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If the NFC playoffs were to start today...

... many of the preseason favorites would stay at home.

Divisional Round - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A lot can change in just three weeks. Just ask Antonio Brown. Or the Westgate Sportsbook. A day before the 2019 NFL season kicked off this year, For The Win reviewed the Westbook’s 2019 Super Bowl odds for all 32 NFL teams. At the time, the Saints, Bears, and Eagles (all + 1200) had the best Super Bowl odds in the NFC, followed by the Rams (+1400). Just four weeks later, only the Saints would qualify for the playoffs as the division winner, and the Bears would squeeze in as a wildcard team - if the season were to end today.

Nothing illustrates the fickle nature of the NFL more than the fact that teams like the Rams and Eagles would not repeat their playoff appearance from last year if the playoffs were to start today.

In place of last year’s playoff teams, a new crop of teams has set out to once again confirm the old adage that the playoff field churns by about 50% from year to year. Since the league moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, an average of about six new teams made the NFL playoffs every year.

Per Week 4, the Packers and 49ers would be the new NFC teams in the playoffs, while some of the more established teams can start clearing their calendars in January. If the season were to end today, here’s who the NFC playoff participants would be:

Seed Team W/L Record Divisional Record Conference Record Rationale
1 San Francisco 3-0 0-0 1-0
2 New Orleans 3-1 0-0 2-1 Wins SOV tiebreak over GB & DAL
3 Green Bay 3-1 2-0 2-1 Wins SOV tiebreak over DAL
4 Dallas 3-1 2-0 2-1
WC 1 Chicago 3-1 1-1 2-1
WC 2 Seattle 3-1 1-0 1-1 Wins div. tiebreaker over LAR

At the start of every new season, it always takes a while for us to reconfigure our mental landscape of the NFL hierarchy, as last year’s favorites falter and last year’s underachievers suddenly flourish.

And the same is true for last year’s playoff teams. Every new NFL season is always a new chance for teams that fell short of the playoffs the season before. The NFL is intrinsically designed to be a parity-driven league; the draft, revenue sharing, the salary cap, compensatory draft picks, all the way through the schedule; everything about the NFL is designed so that every team from every market except Washington has a legitimate opportunity to compete year-in and year-out.

Over the course of a season, most football fans construct a mental map of the NFL teams. But like every season, the NFL landscape is changing, and with it fans have to readjust their mental map of NFL teams. The reality of the 2019 season is taking shape right before our eyes, and that reality doesn’t necessarily have much to do with with the 2018 season.

It’s still very early in the season, but through three weeks it looks like the Cowboys are on track for the playoffs. And if history repeats itself, they will be one of three playoff teams from 2018 to make the playoffs again this year. Which means there will also be three new playoff teams in 2017. After week four, those teams look to be the 49ers, Packers, and perhaps the Lions (who are lurking at #8 in the playoff seeding behind the Rams), but will they be able to maintain their early momentum?

Who do you think the three new playoff teams could be this year?

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