We focused on the AFC last week, so let’s turn it over to the NFC and - OH MY, what kind of mess is this exactly?! Let’s dig in.
1. Can anyone beat the San Francisco 49ers? I’m not so sure. I’m also not so sure we’re collectively giving this team the credit they deserve for being so close to winning it all. The 49ers lost the 2019 Super Bowl to the Chiefs and since then have made two conference championship games. They had their mid-season slump but are now firing on all cylinders, leading the league in point differential. The 49ers have a fascinating game coming up this Monday against the Baltimore Ravens. It could be a potential Super Bowl match up (and a Super Bowl rematch at that), which I’m sure won’t be brought up more than 2.4 million times before and during the game. If the 49ers can win that one, they should coast to the top seed, setting up a clear shot to another chance at a title.
2. We talked about the Cowboys last week, even had Dak as the picture for the story. So, of course they get smacked around by Buffalo. They’ve got another tough AFC East game against the Dolphins this weekend with a fun one against the Lions next week before closing out with the Commanders. With a big loss against the 49ers coming earlier this year, there’s no real shot for Dallas to earn homefield at this point, but I still think they are the team best positioned to play spoiler in the playoffs to the 49ers. The peak Dallas game can absolutely take down anyone in the league.
3. The Detroit Lions have all but officially won the NFC North for the first time since its formation. Congratulations to those long suffering Lions fans. It’ll be their first divisional crown since the 1993 season. First the Bye Bye Barry documentary comes out and now a divisional championship - pretty good year for the Lions. That might be what the banner will have to say because I’m not sure they can hang with the 49ers but I love that we’re going to get a chance to see them square off against the Cowboys in between a Vikings home and away sandwich. The Lions will almost certainly finish as the 2 or 3 seed, setting them up for a home playoff game against one of the wildcard teams we’ll talk about below. They should get their first playoff victory in Detroit in a good long while.
4. The Tampa Bay Bucs currently lead the NFC South at 7-7 with tie-breakers over the New Orleans Saints. They play the Jaguars this week, which turns into a pretty important game for Bears fans. If the Bucs win against the Jags and follow that up with a win against the Saints in Week 17, they could have the division clinched and sit their starters Week 18 against the Carolina Panthers. That would be a terrible outcome, so Bears fans should be cheering for the Jags this weekend to keep the division in doubt.
As for the Bucs, they sit in the driver’s seat currently due to their division and conference record relative to the Saints, but it’s a toss up between those teams as to who could win a playoff game. I lean a little bit to the Saints just because I think they have a slightly higher ceiling, but yeesh, neither team is great. The NFC South winner will be the 4-seed in the playoffs, meaning they’ll host the top wildcard team. The Bucs or the Saints would be betting underdogs at home to the Cowboys or our next team.
5. What’s wrong with the Philadelphia Eagles? The sky is falling in the City of Brotherly Love. People are freaking out. Fans on social media are questioning whether or not Jalen Hurts should quarterback this team in the future.
My, how fast fortunes change in the NFL.
I don’t know if the Eagles are going to be “fine” but they just played a schedule of Dallas, at Kansas City, Buffalo, San Francisco, at Dallas, and finally a road trip to Seattle. They went 3-3 in those games. If that 3-3 stretch was anything other than three wins followed by three losses, I think we’d see less of a freak out. That incredibly difficult stretch now gets offset by finishing out with the Cardinals in Week 17 sandwiched by a home and away against the Giants. That’s a stretch where they should get right, get healthy, and potentially take the division back if Dallas can’t run the table. The Eagles will either go on the road to Tampa or New Orleans as a wildcard favorite or host the 6- or 7-seed at home. It would be a surprise to me if the Eagles aren’t playing in the divisional round of the playoffs.
6. The Cowboys, Eagles, and Lions are the potential contenders to knock off the 49ers. The NFC South doesn’t seem like a serious division to me, but it’s possible they could send both the Bucs and Saints. I would parlay a bet against both teams if that happened, but it’s possible. The other NFC South team that is still alive and kicking is the Atlanta Falcons and, I mean, what are we doing here, Arthur Smith? They finally benched quarterback Desmond Ridder after yet another inept offensive performance, this time against the lowly Panthers. I’m serious when I say this - the Falcons are dead to me (they can be forgiven if the Panthers end up giving the Bears first overall, but we’re currently reserving the right to hate them in perpetuity).
The Falcons finish out with the Colts, Bears, and Saints but right now, they can’t be counted on to win any of those games. This year, in an incredibly weak division with one of the weakest strength of schedules in the league, should’ve been a breeze for the dirty birds. Instead, this result might get Smith fired. I still think he gets another year and likely a shot at a new QB, but it’s a giant disappointment.
7. Let’s talk about the Minnesota Vikings, shall we? Currently set up as the 6-seed in the NFC, the Vikings are a bit of a mess without Kirk Cousins. The feel good story of Josh Dobbs has evaporated and they stare at two games against the Lions to close the year with a meeting against the Packers in the middle. They’ve lost three of their last four with their lone victory a 3-0 triumph over the Raiders. Can their defense keep them in it while the offense scrapes and claws enough points out to keep games close? I’m not so sure against the Lions, but the playoff spot could be determined by the Week 17 game against the Packers.
8. The Packers are a game behind the Vikings but have a pretty clear path to leapfrogging the purple people eaters with matches against the Panthers and Bears before and after their match in Minnesota. The Packers looked like a sure-fire playoff team after knocking off the Lions and Chiefs in consecutive weeks, but losses against the lowly Giants and the Bucs the last two weeks put that into question.
The Packers offense has been a steady presence and should be enough to win a couple down the stretch. Three in a row gets them over .500 and a ticket to the dance. Let’s all hope they take care of business this week in Carolina before face planting.
9. This leaves us with the NFC West teams. We’ll start in Seattle with the team that just knocked off the Eagles at home. Seattle also looked like a slam dunk playoff team in the middle of November before a four-game skid. Let’s stop and appreciate just what that looked like though. A one point loss to the Rams followed by two losses to the 49ers with a Cowboys loss sandwiched in the middle. That’s a tough stretch for a fair to middling team! The victory against the Eagles likely saved their season and with a finishing stretch against the Titans, Steelers, and Cardinals, the Seahawks are my favorite to take one of those final two wildcard spots. They’ll be joined by our final team.
10. The Los Angeles Rams have somehow taken one of the youngest rosters in football and made it into a fun, viable team. Great coaching and a good quarterback can go a long way in this league. The Rams close the year with the Saints, Giants, and 49ers. That last game is tricky and could prevent the Rams from sneaking in, but wins in their next two would give the Rams 9 wins, which should be enough for that final wildcard spot.
It looks ugly now, but I think the NFC finishes out the year with all seven teams in the playoffs with winning records. I’m still not convinced any of it matters though as I just don’t see any team being able to beat the 49ers this year. I’d encourage you to throw some money on the 9ers if you’re into that sort of thing, but the books are wise to it already. All we can do is cheer for chaos.
Those are my thoughts, who do you think makes the NFC playoffs this year? Can anyone knock off the 49ers? Hit up the comments below.