NFL Week 17 NFC Playoff Picture: What to Watch For This Weekend

We’re down to two weeks to go in the NFL regular season, and the playoff jockeying in the NFC is tightly contested at all levels of playoff possibility, from the overall top seed to the Wild Card seventh seed.

We started to see some of the playoff picture come into focus last week as the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined the Green Bay Packers as division winners, while the slumping Arizona Cardinals backed into a playoff berth.

With 11 teams still mathematically alive for either the top seed, a division title or a Wild Card berth heading into Week 17, virtually every game involving NFC teams has a direct impact on playoff scenarios in the conference.

Unlike the past two weeks, there are no Thursday or Saturday games this weekend. It’s all Sunday and a huge NFC contest on Sunday night.

Here is a look at the Week 17 lineup for the NFC and what is at stake in each game:

The Packers can clinch the NFC first-round bye, but the Cowboys are waiting to pounce

Jalen Hurts and the Eagles can get closer to a playoff berth Sunday
Jalen Huerts | Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The path to clinching the top seed in the NFC in Week 17 is very straightforward for the Packers. Currently, the Packers (12-3) lead the Dallas Cowboys (11-4), Los Angeles Rams (11-4) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) by one game with two to play.

Green Bay clinches the top seed with a victory and a Dallas loss to Arizona. The Packers own the tiebreaker against the Rams (head-to-head) and Bucs (common opponents record), but Dallas could sneak past with a win and Green Bay loss, based on better conference record.

The Rams have the other big clinch opportunity, locking down the last remaining NFC division race by eliminating the Cardinals with a win over the struggling Baltimore Ravens and an Arizona loss to Dallas.

The 49ers and Eagles could wrap up the remaining two playoff berths, one easier than the other

With five teams having clinched a postseason berth, and the eventual NFC West winner spoken for among those five qualifiers, the only remaining spots in the NFC are two Wild Cards. And for all their problems at quarterback at the moment, the current sixth-seeded San Francisco 49ers have the easiest path to lock up one of those two spots this weekend.

Quite simply, with a victory over the Houston Texans and a New Orleans Saints loss to the Carolina Panthers, the 49ers clinch a playoff berth.

The Philadelphia Eagles, the No. 7 seed entering Week 17, can also clinch a playoff berth this weekend, ending most of the NFC drama a week early. The Eagles’ path is a little more complicated, but in all scenarios, the Eagles must beat the Washington Football Team, then get no better than a tie by the Vikings against Green Bay, or tie Washington and get a Vikings loss.

If one of the above scenarios plays out, the Eagles would then also need a Saints loss or tie to the Carolina Panthers or a 49ers win or tie against Houston (if Eagles beat Washington), OR a New Orleans loss and an Atlanta loss or tie to the Buffalo Bills, OR! a New Orleans tie, an Atlanta loss or tie and a San Francisco win or tie.

Whew! Tie Eagles, Tie.

It’s desperation time for the Vikings, Falcons Saints and Washington

With the 49ers and Eagles so close to wrapping up the final two NFC playoff berths, it might be too tall a task for the 7-8 Vikings, Falcons and Saints, not to mention the mathematically alive but not really alive 6-9 Washington Football Team.

But with the 49ers perhaps throwing the untested rookie Trey Lance into the fire against Houston and Washington looking to regain some pride and self-respect after getting face-washed by the Cowboys and fighting with each other on the sidelines on national television, it’s no guarantee San Francisco and Philadelphia don’t come back to the pack.

Atlanta still has to figure out how to beat the Bills without the comfort of a dome, and the Packers’ quest for the top seed might be too much for the Vikings to deal with. But New Orleans draws the pathetic Panthers, so there is hope there, especially with ownership of the tiebreaker against the 49ers.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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