by Zach Richardson
Recently we’ve seen at least five NFC teams cluster around the same record with a few more jump in at one or two games close behind. Which teams will or won’t make the playoffs and why?
Over the past couple of weeks it’s been clear that the NFC playoff picture has become a pretty tight race between several teams. While the Bears have emerged as the clear favorite to win the weak NFC West and the likely team to capture home-field advantage with their gauty 9-1 record, five other teams have congregated three games behind the Bears with 6-4 records, three other teams have joined in at 5-5, and three more teams on the extreme outskirts of the playoff race have compiled 4-6 records. Let’s take a look at each team and their divisions, their chances, and why they possibly will or possibly won’t make it to the playoffs this season.
NY Giants 6-4
Dallas Cowboys 6-4
Philadelphia Eagles 5-5
The NFC East has been labeled “The Most Intense” division in the NFL by some because each team is relatively evenly matched, and they all are threats to each other. This season it seemed as if the Eagles and Giants were poised to battle it out for the division title, but within the past several weeks we’ve seen some considerable change.
-The Giants (6-4) made a strong push and arguement for the title of “Best in the NFC” when they jumped out of the gate with a 6-2 record against one of the toughest, or maybe even the toughest schedule in the NFL. Then injuries happened! Then Eli’s poor play happened! And, now, the Giants have lost two straight, the lead in the division, and can likely only afford two losses if they plan to make the valid bid for the playoffs. The remaining schedule should allow them to win the number of games necessary to make the playoffs or possibly the division title since some of the injured players will be healthy. The loss of Toomer was devistating to that offense though, and, now, teams know that if they can stop Tiki they can stop the Giants offense pretty much altogether.
Chances of making it to the playoffs: Pretty decent, but not gauranteed.
The Dallas Cowboys (6-4) have been probably the most roller coaster-like team in the NFC East thus far, but ever since Tony Romo took the starting quarterback job the Cowboys have been very solid going 3-1 while putting up some top-of-the-league numbers on offense and defense. After toppling the Colts out of their position as the only undedeated team in the NFL, the Cowboys have now emerged as the favorite amongst many to win the division. Their momentum is favorable for them, and their strong showing on defense against one of the NFL’s best offenses really makes them a contender for the “Big Game”. However, they still need to iron out a few wrinkles before they are truly ready to make a run for the Super Bowl. They need a little bit more from the run game even though it’s a top 5 run game, and the defense needs to continue to play as they did against the Colts and Panthers. They need to considerably bring down the penalty numbers if they want to be the best in the NFC. They have the skill and the talent, but they need to be consistent with it from now on. They still have a relatively tough schedule ahead of them which includes the NY Giants, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, and the-now-weakened-but-still-tough Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys will need to win four of those game, at least, in order to get to the playoffs and possibly the division title depending upon how the Giants play out the rest of their season.
Chances of making it to the playoffs: Pretty decent, but not gauranteed.
-The Eagles (5-5) lost three games in a row, and then they lost Donovan McNabb for the rest of this season and possibly half of next season. They are now 5-5, and they’re are heading into the toughest portion of their schedule without their biggest offensive weapon. The Eagles will now probably become more of a running team rather than big-play team after the big loss. They’ll need to win or at least go 5-1 for the remainder of the season if they try to make the playoffs. If they lose two more of the remaining six games (in which they face the Colts, Cowboys, Giants, Panthers, and Falcons) then they’ll most likely be watching the playoffs from home again this season.
Chance of making it to the playoffs: Very slim, but still there.
Chicago Bears 9-1
Green Bay Packers 4-6
Minnesota Vikings 4-6
The NFC North has, for the past couple years, been looked at as a relatively weak division only producing one playoff team three out of the last five years. The Chicago Bears have been the lone contender of the NFC North this season posting a shining 9-1 record. The Vikings and Packers are in the middle of the divisional race, but are a whopping five games behind the Bears.
