NFL playoff picture 2012: Making sense of the NFC scenarios

Patrick McDermott

Four teams have clinched playoff spots in the NFC, and six more are battling to get in or stay in the picture.

We know this about what the playoff picture looks like in the NFC: the Atlanta Falcons are on top; three more teams have clinched playoff spots; and the last two invitations are technically up for grabs. After that, much is left to be decided.

The Washington Redskins soiled what will likely be Andy Reid's last game in Philadelphia with a 27-20 win on Sunday. RGIII was back in action, throwing a pair of touchdown passes. Losses by the Cowboys and Giants gave the Redskins a little extra help. That sets up a Sunday night game next week between the Cowboys and the Redskins that will decide the winner of the NFC East.

Washington still has a back door into the playoffs should Dallas win next week -- the Redskins would need both the Vikings and Bears to lose in Week 17.

Minnesota upset the Houston Texans on the road this week. That win puts the Vikings at 9-6 on the season, and with the sixth seed and second Wild Card in the NFC playoff order. Chicago also won this week, and while beating the Cardinals is just a matter of waiting for Big Red to implode, but the Bears did at least keep their postseason hopes alive with the win.

Here's what the NFC seeding order looks like after Week 16:

1. Atlanta Falcons, (13-2, NFC South)
2. Green Bay Packers, (11-4, NFC North)
3. San Francisco 49ers, (10-4-1, NFC West)
4. Washington Redskins, (9-6, NFC East)
5. Seattle Seahawks, (10-5, Wild Card)
6. Minnesota Vikings, (9-6, Wild Card)

The Vikings host the Packers next week. Green Bay isn't likely to rest its starters with a first-round bye still on the line, and the 49ers hosting the Cardinals. A loss by the Vikings and a win in Detroit could put the Bears back in the Wild Card spot.

The Seattle Seahawks clinched a playoff spot this week with a decisive home win over the 49ers. Pete Carroll has the chance to drop another 50 points or so next week with the Rams in town. However, Seattle needs Arizona to win in San Francisco to wrestle the division title away from the 49ers.

Wild Card Weekend Matchups

Vikings vs. 49ers - Apologies to Adrian Peterson, but Minnesota's defense was the real star of the show in this week's win over the Texans. The Vikings need another defensive performance like that to beat the 49ers, as well as a little something from the running back. San Francisco's luck with injuries seems to have turned. That could be a problem regardless of which team the 49ers play.

Seahawks vs. Redskins - Robert Griffin III versus Russell Wilson should be better than any Brady versus Manning matchup. Unfortunately, Washington's defense isn't going to be much of a roadblock for Wilson. We may have to wait a year before option Armageddon takes hold.

Outside Looking In

Chicago Bears - Hey, you beat the Cardinals. Wow. Chicago needs to beat the Lions next week to have any chance at the postseason, as well as a Vikings loss.

Dallas Cowboys - The playoff math for Dallas is so simple even Jason Garrett could figure it out. Beat the Redskins to win the NFC East or lose out entirely.

New York Giants - The Giants aren't totally eliminated from the hunt, technically. It starts by beating the Eagles next week. New York also needs the Bears, Cowboys and Vikings to lose next week to have a Wild Card. Watch the Giants luck into it and win the Super Bowl.

For a really comprehensive look at how it could all shake out in the NFC this year, check out this chart from @NFL_on_Reddit which has all 128 possibilities.

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