Now that we’re about halfway through the regular season, playoff talk is only becoming more relevant. A few weeks ago, the biggest question in the NFC was if anyone could catch the Eagles and 49ers. Now, after three straight losses by San Francisco, other scenarios have come into play and created far more optimism throughout the conference contenders.
The Niners’ sudden slide has led to a lot of movement at the top of the NFC standings. The Seahawks are now leading the NFC West, pushing San Francisco into a recently unfathomable spot as a wild card team. Detroit and Seattle, both just two-loss teams, are neck-and-neck for the two seed.
The Cowboys also only have two losses but are currently stuck behind Philadelphia. That could change over the next two Sundays; Dallas faces the Eagles this week and then hosts the Giants in Week 10 while Philly is on its bye. It’s possible that the Cowboys could come out of these two games not only on top of the NFC East but with the number-one seed in the conference as well.
Of course, San Francisco is still a threat. Once they get some key players back from injury they could be right back on pace to retake their division and more. But if the bloom has come off Brock Purdy’s rose, they may have a bigger issue going forward than anyone would have expected.
While they don't appear to be a factor among the conference leaders, the NFC South will put at least one team in the playoffs and perhaps another as a wild card. They should fall into the bottom of both of those tiers; first-round fodder for the rest of the teams who make the postseason.
Here are the playoff standings ahead of Week 9:
- Philadelphia Eagles (7-1 overall, 5-0 vs NFC)
- Detroit Lions (6-2 overall, 4-1 vs NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (5-2 overall, 4-1 vs NFC)
- Atlanta Falcons (4-4 overall, 3-2 vs NFC)
- Dallas Cowboys (5-2 overall, 2-2 vs NFC)
- San Francisco 49ers (5-3 overall, 4-1 vs NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (4-4 overall, 4-2 vs NFC)
- New Orleans Saints (4-4 overall, 1-2 vs NFC)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4 overall, 3-3 vs NFC)
- Los Angeles Rams (3-5 overall, 2-3 vs NFC)
- Washington Commanders (3-5 overall, 2-4 vs NFC)
The Falcons currently enjoy the top spot in their division thanks to a better record within the NFC South (2-0) than the Saints (1-1). New Orleans is further held out of the current playoff picture by their inferior record in conference play to the Vikings. But after QB Kirk Cousins’ season-ending injury, Minnesota may not be in this conversation much longer.
Despite the 49ers and Lions both being on their byes, the Week 9 schedule still has plenty of intrigue for the NFC. Most of it centers around one key matchup that some of you may be aware of.
Cowboys @ Eagles
Dallas can’t overtake Philly with a win this week but, with one more next against the Giants, they’d move ahead in the NFC East. It would also check a huge box on their schedule to pick up this crucial road win, making the Week 14 rematch at home a chance for what could be an invaluable head-to-head tiebreaker. The Cowboys will still be pretty secure in the wild card race even in a loss this week, but need to at least show well in this one to validate the belief that they’re a true contender this season.
Seahawks @ Ravens
This is a big one for Seattle to show they belong in the contender conversation themselves. Their first win against Detroit was a good one but since then it’s been the Panthers, Giants, Cardinals, and Browns. Baltimore will provide one of the best tests they’ve had so far in 2023. While the Seahawks could be a threat to Dallas down the road in terms of playoff seeding, seeing them win the NFC West and keep the 49ers away from a first-round home game feels like the best outcome.
Vikings @ Falcons
Both teams will have new quarterbacks this week. Minnesota hasn’t announced who will start this Sunday as they sort things out from the Cousins injury but the trade for QB Josh Dobbs felt like their preferred choice. Meanwhile. the Falcons have decided to bench Desmond Ridder for veteran Taylor Heinicke. While both Atlanta and Minnesota currently occupy projected playoff spots, their shaky ground at quarterback puts them in perilous positions. It really comes down to who you want to win the NFC South between the Falcons, Bucs, and Saints, especially with the strong possibility of one of them being Dallas’ first-round opponent.
Bears @ Saints
Buccaneers @ Texans
Again, who do you want to win the NFC South? Between Derek Carr’s sporadic flashes of greatness and an infamously challenging home turf, the Saints feel like the worst option for Dallas in terms of potential first-round opponents. It’s hard to draw a hard line between Atlanta or Tampa, but at least the Bucs have Baker Mayfield. Not only does that make the Falcons the better potential draw for the Cowboys, but it means the Bucs or Saints would be in a better position to play the spoiler in their own first-round matchups as wild cards.
Commanders @ Patriots
This may be the last week we bother talking about Washington here. Trading away Chase Young and Montez Sweat signaled their feelings about the remainder of this season. While they seem more than capable of competing for the last wild card spot in the NFC, it looks like the new ownership is already pressing the reset button.
Rams @ Packers
The Rams have to bounce back this week to remain relevant in the NFC. They’re a team who could be a problem if they sneak into the playoffs given their coach and some personnel, but it’s hard to be too worried about them as far as the Cowboys are concerned.