NFC Playoff Picture: Dissecting the final two weeks

By Gregg Rosenthal
Updated: Dec. 17, 2012 at 01:25 p.m.

The AFC playoff picture is reasonably simple. The NFC is a lot more muddled.

Three teams are in: Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. Seven teams realistically remain alive for the other three spots, including three NFC East teams. Let's break down what we know:
The Falcons all but clinched the No. 1 seed

Atlanta finally came up with a dominant performance against a quality opponent. The 34-0 drubbing of the New York Giants should give the Falcons a ton of confidence and all but eliminates any chance of playing on the road in the NFC playoffs.

The Falcons would have to 0-2 against the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers down the stretch just to give Green Bay or San Francisco a shot at the No. 1 seed. That's not happening. Atlanta should lock up the top spot this week.
San Francisco all but won the NFC West

Sorry Seahawks fans. Seattle can keep hopes alive for a division title next week by defeating the 49ers in Seattle, but it probably won't matter in the long run. San Francisco needs just one more win -- in Seattle or versus Arizona in Week 17 -- to win the division.

The 49ers have tripped up a few times this year, but there's no way they lose to Ryan Lindley in San Francisco.
So does Seattle-San Francisco next week matter?

Absolutely. The Seahawks would clinch a playoff berth with a win. They'd also move closer to winning the No. 5 seed, where they would open the playoffs at the NFC East champion. Door No. 2 (the No. 6 seed) would be a potential trip to San Francisco or Green Bay.

It's also worth noting the Seahawks face the St. Louis Rams in Week 17. That's not exactly a cupcake opponent.

San Francisco, meanwhile, is still fighting for a potential playoff bye. A loss in Seattle would open the door for Green Bay to get the No. 2 seed.
About that NFC East ...

So I couldn't wait to break down all the playoff implications and scenarios regarding the three-way tie atop the division between the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. I recommend reading the long version that I wrote last night if you are interested, but here's the short version:

1. The Redskins and Cowboys both would win the division by winning out. The Giants win a wild-card spot at worst by winning out.

2. If the Redskins and Cowboys both win in Week 16, their Week 17 rematch will decide the NFC East champion. No matter what the Giants do next week.

3. The Giants won't win any tiebreaker for the division. So their only chance to win the division would be to win it outright.

4. The Redskins have the easiest path with Philadelphia and a home game against the Cowboys. Dallas has the toughest path with the Saints before heading to Washington. New York's game in Baltimore next week doesn't look so tough anymore.

5. There are a lot of other wacky scenarios here. The Cowboys, for instance, would win any tie atop the division at 9-7 if they win in Washington in Week 17. But the four points above really should settle most questions.

The Vikings, Bears fighting uphill battles

Kudos to Minnesota for winning two consecutive games to get to 8-6. The Vikings all but knocked the St. Louis Rams out of contention. The Vikings' playoff odds remain thin, however, because they have to go to Houston and host the Packers to end the season.

It's possible the Packers won't have anything to play for in Week 17. Even then, the Vikings are far from guaranteed to make the playoffs if they win out. The Giants have fewer conference losses.

I like the Bears' chances of slipping into the No. 6 seed better. Their schedule (at Arizona, at Detroit) is manageable. But Chicago will still need help with losses from teams like the Vikings and Giants. It's possible, but not the situation the Bears wanted after starting the season 7-1.