The NFC Super Bowl Path Is Getting More and More Wide Open

Brad Gagnon@@Brad_GagnonFeatured Columnist IVDecember 9, 2022

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 04: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers struggles to get up after being sacked during the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Levi's Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For all intents and purposes, despite a victory Thursday night, last year's NFC champion is out of the 2022 Super Bowl picture. And that's appropriate because the conference's path to the Super Bowl is complicated.

Three teams stand out with three or fewer losses entering Week 14, but they have plenty working against them—and the next tier is loaded with intriguing squads that could make runs under the right circumstances.

Let's break it down.

The Big Three

The 11-1 Eagles are back on track, but their path is arduous

The Philadelphia Eagles may have the league's best record and the NFC's best Super Bowl odds at DraftKings following a blowout victory over the Tennessee Titans, but they have been off without tight end Dallas Goedert and lost NFL interception leader C.J. Gardner-Johnson after he suffered a lacerated kidney two weeks ago.

Philly was outplayed in back-to-back ugly performances against the Washington Commanders and Indianapolis Colts in November. It has rebounded in the win column but is about to launch a three-game road trip that includes matchups with the tough New York Giants and tougher Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles could blow their two-game lead in the NFC East, especially if they lose in Dallas on Christmas Eve.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - DECEMBER 04: Quincy Williams #56 of the New York Jets tackles Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

The 10-2 Minnesota Vikings may be pretenders

Why? Well, they have scored just 10 more points than they've allowed and actually rank way down in 20th in the league in defense-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders. Each of their last nine victories has come in a one-score game, which is arguably unsustainable.

Meanwhile, offensive linemen Garrett Bradbury (back) and Christian Darrisaw (concussion) have injuries in front of the historically inconsistent Kirk Cousins at quarterback. It has often been hard to trust the Vikes, and that remains the case despite their soft schedule down the stretch.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 04: Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Dallas Cowboys looks on prior to a game against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The 9-3 Cowboys might be in the wrong place at the wrong time

While a division title is still on the table for Dallas, the conference's top-rated team in DVOA is stuck in what is surprisingly the top division in the league. That two-game deficit to the Eagles will be tough to overcome, especially since Philly owns the head-to-head tiebreaker for now.

The Cowboys were already operating without nickel cornerback Jourdan Lewis and lost starter Anthony Brown to an Achilles injury Sunday. Finishing the regular season against Philadelphia, Tennessee and Washington (with the last two on the road) could mean Dallas will have a treacherous four-game, road-oriented mountain to climb in the playoffs.

The Potential Spoilers

About the elephant in the 8-4 49ers' quarterback room

A lot of folks were on the San Francisco 49ers' bandwagon prior to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's foot injury, but now the team has to roll with a third-string quarterback in rookie seventh-round pick Brock Purdy. Still, the Niners have allowed a league-low 15.8 points per game, and the offense is loaded. Oh, and Garoppolo and Trey Lance haven't been ruled out for the playoffs yet.

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 04: Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks looks on before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

That brings the 7-5 Seahawks into play

The Seattle Seahawks are just a game back of San Francisco, and quarterback Geno Smith looks like his surprisingly strong start to the season wasn't a fluke. Super Bowl-winning head coach Pete Carroll is still Super Bowl-winning head coach Pete Carroll, and Seattle will go on the road just one more time.

The 7-win Giants and Commanders can't be ruled out

These two NFC East foes tied in Week 13 and remain in the picture with seven wins apiece. Washington's talented defense has hit a groove, quarterback Taylor Heinicke is holding it down, and the Commanders have lost just once in their last eight games. And while it's harder to be optimistic about New York, which has just one win since Halloween, there's no denying Saquon Barkley is one of the best players in the game—so there's always a chance.

TAMPA, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 05: Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs off the field after defeating the New Orleans Saints in the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 05, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints with a score of 17 to 16. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The 6-6 Buccaneers' quarterback is Tom Brady

Enough said? I'll add that despite their record, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look primed to take the NFC South and haven't lost in regulation since Week 8. You can't count out the 2020 Super Bowl champs. No way.

What about the 5-7 Lions? (Seriously!)

The Detroit Lions are still a long shot, but Dan Campbell's inspired team nearly beat the juggernaut Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving. If that had happened, they would be riding a five-game winning streak with a manageable schedule down the stretch. Quarterback Jared Goff is playing excellent football with limited mistakes, and he had more than enough support as his team dominated the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 13. They always fight hard at home, so don't be surprised if they take down the Vikings on Sunday.