There’s two weeks left, and things really tightened up in the NFC, where a 9-7 record and a 7-5 conference record is required for wild-card consideration. Four of the six spots are now locked up, including two more division crowns, and three teams remain in contention for the last two spots:
- The Dallas Cowboys knocked out the remaining teams that could have finished 8-8 going into the weekend (the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers) as well as the Atlanta Falcons by defeating the previously-unbeaten New Orleans Saints.
- The Minnesota Vikings failed to take advantage by losing to those same Panthers, but backed into the NFC North crown as the Green Bay Packers choked against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- The Philadelphia Eagles got into the playoffs by beating (and knocking out of wild-card contention) the San Francisco 49ers.
- The Arizona Cardinals finally seized the opportunity to take the NFC West crown by knocking off the Detroit Lions.
In the playoffs
New Orleans Saints (13-1, 9-1 NFC, won the NFC South) – The Saints, who have already claimed the NFC South crown and a first-round bye, are still in the driver’s seat despite losing to the Dallas Cowboys. However, if they and the Minnesota Vikings tie, the Vikings would win the tiebreaker for home-field advantage based on a better conference record. The good news is that since the Vikings also lost, the magic number to clinch is 0.5 (or a tie by either the Saints or the Vikings). Given the schedule of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12) on Sunday and the Carolina Panthers (6-8) on the road on 1/3, it is very likely they will get home-field advantage.
Minnesota Vikings (11-3, 8-2 NFC, won the NFC North) – The Vikings backed their way into the NFC North crown as they swept the Green Bay Packers. They would hold the tiebreaker against the New Orleans Saints (conference record) for home-field advantage, but would not hold any tiebreakers involving the Arizona Cardinals (who beat the Vikings, and would have a better conference record), Philadelphia Eagles (conference record) or Dallas Cowboys (conference record). Their magic number to get a bye is still 1.5 against the Eagles, and 0.5 against the Cardinals and Cowboys. They have the Chicago Bears (5-9) on the road Monday, and the New York Giants (8-6) at home on 1/3.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-4, 9-2 NFC, 1st in the NFC East) – The Eagles already swept the New York Giants, so they’re in the playoffs. They would hold any tiebreakers involving the Minnesota Vikings (conference record) or the Arizona Cardinals (conference record or common opponents). The magic number to clinch the NFC East crown is 1.5 over the Dallas Cowboys (who already beat the Eagles once); they also would win the NFC East if there were a three-way tie at 10-6 (the Cowboys would be out on division record, with the Giants out on the head-to-head sweep). Their remaining games are against the Denver Broncos (8-6) Sunday and at the Cowboys (9-5) 1/3.
Arizona Cardinals (9-5, 7-3 NFC, won the NFC West) – They hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Minnesota Vikings (by victory) and the Dallas Cowboys (common opponents), but would lose any tiebreaker to the Philadelphia Eagles (conference record/common opponents). Their remaining games are both at home – against the St. Louis Rams (2-12) Sunday and against the Green Bay Packers (9-5) 1/3.
Scrambling to get in
Green Bay Packers (9-5, 7-3 NFC, 1st in the wild-card race) – The Packers hold the tiebreakers against the Dallas Cowboys (by win) and the Atlanta Falcons (conference record), but lose the head-to-head tiebreaker to the New York Giants (common opponents). Their magic number is 2 over the Cowboys or 1.5 over the Giants. Their remaining games are against the Seattle Seahawks (5-9) Sunday and at the Arizona Cardinals (9-5) 1/3.
Dallas Cowboys (9-5, 7-3 NFC, 2nd NFC East, 2nd wild-card) – The formula is deceptively-simple – win out and they’re in as NFC East champs by virtue of sweeping the Philadelphia Eagles (10-4). Unfortunately, not only do they have a horrid December record over the last several years, they also don’t have the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Green Bay Packers (lost to them) or the New York Giants (got swept by them), or the three-way tiebreaker against the Eagles and Giants at 10-6 (they would have the worst division record). They did, however, beat the Eagles once, with the rematch in Dallas on 1/3, and would have the tiebreaker against the Arizona Cardinals (common opponents), the Minnesota Vikings (conference record), and the Atlanta Falcons (conference record). Their magic number is 1.5 over the Giants. Besides the Eagles to close the season, they get the Washington Redskins (4-9) on the road Sunday.
New York Giants (8-6, 6-4 NFC, 3rd NFC East, 3rd wild-card) – They can no longer win the NFC East as the Philadelphia Eagles swept them. However, they do hold the tiebreakers over the Green Bay Packers (common opponents), the Cowboys (swept them) and Atlanta Falcons (conference record). Their remaining games are against the Carolina Panthers (6-8) Sunday and at the Minnesota Vikings (11-2) 1/3.
The AFC is just too crowded to summarize. Besides, my allegiance is to the Pack, and they’re in the NFC.