NFC Playoff Picture Gets Messy Entering Week 16


For 24 hours, the Washington Redskins held their potential postseason fate in their own hands, able to win out and get to the playoffs for a second straight season, something the franchise hasn’t done since the early 90s.

But a loss to the Carolina Panthers suddenly put Washington’s hopes in peril and has sent the whole playoff picture in the NFC into disarray. That result left a whopping six teams, including those Panthers, in play for the final playoff spot in the NFC. The combination of those six teams, plus the five that currently sit above them in the playoff picture mean that entering Week 16 playoff spots are still on the line for 11 of the 16 teams in the conference. As it stands, the Green Bay Packers currently sit in the sixth and final spot in the NFC, but their Week 17 game vs. the Lions puts them as a more likely candidate to win the NFC North, or miss the playoffs entirely than they are to capture the sixth seed.

That’s just how messy the NFC playoff picture is right now.

We know the Dallas Cowboys will be in, and barring an epic collapse over the final two weeks, will likely be the NFC East Champions, with a first-round bye and homefield advantage through the postseason. All Dallas needs is one win or one New York Giants loss in either of the final two weeks to secure all three of those things. We also know the Seattle Seahawks will be in as champions of the NFC West, though their seeding remains in question pending the outcome of their final two games. If Seattle wins out, they will be the No. 2 seed in the NFC and also get a first round bye.

Beyond that, things get a little messy. The next closest team to a playoff spot is New York, sitting at 10-4, in firm control of the first Wild Card spot, the No. 5 seed in the NFC. The Giants can clinch at least that as soon as Thursday night, with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, but even if they happen to fall to Philly, it’s highly unlikely New York misses the playoffs at this point. The Giants still also have an outside shot at the No. 1 seed, if they win out and Dallas happens to lose out.

In the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons have control, particularly after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to Dallas on Sunday night. Both teams finish the season with divisional games against the Panthers and Saints, so any combination of a Falcons win and a Bucs loss in the next two weeks gives Atlanta the division crown. Atlanta also has a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win over Carolina on Saturday, regardless of the outcome of the Buccaneers game. If the Falcons win and the Packers, Seahawks or Lions, lose, that would also put Atlanta in the postseason.

It’s not as easy to figure things out in the NFC North, where the division title seems likely to come down to the final week of the season. The Detroit Lions currently hold a one-game lead over the Packers, but Detroit has arguably the toughest schedule in the league over the final two weeks of the season. Next Monday night the Lions head to Dallas to take on the NFC-leading Cowboys. Then in Week 17, Detroit hosts the suddenly red-hot Packers in a game with huge implications for both. If Green Bay defeats Minnesota this week, nothing the Lions do on Monday night in Dallas can keep that Week 17 game against the Packers from determining the winner of the NFC North.

However, like the Falcons, the Lions have some clinching scenarios for Week 16 that don’t involve the Packers or the NFC North. If the Redskins, Panthers, and Buccaneers all lose in Week 16, Detroit is in regardless of the result of their game against Dallas. They can also get in with a win over Dallas and a loss or tie by the Buccaneers against the Saints. The Lions can also clinch the North with a win over the Cowboys and a Packers loss to the Vikings. On the flip side, Green Bay can’t clinch anything in Week 16, nor can they be eliminated from playoff contention. They’re simply looking to win to stay in the NFC North race entering that final game against the Lions

But while the top two teams in the NFC North hold playoff spots right now, because they play that final game against each other, there’s still a very good chance only one of them gets in. The most likely team to make that happen appears to be the Buccaneers, who hold many of the tiebreakers in the NFC and therefore, like the Packers, can’t be eliminated from contention in Week 16 regardless of how things play out. But they can certainly boost their chances with a win over New Orleans.

Meanwhile, losing on Monday night, put Washington’s playoff hopes in a significant amount of peril. That tie with Cincinnati in London is keeping them afloat. but the Redskins now almost have to beat the Bears on Sunday to stay alive entering Week 17. If they don’t, then a win by the Packers or Bucs, or a Bucs/Saints tie would knock Washington out of contention. If Washington happens to pick up its second tie of the season against Chicago, a Bucs win would knock them out then too. But if the Redskins win, they’ll survive to see a Week 17 game against the Giants with at least a sliver of a hope alive.

While Washington’s hopes are in peril, those of the other three teams still alive in the NFC are on life support. The Vikings, Saints, and Panthers are all technically still in it, but all three would essentially need a miracle to make it. First and foremost, each team has to win out. A loss by any of them would trigger immediate elimination. They also need a great deal of help, starting in Week 16. In fact, a Bucs win over the Saints on Saturday would actually knock out all three teams. That’s the only scenario that can eliminate the Vikings, provided they win. It’s considerably more difficult for the Saints and Panthers to stay alive. Even if they both win, a Packers win (or tie) or a Redskins win could also eliminate both.

All those scenarios leave a lot of things wide open in the NFC in Week 16, but the upside is that this is the week we should finally get some clarity on much of the playoff picture. It begins on Thursday night as the Giants play the Eagles in Philadelphia, where either the Giants can deliver an early Christmas gift to their fans in the form of a playoff berth, or the Eagles can deliver a rare gift to Cowboys fans with a win that would clinch everything for Dallas. One way or another, everything will start to become much clearer entering the holiday weekend.

About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys