The 2011 NFL playoff picture is a little clearer in the NFC than it is the AFC. There are two clear-cut best teams in the Packers and 49ers, who hold big leads in their division. The NFC East and NFC South are the only two divisions that feature a division race within one game and the NFC North, like its AFC counterpart, could be set to send three teams to the postseason.
The NFC East is a long way from seeing a clear leader. The Cowboys and Giants are tied for the division lead and they'll play each other twice in the regular season's final four games so those games will go a long way to determining a winner. As for Philly, if they were any other team we'd probably be counting them out but we know they have the talent to get it done -- it's just a matter of actually putting that to use. They would probably have to run the table to get it done, which isn't likely. The Redskins aren't yet mathematically eliminated but they will be soon.
Prediction: Giants win the division, no wildcard.
NFC North: Packers (10-0), Lions (7-3), Bears (7-3), Vikings (2-8)
The NFC North has a strong case for the best division in football. The Packers are obviously going to make the playoffs and it would be a major upset if they didn't win the NFC North, too (or even go undefeated). That leaves the Lions and Bears fighting over one or two wildcard spots. I think one of those teams almost assuredly gets in, if not both. The Bears chances may take a hit with Jay Cutler's injury but they have a relatively easy stretch in their next five.
Prediction: Packers win the division, Lions and Bears get the wildcard.
The Saints are playing like the best team in the division and they should end up with an NFC South title by the end of the year to prove it. As of this week, the Falcons are a game behind two NFC North teams for the wildcard and the Bucs are three back. After New Orleans, Atlanta has the best shot at qualifying for the postseason. The Bucs, along with the Panthers, have long odds of making it.
Prediction: Saints win the division, no wildcard.
This is the clearest playoff picture of any division in the league. The 49ers will win the division and likely pick up the No. 1 or No. 2 overall seed in the NFC. The Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams are not realistically in the playoff race anymore.
Prediction: 49ers win the division, no wildcard.
If our predictions hold true, the NFC playoff seeds would look like this: 1.) Packers 2.) 49ers 3.) Saints 4.) Giants 5.) Lions 6.) Bears
This scenario would have the Packers and 49ers with a first round bye while the Saints host the Bears and the Giants host the Lions.