Last week, when I debuted the new playoff picture series, I started with the AFC because they were finished with their week before the NFC. This week, the tables turn as the NFC has completed 13 games. For this week's edition, we have to eliminate the Saints from our list. Their 52-27 loss to the Giants puts them at 5-8 and looks like needs to win out, needs Seattle/Chicago to lose out and hope tiebreakers go their way. So, it's over for the Saints. Here's how the NFC looks after Week 14.
Atlanta (11-2)- Clinched NFC South. Last 3 games (NYG, @Det, TB)
The Falcons suffered their second loss of the season yesterday against the Panthers and saw their lead shrink as all of other NFC division leaders won. It's not panic time in Atlanta as the Falcons are still in great shape to clinch home-field throughout the playoffs.
San Francisco (9-3-1)- Last 3 games (@NE, @Sea, Ari)
Bounce back win for the Niners at home to maintain the spot for a first-round bye. Looking at the schedule, playing the Cardinals at home should get them their 10th win, which clinches a playoff spot. That's a good thing, because their next two games could determine if the 49ers are winning the division with a bye or perhaps being forced to start the playoffs on the road.
Green Bay (9-4)- Last 3 games (@Chi, Ten, @Min)
It's always nice to play the Lions since they know how to gift teams wins, no matter how much they lead in the game. Because of the Bears loss, the Packers can clinch the NFC North next week if they beat the Bears. Getting the win means the Packers can focus on trying to get the bye as the Titans at home should be easy. A loss to Chicago, however, opens the door for someone to pass them (and remember the Seahawks own the tiebreaker over them).
N.Y. Giants (8-5)- Last 3 games (@Atl, @Balt, Phil)
The Giants offense looked dominant (except when they were careless) against the Saints and maintained their NFC East lead. Oh, but what could have been as both the Redskins and Cowboys won games they were on the brink of losing. The Giants lead stays at one game, and the schedule continues to get tougher. No rest yet for the defending champs.
Wild Card Teams
Seattle (8-5)- Last 3 games (@Buf in Toronto, SF, Stl)
There aren't enough superlatives to describe the Seahawks 58-0 win over the Cardinals, so all I can think is how the Seahawks can still very easily win out and get a first-round bye. To do that, they need the Pats to beat the Niners next Sunday (something that's very possible). They could also use a Packers loss to someone before the season ends. At the very least, a playoff berth looks very good for the Seahawks.
Chicago (8-5)- Last 3 games (GB, @Ari, @Det)
The Bears look like a sinking ship right now (lost 4 of 5) and getting the Packers this week is the last thing they need. One more loss opens the door for all three 7-6 teams to get in the playoffs as a wild card. Having the Cards left on the schedule is very helpful, but let's be honest, it will all come down to that game in Detroit. They also are the leading candidate in the NFC to lose a game they should win down the stretch.
Washington (7-6)- Last 3 games (@Clev, @Phil, Dal)
What happens when you're driving for the winning score and Robert Griffin III gets hurt? Well, the Redskins showed that they'll win the game anyway. Losing yesterday would have put Washington down two games with three left; now they are still a game behind the Giants/Seahawks/Bears are still the most dangerous of the non-playoff teams. They still have to win out to have a chance at the playoffs, because you can't count on 9 wins to be enough for the playoffs. Not in this conference.
Dallas (7-6)- Last 3 games (Pit, NO, @Wash)
The Cowboys were able to win yesterday despite the tragedy surrounding their team and a nine point 4th quarter deficit. Because of the win, Dallas is still in the thick of the NFC race, though the schedule doesn't get easier. It looks like that final game between the Cowboys and the Redskins could be the decider of the last playoff spot, assuming the Bears swoon continues or the Giants schedule gets the best of them.
Minnesota (7-6)- Last 3 games (@Stl, @Hou, GB)
Yes, the Vikings are still in the hunt for a playoff berth. Another great game for Adrian Peterson gave the Vikings a win over the Bears which helps them in case of a tiebreaker. They have an interesting schedule left as they could be playing both the Texans and Packers after they clinched their seeds in the playoffs. I'm still surprised that the Vikings have survived this second half schedule thus far to remain in the race. The biggest negative for the Vikings is they lose tiebreakers to both Dallas and Washington and need both to lose down the stretch to move ahead in toward a playoff spot.
St. Louis (6-6-1)- Last 3 games (Min, @TB, @Sea)
The only reason I still have the Rams in this part of the playoff list is because if a playoff spot can be had with 9 wins, the Rams clinch if they are 9-6-1. That's the only way the Rams make the playoffs, so I leave them here. The schedule is reasonably tough, but could be interesting when they have to play the Seahawks if they lose to the Niners. Potential play-in game once again between these two teams.
Not mathematically out, but need a whole lot of help
Tampa Bay (6-7)-Last 3 games (@NO, Stl, @Atl)
Killer loss yesterday against the sorry Eagles. Completely brutal. Being at 7-6 at least keeps the Bucs with a reasonable chance to make it. Now, they need too much to happen and depending on next week's results, they could be out of the picture win or lose.