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Playoff forecast: Snapshot of NFC playoff contenders


The good news for the Falcons is they got a huge win over the Saints on Thursday night, and they are guaranteed an NFC South division championship if they win their final three games. They didn't get all the help they wanted on Sunday, but Seattle's loss in Jacksonville puts them back in the projected No. 6 spot, and the  Rams loss to the Eagles puts the Falcons within one game of passing three additional teams in the NFC playoff picture.

A Minnesota win in Carolina would have been nice for Atlanta, but here's the deal: the more paths a team has to a playoff berth, the better their chances. And the fact that both the Rams and Seahawks lost this week means there are a few more ways the Falcons could get in if they don't win out, especially since the Rams and Seahawks play next weekend and both have tough remaining schedules. Here's the full NFC picture, with implications for the Falcons:  

No. 1 Seed: Philadelphia Eagles (11-2) – 1st place, NFC East

*Odds of making playoffs: Clinched
*Odds of winning division: Clinched NFC East

Synopsis: The win over the Rams clinches the NFC East for the Eagles, but seems secondary to Philadelphia's playoff run right now, as early reports are indicating that Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury during the win over the Rams. The win over Los Angeles, coupled with Minnesota's loss in Carolina on Sunday, means the Eagles got a step closer to a first-round bye. Two wins in their final three games would lock up a first-round bye. 

Remaining schedule:
Week 15: at N.Y. Giants
Week 16: vs. Oakland
Week 17: vs. Dallas

No. 2 Seed: Minnesota Vikings (10-3) – 1st place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: 99 percent
*Odds of winning division: 99 percent

Synopsis: The Falcons would have benefitted if the Vikings had won in Carolina. Minnesota's loss to the Panthers makes it more likely that Atlanta's season finale against Carolina will be a must-win. For the Vikings, the loss drops them to the projected No. 2 seed in the NFC, but they will still win the NFC North division and they are essentially two games up on the Rams and Saints for a first-round bye, having beaten both of those teams earlier in the year.

Remaining schedule:
Week 15: vs. Cincinnati
Week 16: at Green Bay
Week 17: vs. Chicago

No. 3 Seed: Los Angeles Rams (9-4) – 1st place, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: 81 percent
*Odds of winning division: 55 percent

Synopsis: The Rams' heartbreaking loss to the Eagles could end up having a major impact on their playoff seeding. A win over Philadelphia would have put them in a three-way battle for homefield advantage in the NFC. The loss, however, and a trip to Seattle next week, opens up the possibility of being on the outside of the playoff field looking in after next weekend. They would fall from the No. 3 spot to No. 7 if they lose in Seattle and the Saints, Panthers and Falcons all win next weekend. Wow. 

Remaining schedule:
Week 15: at Seattle
Week 16: at Tennessee
Week 17: vs. San Francisco

No. 4 Seed: New Orleans Saints (9-4) – 1st place, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 91 percent
*Odds of winning division: 59 percent

Synopsis: The Saints' barn-burner loss in Atlanta probably won't prevent New Orleans from reaching the playoffs, but it eliminated a possible stranglehold on the NFC South race had they won, and makes their hopes for a first-round bye unlikely because of their loss to the Vikings earlier in the season. That Christmas Eve game against Atlanta may now be the game of the year for the Saints.  

Remaining schedule:
Week 15: vs. N.Y. Jets
Week 16: vs. Atlanta
Week 17: at Tampa Bay

No. 5 Seed: Carolina Panthers (9-4) – 2nd place, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 78 percent
*Odds of winning division: 19 percent

Synopsis: Carolina's win over the Vikings makes it slightly more difficult for the Falcons to reach the playoffs if Atlanta doesn't win their final three games. It may also make that Week 17 battle in Atlanta a winner get-in, loser go home affair. Although, Carolina's game next week got much more interesting today as well. Green Bay's win in Cleveland makes it much more likely that Carolina will face Aaron Rodgers next week, instead of Brett Hundley. If so, that becomes a much different game.  

Remaining schedule:
Week 15: vs. Green Bay
Week 16: vs. Tampa Bay
Week 17: at Atlanta

No. 6 Seed: Atlanta Falcons (8-5) – 3rd place, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 66 percent
*Odds of winning division: 22  percent

Synopsis: Atlanta's win over New Orleans did a lot more than increase heart rates. Coupled with the Seahawks loss in Jacksonville, the Falcons temporarily move into the NFC playoff picture at the projected No. 6 spot. More importantly, Atlanta controls its own destiny in the NFC South division race, and they are within a game of moving ahead of the three teams ahead of them. And the Falcons 7-2 conference record is likely going to move them ahead of anyone they are tied with. For Atlanta, it likely boils down to this: Win them all and they are the NFC South champions; Anything else, and they'll need some help with additional losses by Carolina, Seattle or the LA Rams. But the fact that the Seahawks and Rams lost on Sunday provided a few more paths to the postseason.  

Remaining schedule: 
Week 15: at Tampa Bay
Week 16: at New Orleans
Week 17: vs. Carolina


Seattle Seahawks (8-5) – 2nd place, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: 57 percent
*Odds of winning division: 45 percent

Synopsis: Jacksonville's win over Seattle was the best result of the day for Atlanta, but it only has true impact for the Falcons if the Seahawks drop another game in the final three weeks. It temporarily puts Atlanta back in the No. 6 seed and Seattle on the outside looking in. But if Atlanta wins out, they are the NFC South champs, so this one only comes into play if Atlanta loses one of their final three games and needs help getting in as a wild card. In that case, the Falcons will need another Seattle loss to stay ahead of the Seahawks. Seattle has two huge battles looming, as they host the LA Rams next week then travel to Dallas in week 16. And the Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliott back for that one. Buckle your chinstraps everyone.

Remaining schedule: 
Week 15: vs. LA Rams
Week 16: at Dallas
Week 17: vs. Arizona

Detroit Lions (7-6) – 3rd place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: 16 percent
*Odds of winning division: Less than 1 percent

Synopsis: If you're a Falcons fan, don't worry about the Lions. Because Atlanta beat Detroit in Week 3, Atlanta essentially has a two-game lead over the Lions. If Atlanta falls behind Detroit, the Falcons weren't getting in anyway.

Remaining schedule:
Week 15: vs. Chicago
Week 16: at Cincinnati
Week 17: vs. Green Bay

Dallas Cowboys (7-6) – 2nd place, NFC East

*Odds of making playoffs: 4 percent
*Odds of winning division: 0 percent

Synopsis: If you're a Falcons fan, don't worry about the Cowboys, either. Atlanta beat the Cowboys in Week 10, so see Detroit above. One thing that Falcons fans should take note of, however, is the Cowboys Week 16 matchup with Seattle. With Ezekiel Elliott returning for the Cowboys, that game gets much more interesting. A Dallas win over the Seahawks can only help the Falcons.

Remaining schedule:
Week 15: at Oakland
Week 16: vs. Seattle
Week 17: at Philadelphia

Green Bay Packers (7-6) – 3rd place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: 6 percent
*Odds of winning division: Less than 1 percent

Synopsis: If you're a Falcons fan, don't worry about the Packers catching Atlanta. The Falcons beat the Packers in Week 2, so see Detroit and Dallas above. But oh boy, that Packers win over the Browns may have been a big help to the Falcons. Here's why: the Packers are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, and because of that they may bring Aaron Rodgers off the injured reserve next week to face … the Carolina Panthers. Whoa, that game just got much more interesting.

Remaining schedule:
Week 15: at Carolina
Week 16: vs. Minnesota
Week 17: at Detroit

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