Showdown week in the NFC is over. It started with with Atlanta beating New Orleans on Thursday, continued with Carolina knocking Minnesota out of the top spot in the NFC, and finished with Seattle kicking, screaming and diving at knees in a loss at Jacksonville and Philadelphia rallying for a big win at the Rams. That win came with a price, as the Eagles may have lost Carson Wentz for the rest of the year with a knee injury. But it also likely secured the Eagles the #1 seed. Let’s break down some of the key races in the NFC and how the tiebreakers could play out:
Philadelphia moved back ahead of Minnesota in the win column, and also likely secured the tiebreaker. That’s because Carolina and the Rams were both “common games” that both teams played, and the Eagles clinched a 5-0 record against common opponents. As long as the Eagles win one more conference game (against either the Giants next week or Dallas in week 17) and finish tied on overall record, they would win any tiebreaker with Minnesota now.
If the Eagles win against the Giants next week, they also eliminate the possibility of any other team catching them as well.
FIRST ROUND BYE
Minnesota may have lost, and saw their chances of being the overall #1 take a hit, but the other results also made a first round bye more likely. Minnesota now secures a bye if they win 2 of the final 3 games and either the Saints win the NFC South or the Panthers lose or tie a game. They have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Rams and Saints, and can only lose a tiebreaker at 12-4 to the Panthers after the loss to Carolina.
Philadelphia has clinched the division.
Minnesota has not clinched, as they would lose to either Green Bay or Detroit at 10-6. But they clinch by either winning or tying one remaining game, or having both Green Bay and Detroit lose (or tie) a game.
The NFC South is wide open with three weeks left. New Orleans wins the division by winning out, and with a home game against the Jets and a road game at Tampa sandwiched around the return game against Atlanta, they are the heavy favorites.
But Atlanta also wins the division by winning out, because that would necessarily involve wins over New Orleans and Carolina. Atlanta would win any tiebreaker over either or both at 11-5.
Carolina does not control its own destiny for a division title because of two losses to New Orleans. The scenarios can get convoluted but the basics are New Orleans has the tiebreaker over Carolina; Atlanta can get the tiebreaker over New Orleans by sweeping them, but the Saints clinch a tiebreaker over Atlanta by splitting (because of either division record or common opponent); and Carolina can clinch the tiebreaker over Atlanta by sweeping with a week 17 win, but Atlanta would hold any tiebreaker over Carolina with a win, if they are either 10-6 or 11-5. Atlanta wins any three-way tiebreakers at 11-5, or an improbable 10-6 pileup.
It comes down to a week 15 showdown as to whether Seattle moves into the lead or the Rams take a near-stranglehold on the division title. Seattle could be without multiple players after the nonsense at the end of the Jaguars loss, including Michael Bennett.
If the Rams win at Seattle, then they don’t formally clinch the division, but they would need just either a win or tie in their last two games, or a loss or tie by Seattle.
If Seattle wins, they clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker with the sweep and move into a tie on record. The final two weeks would then become wide open (Rams at Tennessee and vs SF; Seattle at Dallas and vs Arizona).
Several teams remained hopeful this week as all the 6-6 teams won, as did Arizona. So let’s start with Arizona. While they are mathematically alive, they are extreme long shots because of the poor conference record. They would lose a tiebreaker with every possible candidate at 9-7. An Atlanta or Seattle win next week eliminates them.
Green Bay could be getting Aaron Rodgers back if he is medically cleared, and they face a tough closing stretch that would seem impossible without him, starting with a road game at Carolina. However, if Green Bay can somehow get Rodgers back and win out, they will be in pretty good shape. They win any tiebreakers over Dallas, Seattle, the Rams, or Carolina at 10-6, and would have moved past Detroit in that scenario. The only bad 10-6 scenario for Green Bay is Atlanta being at 10-6 but Carolina and New Orleans both at 11-5, because Atlanta would win any tiebreaker on conference record or head-to-head. So the bad scenarios for Green Bay involve both Seattle and the Rams getting to 11 wins, and having Carolina getting to 11 wins while Atlanta is at 10.
Detroit is in a similar, but not quite as great situation as Green Bay if they get to 10-6. They likely win tiebreakers. They lose to Atlanta. The difference is they also lose to Carolina if they are head-to-head. So Detroit needs there to be a three-way tiebreaker at 10-6 also involving Dallas or a NFC West team if Carolina is involved. Detroit can then win the three-way tiebreaker based on conference record or common games after Carolina is eliminated.
Dallas must get to 10-6 and get help. They need both Detroit and Green Bay to lose a game. If you are a Dallas fan you are rooting for the Rams to beat the Seahawks to set up an elimination showdown when Ezekiel Elliott returns in week 16. And then Dallas needs either Atlanta to lose two games or Carolina to lose two games, because they lose a tiebreaker to Atlanta at 10-6. Dallas has very little chance at 9-7.
Atlanta is in the best shape as noted above in the NFC South scenarios. They win a tiebreaker over almost everyone in contention based on either head-to-head or conference record if they finish strong.
Seattle is at a major crossroads. They lose a lot of tiebreakers if they do not beat the Rams. Seattle at 10-6 and trailing the Rams leaves them vulnerable. They lose tiebreakers to Green Bay and Detroit in Seattle, and they can still lose the tiebreaker to the Cowboys when the two teams meet. They lost to Atlanta. They need Carolina to lose two games and then they would have a tiebreaker over the Panthers at 10-6.
Carolina‘s conference record leaves them vulnerable. They can eliminate those concerns by winning the next two home games against Green Bay and Tampa Bay and not even have it come down to Week 17. If Carolina loses at home to the Packers then things will get very interesting in the NFC.
Los Angeles Rams don’t have a great conference record. They need to either beat Seattle or beat both Tennessee and San Francisco to feel good. They also lose a lot of tiebreakers on conference record if it comes down to it late.
New Orleans is in pretty good shape because the schedule is favorable and if they can win one of the two NFC South games they will have a good conference record.