Breaking Down The NFC Playoff Picture

Will Ragatz

Ten weeks of football are in the books, and the NFC playoff picture has begun to take a pretty clear shape. At this point, the contenders appear to have separated themselves from the pretenders.

Here's what the standings look like right now:

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 6.38.51 PM

The Vikings sit a game back in the NFC North and have a 1.5-game lead over a trio of teams fighting for the final wild card spot. However, there's a still a ton of football left to be played. Below is a look at where each team sits right now and what's to come before the field of six is set.

San Francisco 49ers (8-1)

Site
Playoff Chances
Win Division?
First-Round Bye?

FiveThirtyEight

92%

54%

45%

New York Times Upshot

96%

69%

61%

The Niners' undefeated run came to an end in a thrilling overtime game against the Seahawks on Monday night. It was a wild affair that featured seven turnovers, two defensive TDs, and ten sacks. Deep into overtime, a missed field goal by Niners undrafted rookie kicker Chase McLaughlin (filling in for the injured Robbie Gould) gave the Seahawks an opportunity to win it.

One game doesn't change the fact that the Niners are one of the best teams in the NFL. Their dominant defense did what it always does, and much of their offensive struggles can be attributed to missing their two best playmakers, George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders. Kyle Shanahan's team is a virtual lock for the playoffs, but now finds itself with some competition for both the NFC West and one of the first round byes, especially with an extremely tough schedule down the stretch. The Week 17 rematch in Seattle could be for the division.

Remaining games: vs. ARZ, vs. GB, @ BAL, @ NO, vs. ATL, vs. LAR, @ SEA

Green Bay Packers (8-2)

Site
Playoff Chances
Win Division?
First-Round Bye?

FiveThirtyEight

93%

66%

48%

New York Times Upshot

95%

76%

57%

The Packers bounced back from a weird loss to the Chargers by narrowly surviving the Panthers at home when Christian McCaffrey came up just short of the goal line on the final play. They're 8-2, but haven't inspired a ton of confidence over their last five games.

They're off in Week 11, then head to SF to take on the Niners in a game that was just flexed to Sunday Night Football. If they can win that, they'll greatly increase their odds of winning the NFC North and securing a top-two seed. Even if they lose to the Vikings in Week 16, they could hold the division record tiebreaker over Minnesota if they complete sweeps of the Bears and Lions.

Remaining games: @ SF, @ NYG, vs. WAS, vs. CHI, @ MIN, @DET

New Orleans Saints (7-2)

Site
Playoff Chances
Win Division?
First-Round Bye?

FiveThirtyEight

90%

86%

46%

New York Times Upshot

88%

80%

39%

What the hell happened on Sunday, Saints? New Orleans saw a six-game winning streak come crashing down with a blowout home loss to the previously 1-7 Falcons. Playing in his second game back from injury, Drew Brees was sacked six times by the Falcons and couldn't get anything going in the red zone.

The Saints still have a two-game lead over the Panthers in the NFC South, but two upcoming meetings between those teams will give Carolina a chance. The Saints, who also play the 49ers at home, could challenge for the top seed in the NFC if they get hot again.

Remaining games: @ TB, vs. CAR, @ ATL, vs. SF, vs. IND, @ TEN, @ CAR

Dallas Cowboys (5-4)

Site
Playoff Chances
Win Division?
First-Round Bye?

FiveThirtyEight

47%

43%

<1%

New York Times Upshot

53%

51%

1%

The Cowboys losing to the Vikings dropped them to 5-4, but this team is still dangerous. Football Outsiders' DVOA ranks them as the second-best team in the NFC behind only the Niners, thanks to their league-best offense. Their clearest shot at a playoff spot is holding off the Eagles and winning the NFC East. If they slip behind Philly, they'll have a hard time securing a wild card.

Dallas has a win in hand over the Eagles, but still have to play them on the road. A road game in New England is also daunting.

