Falcons, Bears or Eagles or Rams? The NFC Playoff Picture Division By Division

Posted: December 9, 2010 in NFL
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

See this article with photos on Bleacher Report

Three-quarters of the way into the season, and the NFC playoff picture has been whittled down to the few final contenders. There are six teams in the conference with at least eight wins and one of them will definitely not make the playoffs, but which one? And if the AFC South has been far below expectations this season, the NFC West has been simply putrid. To put it succinctly, 4-8 San Francisco still has a realistic shot at winning the division. That’s just bad.

NFC East

With the collapse of the Redskins, this division is left to be decided between the Giants and the Eagles. Both teams are 8-4, though perception is that New York is fortunate to be there and Philadelphia should be better if not for the few games Michael Vick missed earlier in the season. The Eagles beat the Giants earlier, but the game in two weeks could go a long way in deciding who wins this division and who gets stuck in what could potentially be a muddled, multiple tie-breaker wild card situation. Both teams play Minnesota, although the Giants have to go there where the Vikings are a much better team this season. They also visit Green Bay before finishing with Washington.

The Eagles get a resurgent Dallas team twice, this week and the last game of the season. What better way for Jason Garrett to cement his hold on the head coach position for the Cowboys than by helping to ruin Philadelphia’s potentially Superbowl-worthy year. Dallas, for all of their well-documented troubles this season, is most definitely the spoiler in the this division.

NFC North

This is another two-team race where perceptions may not agree with the standings. The Bears hold a one-game lead and a head-to-head win advantage over Green Bay, but general perception is that the Packers are the better team. These two, along with New Orleans, play the toughest schedules down the stretch of any playoff contenders.

Over the next three weeks, Chicago hosts New England, visits Minnesota and hosts the Jets. Green Bay goes to Detroit, then New England then back home to face the Giants. After that, they close with each other in what could be an epic game in Lambeau Field.

Chicago has a slight edge in scheduling, considering they play the Patriots in Chicago instead of Foxborough, where no one wins, unlike Green Bay who has to visit there. Visiting Minnesota isn’t as easy as a trip to Detroit, but hosting the suddenly vulnerable New York Jets looks nicer than bringing the Giants to town as the Packers will.

The spoiler here, although only a slight one (there’s no way the football gods will allow anything to screw up an enormously meaningful Bears-Packers game in Lambeau Field on the last day of the season) are the Lions. If they can somehow manage to upset Green Bay this weekend, it’ll be very difficult, if not impossible, for the Packers to win this division.

NFC South

There is no race to speak of for this division title. Given the difficulty of the Saints schedule and the ease of Atlanta’s, there is simply no way in all of civilization that the Falcons don’t win this division and lock up home field throughout the NFC Playoffs. By the way, Matt Ryan for his career, is 19-1 as a starter at home. And in that loss, to Denver in 2008, Roddy White dropped what would have been a game-winning touchdown. Think the Falcons are the favorite for the Superbowl? They host New Orleans the next to last game of the season, visit Seattle and play the worst team in the league, the Carolina Panthers, twice. No way there’s not at least three wins there.

New Orleans has a brutal schedule from here on out. They host the Rams, then go on the road for back to back games in Baltimore and Atlanta before closing at home against Tampa Bay. The Saints are still defending champions, but they’ve struggled at times, playing to the level of their competition. (How do you lose to Arizona and call yourself a legitimate contender?) They could easily lose three-out-of-four, or as blasphemous as it sounds, all four games to finish the year.

Tampa Bay gave up any chance at the division with their tough loss to Atlanta last week, and put themselves in a difficult hole for a wild card. However, their schedule is extremely favorable. They next travel to Washington before hosting Detroit and Seattle, teams a combined 2-10 on the road this season. It is very possible that the Bucs will have 10 wins going into their showdown at home against New Orleans to end the season. Much like the Bears and the Packers, this game could have massive playoff implications.

There isn’t really a spoiler here. All three of these teams are solid to excellent, and they don’t generally lose to teams they shouldn’t. Still, Seattle can upset the Falcons or the Bucs, they could put a crimp in someone’s playoff plans.

NFC West

Here is a prime example of how bad the four-division set up is in the NFL. There could conceivably be two teams in the NFC with 10 or more wins this season miss out on the playoffs all together while someone from this mediocre mess hosts a playoff game at 8-8 or (gasp!) 7-9. Come on, NFL, do something about this. Do we really need a repeat of the 12-4 Colts having to travel to the 8-8 Chargers of a few seasons ago? At least drop the requirement that a division title automatically comes with a home game. Whoever comes out of this division is getting into the playoffs on a technicality as it is, do we really need to reward just barely getting by any more than that?

Anyway, the St. Louis Rams are currently on top in this division on the strength of a head-to-head win over Seattle earlier this season. That being said, the Rams next two games are at New Orleans and hosting Kansas City. One of the surprise teams in the league could easily be 6-8 very soon. They do finish by hosting San Francisco, who beat them earlier this year, and closing at Seattle. Is there a trend here? Three out of the four divisions in the NFC have potentially crucial matchups the last week of the season. I guess we’ll see whether Sam Bradford really is ready to be listed among the better quarterbacks in the game.

Seattle strikes me as a team very much poised for a collapse down the stretch. Their schedule could well comply with that. The easiest game is the next one, at San Francisco, where the 49ers are at least a competitive unit, if not a good one. Then they host Atlanta, travel to Tampa Bay before ending by hosting the Rams. A 6-10 record is distinctly possible.

As for the 49ers, as absurd as it sounds, they could still win this division. Sure, their quarterback play is a mess, the defense hasn’t been close to being as advertised and Frank Gore is done for the year, but do you see any dominant teams in front of them? They play all three divisional rivals, hosting Seattle and Arizona and traveling to St. Louis. They already beat the Rams once this year. Win those three games, and they would win any tiebreakers with either Seattle or St. Louis. The key is the game in two weeks at San Diego. The Chargers are completely unpredictable. They looked for all the world like they could run the table and make noise in the playoffs but then they get blown out by Oakland. And the 49ers are a different team in Southern California. St. Louis and Seattle will both struggle to reach 8-8. If the 49ers run the table, and they could, they will win this division.

Spoiler? Arizona the last game of the season against San Francisco. Win that one, and we could be looking at an under. 500 division champion. Yeah, parity!

How It Will Go…

Philadelphia will split with Dallas and win in New York to take the division at 11-5. The Giants lose to Philly and at Green Bay to end up 10-6 and in a wild card mess (more on that later). The Bears split down the stretch but win the big game at Lambeau to take the NFC North at 11-5. Green Bay also falls to 10-6. The Bears beat the Eagles earlier this season, so they earn the two-seed and a bye week, while Philly drops to the three spot.

The Falcons cruise to 13-3, a division title, the number one seed and home field throughout. New Orleans losses back-to-back games at Atlanta and Baltimore but beats Tampa on the last day of the season to reach 11-5, a wild card spot and the number 5 seed. Tampa wins its next three before losing to the Saints to finish the dreaded 10-6. And for the NFC West, Seattle totally falls apart to finish 6-10, San Francisco makes a nice run, but also falls short at 7-9. St. Louis wins the big home game against the 49ers the next to last week of the season then beats Seattle to wrap up the division and the four seed at 8-8.

This leaves a three-way tie for the six seed and the final playoff spot in the NFC between the Giants, the Packers and the Bucs. Or, in other words, tie-breaker hell. After going all the way to three-way tiebreaker number five, strength of victory, to knock out the Bucs, ultimately it comes down to the Packers win at home against the Giants in the next to last game of the season to clinch the sixth and final playoff spot.


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