LOS ANGELES, December 24, 2013 — The NFC playoff picture is largely unresolved with just three teams having clinched playoff spots. None of those teams have even clinched the right to one home playoff game.
Not one of the four divisions has been clinched, and there is plenty of room for shuffling from top to bottom. Not one seed has been resolved. Everybody has to play their starters in Week 17, exactly as current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants it.
The AFC playoff picture is crazy, but the NFC picture is even crazier.
Seattle Seahawks (12-3)—The Seahawks have clinched a playoff spot, but nothing else. Despite recent stumbles, the Seahawks still have the inside track on the top seed. If they win this week at home or the 49ers lose, the Seahawks win the NFC West and get home field throughout the playoffs. If the Seahawks lose and the 49ers win, the Seahawks lose the tie-breaker and fall all the way to the five seed wildcard.
Carolina Panthers (11-4)—The Panthers have clinched a playoff spot, but nothing else. Carolina is the number two seed. If the Panthers win on the road next week or if the Saints lose, the Panthers win the NFC South, keep the two seed and get the first round bye.
If the Seahawks lose and the Panthers win, then seeding would be determined by what happens with the 49ers. Seattle beat Carolina earlier in the year, so a two-way tie at the top still leaves Seattle in the top seed and Carolina at the two seed, assuming the 49ers lose. If the Seahawks lose and the Panthers and 49ers both win, there would be a three-way tie at the top.
In this scenario Seattle slips to the wildcard. Carolina has the tie-breaker over San Francisco, so the Panthers would have the top seed and home field throughout while the 49ers would have the two seed and the other first round bye.
If the Panthers lose and the Saints win, the Saints would win the tie-breaker and the NFC South. The Panthers would fall all the way to the five seed as the highest wildcard if the 49ers win or the six seed as the lowest wildcard if the 49ers lose.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)—The Eagles’ situation is simple. They have an NFC East showdown at Dallas. The winner takes the division and the loser misses the playoffs. The Eagles with a win are the three seed. If the Cowboys win and if the Bears defeat the Packers, the Cowboys will be the four seed, but Dallas can move up to the three seed if the Packers defeat the Bears.
Chicago Bears (8-7)—Their situation is also simple. They have an NFC North showdown at home against Green Bay. The winner takes the division and the loser misses the playoffs. If the Packers win, they are the four seed. If the Bears win, they are the four seed if the Eagles defeat the Cowboys, but move up to the three seed if the Cowboys defeat the Eagles.
The Dallas Cowboys (8-7) are still alive to win their division, but not a wildcard. The Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) are still alive to win their division, but not a wildcard.
San Francisco 49ers (11-4)—They have clinched a playoff spot, but can end up all over the place. Right now they are the five seed highest wildcard. If they win next week on the road and Seattle loses, the 49ers win the tie-breaker and the NFC West and reach the two seed and a first round bye. If the 49ers win and the Seahawks and Panthers both lose, the 49ers would vault to the top seed and home field throughout.
If the 49ers win but the Seahawks also win, the 49ers stay in the five seed. If the 49ers lose, Panthers lose, and Saints win, the 49ers would fall down to the six seed lowest wildcard.
New Orleans Saints (10-5)—The Saints have not clinched a playoff spot. Right now, they are the six seed but can move wildly. The Saints are at home this last week. If they win they clinch a playoff spot. They can lose and still make the playoffs if either the 49ers or Cardinals lose. The 49ers and Cardinals are playing each other, so does that mean the Saints are in? No. If the Saints lose and the 49ers and Cardinals end in a tie, the Saints are out. If either team wins, the Saints are in. So the Saints are “all but in.”
If the Saints win and the Panthers lose, the Saints win the tie-breaker, the NFC South, and the two seed with a first round bye.
The Arizona Cardinals (10-5) are alive for the six seed lowest wildcard, but not their division. The Cardinals right now are on the outside looking in. They lose all tie-breakers. If they lose they are out. If they win and the Saints also win, the Cardinals would still be out. This would be only the third time in NFL history and the first time in NFC history that a team went 11-5 and missed the playoffs. It happened to the 1985 Broncos and the 2008 Patriots.
The Cardinals would have a better record than two of the playoff teams, but miss out because division winners go to the playoffs regardless of their record. The 2010 Seahawks went 7-9 and won the NFC West as teams with winning records stayed home.
If the Cardinals win and the Saints lose, the Cardinals get the six seed wildcard and the Saints are out.
The relevant Week 17 NFC Games are as follows:
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Predictions: Adding to the intrigue is key injuries. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo hurt his back in Week 16. Kyle Orton is a very capable backup. As well as the Eagles are playing, this is the year the Cowboys finally exorcise the demons. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been out for several weeks. Backup Matt Flynn is no Aaron Rodgers. In Chicago, starter Jay Cutler is ready to go, but some fans want backup Josh McCown. With a healthy Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay is the better team. With Matt Flynn, Chicago has the advantage. Even if Rodgers plays, Chicago gets the win at home. San Francisco will go into Arizona and handle them despite Arizona’s impressive win over Seattle last week. The other top teams will all take care of business against weaker teams with no surprises.
1) 13-3 Seattle Seahawks
2) 12-4 Carolina Panthers
3) 9-7 Chicago Bears
4) 9-7 Dallas Cowboys
5) 12-4 San Francisco 49ers
6) 11-5 New Orleans Saints
The wildcards will both go on the road and knock off the 9-7 division champs. s much as Americans would rather see a third showdown between the Seahawks against the 49ers and the Panthers against the Saints, unfortunately the schedule does not allow for it. The Saints would be at the Seahawks and the 49ers would be at the Panthers. Both of these games will come down to home field. Seattle did finally lose a home game last week, but that will not happen again this year. They are going to the Super Bowl. The Legion of Boom is for real, especially at home.
Since 1993, at least one top seed has gone down in flames every year except 2009. This year the AFC top seed looks much shakier. If the top seed in the NFC is Seattle, the 12th man will get them to the big game.
Follow Eric Golub on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities.
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