With about a quarter of the season down, it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2023 NFC playoffs. While much can change over the next 14 weeks of the regular season, wins and losses now matter just as much in shaping the eventual postseason. The picture and impact just get clearer and easier to analyze in November and December.
So far, the Eagles and 49ers have established themselves as the top tier of the conference. The Cowboys would be right there with them if not for an anomalous collapse against the Cardinals, but they still have to prove that it was truly an oddity in their season. The Lions are also in the mix, with their only loss coming in overtime to Seattle.
The Seahawks and Buccaneers are the NFC other teams with winning records right now, but their true contender status is still hard to determine. Seattle did get the big win over Detroit but lost to the Rams and has beaten up bottom teams like the Panthers and Giants. Similarly, Tampa Bay has benefited from early games against the Bears, Vikings, and Saints to pad their record.
Again, it’s still very early. But whether it’s Week 5 or Week 15, the playoffs loom over everything. It’s why we’re all here. So here’s how things current stand in the NFC after the first four weeks:
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-0 overall, 3-0 vs NFC)
- San Francisco (4-0 overall, 3-0 vs NFC)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1 overall, 3-1 vs NFC)
- Detroit Lions (3-1 overall, 2-1 vs NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (3-1 overall, 3-1 vs NFC)
- Dallas Cowboys (3-1 overall, 1-1 vs NFC)
- Atlanta Falcons (2-2 overall, 2-1 vs NFC)
- Los Angeles Rams (2-2 overall, 1-1 vs NFC)
- Washington Commanders (2-2 overall, 1-1 vs NFC)
- Green Bay Packers (2-2 overall, 2-2 vs NFC)
- New Orleans Saints (2-2 overall, 1-2 vs NFC)
These would be the seven qualifying teams and the closest wild-card contenders. The top six get in thanks to their overall records and Atlanta is the only 2-2 team that currently has a winning record within the conference.
So looking ahead to Week 5, what game outcomes would benefit the Cowboys? It could be toward winning the division or improving their leverage within the NFC as a whole. Many times a single outcome would help both goals, but every now and then they could be at odds.
Cowboys @ 49ers
Of course, there’s only one outcome we want to see here. With high potential for head-to-head tiebreaker ramifications down the road, plus the value of an in-conference win, both teams will want this victory in their back pocket. For Dallas especially, the confidence boost of putting away the team that’s knocked you out of the playoffs the last two years could be significant.
Bears @ Commanders
Even now, Chicago’s season may already be over. They don’t appear to be a factor in 2023 so the least they could do is hang a loss on Washington. Coming off a feisty overtime loss to Philly, the Commanders are a team that could make trouble later as QB Sam Howell gets more experience and comfort with Eric Bieniemy’s scheme. The less motivated they are for Thanksgiving and Week 18, the better.
Eagles @ Rams
Obviously, we’re much more worried about catching Philadelphia in the NFC East than any eventual wild-card scenario with Los Angeles. And really, it’s too early to assume anything about where teams will stand in the end. Winning the division is always better than getting in as a wild card, so anything now that could help the Cowboys toward that end is a positive.
Giants @ Dolphins
Texans @ Falcons
Saints @ Patriots
Packers @ Raiders
These four interconference games are opportunities to see a division foe in New York and the rest of the current NFC wild-card contenders all take a backward step. While the Giants are starting to look more like a basement team in 2023, you never know how getting Saquon Barkley back could propel them back toward being competitive. While we don’t want another team mucking things up in the conference, there is something to be said for New York giving the Eagles and Commanders tougher matchups as the season progresses.
The Falcons, Packers, and Saints comprise the rest of the 2-2 teams currently on the bubble of the playoff picture. Later in the year, there will be much more clarity about how their contending status could help or hurt the Cowboys. For now, the fewer teams Dallas has to worry about as eventual competition for spots in the tournament is the best way to look at these games.
The same goes for the 1-3 and 0-4 teams in the NFC as well. Outside of an occasion where they can hurt one of the potential contenders, like the Chicago-Washington game this week, it’s good to see them keep on losing. With the strong chance that Dallas can’t win the NFC East thanks to Philadelphia, we want as few teams vying for the three wild card spots as possible.