Breaking Down the NFC Playoff Picture

the NFC playoff picture is beginning to come into focus after week 15 games have been completed. Let’s break down each playoff team and those still with a decent chance and then paint a picture of what the seven seeds may look like when the NFC playoffs begin next month.

Current #1 Seed: Philly Eagles

13-1 | @Cowboys | Saints | Giants

The Eagles have a 98% chance of being the first seed in the NFC postseason tournament. One more Eagles win will clinch both the first seed and the NFC East division title. The Cowboys would have to beat the Eagles next weekend to have the slimmest of chances of winning their division. Once the Eagles clinch the first seed, they’ll have no reason to play their starters, even though they’ll also have a bye week. That may help the Giants and hurt teams like the Lions and Seahawkswhich are also vying for one of the last wild card seeds.

Current #2 Seed: Minnesota Vikings

11-3 | Giants | @Packers | @Bears

The Vikings have clinched the NFC North division title and can do no worse than the 3rd seed. They have a one game lead over the 49ers for the 2nd seed. The 49ers have the tiebreaker if both teams finish with the same record with the best conference record and will maintain that tiebreaker in any scenario where the 49ers and Vikings are tied at the end of the regular season. So, the Vikings will need to finish the season with an equal or better record than the 49ers over the last three games to keep the second seed. The Vikings control their destiny in that respect.

Current #3 Seed: San Francisco 49ers

10-4 | Commanders | @Raiders | Cardinals

The 49ers have clinched the NFC West division title and can do no worse than their current third seed. So, all they have left to play for is the second seed and they will be hoping for a Vikings loss while trying to win their three remaining games. However, the 49ers will go with their third string QB Brock Purdy the rest of the way, including the postseason. They’re counting on continued decent performance from Purdy, who is surrounded by point guards, a good offensive line, and the number one defense in the league. The 49ers also have some key players banged up and out of the lineup, so at some point they may consider whether resting starters gives them a better chance of reaching the Super Bowl or if competing for the second seed does.

Current #4 Seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

6-8 | @Cardinals | Panthers | @Falcons

The Buccaneers have a one game lead over the three other teams in the NFC South with two division games remaining. The Bucs haven’t been playing well, so anything can happen, but they remain the favorite to win their division. 538 gives them a 72% chance of winning the NFC South and the 4th seed. And as bad as they’ve played, it’s difficult to see them falling to either the Panthers or Falcons, which they’d have to do to lose the division title. The Saints have road games at Cleveland and Philadelphia (although the Eagles could rest starters) so their path to win the division doesn’t look promising. The Bucs can do no better (or worse) than the 4th seed if they make the playoffs. The same is true for any other NFC South division winner.

Current #5 Seed: Dallas Cowboys

10-4 | Eagles | @Titans | @Commanders

The Cowboys have clinched a playoff spot and are almost certain to be the 5th seed. The only way for them to not be is if the Giants win their remaining games and the Cowboys lose them, or if the Cowboys win their remaining games and the Eagles lose them. Either scenario is highly unlikely. If the Giants lose one or their next two games, or the Cowboys win one of their next two games, they’ll have nothing to play for week 18 and will most likely rest their starters against the Commanders, which would help the Commanders considerably in gaining a wild card seed.

Current 6th Seed: New York Giants

8-5-1 | @Vikings | Colts | @Eagles

The Giants beat the Commanders on Sunday for the second time this season to gain the sixth seed. They hold the tiebreaker over the Commanders for that reason as well. Two more wins secures them a playoff spot. 538 gives them an 87% chance of making the playoffs. At this point they’re favored only against the Colts but could benefit from the Eagles resting their starters week 18.

Current 7th Seed: Washington Commanders

7-6-1 | @49ers | Browns | Cowboys

The Commanders hold a half-game lead over the Lions and Seahawks for the last playoff seed. However, they have a tough remaining schedule. 538 gives them a 35% chance of making the playoffs, The Upshot’s playoff simulator gives them a 42% chance. Their most plausible path would be to beat the Browns and then have the Cowboys rest their starters and win that game while the Lions and Seahawks lose one more game.

Current 8th Seed: Seattle Seahawks

7-7 | @Chiefs | Jets | rams

The Seahawks hold the tiebreaker against the Lions by virtue of beating them earlier this season, but face a tougher remaining schedule. 538 gives them just a 30% chance of making the playoffs. They’re big underdogs against the Chiefs, and don’t match up well against the Jets. 9-8 is probably the best plausible scenario for the Seahawks, but 8-9 more likely.

Current 9th Seed: Detroit Lions

7-7 | @Panthers | Bears | @Packers

The Lions will have a challenge in each of their remaining games and will have to win at least two of them to have a realistic chance at making the playoffs. But having won six of their last seven games, they’re the hottest team competing for the last wild card seeds. 538 gives them a 41% chance of making the playoffs- higher than the Commanders or the Seahawks. The Lions need to finish with one more win in their remaining three games than both the Commanders and Seahawks to make the playoffs.

How It’s Likely to Play Out

It’s a near certainty that the Eagles are the first seed. They may lose to the Cowboys this weekend, which will delay it one week, but they’ll be the first seed.

The Cowboys will be the fifth seed. This is the second most likely scenario and a near certainty as well.

The Giants, with an 87% chance of making the playoffs, also seems likely to land one of the wild card seeds. I think they’ll be helped by the Eagles resting starters week 18.

And the Bucs seem most likely to win the NFC South and gain the 4th seed.

Beyond that, it’s more uncertain whether the Vikings or 49ers will be the second seed, and which team will be the seventh seed. Currently the Vikings have a 58% chance of keeping the second seed according to The Upshot playoff simulator.

The seventh seed is really up in the air, with the Commanders (43%), Lions (35%) and Seahawks (27%) the leading candidates. Their percentage chance represents their chance of making the playoffs, so they don’t add up to 100%.

Here’s what that looks like in terms of most likely final seedings and first round playoff matchups:

  • First seed: Philadelphia Eagles (Eagles have a 98% chance of being the first seed)
  • Second seed: Minnesota Vikings (Vikings have a 58% chance of keeping the 2nd seed)
  • Third seed: San Francisco 49ers (49ers have a 58% chance of being the 3rd seed)
  • Fourth seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Bucs have a 73% chance of being the 4th seed)
  • Fifth seed: Dallas Cowboys (Cowboys have a 95% chance of being the 5th seed)
  • Sixth seed: New York Giants (Giants have a 64% chance of being the 6th seed)
  • Seventh seed: Washington Commanders/Detroit Lions/Seattle Seahawks

It will be interesting to see how things play out, but there’s a good chance the Vikings will end up playing a team they played already in the wild card round- either the Giants, Commanders, or Lions. Most likely wild card matchups are as follows:

  • Dallas at Tampa Bay
  • NY Giants at Minnesota
  • Commanders at San Francisco

Lots of other possibilities, so stay tuned.

inch

Who will host the Vikings in the Wild Card Round?

  • 22%

    Washington Commanders

    (11 votes)

  • 42%

    New York Giants

    (21 votes)

  • 10%

    Seattle Seahawks

    (5 votes)


49 total votes

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