NFL Week 18 NFC Playoff Picture: What to Watch For This Weekend
We’re down to the final weekend of the NFL regular season, and the playoff watch is down to just a select few unresolved spots. But what remains to be determined includes one Wild Card berth, the champion of the NFC West, and seeding among the three divisional champions for the Wild Card Round.
Because the Packers have already clinched the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, and because the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit Lions are eliminated from postseason contention, the two NFC North games have no bearing on playoff scenarios.
But the outcomes of the other six NFC games will impact the playoff picture in one way or another, with the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints the two teams fighting for the final available Wild Card slot.
Here’s a breakdown of which games impact which scenarios in Week 18:
The two games that will determine the final NFC Playoff participant
As the league enters Week 18, the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles are both 9-7, and the only team with an 8-8 record is the New Orleans Saints. The Eagles were able to clinch the second of three available Wild Card berths on Sunday night when the Vikings lost to Green Bay, dropping them to 7-9 and out of playoff contention.
But in the kind of anomaly that only the NFL playoff chase can provide, the Eagles are currently the No. 7 seed, while the 49ers, who have not clinched a playoff berth, are seeded sixth. That is because while the 49ers have a tiebreaker advantage over Philadelphia, they do not hold the advantage over the Saints, who for the moment are a game behind the 49ers and Eagles.
The Saints could tie the Eagles with a 9-8 record with a victory over the Falcons on Sunday and an Eagles loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday, but the Eagles would win the tiebreaker between the two based on Philadelphia’s Week 11 victory over New Orleans.
But if San Francisco loses to the Los Angeles Rams and the Saints beat the Falcons, San Francisco and New Orleans would be 9-8 and the Saints would win the tiebreaker based on conference record, 7-5 to 6-6.
And if all three teams finished tied with 9-8 records, the 49ers would again be the odd team out, also based on conference record. In any of these scenarios where the 49ers are eliminated, the Eagles move up to the No. 6 seed and the Saints slot in as the No. 7.
The Rams control their destiny in the race for the NFC West title
A victory over the Rams would not just clinch the final Wild Card berth for San Francisco. A Rams loss would also put the NFC West title back in play, with the Arizona Cardinals poised to reclaim the division after surrendering the lead late in the season.
Starting with a loss to the Rams in Week 14, the Cardinals dropped three straight games to surrender what had been a two-game lead over the Rams before that loss on Monday night in Week 14 sent the two teams in opposite directions. The Rams would win five games in a row while the Cardinals stumbled, giving Los Angeles a one-game lead entering Week 18. But a loss to San Francisco and a Cardinals win over Seattle would give the division title to Arizona, based on better divisional record.
But if the Rams make it six wins in a row, they not only clinch the NFC West, they also wrap up the No. 2 seed in the NFC, based on their victory over Tampa Bay in Week 3.
How the other top seeds in the NFC shakes out could make for interesting Wild Card matchups
A Rams victory not only clinches the No. 2 seed for Los Angeles, but it also locks in the Buccaneers as the No. 3 seed and the Cowboys as the No. 4, regardless of any other outcome Saturday or Sunday.
The Cowboys and Cardinals would be one of the three Wild Card matchups in this scenario, while the Rams and Buccaneers would draw from the pool of San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Orleans in the other two Wild Card games.
Should the Rams lose, the Buccaneers would claim the No. 2 spot with a victory over the Carolina Panthers, while the 49ers would clinch the No. 6 seed and the Eagles would lock in at No. 7, leaving Dallas and Arizona to slot in at the No. 4 or No. 5 seed, based on outcome. Should the Rams and Buccaneers lose and the Cardinals win, Arizona would clinch the division and the No. 2 seed.