The Atlanta Falcons survived another threat this week, holding off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12 to move to 10-1 on the season. Atlanta now has the best record and the top playoff seed in the NFC. Behind the Falcons, the standings get far more interesting.
A pair of teams, the 49ers and the Bears, have eight wins. Two more have seven wins. Another three NFC teams have six wins. All of those teams are either in the playoff picture as of Week 12 or knocking at the door. It makes for an interesting stretch run in the conference.
Here's how the playoff seeding looks currently:
1. Atlanta Falcons (10-1, NFC South)
2. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1, NFC West)
3. Chicago Bears (8-3, NFC North)
4. New York Giants (7-4, NFC East)
5. Green Bay Packers (7-4, Wild Card)
6. Seattle Seahawks (6-5, Wild Card)
Atlanta nailed down the AFC South with a win over Tampa Bay this week. Barring disaster, Matt Ryan and Co. should have the division sewn up.
Green Bay's loss to the Giants on Sunday night makes it tougher, but not impossible, to challenge Chicago in the NFC North. The Bears play the Seahawks in Chicago next week, with a road game in Minnesota the week after that. Green Bay plays the Vikings and the Lions during that same stretch, and in Week 15 the Bears host the Packers for a game that could determine which one wins the division and which one settles for a Wild Card. Keep an eye on the lengthy list of injuries for the Bears, including Matt Forte.
The Giants can lock up, essentially, the NFC East next week with a win over the Washington Redskins, on the road. If the Redskins win, a distinct possibility, the Giants will still have a lead the division, by a single game. Calling it that at "must-win" game is hyperbole, but only a little.
Wild Card Race
This is where things get really interesting in the NFC. One of those spots is likely going to either the Packers or Bears as a consolation prize for the NFC North.
Seattle has the second Wild Card spot, for now. Pete Carroll's team has to play in Chicago next week. The Seahawks are 1-5 on the road this year. Seattle's other road game left on the schedule is in Buffalo. That looks winnable from here, but so did this week's tilt in Miami. The thing to watch is whether or not Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner end up suspended for four games.
Outside Looking In
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) - The Bucs can score points by the bunches. It's enough to help them get around a defense that struggles to stop the pass. Peyton Manning and the Broncos are on the schedule next week, in Denver, and the Bucs have two more road games to finish the season, in New Orleans and Atlanta.
Minnesota Vikings (6-5)- Minnesota's miracle is probably over, especially with Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph dealing with injuries. The Vikings have the toughest schedule left of any team with two to go against the Packers, another against the Bears and a road trip to Houston.
Washington Redskins (5-6) - It's okay, even if you're not a Redskins fan, you can admit to carrying a small torch for RGIII. Even if Washington can't get around the Giants next week, the remaining schedule is a competitive one. A tough game against the Ravens in Week 14 isn't the obstacle it used to look like with all the injuries to the Baltimore defense.
Dallas Cowboys (5-6) - Nope, Jason Garrett could still save his neck, depending on how Tony Romo does down the stretch. While Washington has the Giants next week, Dallas gets the struggling Eagles. The Bengals, Steelers and Saints populate the schedule after that. If Dallas and Washington both keep winning, it could come down to a Week 17 game between the two.