Entering the season, the common wisdom was that the AFC was top-heavy, while the NFC was loaded, and several teams could miss the playoffs in the NFC who might make it if they switched conferences. The depth of the NFC was seen as superior.
If you take a look at the standings, and what happened on Sunday, that hasn’t held up. The AFC has four teams sitting at 9 or 10 wins, and the top of the playoff pecking order is very much in doubt over the final month. Meanwhile, the Rams and Saints are very close to clinching a bye with multiple games remaining.
And a big chunk of the teams in the NFC expected to contend are experiencing a depression. The entire NFC North went 0-fer yesterday, losing to top contenders (Patriots and Rams) and contenders for the top pick (Cardinals and Giants) alike. Minnesota went into New England in December and like so many others came up short. The Packers season, already on life support, effectively ended, and they fired Mike McCarthy. The Bears lost to eliminate any hope of putting pressure on the Rams and Saints.
Meanwhile, the Panthers’ free fall continued with their fourth straight loss, and fellow 2017 playoff participant Atlanta lost at home to eliminate any remote hopes of bouncing back.
Seattle, along with Dallas, are the teams going the other way, and we now go into Monday Night with a vital game for both teams’ hopes. A Philadelphia loss for all intents and purposes ends their realistic hopes. It also puts Washington in the final wildcard spot ahead of Minnesota. Meanwhile, an Eagles win keeps them alive and makes the middle class even more muddled.
It looks like 9 wins is going to be the key number to give yourself a chance, so here are the teams that still have the opportunity to meet or exceed that, with remaining schedule. Four of these teams will make it.
at San Francisco
at NY Giants
at San Francisco
at New Orleans
at LA Rams
TAMPA BAY (5-7)
Of those teams, Seattle looks to be in great position. The Seattle/Minnesota game next week looks like a play-in game, and the Seattle Seahawks would have a favorable schedule if they beat the Vikings. Minnesota, meanwhile, likely needs to win the next three games to have a chance to force the Week 17 matchup with Chicago to have stakes for the division win and a home game. The Minnesota Vikings can still get the second wildcard with a loss to Seattle, but it likely means they have to get to 9-6-1. I am not sure 8-7-1 will do it.
Dallas is in the primary position in the NFC East. That only changes if they lose to the Eagles next week at home. Washington is trying to survive with Colt McCoy at QB. A win tonight would go a long way, because closing 3-1 will be a challenge.
The Carolina Panthers look to be in major trouble. They still have to play the Saints twice.
And then there are the Eagles. Five games against winning teams to close. That’s tough, but also an opportunity. But it must start with a win tonight.