For the final week of the season, we’ll look at the games that impact the NFC playoff picture:
Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
The Cowboys have finally broken through in a big way, finishing well above .500 on the season and surging past the falling Eagles to claim the NFC East title at 11-4. The Redskins are having a miserable year at 4-11 with controversy galore. However, Washington did play spoiler to the Eagles last Sunday and would love to do the same to Dallas. Romos is playing well, and the Cowboy D played very well against Indi, so this really appears to be Dallas’s game to lose at this point.
Aside from being a rivalry game, this Week 17 matchup is a must win if Dallas hopes for a bye or to play more than a single home game. If Dallas wins and Detroit loses, the Cowboys still wouldn’t finish as the top seed in the NFC due to the tiebreaker with Green Bay, despite the head to head win over Seattle. If Dallas wins, Detroit wins, and Seattle loses, then the Cowboys finish 2nd to Detroit due to conference record and get a bye and at least one home playoff game.If all three win, Dallas finishes 3rd due to tiebreakers, and if all three lose they finish at best second to Green Bay and at worst 3rd behind them and Arizona who holds the tiebreaker there. These are the scenarios you get when there are 5 teams at 11-4.
Seattle would love Dallas and their head to head tiebreaker to lose so they don’t have to rely on other teams in order to take the top seed. Dallas is the only team that wins a tie with Seattle, but they lose a 3-way tie with Seattle (which is garaunteed if both Seattle and Dalls win, due to Detroit and Green Bay playing each other). Long story short, root against Dallas…that should be easy enough.
Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons
Carolina is 6-8-1 and somehow that puts them in the playoff hunt. This is a play-in game between these two teams, and with Atlanta’s injury situation Carolina can’t feel too far out of it. Carolina’s D has been poor against the run, but Atlanta has shown little running attack this year. Cam is back, which gives them probably two of the three best players in the game along with Luke Kuechly (Julio Jones gets to step in, and Desmond Trufant can make an arguement as well). They certainly can win, but they have also shown they can throw out a stinker.
Win and in, lose and out. That simple. After going 0-6-1 from Week 6 through Week 13, Carolina has ripped off 3 in a row to get into the slap fight for division honors in the NFC South. On the one hand, getting into the playoffs often feels good. On the other, a loss actually gives them potentially a top 10 draft pick. Feels like a bit of a win-win.
Atlanta is 6-9 and in an even less likely way still in the hunt for a playoff spot. If healthy, Atlanta has the best player on the field for this game in Julio Jones. Jones has been all universe this year, and nobody on Carolina has shown the type of ability to contain him. However, with a swiss hole o-line and a defense that is mostly Desmond Trufant and injuries Atlanta has to feel shaky about this game. They may win or lose by double digits.
Win and in, lose and out. That simple. After a 5 game losing streak from Week 4 through Week 8 they must have figured they had no chance, but playing in a division that sucks makes anything possible. On the one hand, getting into the playoffs often feels good. On the other, a loss actually gives them potentially a top 10 draft pick. Feels like a bit of a win-win. Did I copy-paste most of that from the Carolina Angle above? Absolutely. But, I figure the NFC South has been mailing it in all year and I ought to get in on the act.
We don’t care. I mean, I guess it could determine who we face in the second round…but really it doesn’t matter. I choose to root for Atlanta because Cam Newton is intollerable and Atlanta has a Trufant, but to each their own.
Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers
The key to this game for Detroit is if their pass defense can hold up against Aaron Rodgers and the extremely effective Green Bay passing attack. If they can keep Rodgers looking mostly human on the day, their run defense and offense has enough to make a victory happen even at Lambeau Field.
Detroit has clenched a playoff birth and with a win they will take the NFC North. If Seattle loses and Detroit wins they can take the top seed, but if Seattle wins they will finish the 2nd seed in the NFC and get a bye and home field advantage in at least their 1st game. If Detroit loses they could drop as low as the 6th seed due to Arizona holding the tiebreaker over them.
Green Bay Angle:
If Eddie Lacy and the offensive line can keep some type of a run game going, and Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers can pressure Stafford then Green Bay ought to win this one. Home field advantage is a plus for the Packers, and what has often been a lack of a running game for Detroit all makes this a very winnable game for Green Bay.
Green Bay is in the playoffs, but a win gives them a division title, a first round bye, and possibly home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Green Bay winning and Seattle losing gives them the 1 seed even if Dallas wins. Lose the game and they drop into the wild card, possibly as low as the 6 seed.
Playoff games occuring in both Green Bay and Detroit have not gone well for Seattle, so that is a tie. Seattle has the tiebreaker on each of these teams, so that is a wash. Really, root for whoever you want in this one, it doesn’t impact us much at all. I suppose I’d rather see Green Bay in round two than Detroit, so I’d say a slight Green Bay lean?
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers
Arizona’s offense is in shambles, devistated by injuries. Arizona’s stout defense may have finally started to show signs of slowing down after outlasting their own injuries the first half of the year after giving up 35 to the Seahawks last year. That being said, after last week’s collapse by San Francisco it is hard to have any idea what to expect from either team. Arizona has just a good of chance of winning big as they do of being blown out of the building.
Arizona has clenched a playoff appearance, but a win against the 49ers would give them a chance at the division with a Seattle loss. Perhaps more importantly, a win may give the team a bit of necessary confidence. If the Cardinals offense performs well after failing to score more than 20 points in a game since Week 10 (and 6 or less in 4 of their last 6 games), it could give the unit missing their top RB and QB a boost heading into stiff playoff competition. Also, with tiebreakers over Dallas and Detroit, a win or loses by those teams could give them the 5th seed even if they drop the division.
I can’t exactly tell you to root for the 49ers, it is too unnaturaly, but if they happen to win it would help the Seahawks. An Arizona loss would clench the division and at least one home playoff game for Seattle. So, I guess I’ll just tell you to root against the Cardinals.
St. Louis Rams @ Seattle Seahawks
I really wanted to go into this game with it not mattering. Seattle is the better team in this game, both in terms of talent and execution, but as we know the Rams are good enough to come back and bite us any week (like Week 7 for instance). That being said, I just don’t see how the Rams are going to generate points in this game, and Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch are playing out of their minds. A healthy Unger and Okung would go a long way to giving me a Merry Christmas, and that pass rush just may have me reaching for something stronger than eggnog at times. Still, Seattle ought to be able to handle this, especially at home and with a lot to play for.
And what is it they have to play for? The top overall seed in the NFC of course! Because Detroit and Green Bay play each other, it ensures that if Dallas and Seattle both win the Seahawks won’t feel the wrath of their Week 6 loss to the Cowboys. Seattle holds tiebreakers over both Green Bay and Detriot based on conference record, and over Dallas based on conference record as well (though not head to head). If Seattle loses they need Arizona to lose in order to keep the 3rd seed, and if they fall from the division they will land in 5th based on the tiebreakers (which does give them the NFC South winner in the first round at least).