Here is the current playoff picture and breakdown of the NFC:
- Saints, 9-2
- Seahawks, 8-3
- Packers, 8-3
- Giants, 4-7
- Wild Card 1: Rams, 7-4
- Wild Card 2: Bucs, 7-5
- Wild Card 3: Cardinals, 6-5
It is December 1, and the NFC still doesn’t have a favorite. The conference is so inconsistent from week to week that it’s unclear which teams are even viable Super Bowl contenders.
Here’s what we do know: New Orleans has the best roster and is weak at QB. Whether it’s Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, or Jameis Winston — there is a ceiling. Against either Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, the Saints would be at a grave disadvantage in the most important position in sports. With remaining matchups against the Chiefs, the now-dangerous Falcons, and the feisty Vikings as well as a head-to-head loss to the Packers — holding onto the first seed looks less than probable.
Last week, I summed up the NFC as a classic game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, arguing it will be one based on the matchups. This applies to no team more than Tampa Bay.
The Bucs are the most unpredictable team in the NFL. After 12 weeks of obvious QB-coach friction, no one should trust the Bucs in the playoffs. If they run into the Saints for a third time, forget about it. A rematch with the Rams would end similarly. I’d pick the Packers in a rematch with the Bucs. However, as Week 6 proved, Tampa matches up well against Green Bay. The Packers aren’t hoping to avenge the humiliation. They’d be just fine watching someone else take care of those scissors in the first round.
Against the Chiefs, the Bucs were a third-down stop away from marching down the field to tie or win. Tampa hung with Patrick Mahomes and his poor defense, so it can also hang with Wilson and his even worse defense.
The possible seeding scenarios for Wilson and the Seahawks range wide.
If the NFC West winner doesn’t earn the first seed, the second-place team — the likely fifth seed — will claim victory. A home playoff game and a division win are nice, but a 4-5 matchup with the NFC East is nicer. Right now, in the first round, the Seahawks (2) would face the Cardinals (7), whom they split the season series with. The Rams (5) would travel to New York (4) and crush the Giants.
Week 16, Rams at Seahawks, is perhaps the battle for the fifth seed?
The NFC’s home-field advantage will likely take all 17 weeks to determine. But if the Packers handle business at home against the Titans in Week 16, it’s essentially over. Aside from the Titans, the Packers’ remaining opponents are among the NFL’s weakest.
Analytics conclude that Seattle has the easier path, but the stat nerds here are wrong as usual. The Seahawks still face the Rams, who already beat them, and the 49ers, who are always dangerous.
Top to bottom, the Packers are not the best team in the NFC. They do, however, have the best player in Aaron Rodgers. If the Packers can manage to combine Rodgers with the conference’s only first-round bye, the NFC finally has its comfortable favorite.
And then there is the Super Bowl, where one of about four AFC teams will present a nightmare to whatever team stumbles victorious out of the NFC Championship.
*More on the AFC later this week.