The 2016–17 NFL season is slowly winding down, and the playoff picture is finally taking shape. Fortunately, plenty of games still matter and a whole lot of excitement surrounds the final few weeks of action. With that said, one clear-cut team is all but a lock for the top seed in the NFC, or at the very least one of the top two seeds. Let’s break down how the NFL’s NFC Playoff picture will look when all is said and done — ranked from first to last in the division.
1. Dallas Cowboys
At 11-1 heading into a Week 14 matchup with the hated New York Giants, the Cowboys sit in a golden spot to lock up the No. 1 seed in the NFC sooner than later. Their closest competition is the Seattle Seahawks, who are 8-3-1 but have a tough matchup on the road against the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers this week. Regardless of how it all plays out, the Cowboys are in a prime spot to take the top seed and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
2. Seattle Seahawks
The Detroit Lions are hot on Seattle’s tail at 8-4, but overall the Seahawks are the better team. The Lions are an amazing surprise to this point, but it won’t be easy for them to maintain this pace. The Atlanta Falcons, who sit behind the Lions, seem to falter when it matters most, which sets up Seattle to hold on to the first-round bye week and that No. 2 seed. The offensive line is a concern, but they can get it done and set up a nice path to the NFC Playoff Championship game.
3. Atlanta Falcons
Yes, the Lions currently have the edge over the Falcons, but the final four games of the season will give Atlanta the edge in the end. The Falcons face the Rams, 49ers, Panthers, and Saints over the final four games. The Lions face the Bears, Giants, Cowboys, and Packers. So the strength of schedule is painfully different and majorly benefits the Falcons. Matt Ryan and this offense are talented enough to correct what must be fixed, right the ship, and take over the No. 3 spot in the NFC.
4. Detroit Lions
While the Packers and Minnesota Vikings — both 6-6 — could definitely catch the Lions, it won’t be an easy task. Detroit has a tough schedule ahead, but they’re talented enough to get a key win that will allow them to hold on to the No. 1 spot in the division. While the Falcons will pass the Lions, Detroit will do enough to hold off the Packers. Matthew Stafford and company will do what very, very few people expected: find immediate success in their first season without Calvin Johnson.
5. Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins are 6-5-1, while the New York Giants are 8-4, so this one will take some work. Fortunately, the Redskins draw the Eagles, Panthers, and Bears over the next three weeks, and all of them should be wins for the Redskins. As for the Giants, they face the Cowboys, Lions, and Eagles. Assuming the Redskins go 3-0 and the Giants go 1-2, that’d leave Washington at 9-5-1 and the Giants at 9-6. In turn, this sets up a win-and-get-in situation in Week 17, which Washington will host. We give the edge to the home team.
6. Green Bay Packers
Assuming the Green Bay Packers go 3-1 over their final four games — we think they will — they’ll land in the same spot as the Giants, at 9-7. It’d involve a tiebreaker at that point. The first is head-to-head, which favors the Packers, who defeated the Giants 23-16 earlier in the season. That game may make the difference between Green Bay heading back to the postseason or watching from home this year. Fortunately, things should play out in their favor and they’ll grab the final playoff spot in the NFC this season.