Week 15 in the National Football League is officially in the books, so we can take a look at the latest NFC Playoff Picture. It’s a picture that the Minnesota Vikings are still a part of, but because of their inability to put teams away when they’ve had the opportunity it’s a lot more crowded where they are than it used to be. Let’s take a look at where things stand in the conference with three games remaining.
1) San Francisco 49ers (11-3, NFC West champions)
The Niners have already punched their ticket to the postseason, and it looks like the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC is going to run through Levi’s Stadium. The Niners have beaten the two teams that could potentially threaten their hold on the top seed and only have one seemingly difficult game in their last three. The Niners are on a roll and should land as the #1 seed when things shake out in a few weeks.
Remaining schedule: vs Baltimore, at Washington, vs Los Angeles
2) Dallas Cowboys (10-4, NFC East leaders, clinched playoff spot, ahead of Detroit via conference record)
Despite getting smoked by Buffalo this past weekend, the Cowboys still clinched a spot in the postseason and remained in the second spot in the conference thanks to Philadelphia’s last-second loss in Seattle. The Cowboys and the Eagles will be fighting for this spot the rest of the way, and if both teams win out Philadelphia will actually leapfrog Dallas based on tiebreakers. Will something happen the rest of the way to separate them? Dallas’ schedule the rest of the way is much tougher than Philly’s is.
Remaining schedule: at Miami, vs Detroit, at Washington
3) Detroit Lions (10-4, NFC North leaders)
With everything that happened this week, the Lions’ number to wrap up the NFC North is now 1, meaning that one Detroit win or one Minnesota loss will give the Lions their first division title since the Bush Administration. (That’s Bush 41, not Bush 43, if you’re scoring at home.) The Lions will play the Vikings twice with a game against Dallas sandwiched in-between, so the Vikings might have a small chance, but I wouldn’t bet on it happening.
Remaining schedule: at Minnesota, at Dallas, vs Minnesota
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7, NFC South leaders, ahead of New Orleans via head-to-head)
With their victory over Green Bay on Sunday, the Bucs jumped into the top spot in the NFL’s worst division and gave themselves the inside track to getting into the postseason. They’ve got a tough one coming up in Week 16 and another game against New Orleans before they close out the season, so we’ll have to see if they can hold on to their newfound division lead.
Remaining schedule: vs Jacksonville, vs New Orleans, at Carolina
5) Philadelphia Eagles (10-4, NFC East second place, clinched playoff spot)
The Eagles are officially in the postseason party as well, despite their loss on Monday night. They currently sit in the top wild card spot and they’re still three games clear of the rest of the field so they’ll either host the 7-seed as a division champ or travel to play whoever wins the NFC South. They have some issues to fix in relatively short order, however. Fortunately, their last three opponents represent significant opportunities to “get right.”
Remaining schedule: vs New York, vs Arizona, at New York
6) Minnesota Vikings (7-7, NFC North second place, ahead of Los Angeles via conference record)
To put this clearly: If the Vikings can handle their own damn business, none of the teams behind them in the Wild Card chase can jump over them. Unfortunately, they’ve had issues taking care of their own damn business all season long, which is why they’re in the position they’re currently in. They still have a narrow path to the NFC North if they win out and Detroit loses out. They have the capability of doing it if they can stop shooting themselves in the foot for five consecutive seconds, but I don’t know if they’ll actually be able to do that.
Remaining schedule: vs Detroit, vs Green Bay, at Detroit
7) Los Angeles Rams (7-7, NFC West second place, ahead of Seattle via head-to-head sweep)
The Rams currently hold the last spot in the NFC playoff field and are one of four teams that currently sit at 7-7. Their sweep of the Seahawks looms pretty large right now as that’s what has them in this position rather than on the outside looking in. They finish the season by hosting a Niners team that could still be fighting for the #1 overall seed, so they’ll have to take advantage of a couple of games that, on paper, look winnable before they get to that one.
Remaining schedule: vs New Orleans, at New York, at San Francisco
Outside Looking In
8) Seattle Seahawks (7-7, NFC West third place, ahead of New Orleans via conference record)
9) New Orleans Saints (7-7, NFC South second place)
10) Atlanta Falcons (6-8, NFC South third place, ahead of Green Bay via head-to-head)
11) Green Bay Packers (6-8, NFC North third place)
12) New York Giants (5-9, NFC East third place, ahead of Chicago via common games tiebreaker)
13) Chicago Bears (5-9, NFC North fourth place)
14) Washington Commanders (4-10, NFC East fourth place, eliminated from playoff contention)
15) Arizona Cardinals (3-10, NFC West fourth place, eliminated from playoff contention)
16) Carolina Panthers (2-11, NFC South fourth place, eliminated from playoff contention)
That’s a look at your most current NFC playoff picture, ladies and gentlemen. Again, as far as the Vikings are concerned, if they win their games there’s nobody behind them that can jump ahead of them in the race, and they still have very faint hopes for a second straight NFC North title, but both of those start this weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium when they host Detroit.