NFC Playoff picture: Packers angling for a bye now

  • By Gregg Rosenthal
  • Around The League editor
  • Updated: Dec. 10, 2012 at 01:05 p.m.

We only have three more football-stuffed Sundays this season. That's mildly depressing, but they should also be a lot of fun because the playoff picture is packed so tight.

That's especially true in the NFC. Here's what we learned after Week 14:
Green Bay is angling for a bye

The Packers now own sole possession of first place in the NFC North. We've expected this takeover all season, but Green Bay's bid for a playoff bye snuck up on us.

The Packers don't have tiebreakers against the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, but they might not need them. The 49ers still have to travel to face the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. If San Francisco falls once, the Packers can grab the No. 2 seed by winning out. If San Francisco loses in New England, well ...

Seattle still has a shot at the NFC West

If the following two things happen next week, Seattle and San Francisco's Week 16 clash in Seattle could essentially decide the NFC West:

1. San Francisco loses in New England.
2. The Seahawks beat the Buffalo Bills in Toronto.

That's not that far-fetched a scenario. How great would a Harbaugh-Carroll, Kaepernick-Wilson clash with the NFC West on the line be? It would be our game of the year in Week 16.
The Bears could slip right out of the playoffs

Chicago has five losses, a ton of injuries and has to face the Packers next week. Don't be surprised they fall right out of the playoffs. Washington has the best shot to make it happen, assuming RG3 is healthy. The Redskins face the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles the next two weeks. They have fewer conferences losses than Chicago. Washington is in position to create a "win and in" scenario for themselves in Week 17 in Dallas.
Washington still has two routes

The New York Giants held serve with a big home win over the New Orleans Saints, but they remain only one game ahead of the Redskins. The Giants' schedule remains very difficult. The Redskins have a good shot to sneak in to the playoffs because they have two routes to get there: The NFC East title and the wild card.
The Saints and Bucs are all but done

Any small chance for a New Orleans miracle-run late in the season evaporated in New York. Their eighth loss all but mathematically knocks them out of the mix. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' home loss to Philadelphia was nearly as devastating. The Buccaneers still have travel to Atlanta and New Orleans. They have six conference losses. Now 11th in the NFC, they simply have too many teams to pass.
Dallas, Minnesota only took small step

The Vikings and Cowboys both had huge wins Sunday against winning teams. They still have very little margin for error moving forward. Dallas has no gimmes left on the schedule and probably has to win out. The Minnesota Vikings have to travel to St. Louis and Houston before hosting Green Bay. We'd still be stunned if the Vikings made the playoffs.
Atlanta's loss probably doesn't matter

San Francisco's slip up against the Rams last week gave the Atlanta falcons plenty of breathing room. They just have to win two of their final three games to clinch the No. 1 seed. It's quite possible the Falcons could lose two more games and still clinch home field.

Looking ahead to Week 15

New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons: It's a bigger game for New York, all things considered.

Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams: Elimination game? If St. Louis wins here to move to 7-6-1, it's time to take them more seriously as playoff contenders.

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: It doesn't get much better than Packers-Bears in Week 15 with a division title on the line.

Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns: Cleveland is playing well enough to give the Redskins problems, RG3 or not.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys: Dallas needs to win another tough game to make us believers.

San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots: This potential Super Bowl preview will decide if 49ers are battling for a bye or a division in Week 16.