Evaluating the NFC playoff race after top six seeds hold serve in Week 15

Evaluating the NFC playoff race after top six seeds hold serve in Week 15 article feature image

Patrick Murray missed a 54-yard game-tying field goal attempt as time expired last night against the Falcons, which left a number of teams severely disappointed, including the Packers, who were eliminated from playoff contention as a result of the Falcons win. The Lions, Seahawks and Cowboys were also not pleased with the outcome, as they desperately could have used a Falcons loss to improve their slim Wild Card chances.

However, I’m sure all of the potential NFC playoff teams are pleased they won’t have to deal with Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, who had made the playoffs in each of the last eight seasons. Keep an eye on the status of Rodgers, who could now get shut down, which would be music to the ears of the Vikings, who travel to Green Bay this week for a game that has significant ramifications on their chances at securing a first-round bye.

No team has made the Super Bowl without a first-round bye since the Baltimore Ravens in 2012.

Overall, we saw zero change in the NFC top six from last week, since all six won over the weekend. There are currently nine teams competing for six spots, but that number will drop to eight after the Seahawks/Cowboys game, as the loser will officially be eliminated. If you assume the Saints and Panthers will each defeat the Bucs, the current six will represent the NFC in the postseason as long as the Falcons win one of their two remaining games and/or each of the three teams behind them loses at least once.

Let’s dive into a more detailed look at the updated NFC playoff picture before finishing up with a few key takeaways from the weekend and an injury recap. Also, in case you missed it yesterday, check out our AFC update here.

NFC Playoff Picture

1. Eagles (12-2)
2. Vikings (11-3)
3. Rams (10-4)
4. Saints (10-4)
5. Panthers (10-4)
6. Falcons (9-5)

Still Hopeful: Lions (8-6), Seahawks (8-6), Cowboys (8-6)

Eliminated: Packers (7-7), Redskins (6-8), Cardinals (6-8), Bucs (4-10), Bears (4-10), 49ers (4-10), Giants (2-12)

  • The Eagles, who clinched the NFC East last weekend, secured a first-round bye after holding on for a victory in New York, moving one step closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Philadelphia will lock up the one seed by simply winning one of their two remaining home games against the Raiders and Cowboys. They can also lock up home-field throughout with one more Vikings loss, which could potentially happen on Saturday night at Lambeau.
  • The Vikings routed a lifeless Bengals team to clinch the NFC North, but they still have work to do for a first-round bye. The two easiest paths to secure that critical bye are winning out (at Green Bay, Detroit) or winning one more game with one more Panthers loss. Home field throughout looks unlikely, as they would need to win out and hope for an 0-2 Eagles finish.
  • If the season ended today, the NFC South would get three teams into the postseason. The Saints sit on top of the division at 10-4 since they swept Carolina this season. New Orleans would clinch a playoff berth by winning one of their final two games (Atlanta, at Tampa), and they’d clinch the division by winning both. The Falcons, who currently hold the final wild card, also remain in control of the division, as they would win the NFC South with victories at New Orleans on Christmas Eve and against the Panthers on New Year’s Eve. Carolina does not control its own destiny for the division, as they need the Saints slip up at least once. However, the Panthers, who can lock up a playoff berth with a home win over the Bucs this week, have the most realistic shot at a first-round bye, since they are the only team in the division that defeated the Vikings.
  • The Rams embarrassed the Seahawks in Seattle to take a commanding two-game lead in the NFC West with only two games remaining. They would clinch the division with just one more win (at Tennessee, San Francisco) or one more Seattle loss (at Dallas, Arizona). Los Angeles can only get a first-round bye in the unlikely event that they win out and the Vikings lose out.
  • The Lions will be eliminated from playoff contention with one more loss, which means they must win at Cincinnati and at home against Green Bay to keep their hopes alive. If Detroit wins out, they will still need one of the top three NFC South teams to also lose out. Their most realistic path involves winning out and hoping Atlanta loses to both New Orleans and Carolina. Detroit would need additional help if the Saints or Panthers lose out, and each have the Bucs left on their schedule. This NYT Playoff Simulator gives the Lions a 21 percent chance of getting in.
  • The Cowboys barely pulled out a win in Oakland to keep their Wild Card hopes alive. Dallas will play an elimination game against Seattle before finishing the year at Philadelphia. The good news for the Cowboys is they get Ezekiel Elliott back this week, and the Eagles could rest starters if they have the one seed clinched by Week 17. The bad news, however, is they currently sit in the ninth spot, needing to win out while getting one more Lions loss, and an 0-2 finish from one of the top three NFC South teams. The Seahawks are in a similar spot, as they need two wins, another Lions loss, and help from the NFC South.

