After a tough win in Tennessee and a suprising loss by the 49ers in Arizona, the Saints move into the 2nd spot in the NFC Playoff Picture. Also, the Bears appear defeated, the Cowboys aren’t dead yet, and the Eagles still don’t have a chance.
[Weekly 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).]
1. No major changes this week, but some minor tweaks are worth noting. Originally, I had the 49ers losing to the Rams on the final weekend of the season because the projections had the 49ers locked into the 2nd seed. After losing to the Cardinals in Week 14, that game now has new meaning and could decide whether San Francisco drops to 3rd.
2. Similarly, I switched New Orleans’ outcome in Week 17 from a loss at the hands of the Carolina Panthers to a win. I had the Saints resting starters in what would have been a meaningless game. Now, the Saints (assuming they beat Minnesota and Atlanta) should be able to clinch a first round bye with a win over Carolina.
3. While I didn’t make any changes to the Bears final three games, I’m ready to accept they’ll probably miss the playoffs. Caleb Hanie can’t move the offense and while the defense has played outstanding, they can’t score enough points to make up for such a putrid offense. I’m expecting Seattle to waltz into Chicago this week and deliver the knockout blow to the Bears playoff chances.
4. You’ll notice I did not include the Eagles in the projections. That’s because it’ll take a Christmas miracle for the Eagles to even play a meaningful game after Week 15. In the NFC Wildcard race, four of the six teams ahead of the Eagles own the head-to-head tiebreaker. That means the Eagles can’t pass Atlanta, would need Chicago and Detroit to lose out, and would need both Arizona and Seattle to finish 1-2 or worse over their final three games. In the NFC East, things are a bit easier, but just as unlikely. In order to win the division, the Eagles need Dallas and New York to finish 1-2 or worse. If that happens and the Eagles win out, they would own the tiebreaker over both the Cowboys and Giants with a 5-1 division record. So yeah, don’t hold your breath.
I mentioned last week that the Packers could face some tougher challenges over the final weeks of the season just as the 2007 Patriots did. However, with the hapless Chiefs and offensively challenged Bears on deck, the Packers should have no problem heading into the final week against the Lions at 15-0. Then again, I’ve been wrong before.
I know the talking heads and NFL experts think the 49ers have the defense to hang with the Packers, but I’m not buying. The Saints are, at least in my opinion, one of two NFC teams that could possibly knock off the Packers. Still, I’m not high on their chances. Why? Because the game would be played at Lambeau, Green Bay’s defense is better because of its ability to create turnovers, and Aaron Rodgers is almost untouchable right now. With that said, it would at least make for an entertaining Conference Championship.
The 49ers can’t run the ball right now. If they can’t get that fixed before the playoffs, they’re a one-and-done team. With the Packers or Saints waiting in the Divisional Round, the 49ers only hope at a championship game appearance is to control the clock and play sound defense. Neither of which the 49ers successfully accomplished against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
New York is the other team capable of sending Green Bay home early. They have the weapons up front to harass Aaron Rodgers, and Eli Manning has proven his ability to win shootouts. More importantly, this Giants team has been in a similar situation before, so the Packers offensive brilliance certainly won’t intimidate Tom Coughlin’s crew. In fact, it will only motivate them. On the other hand, capable doesn’t mean probable.
The best of the NFC Wildcard teams, but that’s not saying much. The Falcons are essentially eliminated from contention for the NFC South title, so the 5th seed is as high as they can go. Chicago’s collapse in Denver was unbelievably huge for the Falcons who had lost to the Bears on opening weekend. Now, the Falcons control their destiny in the NFC Wildcard race.
As I mentioned earlier, I still have the Bears in the playoffs, but I doubt that holds for the final three weeks. The Seahawks have been impressive of late. Even at home, Chicago could and probably will fall to Seattle. It’s rare that a team’s season could come down to a player running out of bounds at the wrong time, but that may very well be the case in Chicago.
Detroit has proven several times over the past two months that they aren’t very good. What’s worse, they can’t help but rack up double-digit penalties. I know the Raiders have looked horrible the last two weeks, but going home knowing the Broncos have the high-flying Patriots will add a much-needed boost to the Raiders. A loss in Oakland wouldn’t be totally devastating to Detroit’s playoff chances. The Lions have a one game lead over the Cowboys (which is basically a two game lead because the Lions own the tiebreaker) and the Bears look like they may not win again this year.
What’s so unique about the Cowboys situation is, despite the “world is ending” coverage surrounding the team, the Cowboys still control their own playoff destiny. Win out, and the Cowboys win the NFC East. Amazingly, the Giants have the same fate. If the Cowboys miss out on the division, they can point to blowing a 20 point 2nd half lead to the Lions as the reason they’re sitting at home and not competing in the postseason.