NFC Playoff Scenarios as of Week 15
Here are the NFC Playoff Scenarios as of Week 15, following the Week’s play. Given that the Monday Night Football matchup features two AFC teams (and only a couple of the NFC playoff contenders have played the Jets or Titans, thereby minimally affecting tiebreakers due to common opponents and strength of schedule/wins), this is a safe yellow light to speed through for now. I will offer up the AFC Playoff Scenarios on Tuesday, as the Jets (should they win tonight) are still alive for the AFC Playoffs.
1. Atlanta Falcons (12-2).
The Falcons have previously sewn up the NFC South divisional crown. They are still seeking to wrap up the #1 overall seed in the NFC, which a win in Week 16 would achieve. The Falcons only have to win one of their final two games to gain homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs. The Falcons are 33-4 at home under Mike Smith.
2. San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1).
The 49ers’ win on Sunday Night Football versus New England kept their hopes alive to secure homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs. At 10-3-1, the tie with the St. Louis Rams kept the door open for the Seattle Seahawks to potentially win the NFC West. Naturally, the 49ers play the Seahawks in Week 16. Effectively, the 49ers can clinch the NFC West crown with a win in either Week 16 or Week 17, or a combination of Seattle losses. The 49ers can also clinch the #1 seed and homefield throughout the NFC Playoffs with two wins and two losses from the Atlanta Falcons. Winning the NFC West would guarantee the 49ers at least a first round playoff bye, as they have beaten Green Bay head to head, and will have — by virtue of besting the Seahawks — own head to head tiebreakers over the rest of the NFC, which would have at least five losses (except Atlanta).
3. Green Bay Packers (10-4).
Much was made about the Green Bay/Seattle tilt earlier in the season, where the officially incorrectly called a Golden Tate “simultaneous catch” a touchdown, which gave the Seahawks the win. I wrote at the time that the outcome of that game would affect both teams with regards to playoff seedings. The time has come. The Packers had an outside shot to get a first round playoff bye had they won that game in Week 3, however, as the tiebreakers now have it, the NFC West winner would get the #2 seed — the Seahawks must win out to win the NFC West, and hope that the 49ers lose in Week 17 vs. Arizona, and that the Packers split their final two games. The Packers have an outside shot at the #2 seed if the Falcons lose their two remaining games, and the 49ers win both of their remaining games and take the NFC West, while the Packers win both of their remaining games.
4. Washington Redskins (8-6).The Redskins’ win in Week 15 gave them a share of the lead in the NFC East, and currently own the tiebreaker over the Dallas Cowboys (by virtue of their head to head win on Thanksgiving Day, but pending their Week 17 tilt) and the New York Giants, due to a better divisional record. The Redskins would own a tiebreaker over Dallas with a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas splits their final two games versus New Orleans and Washington, because the Redskins would still own the best divisional record out of the trio of teams currently atop the NFC East. The Redskins simply need to win out in order to clinch the NFC East.
5. Seattle Seahawks (9-5).
Some may argue the necessity of the Seahawks’ alleged “running up of the score” in their past two games, but while this particular tiebreaker has not come into play in years in the NFL, there is a Total Net Points Versus Common Opponents and Total Net Points in All Games, along with Most Net Touchdowns in All Games tiebreaker. It would not come into play with the way the NFC has broken down this year, because of — you guessed it — the Seattle/Green Bay game in Week 3, and the fact that they are not division opponents. The only plausible situation where this tiebreaker could come into play is the off chance that the strength of victory and strength of schedule tiebreaker came into play when determining whether the Seahawks get the #5 or #6 seed, should they not win their division. There is nothing wrong with shoring up every possible advantage for your team entering the playoffs. The Seahawks must win their final two games and have two San Francisco losses to win the NFC West. The Seahawks could potentially fall into the sixth spot if they split their final two (which are both NFC games), because the Giants would have an 8-4 record in the NFC with a win versus Philadelphia, and the Giants would still own the strength of victory and strength of schedule tiebreaker over the Seahawks should Seattle split their final two games and the Giants lose to Philadelphia (but ONLY if the Giants defeat the Baltimore Ravens first, in Week 16). This is potentially one of the reasons why Seattle has been adamant about continuing to score, despite having games well in hand over the past two weeks. Seattle also owns head to head tiebreakers over Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota, which would serve them well, even if they falter in either or both of their final two games — but only if Seattle finishes 9-7 or 10-6 and tied with those teams, and only if the New York Giants do not finish 10-6, which would eliminate Chicago and Minnesota due to better conference record.