Let’s now take a look at three key takeaways from the NFC in Week 15…

1. Eagles escape, but defensive concerns linger moving forward

Eagles at Giants | Eagles win 34-29 (O 40.5)

Philadelphia’s defense allowed touchdown drives of 75, 75, and 80 yards on the Giants’ first three possessions. Eli Manning picked apart the Philly blitz throughout the first two quarters, throwing for a career-high 252 yards in the first half.

In fairness, the Eagles were playing a division rival in their third consecutive road game, but giving up over 500 yards of offense to a banged up 29th ranked offense has to have some in Philadelphia worried about this unit in a potential matchup against New Orleans or Minnesota.

Nick Foles did throw four touchdown passes, but he only had 85 yards passing on 17 attempts in the first half. The Eagles defense has benefited from early leads all season long, which they might not have the luxury of moving forward without Carson Wentz.

One unit that did show up on Sunday for the Eagles was their special teams, as they blocked a punt, field goal and extra point.

Three stars of the game:

  1. QB Nick Foles (PHI) – 24/38 237 yards 4 TD
  2. WR Sterling Shepard (NYG) – 11 grabs 139 yds
  3. QB Eli Manning (NYG) – 37/57 434 yds 3 TD

2. Rams move to 8-0 when Todd Gurley gets at least 20 touches

Rams (+1.5) at Seahawks | Rams win 42-7 (O 47.5)

The Rams’ offense is at its best when Todd Gurley is the focal point and a healthy Robert Woods is in the lineup at wide receiver. Gurley ran the ball 16 times for 144 yards (9.0 yards per carry) and three touchdowns in the first half alone. He didn’t play much of the second half, but did finish with 24 total touches for 180 yards and four touchdowns. As a result, Los Angeles improved to 8-0 when Gurley gets at least 20 touches.

The Seahawks’ injuries have simply started to catch up to them, as Russell Wilson can’t do it all by himself every week. Aaron Donald absolutely dominated Seattle’s offensive line, and after watching Seattle’s wounded defense on Sunday, I expect a huge game from an angry Ezekiel Elliott this weekend in Dallas.

Three stars of the game:

  1. RB Todd Gurley (LAR) – 24 touches 180 yds 4 TD
  2. DT Aaron Donald (LAR) – 5 tackles 3 sacks 1 FF
  3. LB Robert Quinn (LAR) – 2 tackles 2 sacks 1 FF

3. Panthers defensive front dominates in trenches again

Packers at Panthers (-3) | Panthers win 31-24 (O 47)

You will hear many talk about the Jaguars and Chargers’ defensive lines (and rightfully so), but Carolina’s defensive line actually entered Week 15 with the No. 1 adjusted sack rate. On Sunday, that elite Panthers defensive front did exactly what you would expect against a Packers’ offensive line that ranked 30th in the NFL after 14 weeks. The Panthers relentlessly pressured Aaron Rodgers from the opening snap, forcing the Green Bay star quarterback into his first three-interception game since 2009. You simply will not beat the Panthers with offensive line injuries or a subpar performance up front; just ask the Vikings.

On the other side of the ball, Cam Newton took advantage of a wounded Packers defense that is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 69 percent of third-down passes, the worst percentage in the NFL.

Three stars of the game:

  1. QB Cam Newton (CAR) – 300 total yds 4 TD
  2. TE Greg Olsen (CAR) – 9 catches 116 yds 1 TD
  3. RB Christian McCaffrey (CAR) – 136 yds 1 TD

Key Week 15 NFC Injuries:

Bears LB Pernell McPhee – Shoulder (?)
Bears OL Josh Sitton – Ankle (?)
Bucs TE O.J. Howard- Ankle (?)
Bucs WR DeSean Jackson – Ankle (?)
Bucs DE Robert Ayers – Neck (?)
Bucs OL J.R. Sweezy – Leg (?)
Bucs S Justin Evans – Ankle (?)
Bucs LB Devante Bond – Arm (?)
Bucs LB Adarius Glanton – Leg (?)
Cardinals RB Kerwynn Williams – Quad (?)
Giants S Landon Collins- Ankle (?)
Giants WR Tavarres King – Concussion (?)
Giants OL Justin Pugh – Back (IR)
Lions OL T.J. Lang – Foot (?)
Lions WR TJ Jones – Shoulder (?)
Lions RB Theo Riddick – Wrist (?)
Packers WR Davante Adams – Concussion (?)
Panthers LB Thomas Davis – Suspension (OUT)
Redskins LT Trent Williams – Knee (?)
Redskins LB Ryan Anderson – Knee (?)
Saints TE Michael Hoomanawanui – Concussion (?)
Saints OL Larry Warford – Concussion (?)
Seahawks TE Nick Vannett – Shoulder (?)

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