-The Chicago Bears (9-1) have been in the middle of a lot of controversey lately. They’re the “Best in the NFC to some, but not so to others. They’ve posted a 9-1 record that isn’t squeeky clean by any means. They’ve been labeled the “Best in the NFC” after destroying a few mediocre-to-supbar teams, but have come close to losing a few games to teams that other NFC teams have annialted. The defense has kept them atop the race for home-field advantage in the NFC. If the defense were not as strong the Bears very possibly could be 6-4 right now along with the five other 6-4 NFC teams. They’re pretty much gauranteed a playoff spot, but once they get there will they be ready after playing so many mediocre-to-supbar teams? The combined record of the teams they’ve beaten is 42-58. Take out the injury-plagued Giants team and the also injury-plagued Seahawks, and the combined record of the teams the Bears have beaten goes to a measley 30-50 record. The combined record of the remaining six teams is 24-36. They’ll get to the playoffs, but they better get ready to play with the big boys or they might go home early.
Chances of making it to the playoffs: Pretty much gauranteed
-The Green Bay Packers (4-6) seemed to have a little resurgence there for a few games, but it wasn’t against play-off contending teams, and I believe the Packers were exposed this past Sunday against the New England Patriots. The Packers do have a decent offense led by an almost youthfulesque Brett Favre, but, as with most teams, if you take out the running game the passing game will usually fall in right behind the run game resulting in poor offensive play – something that has happened a few times against the Packers this year. As for the Packers defense, while they do have a decent number of sacks (3rd in the NFL with 33), they also give up a lot of yardage and points (340.9ypg/25.2ppg). Sacks can be nice, but if a team gives up 25.2 points per game they’re going to need a lot of help in order to win. They’ll have to win out in order to get to the playoffs at all since they won’t win the division, and with Seattle, NY Jets, and Chicago coming up that won’t be easy at all.
Chances of making it to the playoffs: Mathematically possibe, but basically not going to happen this season.
-The Minnesota Vikings (4-6) started out on a high note with a 4-2 record and a good, strong defense to boast; but, alas, the offensive woes of the Vikings have caught up to them, and they’re only scoring 16.7 points per game. They’re only giving up 18.2 ppg, but even that decent defense can’t provide the offense the relief it needs to win games. In my opinion the Vikings are a watered down version of last season’s Chicago Bears. I see them in the same boat as the Packers – they’ll need a miracle to make the playoffs.
Chances of making it to the playoffs: Mathematically possible, but basically not going to happen.
New Orleans Saints 6-4
Carolina Panthers 6-4
Atlanta Falcons 5-5
The NFC South is, as the NFC East, a very competitive division in which three of the four teams has thrown their hats into the ring of playoff hopefuls. The Bucs started off slowly and never could quite get their feet on the ground, but had they had a decent offense we might have seen a division with four teams battling for playoff spots.
-The New Orleans Saints (6-4) have been the darling and the suprise of the NFL this season. They made great off-season acquisitions on both the player side and coaching side. It’s brought new life to a team that suffered both as a team and individually after Katrina struck last summer. This season they started out hot by posting a 6-2 record after eight games resulting in their holding a consistent grip on the NFC South…until they played the Steelers and Bengals. The defense has gone seemingly lost, and it must come back before the Panthers potentially take full advantage of the Saints’ problems. Brees has been great, Coltson has been a phenomenal rookie, and Bush is being used just right most of the time; but, when a QB throws for 510yds and the team only scores 16 points, some film needs to be watched carefully, and some things need to be worked out now! The defense needs to get back to how it was early this season or they’ll have a tough time against the upcoming offenses of the Falcons, Cowboys, Giants, and Panthers. They, like other 6-4 teams in the NFC, will most likely have to go at least 4-2 for the rest of the regular season if they are going to get into the playoffs.
