The NFC has some really good teams that will make the playoffs, and several on-the-fence teams that are in the hunt. A quick look at the current standings give us a good idea what we're looking at. For the purposes of this exercise, we will assume that Chicago will win out, so we won't include teams that are below them in the current playoff hunt (Redskins, Rams, Saints, Lions, etc.)
Here is the current NFC standings and playoff outlook:
- Carolina Panthers (11-0)
- Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-3)
- Green Bay Packers (7-4)
- Chicago Bears (5-6)
- New York Giants (5-5)
- Arizona Cardinals (8-2)
- Seattle Seahawks (5-5)
The Bears are competing for a Wild Card spot, which is for the two teams with the best records in the NFC that are not division champs, and right now those would go to the Falcons and Packers. The NFC North is still very much up for grabs, and whoever comes out with the second-best record there is guaranteed one of the Wild Card slots (remember, in this scenario, I'm assuming the Bears win out and close at 10-6).
That means the other Wild Card slot is up for grabs, and it will likely be the third team from the NFC North, the Atlanta Falcons, or to a late-season run by either Tampa Bay or or Seattle.
Let's take a look at who each team has left on their schedule:
Chicago Bears: vs. 49ers (3-7), vs. Redskins (4-6), at Vikings (7-3), at Buccaneers (5-5), vs. Lions (4-7)
Minnesota Vikings: at Falcons (6-4), vs. Seahawks (5-5), at Cardinals (8-2), vs. Bears (5-6), vs. Giants (5-5), at Packers (7-4)
Atlanta Falcons: vs. Vikings (7-3), at Buccaneers (5-5), at Panthers (11-0), at Jaguars (4-6), vs. Panthers (11-0), vs. Saints (4-6)
Tampa Bay Bucs: at Colts (5-5), vs. Falcons (6-4), vs. Saints (4-6), at Rams (4-6), vs. Bears (5-6), at Panthers (11-0)
The key match-up from this weekend will be the Falcons versus Vikings. That game will significantly shape the NFC playoff picture, and give us a much better idea of how the conference, and division, should play out for the rest of the season.
In looking at remaining schedules, the Bears may have the easiest stretch left, and in order to be considered among the contenders, will have to stay hot and win out.