starts and miscommunication are common amongst visiting squads.
No. 4 Seed: New York Giants / Dallas Cowboys
Because the Dallas Cowboys got KO’ed by the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants topped the New York Jets 29-14 on Saturday afternoon, next weekend’s Cowboys-Giants game in New Jersey will be a winner-takes-all contest.
To the victor goes the NFC East title. The loser is eliminated.
It’s a true playoff game by definition. Both teams need to win or their seasons will end.
Only one team from the East will be going on to the postseason. Washington and Philly have already been eliminated and both wild-card spots have been “reserved” for other teams.
It’s a huge game of colossal proportions. It’s so good, NBC flexed this contest to be the Sunday Night Football game of the week.
Will Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo lead his team with an injured hand? Will the G-Men defend their home turf and topple their long-time foes? We'll see.
No. 5 Seed: Detroit Lions (10-5)
As briefly mentioned on the Packers slide, the Lions have wrapped up a playoff berth already as a wild-card team.
They have not been solidified as either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed yet, but a lot of that comes down to what happens between the Falcons and Saints.
The Falcons have a head-to-head win over Detroit, so they own the immediate tiebreaker. If Atlanta wins on Monday and ties the Lions at 10 wins, Detroit would slip to the final spot by virtue of that Week 7 win at Ford Field.
We could very well see the Lions elect to play their backups if they're out of the running for the No. 5 seed and are happy to take the No. 6 slot. They won't be able to predict what the Falcons do, however, because they play earlier in the day next Sunday.
There's plenty of possibilities for the Lions and Falcons here down the stretch.
Again, Monday’s head-to-head will solve almost all these questions.
No. 6 Seed: Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
The Lions take on the Packers next week at 1:00 EST while the Falcons don’t kick until 4:15 EST. This works in the Falcons’ favor. If the Lions lose at noon to what will likely be a backup Packers team, the Falcons could possibly lie down and rest their starters with the No. 5 seed secured.
There is also an outside chance that the Dirty Birds could leapfrog the Saints in the South and finish as either the No. 2 or even No. 3 seed. Coupled with a Saints loss to the Carolina Panthers, they would need to beat them on Monday night and then win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17.
It’s a bit of a long shot, but it’s certainly in the realm of possibility.
Realistically, Atlanta will be receiving a wild-card spot and they’re looking pretty good to do so.
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.