Making Sense Of The NFC Playoff Picture
How big are the two NFC South Division game this week?
The New Orleans Saints play their home finale, hosting the Atlanta Falcons in a huge Christmas Eve match-up, while the Carolina Panthers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This is what the NFL wanted when they decided to play divisional games in the last two weeks of the season; a lot on the line.
The Saints are currently 10-4 on the season, and tied for first place in the NFC South with the Carolina Panthers, both teams just one game ahead of the 9-5 Falcons.
The Saints could make it real easy on themselves, and clinch the division title this Sunday. That would be the case, with a win over the Falcons, and a loss by the Panthers.
That would be the best case scenario, but plenty of other things could change things, dramatically.
For instance, it's possible the Saints could drop to the #6-seed in the NFC Playoff picture. That would happen with a loss to the Falcons, combined with a Panthers win.
What happens if the Saints and Panthers both lose?
If that were to happen, it would force a three-way tie for the division lead, with the Falcons holding the tie-breaker, putting the Saints in the #5 spot, and the Panthers in the #6 position.
The final scenario is for the Saints and Panthers both to win this week, which would clinch a playoff berth for the Saints, but would not give them the division crown.
Now, if the Saints would tie with the Panthers atop the standings at the end of Week 17, the Saints would win the division, based on their two head-to-head wins over the Panthers.
Right now, the top-seed in the NFC is the Philadelphia Eagles, at 12-2. They have clinched a first-round bye, and the Saints cannot catch them. The Eagles have the Raiders and Cowboys left on their schedule, as they try to nail down home field advantage.
The Minnesota Vikings, at 11-3, are currently the #2-seed. They also beat the Saints in the 2017 season-opener, meaning the only way that the Saints can pass them would be wins for the Saints in their final two games, and losses for the Vikings in their final two. Not likely, as the Vikings have the Packers and Bears remaining.
The Los Angles Rams, at 10-4, are currently the #3-seed. The Rams, by virtue of a win over the Saints earlier this season, hold the tie-breaker. The Saints can pass the Rams this week, with a win over the Falcons, and a Rams loss to the Titans. Los Angeles hosts the 49ers in Week 17.
The Saints, Panthers, and Falcons are currently the 4-6 seeds, but the Saints host the Falcons this week, while the Panthers visit the Falcons next week, so things will likely change.
The Seahawks, Cowboys, and Lions, all at 8-6, are still alive, and battling for playoff spots.
It's not going to be until New Year's Eve until we figure this all out.