Chances of making it to the playoffs: Pretty decent
-The Carolina Panthers (6-4) have been a bit streaky this season. They started out 0-2, but then rattled off four consecutive wins bringing them to 4-2. They then lost two games to the Bengals and Cowboys, but chalked up two more wins against the Bucs and the Rams. The Panthers have only two games against teams with losing records for the rest of the season – those being Washington and Pittsburgh (who also beat the Saints). They do play Philly also (5-5) which shouldn’t be too much of a difficult task since McNabb is out. They then have the Giants, Saints, and Falcons left. They too likely need to go at least 4-2 to get into the playoffs. If they can do that they’ll be pretty likely to at least grab a wild card since the Falcons can only afford to lose two more before they’re potentially out of the race.
Chances of making it to the playoffs: Decent, but potentially tough.
-Now to the Atlanta Falcons (5-5. This Falcons team has been up and down, and we don’t know when Vick will light up the field again. All of the blame can’t be placed soley upon Vick though. His receivers have dropped alot of passes this year, and the coaching has taken them away from the run at times when they should be running. In any case, Vick will have to play as he did against the Steelers and Bengals for at least five of his last six regular season games if he intends to even be considered to get to the playoffs. That’s no easy task with New Orleans, Dallas, and Carolina all in line to play them. Also, the defense has been faultering a lot ever since the game against the Giants. They’ve given up an average of 27.2ppg since that game. They can’t do that and expect to get to the playoffs.
Chances of getting to the playoffs: Slim, but still there.
Seattle Seahawks 6-4
San Fransisco 49’ers 5-5
St. Louis Rams 4-6
And we finally come to the NFC West. It’s been similar to the NFC North in the past couple of years only producing usually one playoff team. After the Seahawks ran away with the division and on to the Super Bowl last year things have tightened up this year mainly due to the mere average-to-above average play of the Seahawks. San Fran and St. Louis have both kept things relatively close in the division even though they aren’t very strong teams.
-The Seahawks (6-4) started out 3-0 with wins against subpar teams. After losing one of their main offensive weapons in Shawn Alexander, the whole offense went down a few levels because of a supbar run game. The passing game wasn’t able to do much of anything against the Bears defense, and the Seattle defense let the sometimes shakey Bears offense score 28 points in a 37-6 complete spanking. Ever since that game the Hawks have been a .500 team going only 3-3. The Hawks should receive a shot in the arm when Hasslebeck and Alexander return. They have a pretty good chance of getting into the playoffs since the rest of the division is relatively weak, and the remaining schedule consists of only two teams with winning records (Broncos/Chargers).
Chances of getting into the playoffs: Pretty decent.
-The San Fransisco 49’ers (5-5) have been one of the big suprises thus far this season going 5-5 after a very disappointing 4-12 last season. Frank Gore has become a saviour to 49’er fans after proving himself to be a reliable workhorse running back. However, they’ll have to go 5-1 if they plan on being considered for a possible wild card spot, and it doesn’t seem likely with teams such as the Saints, Seahawks (@ Seattle), and Broncos coming up. The team’s improvement is a confidence booster for the players, staff, and fans; but, it very likely won’t be enough to get them into the playoffs this season.
Chance of making it to the playoffs: Mathematically possible, but basically not going to happen.
-Now for the St. Louis Rams (4-6): A team much like the Minnesota Vikings. The Rams too got off to a decent start posting a 4-1 record after five games. They then just flopped losing the next five in a row. The defense and offense both went kerplunk as the defense allowed 23+ ppg in those five consecutive losses, and the offense only scoring 15.2ppg (so low mainly because of the goose egg they laid against the Panthers). The Rams do, however, have a relatively easy schedule ahead of them with only one team above .500 and one team at .500 – the rest being below .500. Unfortunately, the Rams will very likely have to win out in order to be considered for a playoff spot, and with the Bears, 49’ers, and Vikings ahead of them it will be extremely tough.
Chances of getting into the playoffs: Mathematically possible, but basically not going to happen.