Remaining games: @ DET, @ NE, vs. BUF, @CHI, vs. LAR, @ PHI, vs. WAS

Seattle Seahawks (8-2)

Site
Playoff Chances
Win Division?
First-Round Bye?

FiveThirtyEight

82%

43%

28%

New York Times Upshot

80%

29%

20%

That was a huge win for the Seahawks on Monday night. They're now just a half-game behind the Niners in the division and are right in the thick of things with the top teams in the conference. The Seahawks' Russell Wilson-led offense has been their strong suit all season, but it was Jadeveon Clowney and the defense that won them that game in SF. This team's ceiling is as high as any in the NFC, but the schedule will make it tough.

Remaining games: @ PHI, vs. MIN, @ LAR, @ CAR, vs. ARZ, vs. SF

Minnesota Vikings (7-3)

Site
Playoff Chances
Win Division?
First-Round Bye?

FiveThirtyEight

86%

33%

25%

New York Times Upshot

79%

23%

17%

The Vikings winning in Dallas was a huge step in the right direction, but there is more work to be done. Winning the division will be difficult, considering the Packers have a one-game lead and will likely hold the tiebreaker. But if the Vikings can beat the Packers in Week 16 and make up another game somewhere, it's certainly possible. Getting to play a home playoff game would be huge for this team.

If the Packers hold on to win the division as projected, the Vikings' Week 13 game in Seattle could go a long way towards determining which of those teams gets the fifth seed. The five seed figures to mean a matchup with the NFC East winner, rather than one of the 49ers/Packers/Saints.

Most importantly, the Vikings need to make sure they don't get caught in the wild-card race by any of the three teams 1.5 games below them.

Remaining games: vs. DEN, @ SEA, vs. DET, @ LAC, vs. GB, vs. CHI

In The Hunt

  • Los Angeles Rams (5-4)

Both FiveThirtyEight and the NYT Upshot give the defending NFC Champs a 22 percent chance to make the playoffs. After a 3-0 start, the Rams have lost four of six, including head-scratching losses to the Bucs and Steelers. Jared Goff has been mediocre at best, Todd Gurley hasn't looked like himself, and Sean McVay's brilliance is beginning to be called into question. A difficult remaining schedule will likely prevent them from making a late-season surge.

Remaining games: vs. CHI, vs. BAL, @ ARZ, vs. SEA, @ DAL, @ SF, @ ARZ

  • Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)

Unlike the Rams, the Eagles have a pretty clear path to the playoffs: win the NFC East. 538's model gives them a 57 percent chance of doing that, and a 62 percent chance of making the playoffs overall. The NYT model has those percentages a bit lower, at 49 and 53. A Week 16 home game against the Cowboys could decide things in the East. Winning one of their next two games would be huge, as the schedule gets easier down the stretch.

Remaining games: vs. NE, vs. SEA, @ MIA, vs. NYG, vs. WAS, vs. DAL, @ NYG

  • Carolina Panthers (5-4)

McCaffrey and the Panthers very nearly pulled out the upset at Lambeau on Sunday, but it didn't happen. As it stands, they're a longshot for the playoffs. Each site gives them, at best, a 20 percent chance to catch the Saints in the NFC South, and a less than 30 percent chance to make the playoffs in any capacity. Outside of a blowout loss to SF, the Panthers have been competitive in every game. Can McCaffrey and Kyle Allen make an unlikely run?

Remaining games: vs. ATL, @ NO, vs. WAS, @ ATL, vs. SEA, @IND, vs. NO

  • Chicago Bears (4-5)

Including the Bears in this is pretty generous. They have less than a five percent chance to make the playoffs. It would take Mitch Trubisky and company going at least 5-2 down the stretch, which seems highly unlikely considering their offensive ineptitude over the past month-plus. Even then, 9-7 probably isn't going to be enough for a wild card.

Remaining games: @ LAR, vs. NYG, @ DET, vs. DAL, @ GB, vs. KC, @ MIN

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