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NFC Playoff Projections Week 14

The top three teams in the NFC were victorious in Week 13 while the conference’s Wildcard contenders all lost. As a result, the final projected standings didn’t drastically change. A different NFC East champion was crowned, however.

[A reminder: If you’re new here, read the first part of our Week 13 NFC Projections for a brief rundown on how these playoff projections work (or don’t work).]

MODIFICATIONS
1
. After Dallas’ deflating loss to the Cardinals and the Giants impressive effort against the Packers, I switched the Week 14 NFC East showdown between New York and Dallas to a Giants victory.

2. Similarly, I switched Atlanta’s outcome in Week 14 from a loss to the Carolina Panthers to a win. I still like the Panthers chances, but I liked them a whole lot better when the Falcons were coming off a win and could possibly overlook the Panthers. After a disappointing loss to a shorthanded Texans team, the Falcons will be desperate for a win. As well as Cam Newton and Carolina has played of late, Atlanta is still the better team.

3. Now that the Packers escaped the Giants, I think they’ll go undefeated. As a result, the charity loss to the Lions in Week 17 goes away. You may argue the Packers rest their starters anyway, but after seeing the Colts surrender a shot at a perfect season only to disappoint in the playoffs could sway Mike McCarthy to keep his foot on the gas. Besides, I can’t imagine Aaron Rodgers sitting by while Green Bay’s winning streak wastes away.

4. I had both Atlanta and New Orleans winning in Week 16. If you’re new to the NFL, that can’t happen. One team wins. One team loses. That’s just the way it works. I’ve corrected my mistake and the projections reflect a loss for Atlanta, because winning in the Superdome is apparently impossible.

Without further ado, the updated projections…

(Click for full size)

(Click for full size)

Let’s quickly assess where the NFC Playoff contenders stand heading into Week 14.

PACKERS
The only question remaining regarding the Packers is whether they go for the undefeated season or opt to rest their players. As I mentioned earlier, I believe they’ll go for 16-0. The players clearly value an undefeated season and Mike McCarthy has shown a tendency to let his players make these types of calls. Good for him, and good for the Packers. I just hope they find a way to slow down Caleb Hanie.

49ERS
That soft division schedule doesn’t look as soft as it did a few weeks ago. The Cardinals have played well since pushing Baltimore to the wire, winning four of five including wins over the Eagles and Cowboys. Of course, the lone loss over that five game span was against the 49ers, but this time the Cardinals get the division-leading Niners at home. After that, San Francisco will obviously have a tough battle when they host the Steelers. A Week 16 trip to Seattle won’t be a walk in the park, either. Not only is Seattle one of the tougher places to play, but the Seahawks have also played well recently. I expect the 49ers to finish strong, but a loss in Arizona or Seattle along the way wouldn’t surprise me. (I still have the Niners losing to St. Louis on the final day of the season assuming it would be a meaningless game. If the relevancy of that game changes, I’d project a win for San Francisco.)

SAINTS
Now, let’s say the 49ers do drop a game or two and finish the season tied with New Orleans. Who gets the NFC’s second seed and a first round bye? The answer: Obviously, it’s complicated, but in all likelihood it will still be the 49ers. San Francisco has a two game cushion in the conference record standings, and while they may drop one conference game, it’s unlikely they lose two of their final three division games. New Orleans’ best shot at the second seed is to run the table and hope the 49ers lose two. As for the NFC South, the Saints now have a strangle hold on the division title after Atlanta’s loss in Houston.

GIANTS
The biggest change in this week’s projections is the Giants rise to win the NFC East. I know it doesn’t make sense to trust a team that’s just lost four in a row, but Sunday’s close loss to Green Bay was a momentum builder for the Giants. Although they surrendered 38 points, the defense was impressive at times against the NFL’s best offense. With Eli Manning have a career year, the Giants don’t need standout efforts from their defense, just adequate ones. While New York’s remaining schedule is daunting, the Giants and Tom Coughlin have a knack for finishing strong and defying the odds.

COWBOYS
Let’s stay in the NFC East. 1-3 over the final quarter of the season is a harsh outlook, I know. However, look at Dallas’ victories this season and you’ll notice two things. 1. Outside of beating San Francisco in Week 2, Dallas’ best win was over Miami. 2. Dallas may not be any good.

You may think I’m biased in picking the Eagles to win in Dallas in Week 16, but that’s not a biased pick. The Eagles have been notorious for beating Dallas late in the season under Andy Reid (the 2009 season being the obvious exception.) To state the obvious, there’s a handful of different ways this could play out, but if both New York and Dallas finish according to my projections, their Week 17 matchup would be irrelevant in determining the division champion as the Giants would have already clinched the division based on (projected) record in common games. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. A winner-take-all Sunday night thriller in Week 17 would be a nice treat.

BEARS
A strong conference record will be Chicago’s saving grace and propel them into the playoffs over the second place team from the NFC East. Assuming of course the Bears find a way to beat Seattle and/or Minnesota. Actually, that’s a huge “if.” I could easily see the Bears finishing 0-4 or 1-3. However, I’m going to give Caleb Hanie one more week before I declare all hope lost for the Chicago Bears.

FALCONS
Despite a lousy performance in Houston on Sunday, I still believe the Falcons are the 4th best team in the NFC. An easy schedule down the stretch combined with Chicago’s recent collapse should guarantee Atlanta that top Wildcard spot. While winning the NFC South is still a possibility, the Falcons will require outside help to make it a reality.

LIONS
Someone on the Detroit Lions is going to punch, push, shove, or stomp me for saying this, but Jim Schwartz and his anger management deficient team are done. Kaput. Finished.

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