A topsy-turvy week in the NFL only made the NFC playoff picture even more murky. While those at the top strengthened their positions, there were some shifts for the first time since I started blogging about playoff scenarios. This week we drop the Bucs and the Rams from the list of teams alive as both lost games last week that neither could afford to do. Sorry, St. Louis; 8-7-1 isn't making the playoffs. Let's see how things stand after the NFC completes Week 15.
Atlanta (12-2)- Clinched NFC South. Last two games (@Det, TB)
Losing to the Giants yesterday would not have really impacted their chances at home-field in the playoffs, as the Lions and Bucs are a mess right now. What it did was give confidence to anyone who's doubted the Falcons as a contender for a championship (as well as some revenge for last year's playoff loss). The Falcons showed up in a big way and now we know they are capable of that against a good team.
San Francisco (10-3-1)- Clinched playoff berth. Last two games (@Sea, Ari)
The 49ers almost blew it against the Pats, but didn't lose a game leading by 28. By winning, they still have margin of error in case they lose in Seattle this week, finishing the year with the sorry Cardinals. They also still control their destiny in terms of getting a first round bye (though they don't have margin of error in that regard).
Green Bay (10-4)- Clinched NFC North. Last two games (Ten, @Min)
I don't think anyone early in the season thought that not only would the Packers pass the Bears, but end the division race with two games left in doing so. Now, the Packers can only be concerned with getting a week off. Facing the Titans at home will be helpful; facing a Vikings team who might need the win to clinch a playoff berth will be a little more difficult.
Washington (8-6)- Last two games (@Phi, Dal)
No Robert Griffin III? No problem. Kirk Cousins was plenty for the Redskins in their win over the Browns and because of the Giants loss, they take over the NFC East lead. They control their own destiny (in fact all the NFC East teams do); two wins and they are NFC East champs for the first time since 1999. It's still too soon to contemplate what will happen if the Redskins finish 9-7, though I would doubt they make the playoffs in that event.
Wild Card Teams
Seattle (9-5)- Last two games (SF, Stl)
Another dominant win for the Seahawks over the Bills makes them the hottest team in the league. I'd be surprised if they lose both of these games they have left, though if they did, the playoff picture would explode open. Plenty of interested teams will be huddled to the television next Sunday night. One thing is for sure; if the Seahawks win, they clinch a playoff berth because of their wins over Minnesota and Chicago, plus the Redskins-Cowboys showdown.
Minnesota (8-6)- Last two games (@Hou, GB)
For the moment, the Vikings are in, though that has to do with the fact they played one more conference game than the Cowboys. The problem for the Vikings is that they don't control their own destiny. They need another Giants loss to have any chance at a wild card berth; not to mention beating both the Texans and the Packers. Win or lose, it's still be a tremendous year for Adrian Peterson and they wouldn't be here if not for him.
Dallas (8-6)- Last two games (NO, @Wash)
The next team that controls its own destiny as two wins for the Cowboys wins the NFC East for them. Everything is shaping up that the last game of 2012 is Dallas @ Washington (unless the Vikings get a win and in situation, plus Adrian Peterson gets a chance to break Eric Dickerson's record). This is a tricky game for Dallas, however. They lose here, and they open the door for the Giants to get the division (assuming the Cowboys beat the Redskins a week later.) Redskins would still own a tiebreak in that scenario, so the Cowboys better win this week.
N.Y. Giants (8-6)- Last two games (@Balt, Phil)
I know they are ranked 9th today, but they control their playoff destiny, while the Bears don't. The Giants win their last two games, they are in the playoffs. They get the division if both Dallas and Washington get to 7 losses (one loses this week, then that loser beats the team that won in their matchup). Still, you continue to be baffled by this team who continuously had the playoffs handed to them (especially back in Week 8), and has squandered their chances to need to win these two to be able to get a wild card berth.
Chicago (8-6)- Last two games (@Ari, @Det)
Like the Giants, the Bears also squandered early season control (7-1) into a fight for their life. Unlike the Giants, the Bears need help to make it. Fortunately for the Bears, their schedule is easy and their rivals schedules are harder. If the Bears don't finish 10-6, they have only themselves to blame for missing the playoffs. Missing at 10-6, while bad after the 7-1, isn't a failure by the team because the Cards and Lions are awful and you just can't lose to either when you need to win both, especially for a team like Chicago, who beat up on bad teams.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the AFC Playoff Picture, which will be finalized after the Jets game tonight.