The NFC Playoff Picture is not as clear as the AFC, as three of the divisions are still undetermined, and far more teams are in play with a legitimate shot. Earlier this week, I also broke down the chances of each team in the NFC East. Now, we’ll focus on what each team needs to reach the playoffs or gain a bye.
Atlanta Falcons (11-2): Atlanta still has a 1.5 lead on San Francisco. Win two, and they clinch the #1 seed. Finish 12-4, and San Francisco can pass them, and Green Bay would finish ahead on a tiebreaker (conference record). Atlanta clinches at least a bye with one more win, and a loss by either Green Bay or San Francisco.
San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1): That tie to the Rams is haunting San Francisco. If they had won that game, all they would need is a win over Arizona in week 17 to win the West. It also was no better than a loss going against Green Bay, since they have the head to head tiebreaker, and would have been two games clear of the Packers with a win in that game.
As it stands, San Francisco has to go to both New England and Seattle. They can lose the NFC West by losing both those games, if Seattle wins out. They win it if they can get two more wins. San Francisco clinches a playoff spot with a win, or losses by Washington, Dallas, and Minnesota.
Green Bay Packers (9-4): Green Bay clinches the NFC North with a win at Chicago this week. Green Bay can still get the #1 seed by winning out, Atlanta losing twice, and San Francisco losing once. Even if they lose to Chicago, Green Bay wins the NFC North by winning the last two games (division record). They would clinch a playoff spot next week with a win, if Minnesota loses before their week 17 game.
New York Giants (8-5): I went down the division winning scenarios earlier in the week for the NFC East. New York can get a wildcard at 10-6 going against most competitors based on conference record, because they would be 8-4 in the NFC. They would win against Chicago or Minnesota on a tiebreaker, and could win over Seattle depending on who the remaining loss came against.
They could also win some tiebreakers at 9-7, but would need multiple losses by both Chicago and Seattle, and could not be stuck behind Washington and Dallas in a three team tie in the East.
Seattle Seahawks (8-5): Seattle needs a San Francisco loss at New England and they “control their own destiny” for the NFC West by winning out. Seattle is in pretty good shape by holding head to head wins over Chicago, Dallas, and Minnesota. Seattle would win a common opponents tiebreaker at 10-6 over Washington IF their only remaining loss was to Buffalo, but not if it was in conference. Seattle would likely lose a tiebreaker to New York on conference record at 10-6, though that could change.
Chicago Bears (8-5): The Bears would need to win out, and have Green Bay lose twice to win the division. The Bears would likely lose any tiebreaker with the Packers on either division record or common opponents. Chicago clinches a playoff spot by winning out. They can get in at 10-6, though their conference record in that case (7-5) would leave them vulnerable on a tiebreaker–they would lose to Washington, New York, or Seattle, and probably Minnesota (on division record or common opponents). They have the head to head win over Dallas. Chicago thus should be rooting for Dallas, and for Minnesota to lose a game.
Washington Redskins (7-6): If they win out, and the Giants lose a game, they win the division. Washington is in good shape if they get to 10-6, as they would need either a Bears loss or a Seahawks loss to either San Francisco or St. Louis.
Washington can also win the division or wildcard at 9-7, though the scenarios are too complex to lay out here.
Dallas Cowboys (7-6): Dallas wins the division by getting to 10-6 combined with a Giants loss. Unlike the Redskins, though, their wildcard outlook at 10-6 is not as favorable. They would lose tiebreakers to Seattle and Chicago and would need one of them to get two losses. They would win a common games tiebreaker over Minnesota at 10-6.
Similarly, Dallas can still win the division or wildcard at 9-7, but would be hurting in most tiebreaker scenarios, because it would be less likely that both Seattle and Chicago lose all remaining games.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6): Minnesota can still win the NFC North. It would require winning out, Green Bay losing to the Bears also, and Chicago losing one more game. The Vikings would win on a common games tiebreaker in that case.
Minnesota could get in at 10-6 as a wildcard, by holding the edge over Chicago, but would lose out to Seattle, Washington, or Dallas at 10-6. Minnesota probably needs to win out, as they would be in trouble in many tiebreakers at 9-7.
St. Louis Rams (6-6-1): They need to win out, then get help by others finishing at 9-7 amongst Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Washington and Minnesota.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7): Tampa Bay has to win out and needs lots of help. Their conference record will only be 6-6 if they win out, so they will be in trouble in many tiebreakers. The scenarios are complex, but let’s just put it this way: root for teams in front to lose, especially conference games.
New Orleans Saints (5-8): The Saints are technically not eliminated. By my calculations, even if they get to 8-8, they would lose a tiebreaker to the Seahawks (common games), and either Washington (conference record) or Dallas (common games). Basically, the Saints need Chicago to lose every game, and for Dallas and Washington to tie, after already losing two games each, and for no one else to finish better than 8-8 besides Seattle and the Giants.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]