Wed. May 13th, 2020

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Sorting Out the 2019 NFC Playoff Picture

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (L) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (R) shake hands after their NFL football game in Green Bay, Wisconsin, September 8, 2011. The Packers won the game 42-34. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

As we head into Week 13 of the 2019 NFL season, the playoff race is certainly heating up. The NFC is looking as tough as ever with a bevy of contenders. Let’s sort out the current playoff picture and distribute the various teams into different categories to get a clear interpretation of where each team stands.

Super Bowl or Bust

San Francisco 49ers (10-1)

The 49ers are the best team in the NFC and arguably the NFL. They have come out of nowhere to suffocate teams with an impenetrable defense, a carousel of running backs, and an elite tight end. Though it didn’t sound realistic after the past few miserable campaigns, the Niners are in a solid position to reach the Super Bowl if they can retain the Number 1 seed and play tough the rest of the season.

The Niners have not locked up that coveted top seed, and it will be anything but easy to do so. Throttling, shellacking, and obliterating the Packers was a big statement that the Niners can beat anybody in the conference. Going forward however, the Bay Area team faces the vaunted Ravens and robust Saints both at their house. They will be tough tests, and San Fran is afforded the opportunity twice to prove (again) why they are still the best team.

After that, matchups against the Rams, Seahawks, and Falcons remain. These last five games may comprise the most grueling part of the schedule left for the 49ers, but it’s also a great chance to show what they are made of. 

New Orleans Saints (10-2)

The Saints are most definitely a Super Bowl or bust team after two consecutive crushing playoff losses. After the bye, New Orleans has looked lukewarm after getting stifled by Atlanta and barely eking out a win over Carolina and Atlanta. This is not the ideal time for the team to slow down, as getting the top seed should be a priority.

Things will come to a head in Week 14 when the 49ers, the biggest threat to the Saints for the NFC top seed, come to the Superdome for a friendly scrimmage. This game will be monumental for the Saints, as they will need to beat San Fran to get into the driver’s seat for the top seed. Aside from that, they still play the streaky Colts, upstart Titans, and division rival Panthers, which is not the most daunting conclusion to the schedule. If New Orleans can win out, then there is a good chance to grab the number one spot should the Niners falter in their tough remaining schedule.

Green Bay Packers (8-3)

Week 12 was not kind for Green Bay. Getting pushed around by the 49ers was a tough pill to swallow for the team and its hopeful fans. This may have also been a nightmare foreshadowing that the Packers cannot get past the NFC’s top two teams in the playoffs.

Nevertheless, this year’s success has propelled Green Bay into the Super Bowl conversation with a resurgent Aaron Rodgers, complimentary running game, and solid defense. That all fell into crumbs in the Week 12 thrashing by the 49ers, and they may have exposed the Packers for other teams when the playoffs come.

On top of that, the Vikings can snatch away the division crown if the Packers continue to face setbacks. Therefore, the Week 16 matchup against Minnesota looms large. Aside from that, the Packers face a relatively easy slate of remaining opponents, which includes the Giants, Bears, Redskins, and Lions. If Aaron Rodgers wants to lead this team to a Super Bowl, he has his work cut out for him in a stacked NFC.

Serious Sleepers

Minnesota Vikings (8-3)

The Minnesota Vikings have been led by a motivated Kirk Cousins who has elevated his level of play after being called out by WR Adam Thielen. The Vikings have every bit of reason to believe they can win the division, especially after seeing the Packers get bulldozed by the 49ers. Again, the Week 16 clash between the two NFC North clubs remains crucial, as the winner can likely win the division.

The Vikings face the Seahawks, Lions, Packers, Bears, and Chargers in their last five games, setting up an interesting fight to the finish for the NFC North.

Seattle Seahawks (9-2)

Record-wise, the Seahawks are in the top percentile of the NFL, but they are still technically a wild-card team as of today. Nevertheless, I haven’t heard of many wild-card teams being 9-2, and the Seahawks are right on the tail of the 49ers for the NFC West crown. Should the 49ers falter and the Seahawks continue to pull away with wins, they have a real shot at the division.

