The NFL playoffs used to be a 12-team affair. With the extended season and a new playoff format, 14 teams now have the opportunity to fly in the postseason. And this has been the year of “nobody seems to really want it”, as every time we think there’s a clear path to the Super Bowl for a team, they shoot themselves in both feet.
The In Crowd
The only team that seems to be rolling into the playoffs with any sort of real consistency is the Green Bay Packers, who sit as the top seed going into the final week. The NFC has some solid teams, but all the rest faltered in one way or another. Arizona was undefeated and have played just about .500 ball since losing their first game. The Rams have barely escaped with wins a couple of weeks in a row despite actually being on a five game winning streak. The Cowboys are the Cowboys, so that could mean…anything. And the Buccaneers are becoming further depleted after barely making it past the New York Jets.
That said, all those teams are in, and the seeding of the top five won’t be settled until the dust clears. It’s going to take a lot to pry that top seed away from Green Bay, particularly since they are up against the Detroit Lions. The Cards, Rams, and Bucs also have very winnable matchups.
Then there’s the Cowboys. Dallas will be traveling to Philly for a prime-time Saturday game. Yes, somehow even the Eagles have already clinched a playoff berth. This could leave Dallas as the odd-team out, and force them to travel in the first week of the playoffs if the Eagles prevail. And I absolutely can see that happening.
If that becomes reality, the top six spots in the NFC playoffs would be as follows:
1. Green Bay Packers (14-3) – BYE
2. Los Angeles Rams (13-4)
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers(13-4)
4. Arizona Cardinals (12-5)
5. Dallas Cowboys (11-6)
6. Philadelphia Eagles (10-7)
The Final Spot
Only the 49ers (9-7) and Saints (8-8) are vying for that final NFC spot. SF hold their fate in their own hands. Already a game ahead of NO, a win guarantees they clinch. But that won’t be so easy as they have to head to LA to go toe to toe with the division rival Rams. New Orleans also has a division matchup, as they head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. If the Saints can pull off a win, they’ll need some help from LA to get in.
The Falcons are no slouch though. And that feels really weird to say. They have been riding a roller coaster all season, and find themselves at a semi-respectable 7-9. And that’s been done mostly without star wideout Calvin Ridley. If the Falcons show up, they could slam the door shut on their NFC South foe.
Prediction: The 49ers and Saints both lose, giving SF the final spot in the NFC playoffs.
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