Week 13 was a big moving week in the NFC playoff picture. The top of the playoff standings remained much the same, with Dallas beating Minnesota and Seattle destroying Carolina, but there was plenty of intrigue and big swings after that.
The biggest movers were two teams that came up with road victories that shot their playoff chances up significantly. Detroit did not trail in the fourth quarter for the first game all year, putting together their most complete game in handling the Saints in New Orleans and pretty much ending the Saints’ chances for a playoff run (now, the Saints likely need to win all remaining games). The Lions were already in first place in the NFC North, but that win, in what looked like a toss-up swing game, now makes it far more likely that they can stay ahead of the Packers, heading into the Week 17 matchup.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, was the only team to win in the NFC South this week, and they pulled into a tie for the moment for the lead in the division with Atlanta. Atlanta’s schedule down the stretch is far more favorable, so they are still the choice to win the division (the Falcons get the closest thing to a layup among all the NFC contenders, with a home game against the 49ers in two weeks, and also play the Rams this week).
That result, though, coupled with the Washington loss, opens a very realistic path for Tampa Bay to get to the postseason, if they can go 2-2 to finish at 9-7.
Last week, I included the NFC conference records and future schedules of all teams in the breakdown. Using those records, and win projections (based on power rankings and point spreads), here are the currently projected playoff field (the Playoff Odds are those separately calculated by the NY Times Upshot):
If I could put a confidence rating on those standings between the 5 and 9 spots, though, it would be pretty low. The chances that Washington goes 9-6-1 are almost the same as the chances that they go 8-7-1. They will be a slight to moderate favorite in all remaining games, including what could be the SNF finale against the Giants if both have something to play for.
The cutline is likely to fall right around 9-7, with tiebreakers, for the final NFC slot. Tampa Bay is in good tiebreaker shape if that’s the case, which is why they now see the odds slip just above 50%. Tampa Bay has a tough schedule (two games against the Saints sandwiched around a game at Dallas), but if they can get one win before week 17, they should still be mathematically alive heading into a home game against the Panthers.
The Giants have the lead, but I am not super confident in their chances of holding it after last week. This week’s game against Dallas is a huge swing game in the playoff outlook. Lose that, and it is nervous time, because the Giants would likely lose tiebreakers at 9-7. Win it, and the G-men are realistically one more win away from sealing a spot.
I have Minnesota with a slightly better chance of finishing 9-7 than some other teams, but their playoff odds are worse. The head-to-head sweep by the Lions in division, along with a 4-6 conference record, means the Vikings need to win out, or pray. The best 9-7 scenario for them is for the Giants to collapse (since they won head-to-head) and have the Bucs finish below 9-7 as well.
Green Bay, meanwhile, can get right in the mix if they can go to 9-7. The Packers join the Giants in having a huge swing game this week, at home against the Seahawks. A Packers win there will shoot the playoff odds up greatly, and keep alive the hope of running down the Lions in week 17.
After that, it’s long shots. Arizona got a big win over Washington, but I see the cut line being above a 8-7-1 record. That means Arizona likely needs to win out to have a chance, and that includes a road game in Seattle.