We took a peek at the AFC playoff picture yesterday and now that the week is finished, the NFC playoff picture is clear. Unlike the AFC, where their only down to 7 teams with realistic playoff chances, the NFC has 12 teams who can probably say they their season isn't over (Sorry, Panthers, Eagles, Lions and Cardinals). Let's get a look:
Atlanta (11-1)- Clinched the NFC South. Last 4 games: @Car, NYG, @Det, TB.
I don't know how the Falcons are 11-1, but here they are and about to clinch home-field advantage for the 2nd time in 3 years. The games with the Panthers and Lions will likely put the Falcons over the top in terms of having the road to the Super Bowl go through the Georgia Dome, but if they fail to beat the Giants, teams will still be skeptical of this team.
San Francisco (8-3-1)- Last 4 games: Mia, @NE, @Sea, Ari
If the Niners don't finish the year with a first round bye, they can thank the Rams. The tie and the near second tie and loss puts them in a tough spot in terms of the division. Having games at the Pats and Seahawks don't make the schedule easy. Can't allow stumbles against the Dolphins and Cards.
Green Bay (8-4)- Last 4 games: Det, @Chi, Ten, @Min
Their win over the Vikings, plus the Bears OT loss put the Packers atop the NFC North for the first time this year. Not bad for a team who a week ago was in huge trouble. Their remaining schedule isnt difficult, but that game at Soldier Field looms large. The winner of the division will be decided in that one. I think the other bye comes from the North winner.
N.Y. Giants (7-5)- Last 4 games: NO, @Atl, @Balt, Phil
Boy, the Giants had a great chance to open up a two game lead in the NFC East and effectively eliminate the Redskins. Instead, they lose a frustrating game and now once again are going to try to do things the hard way. I can't tell you what they'll do in the next 3 games because I don't know which team will show up. I really hope they don't need to beat the Eagles to make the playoffs. This loss ends any chance at a bye, I believe.
Chicago (8-4)- Last 4 games: @Min, GB, @Ari, @Det
The worst part of the loss to the Seahawks is they'll also lose in any tiebreaker to them, which should never happen when you play Seattle away from Seattle. As mentioned earlier, Green Bay-Chicago should decide the division. What wasn't mentioned is what happens to the loser. Barring an injury to Jay Cutler, the Bears do have an easy enough schedule that should allow them to still make the playoffs, though I wouldn't overlook the Vikings on the road.
Seattle (7-5)- Last 4 games: Ari, @Buf, SF, Stl
Huge Sunday for the Seahawks, as they get a great win on the road and see the 49ers lose. They get 3 of their last 4 games, where they play great and the 4th game is a "road" game in Toronto against the Bills. San Francisco better not count on the winning the West without getting a big win.
Washington (6-6)- Last 4 games: Balt, @Clev, @Phil, Dal
Can the Washington Redskins win their last 7 games? They won their last three and Cleveland and Philly are easily winnable. Baltimore's the tough test (on a short week, no less). I don't see a wild card being the destiny for the Redskins, but if the Giants keep fooling around, they can fool their way out of the playoffs and in could come the Redskins.
Dallas (6-6)- Last 4 games: @Cin, Pit, NO, @Wash
The Cowboys stay in the conversation with their win over the Eagles. They have quite a tough schedule (which would be tougher if Ben Roethlisberger is back) so the chances they make the playoffs are slim. I think if they can be 8-7 before the Redskins game, they'll still have a shot.
Minnesota (6-6)- Last 4 games: Chi, @Stl, @Hou, GB
What the Vikings have going for them is both the Bears and Packers go to the Metrodome. Also, they get the Rams left as well, another winnable game. The biggest question for them is can their game with Houston take place when the Texans have clinched everything. If so, there's a small chance the Vikings could run the table, though I don't think it's enough to make the playoffs.
Tampa Bay (6-6)- Last 4 games: Phil, @NO, Stl, @Atl
Unfortunately for the Bucs, their skill of losing close games has returned and their two game losing streak has put them in trouble for the playoffs. The schedule isn't that hard, but we have another case of hoping for teams above to lose games. Fact is, if you aren't in the NFC East, the teams ahead have easy schedules to close out.
Mathematically alive, but basically out
St. Louis (5-6-1)- Last 4 games: @Buf, Min, @TB, @Sea
That tie hurts because 10 wins will get you in the playoffs this year (though the NFC East winner could end with 9). They need to win all four left and must hope that after 49ers-Seahawks, both teams have 9 wins.
New Orleans (5-7)- Last 4 games: @NYG, TB, @Dal, Car
They rallied into the playoff race, but two losses in a row put them on the outside looking in. They also need to win out, and hope that 9 wins gets a playoff spot. They can only look back to their losses to the Packers and Chiefs if they end up falling short, which is likely.