Things are messy in the NFC right now. At the top is the Atlanta Falcons, team not getting nearly enough respect for having an 11-1 record. Who needs respect when you've got assurances of a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The conferences three other divisions are going to take a little longer to sort themselves out along with the NFC playoff picture.
Atlanta's Thursday night win over the Saints wrapped up the NFC South. This is the second time in three years the Falcons have won the division. That's the only team in the conference with its playoff ticket punched.
The NFC has one game left this week, a Monday matchup between the Giants and the Redskins. The outcome of that one will alter the standings.
Here's how the NFC looks right now:
1. Atlanta Falcons, (11-1, NFC South)
2. San Francisco 49ers, (8-3-1, NFC West)
3. Green Bay Packers, (8-4, NFC North)
4. New York Giants, (7-4, NFC East)
5. Chicago Bears, (8-4, Wild Card)
6. Seattle Seahawks, (7-5, Wild Card)
A Giants win on Monday night will push Big Blue back into third seed, thanks to a Week 12 win in Green Bay. A loss keeps New York in the fourth spot thanks to a one-game lead in the NFC East. It also gives Dallas some real hope, but more on that in a minute.
Seattle's upset win in Chicago combined with Green Bay's win over Minnesota means the Packers are now sitting in first place in the NFC North. A Week 2 win over the Bears is currently the deciding factor in that division race. Go ahead and clear your schedule for Week 15 when the Packers are in Chicago. Green Bay's other three games are against the Lions, Titans and Vikings.
The Bears have a similar schedule over the last month of the season, with dates against the Lions and Vikings as well as the Cardinals. Both teams are likely going to the playoffs, but with a first-round bye and a division title still on the table, that Week 15 game is more important than ever.
Jim Harbaugh made his decision to roll with Colin Kaepernick, and he's sticking to it, even if the second-year signal caller's amazingly poor lateral gave the Rams a touchdown in an upset this week. The 49ers' loss to the Rams and Seattle's win over the Bears ate up some of the margin San Francisco had in the division race.
The Seahawks host the 49ers in Week 16, a week after the 49ers play in New England. Seattle, on the other hand, plays Arizona and Buffalo prior to that game, games the team should be able to survive without Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner assuming those two lose their appeal. The problem is that Seattle could be without those two for that Week 16 game against San Francisco.
Wild Card Weekend Matchups
Seahawks vs. Packers - Well, look at what we have here. As if the whole replacement ref snafu from Week 3 weren't already casting a long shadow over the NFC playoff picture, the Packers might get a shot at redemption. Prediction: Seahawks, they should bring in referee Jeff Triplette just to make it really wacky. The winner would play in Atlanta in the next round.
Bears vs. Giants - This is the matchup I want to see. GIFs of Jay Cutler and Eli Manning alone from this one would be enough to cripple the internet. Prediction: Bears, now that Cutler's found his nice guy ways, he could be unstoppable. The winner of this one plays San Francisco ... maybe.
Outside Looking In
Here's where it gets really wild in the NFC. The thing to watch here is what happens to the Seahawks' cornerbacks. Four games without those two could really make the Wild Card chase interesting.
Washington Redskins, 5-6: It's a long shot for the Redskins to make sneak in this year. RGIII wouldn't have it any other way. Beating the Giants makes it a three-team race in the division with both Dallas and Washington just a game behind. After this week, Washington plays the Ravens, Browns, Eagles and Cowboys.
Dallas Cowboys, 6-6: Nothing like beating Philadelphia to inflate a team's sense of itself. Then again, you never know when the Cowboys could figure it out. Dallas probably has a tougher schedule than the other three NFC East teams to finish the season, with games against the Bengals and Steelers over the next two weeks.
Minnesota Vikings, 6-6: Predictions of Adrian Peterson's demise were greatly exaggerated. With AP in MVP form and a solid defense, the Vikings have a chance to win every week. Unfortunately, they also have Christian Ponder and No. 2 receiver named Jerome Simpson. Percy Harvin is coming back at some point, so there's that.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 6-6: With games against the Eagles, Saints and Rams, the Buccaneers have a shot. Tampa Bay also faces a Falcons team liable to be resting its starters in Week 17.