NFL playoff picture: Redskins, Vikings wins keep things interesting in the NFC

Matt Sullivan

The Washington Redskins lead the NFC East, and the rest of the playoff picture in the NFC depends largely on what happens in that division.

What do you think about the Atlanta Falcons now? A week after delighting critics by losing to the Carolina Panthers, the ascendent NFC powerhouse shutout the New York Giants 34-0. How was that for a statement game?

The AFC playoff picture

Atlanta's place atop the NFC looks secure, though it's not locked up yet Atlanta needed a loss from either the Packers or 49ers to clinch a bye. The Falcons finish out the season against the Lions and the Buccaneers.

The Giants' loss opened up a horserace in the NFC East. Washington's win over the Browns, with Kirk Cousins starting in place of the injured RGIII, thrust the Redskins into the division lead with a pair of games left to play. Look

San Francisco clinched the NFC West with a big win over the Patriots. Green Bay clinched the NFC North crown and the playoff spot it confers by completing the regular season sweep of the reeling Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon.

1. Atlanta Falcons, (12-2, NFC South)
2. San Francisco 49ers, (10-3-1, NFC West)
3. Green Bay Packers, (10-4, NFC North)
4. Washington Redskins, (8-6, NFC East)
5. Seattle Seahawks, (9-5, Wild Card)
6. Minnesota Vikings, (8-6, Wild Card)

Let's start in the NFC East, because that's the division that holds the key to entire NFC playoff picture. The Cowboys, Giants and Redskins all have the same record. Washington gets the edge with the best record against the rest of the division. That makes next week's whistle stop in Philadelphia important. It also sets up what could be a big show down at FedEx against the Cowboys in Week 17.

Dallas plays the Saints next week. New York has the toughest schedule of all with a game next week against the Ravens and season finale against the Eagles.

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The 49ers pass the eyeball test as the second-best team in the conference. Sunday night's win in New England is hard to argue. A game next week against Seattle could prove otherwise, but the NFC West is no longer on the line thanks to this week's win.

Green Bay finishes the season against the Titans and the Vikings. The Packers need to win out and have the 49ers lose one of their games in order to sneak into the second spot. A fluky loss to the Seahawks in Week 3 and the 49ers' tie with the Rams being an odd footnote on the whole thing.

And how about the Vikings? An MVP season from Adrian Peterson has that team in a dogfight for a Wild Card. Minnesota plays in Houston next week before the season finale against the Packers.

Wild Card Weekend Matchups

Vikings vs. Packers - Christian Ponder in the playoffs against Clay Matthews and the Packers? I don't know. The winner has a date in Atlanta.

Seahawks vs. Redskins - The thought of RGIII versus Russell Wilson is just too good to be true. Forget about it. Banish it from your mind. It's more read option than anyone can possibly comprehend. I like Seattle's safeties against RGIII and the Redskins offense in this one though. The winner would move on to face the 49ers.

Outside Looking In

Chicago Bears, 8-6 - Games against the Cardinals and Lions don't look as easy as they used to for the struggling Bears. Maybe Brandon Marshall's emotional press conference had some impact. Or not. Playing both games on the road might be helpful to Bears.

Dallas Cowboys, 8-6 - The mess that is the NFC East is mentioned above. This probably comes down to a Week 17 game in Washington.

New York Giants, 8-6 - Playing the Ravens isn't as tough a game as it used to be. New York's defense could bail have a field day with Joe Flacco, and will need to in order to keep this team's playoff hopes alive. Unfortunately for the Giants, they're in the unenviable place of needing other teams to lose.

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