6. New York Football Giants (8-6).
Some publications list teams based upon “If the Season Ends Today”, but since it does not, the prudent thing is to list the teams in order of who have the most control over their own destiny. The Giants have that. If they win both of their remaining games, they are assured of at least a Wild Card berth. It cannot be determined until the completion of Week 17′s play, because the only thing the Giants’ Week 16 tilt with Baltimore determines is playoff destinies for Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and the New York Jets. Dallas went 3-1 versus the AFC North, Washington went 2-2, the Giants can only manage a 2-2 record against those common opponents with a win versus Baltimore. A win in Week 17 versus Philadelphia (if the Giants win in Week 16 vs. Baltimore) would assure the Giants of a playoff berth, as they would have a better conference record than Minnesota and Chicago. They can only win the NFC East if Washington loses one or both of their final two games, or Dallas loses to New Orleans in Week 16, and win in Week 17 — or if Dallas loses both, with Washington losing to Philadelphia and defeating Dallas, coupled with two wins from the Giants.
7. Dallas Cowboys (8-6).
At the moment, the Dallas Cowboys have a better division record than the Giants (3-2 vs. 2-3), but the Giants have a better conference record (7-4 vs. 5-5). Dallas must win their final two games to avoid falling victim to the conference tiebreaker scenario, as a Giants win versus Philadelphia and a Cowboys loss to Washington would even the two teams with the head to head split and equal 3-3 division records. The Giants only have one NFC match up remaining, versus Philadelphia. A win there, should the Giants defeat Baltimore, would give the Giants the first relevant tiebreaker: better conference record. If Dallas wins out, they will win the NFC East — IF Washington loses to Philadelphia in Week 16, and the Giants lose to the Ravens, but beat the Ravens, Dallas would be the only NFC East team to win 10 games, and would thereby win the division outright. This would give them the #4 spot, but with their Week 2 loss to Seattle and Green Bay possessing the better conference record, this is the highest seed that Dallas can achieve. There are scenarios in which Dallas can still make the playoffs without winning the NFC East, but they would need help from Green Bay (to defeat Minnesota, who would have the better conference record if the Vikings win in Houston in Week 16, and would need to lose to Green Bay in Week 17) and Chicago to lose out, along with New York and Washington.
8. Minnesota Vikings (8-6).
The Vikings are the most improbable of the contenders, but can attribute their contention solely to Adrian Peterson, who has carried the team for three months with very little contribution from the quarterback position. Minnesota must win their remaining games and need help from New Orleans (vs. Dallas), Baltimore (vs. New York), Philadelphia (vs. New York) and hope that Washington finished at best with a 9-7 record, as Washington defeated Minnesota head to head this season. Minnesota also lost to Seattle, which would play against them should the Seahawks finish 9-7 or 10-6 and Minnesota and Seattle finished tied. Minnesota would have a tiebreaker over the Chicago Bears, should they finish tied, but both teams require several things to go their way before this tiebreaker would even come into account.
