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NFC Wildcard Race: Packers Loss to Detroit Costly

The NFC playoff chase consists of 7 teams going for 5 spots, plus the NFC West winner. The Green Bay Packers lost a costly game last week at Detroit, for numerous reasons.

It not only put them behind Chicago for the divisional tiebreaker even if they beat the Bears, but it also put them in trouble for the conference record and common games tiebreakers with Tampa Bay. Every playoff contender in the NFC plays at least two games in the last three against other teams still in the playoff hunt, except Philadelphia (Minnesota and Dallas at home to close the season).

The Green Bay Packers actually have their least important game this week at New England, because it is a non-conference game. The division fate is now out of their hands, as the Bears can clinch with a win “at Minnesota” in the great outdoors, combined with any combination of a Packers loss or another Chicago win. If the Bears lose, the Packers are still alive to catch them in the division if they tie.

This is not to say that the New England game is unimportant, because Green Bay’s chances are greatly improved if they get to 11 wins. They could win a tiebreaker at 10-6 (with the loss coming to NE) with the loser of the Eagles-Giants game, either Philadelphia or the Giants because of head to head. However, they would lose a tiebreaker to the Bucs if Tampa beats Detroit this week, based on the common opponents tiebreaker. They would also be in trouble in a three way tie with Philadelphia and Tampa at 10-6. Green Bay should be rooting for Detroit or Seattle against Tampa over the next two weeks, and could really use a Minnesota win over Chicago.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have renewed life because of the win over Washington (who GB lost to in overtime) and Green Bay’s loss to Detroit (who TB gets at home this week).  They are still rank outsiders if they only get to 10 wins, because they would likely lose a tiebreaker to the Giants (on either common opponent or SOV), and would likely lose a three way tiebreaker involving the Giants for the same reasons.  The Bucs could catch the Eagles at 10-6 because of conference record, whether in a 2-way tie or 3-way tie involving Philadelphia, but that would also require a Philadelphia loss at home to either Minnesota or Dallas.   Of course, the Bucs could also catch the Saints with the head to head matchup in week 17 as well, but only if New Orleans loses both of the next two tough games (at Baltimore and at Atlanta).  If New Orleans wins either of the next two, the Saints will own the tiebreaker based on SOV.

The New York Giants will make the playoffs if they get to 11 wins, and beat Washington among those wins (as long as the Packers don’t get to 11 wins and beat them on the head to head tiebreaker), or lose to Washington (provided Tampa Bay doesn’t get to 11 wins). Washington is a key game because of the common opponent tiebreaker with Tampa Bay.  The Giants win the division with wins over the Eagles and Redskins, regardless of what they do against Green Bay in week 16, based on the conference record tiebreaker with Philly.  If the Giants lose to the Eagles this week, then the only chance to win the division would be for the Eagles to lose out and the Giants win out.  A loss to the Eagles means the Giants would be playing for their playoffs at Green Bay, as a loss would mean they lose a head to head tiebreaker with Green Bay.  A three way tie with the Packers and Buccaneers would come down to Strength of Victory, which would likely favor the Packers over the Giants and Bucs.

The Chicago Bears win the division with a win against Minnesota this week and one more win or one more Packers loss.  A loss to Minnesota swings everything, though, as the Bears would lose a tiebreaker with Green Bay with a loss to the Packers in week 17.  The Bears likely don’t go as a wildcard.  It depends on which teams they would lose to, but a 10-6 record would put them in trouble in a tiebreaker with either the Bucs or Giants (or a 3-way tie that includes the Bucs and either Giants or Eagles).  They have the head to head tiebreaker over Philadelphia.

The New Orleans Saints probably need one more win to guarantee a playoff spot.  They can only catch the Falcons if they win out to get to 13-3, and Atlanta loses to either Seattle or Carolina.  If they get to 11 wins, they would win a tiebreaker over Tampa Bay (they would also win a tiebreaker at 10-6 over the Bucs).  They would be in if the Giants were a wildcard at 11-5 (because the Packers would have necessarily lost).  The Saints could potentially lose a three-way tiebreaker with the Eagles and Packers for the two wildcard spots, but that would require series of events, including the Saints losing both remaining conference games, and the Eagles and Packers both finishing 11-5 but neither winning the division.

The Atlanta Falcons have not officially clinched, but would do so with a win, or Giants loss to Philadelphia, or a Packers’ loss to New England.  They win the division and the #1 seed with 2 more wins, in any combination, or just a win over New Orleans, and an Eagles loss.

The St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, and San Francisco 49ers are in a slugfest in the NFC West.  The 49ers would most likely win a three way tiebreaker at 7-9.  If it is a two-way tie between San Francisco and one other, the 49ers advance, otherwise the winner of the Seattle-St. Louis game advances.

My guesses for the NFC are dependent on who wins the Giants-Eagles game, and I’ll go with the Giants in a close one, particularly with Graham out and Stuart Bradley out at linebacker for Philly, and the Giants getting Diehl and Nicks back.  After that, there are key questions as to who will be motivated to do what as the season closes, depending on which teams have clinched spots or not.  I’m going to put the jinx back on San Francisco, and here’s what I’ll go with:

1. Atlanta Falcons (13-3)

2. New York Giants (11-5)

3. Chicago Bears (11-5)

4. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)

5. New Orleans Saints (12-4)

6. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)

[photo via Getty]

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