In an ideal world for Seahawks fans, they could even get the top seed in the conference if they win out and the 49ers stumble. The Week 17 matchup against San Fran could be the deciding game for the division.

Seattle’s schedule in the home stretch also consists of the Vikings, Rams, Panthers, and Cardinals in the other four remaining games.

All About Making It

Dallas Cowboys (6-6)

The Dallas Cowboys have all the talent to make a playoff push. Yet after the Week 12 loss to the Patriots and Week 13 stinker against the Bills, many questions are being fielded about coaching, along with owner Jerry Jones being in a state of disappointment.

Dallas has not proved it can win against top clubs, and they will likely be the team with the worst record in the NFC playoffs should they win the division. The Cowboys have not spaced themselves from the Eagles, which means they must regain focus and perform well for the remainder of the season. That won’t be easy, considering the lineup of opponents includes the Bears, Rams, Redskins, and a critical clash against the Eagles in Week 16. Jason Garrett is coaching for his job right now, and the Cowboys are playing to make this season worth something.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)

Yes, the Eagles have been banged-up. Carson Wentz is struggling. The receivers can’t seem to catch or stay on the field. The secondary had been demolished earlier in the season and everyone started the opposing team’s receivers against them in fantasy because the unit looked like you and I could score on them. Yet, even with a record under 500 heading into Week 13, Philly has a chance. The Dallas Cowboys cannot seem to gain traction and only remain a half-game ahead with five games left.

Now’s the time for the Eagles to show their championship pedigree and make one final push. With a remaining schedule that consists of the Dolphins, Redskins, New York Football Giants (twice), and the Cowboys in Week 16, Philly has a chance to run the table, which could ultimately win them the division granted the Cowboys lose a couple games.

An Outsider’s Chance

Los Angeles Rams (6-5)

The Rams went from the Super Bowl to on the outside looking in. This team’s offense has seemingly lost its identity, with Todd Gurley looking pedestrian, and Sean McVay being in a baffled state. The defense still retains its superstar luster despite its ineffectiveness at times, but the offense needs to hold up its share of the load.

The Rams will need a ton of luck to make the playoffs given the two wild-card teams have eight and nine wins. Contests against the Cardinals (twice), Seahawks, 49ers, and Cowboys remain, and unfortunately this herculean task is not any easier with that lineup of opponents still waiting. In addition, getting obliterated by the Ravens on primetime won’t help in increasing confidence either.

Chicago Bears (6-6)

The Bears had a chance to make something special of the 2019 season with their defense and QB riding a confident wave into this season. Yet, kicking woes, an insufficient running game, and pedestrian QB play has plagued this franchise and nearly eliminated them from playoff status.

Many will have doubts about this team running the table to reach the playoffs considering the state of the offense. They looked putrid in the first half versus the Giants in Week 12, a team with a talent deficient defense. In addition, it took late-game heroics just to beat the reeling Lions who played their third-string QB in Week 13. A loss to Detroit would have been a huge “blough” to Chicago’s playoff hopes.

Worse, the Bears still play the Packers, Vikings, Chiefs, and Cowboys. Yikes.

Extinguished Hopes

Carolina Panthers (5-6)

Any chance to save the season was missed with Joey Slye’s chip shot field goal gone awry in Week 12 against the Saints. It has been a rocky season for Carolina, filled with Cam Newton’s injury and up and down performances by backup QB Kyle Allen.

Carolina has emerging offensive pieces, including WR D.J. Moore and star RB Christian McCaffrey. They are well set up for the future, but the biggest lingering questions center around their 2020 QB and whether Ron Rivera will get fired. The Panthers need to win out and have the wild-card teams (along with the Rams and Bears) stumble significantly just to reach the playoffs, something that won’t likely happen. Their remaining schedule features the Falcons, Saints, Redskins, Seahawks, and Colts.

Featured Image: Sports Mockery

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