If there’s one thing you can safely bet on right now in the NFC playoff picture, it’s the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, and San Francisco 49ers being part of it. But the other three spots, and seedings between all seven teams, are still a jumble as we get into the home stretch of the regular season.
With two gutsy wins over the Chiefs and Bills, the Eagles are becoming harder to oust from the number-one seed. The next two against San Francisco and Dallas leave things a little up in the air, but Philly is proving tough to beat and become more deserving of the top seed with every win.
If that happens, the Cowboys are looking fairly certain for the top wild card spot as the fifth seed. They’ll keep a vested interest in who eventually wins the NFC South as the probable fourth seed, and who you like best as a first-round opponent from there is up for debate.
The Lions took a blow to their postseason goals with a bad home loss to Green Bay. They’ll still win the NFC North, especially after Minnesota took an even worse loss to the Bears, but will need to go on a run if they have any shot at the one seed.
The 49ers have won three straight to correct course after their midseason slide. This Sunday’s game in Philly is a major moment for both teams, but perhaps more for San Francisco who want to fully re-legitimize themselves as contenders and get payback for last year’s loss in the NFC Championship.
Here are the NFC playoff standings ahead of Week 13:
- Philadelphia Eagles (10-1 overall, 6-0 vs NFC)
- San Francisco 49ers (8-3 overall, 6-1 vs NFC)
- Detroit Lions (8-3 overall, 5-2 vs NFC)
- Atlanta Falcons (5-6 overall, 4-4 vs NFC)
- Dallas Cowboys (8-3 overall, 5-3 vs NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (6-5 overall, 5-3 vs NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-6 overall, 6-3 vs NFC)
- Green Bay Packers (5-6 overall, 4-3 vs NFC)
- Los Angeles Rams (5-6 overall, 4-4 vs NFC)
- New Orleans Saints (5-6 overall, 2-4 vs NFC)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7 overall, 3-4 vs NFC)
For tiebreakers, the Niners get the two seed with a better conference record than Detroit. Atlanta has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Saints after last Sunday’s win, but they play again in New Orleans in Week 18. That one could very well be for the NFC South at this point.
So what would benefit the Cowboys from the Week 13 schedule? Let’s get into the rooting guide.
Cowboys over Seahawks
This one felt bigger a month ago, but Seattle has since gone 1-3 and without any moral victories. They’ve been blown out by the Ravens and 49ers, beaten by the Rams, and barely won at home over Washington. They’re trending downward and suddenly not all that secure for a wild card spot.
If the Cowboys win on Thursday night, it would give them a firm grip on the valuable fifth seed and that top wild card spot, which should send them to face whoever comes out of the NFC South. They’d essentially have a four-game lead over Seattle with the head-to-head tiebreaker, plus at least a three-game lead over the Vikings, Packers, or Rams.
49ers over Eagles
It’s the devil you know versus the devil you know even better. While we hate to wish good things for San Francisco, Philadelphia almost has to lose this one if Dallas has any chance of still winning the NFC East. With the Eagles’ last four games being cupcakes, and the Cowboys’ schedule getting rough, Philly really has to go down here and to Dallas next week for a realistic shot.
Some might be resigned to the Eagles winning the division, in which case you might prefer they win to push the 49ers down the rankings. If San Francisco winds up as the third seed, the Cowboys probably wouldn’t have to play them until the NFC Championship Game. But you only think this way if you’ve surrendered the division to Philly, which most of us probably aren’t ready to do.
Lions over Saints
It may seem strange to root for Detroit as they’re the other major conference contender, but this is where we hedge our bet as Philadelphia is probably winning the NFC East. What we don’t want is the Eagles or 49ers getting the number-one seed, which gives them a week off and home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. Also, if the Cowboys do have to go on the road in the second round, better to Detroit than Philly or San Francisco.
If Dallas does somehow win the NFC East, they still have a shot in Week 17 to hang a loss on Detroit and get the head-to-head tiebreaker. That will be a key factor in the unlikely scenario of the Cowboys ending up as the number-one seed.
Additionally, a loss for New Orleans hurts their cause for winning the NFC South. While all of the potential division winners seem pretty beatable now, the Saints still feel like the toughest road opponent Dallas could have between them, the Falcons, or the Buccaneers. So that’s some added benefit for this outcome.
Falcons over Jets
Buccaneers over Panthers
Again, in the wild card scenario, we’d rather go to Atlanta or Tampa in the first round than New Orleans. So we either need the Falcons to maintain their current division lead or for the Bucs to go on a run and win the NFC South. Atlanta seems the most preferable given their quarterback situation.
Chiefs over Packers
Browns over Rams
Green Bay and Los Angeles are still in reach of wild card spots, especially with Seattle slumping and Minnesota’s ugly loss to Chicago. None of them really feel like threats to Detroit, Philly, or San Francisco for first-round upsets, so let’s focus on what’s best for Dallas.
The sooner the Packers and Rams fall out of contention, the faster the Cowboys can clinch their wild card spot. While there may still be reasons to stay competitive all the way through Week 18, other factors could make the last game or two of the season moot. That would allow Dallas to rest some veterans and give some other guys, like QB Trey Lance, playing time in meaningless games.