9. Chicago Bears (8-6).
The Bears’ coaching staff seemed to believe that their Week 15 game was not a “must win”. Not only was this erroneous from a pride standpoint (against their longtime rival, and now, 2012 NFC North Division Champion Green Bay Packers), but from a tiebreaking standpoint. They needed the win to remain alive for the NFC North title, but now need several breaks to make the playoffs. Their 5-5 conference record plays against them, as well as their division record — despite a game remaining with the Detroit Lions, the Vikings will be playing the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. The Packers will likely be resting everyone not named Aaron Rodgers (who says he refuses to “rest” regardless of standings) in order to gear up for the playoffs, thereby further increasing the Vikings’ chances to win — at home, and desperate for a playoff spot and one of the most coveted individual records in NFL History — both the Week 17 game versus Green Bay, but the division record tiebreaker over the Bears. The Bears obviously must win out, which a favorable slate against the lowly Cardinals and Lions, but hope that the Vikings, Dallas and New York all lose their remaining games. They cannot win a tiebreaker over any of these teams. Additionally, the strength of schedule and strength of victory tiebreakers would work against the Bears also, as they will be playing a 5-10 Arizona team in Week 16 and a (likely) 4-11 Detroit team in Week 17. In other words, Lovie Smith’s assertion was not only completely erroneous, but sadly misinformed, as the Bears are likely done. Additionally, as the Seahawks swept the NFC North, they also lose that tiebreaker as well.
10. St. Louis Rams (6-7-1).
The Rams have been eliminated from playoff contention. Had they won the game that they tied with San Francisco, they would be 7-7 and could have had an outside chance to eke into the playoffs, as they would have a 6-4 conference record, and would be 5-0 right now in the NFC West. They also have a strength of schedule and strength of victory advantage over the teams on the periphery. Nevertheless, the Rams made strides — much farther than most people anticipated — in 2012 and should be a difficult team to face in 2013. For now, the Rams can play spoilers for the Seattle Seahawks’ seeding aspirations in Week 17.
11. New Orleans Saints (6-8).
The Saints were eliminated from playoff contention with their loss in Week 14 to the New York Giants. They can play spoilers for the Cowboys’ playoff hopes with a win in Week 16.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8).
The Buccaneers were in the catbird seat one month ago, with a 6-4 record. However, they proceeded to lose four straight, culminating with an embarrassing five-touchdown defeat in Week 15. They would have still been alive even with an 8-6 record, because they had defeated the Minnesota Vikings in Week 5. They also lost to the Washington Redskins in last second fashion, which would have been their only concern had they managed to be 8-6 or 9-5 at this point. However, the slide included four straight NFC games, which ultimately sank the Bucs’ playoff hopes. They can, however, potentially sink the Falcons’ chances of achieving the #1 seed in the NFC, should the Falcons lose to Detroit and the Buccaneers defeat the Falcons (including two wins by the San Francisco 49ers).
13. Carolina Panthers (5-9).
The Panthers have come on of late, but they were long eliminated from the NFC Playoff Race. None of their games directly affect the NFC Playoffs Race, unless a strength of victory tiebreaker comes into play for one of the teams that either defeated or lost to the Panthers. The Panthers defeated Washington, lost to the Giants, lost to Dallas, and split two games with the Atlanta Falcons. The Bears’ defeat of the Panthers may have given the Bears a big conference win, but with strength of victory potentially being the tie-in for the Bears, it could also play against them should the Panthers lose their remaining games vs. Oakland and New Orleans.
14. Arizona Cardinals (5-10).
The Cardinals won in Week 15 for the first time in over two months. They were eliminated from playoff contention after losing for the eighth of those nine straight losses. However, they will have an impact on playoff seedings, with games versus the desperate Chicago Bears in Week 16, and the San Francisco 49ers, who will still be playing for the #1 seed in the NFC in Week 17.
15. Detroit Lions (4-10).
The Lions have been reeling for weeks, and were eliminated from playoff contention following their seventh loss of the season, as they would have (as things played out) eliminated them from tiebreakers featuring the current contenders, as they are on their way to losing every one of their divisional games this year and were 3-7 in the conference going into Week 16. The Lions can be spoilers for the Falcons’ #1 seed hopes in Week 16, and can officially eliminate the rival Chicago Bears (and win their only divisional game in 2012), if the Bears are not already eliminated — in Week 17.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10).
Philadelphia has been dealing players and showcasing rookies and second-year players in order to prepare for next season. They were eliminated at the tail end of their eight-game losing streak, by losing to New Orleans, who would have held the head to head tiebreaker even if the two teams’ fortunes were inverse to what they proved to be following their tilt in the Superdome. However, the Eagles can deal near-fatal blows to both the Washington Redskins in Week 16, and the New York Giants in Week 17.