NFL

NFC Playoff Picture: Cowboys in Trouble, Bears Need a Minor Miracle

The Giants win at Dallas swung the NFC East projection, while the 49ers losing at Arizona now pulls New Orleans into a tie with San Francisco in the chase to get that first-round bye. Here are my projections for each seed, with win projections based on remaining schedule.
  1. Green Bay (13-0, 15.6 projected wins)
  2. New Orleans (10-3, 12.4 projected wins)
  3. San Francisco (10-3, 11.8 projected wins)
  4. New York Giants (7-6, 8.8 projected wins)
  5. Atlanta (8-5, 9.9 projected wins)
  6. Detroit (8-5, 9.3 projected wins)
  7. Dallas (7-6, 8.8 projected wins)
  8. Chicago (7-6, 8.3 projected wins)
  9. Seattle (6-7, 7.5 projected wins)
  10. Arizona (6-7, 7.5 projected wins)
  11. Philadelphia (5-8, 6.8 projected wins)

ANALYSIS: Green Bay officially clinches the #1 seed with a win or a San Francisco loss at any point over the last three weeks. I have New Orleans as the projected #2 seed after the 49ers lost at Arizona. San Francisco does have the tiebreaker right now based on conference record, but I project the Saints with a higher win expectation.

Meanwhile, the Giants took the lead in the NFC East thanks to the victory over Dallas. Atlanta is now the team most likely to face the NFC East winner after their rally in Carolina. Detroit is in pretty good shape with Chicago’s loss, and may (emphasis on may) need just one more win to secure some key tiebreakers. If Seattle wins out with wins over Chicago, San Francisco and Arizona, they would have a very good chance of winning tiebreakers at 9-7 because of conference record. Arizona is also still alive if they get to 9-7, while the Eagles are eliminated if Dallas and New York win this week.

The good news for Chicago fans, despite the horrible offensive play with Caleb Hanie, is that all these losses came out of conference. Because of the Detroit win over Minnesota and because the next tiebreaker for division opponents (after head to head and division record) is common opponents, Chicago is still trailing Detroit. It looks like the Bears are going to have to pull the monumental upset at Green Bay to swing the balance.

The results with Detroit and Atlanta winning make a 2nd NFC East team as a wild card very unlikely at 9-7 (scenarios below):

Division tiebreaker of Chicago versus Detroit: If both teams get to 9-7, Detroit wins the tiebreaker if Chicago splits with Minnesota and Green Bay (common opponent tiebreaker). If Chicago loses to Seattle and wins against both Minnesota and Green Bay, they win the tiebreaker (division record) unless Detroit’s lone remaining win is also against Green Bay (in which case division record is again a draw, and common opponent controls).

Chicago versus NFC East runner up, Dallas or New York: Likely favors Chicago based on conference record.

Detroit versus NFC East runner up, Dallas or New York: Detroit wins tiebreaker with Dallas on head to head, likely wins against New York based on conference record.

Three way tiebreaker involving Atlanta, Detroit, NFC East Runner Up at 9-7: If Giants, then Atlanta gets first slot if they get win versus NO or TB, based on either conference record or head to head over Detroit after Giants kicked out on conference record. If Atlanta is 9-7 with win over Jacksonville, and Detroit beats Green Bay for only win, the Detroit is first slot based on conference record.

Three way tiebreaker involving Atlanta, Chicago, NFC East Runner Up at 9-7: Chicago gets first slot based on conference record. If there is a remaining spot, it would go to Atlanta over Giants on conference record, and Atlanta over Dallas if remaining win is against New Orleans or Tampa Bay (common opponent), otherwise Dallas if Atlanta beats Jacksonville and loses to New Orleans and Tampa (conference record)

KEY GAMES THIS WEEK: We are getting to the point where all are important, but there are a few that can swing things the most.

Pittsburgh at San Francisco: This is the swing game for the 49ers. It’s at home against a tough opponent. If they win, I think they are about 50/50 to hold off the Saints. A loss, though, pushes the Saints officially in front (pending New Orleans handling Minnesota).

Seattle at Chicago: likely elimination game. The Bears have a chance if they beat the Packers and lose this game, but it is a slim one. Seattle would still be alive at 7-7 and would have a great conference record, which could be handy in tiebreakers.

Detroit at Oakland: Detroit has two swing games (Oakland and San Diego) and then the monumental task of winning at Green Bay. They don’t want it to come down to being 8-7 facing Green Bay for the playoffs, so this is the one to get to take the pressure off.

[photo via Getty]

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