NFC Playoff Scenarios and Predictions

troy testaCorrespondent IDecember 10, 2008

NFC Playoff Race Update and Predictions

Three Wins and Cowboys Are In

With three weeks left in the 2008-'09 NFL season, the Cowboys control their playoff destiny. The math is simple enough for Dallas. Win the next three games, and Dallas earns a berth to the postseason as a wild-card team.

But with two of the final three games being played against division rivals, running the table is much easier said than done.   

First, the Super Bowl champion New York Giants (11-2) visit Texas Stadium for the final time in their storied rivalry. Then, the Cowboys will host the Baltimore Ravens (9-4) in what could be the final Cowboy game ever played under the stars of the hole in the roof of Dallas’ home stadium in Irving. 

And finally, Dallas must go on the road to face the hated Eagles in what could amount to a Week 17 playoff game.

With only three games left, you would think the playoff scenarios are fairly easy to predict. But with so many teams still in the hunt, it’s almost incomprehensible how many scenarios could play out to finish the season.

Let’s take a look at the teams in the hunt for the six playoff spots in the NFC, their remaining schedule, and what their chances are for the postseason.


NFC East

New York Giants (11-2) – at Dallas, Carolina, at Minnesota

The Giants and Cardinals are the only two teams in the NFC who have already clinched their division and earned a spot in the postseason. With the best record in the NFC at 11-2, the Giants can earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they win out. 

But after going on the road for every game in their march to a Super Bowl Championship last year, and possessing a 5-1 road record this year, winning out may not prove to be a motivating factor.

The Giants have two tough road games against desperate teams in Dallas and Minnesota. If the Giants fall to Dallas on Sunday, the Week 15 contest against Carolina will get full attention of the G Men as they look to lock up home field and a first round bye.

Prediction: (2-1) – Division Title, First round bye


Dallas Cowboys (8-5) – New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, at Philadelphia Eagles

The Cowboys' 17-point fourth-quarter collapse against Pittsburgh allowed the Giants to win the NFC East, even though they lost to the Eagles last Sunday. All was not lost for the 'Boys last week though, as Atlanta and Tampa Bay both lost, putting Dallas in the playoffs if the season ended today.

The Ravens and their rookie quarterback Joe Flacco will prove the easiest of the three remaining games for Dallas, meaning Romo and the 'Boys will have to beat one of their NFC East rivals in order to advance.

A loss to the Giants and the Cowboys are suddenly scoreboard watching and desperate.  But a win gives Dallas four wins in their last five games and puts them in a prime spot to punch their postseason ticket.

Regardless of what happens against New York, the Cowboys are going to have to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia to make the playoffs.

Prediction: (2-1) Wild card


Philadelphia Eagles (7-5-1) – Cleveland, at Washington, Dallas

Perhaps no team in the NFC is playing better and has a more favorable schedule down the stretch, than the Eagles. The tie at Cincinnati in Week 11 seemed devastating at the time, but the half game could be the difference in winning a wild-card berth.  Cleveland doesn’t have a quarterback.

Washington has lost four of five and the head coach is clueless as to how to get them out of the funk. If they win their next two, the home game against Dallas will almost certainly be a head to head battle for a playoff berth.

Prediction: (2-1) No playoffs


Washington Redskins (7-6) – at Cincinnati, Philadelphia, at San Francisco

The Redskins have to travel two out of the next three weeks, but both destinations are against teams that have already been eliminated from the playoffs. That leaves a home against the hated Eagles, a team they already beat on the road in Week Five. The 'Skins have dropped four out of five and rookie head coach Jim Zorn is losing the team.

Prediction: (1-2) No playoffs


NFC South

Carolina Panthers (10-3) – Denver, at New York Giants, at New Orleans

Last Monday night, the Panthers ran all over (299 rushing yards) a solid Tampa Bay defense and in so doing, announced their intention of being a factor in this year’s quest for the Lombardi Trophy.

Carolina’s two-headed rushing attack of DeAngelo Williams (1,141 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Jonathon Stewart (699 yards, 8 touchdowns), should blow through a shoddy Denver run defense next Sunday and keep Carolina out front of a surprisingly tough NFC South division. 

Prediction: (3-0) Division Title, Fist-round bye, home field throughout playoffs


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-4) – at Atlanta, San Diego, Oakland

The Tampa Two defense had only yielded one rushing touchdown all season before they were rolled over by Carolina’s potent rushing attack, giving up four rushing touchdowns in the game. The Bucs have to regroup against another great rushing attack in the Atlanta Falcons.

The Cowboys have the head to head tiebreaker over Tampa for the wild card if both end the season with the same record. A win against Atlanta next week gives the Bucs the sweep of the Falcons on the season and almost guarantees a playoff berth with hapless Oakland still on the schedule.

Prediction: (3-0) Wild card


Atlanta Falcons (8-5) – Tampa Bay, at Minnesota, St. Louis

Anyone that tells you they knew Atlanta and their rookie head coach and rookie quarterback would still be in the playoff hunt after Week 13 probably also has some fabulous ocean front property in Nebraska he is willing to let go for cheap.

The finale against the Rams is an automatic win, so Sunday’s divisional game against Tampa Bay is the whole season.

Prediction: (2-1) No playoffs


New Orleans Saints (7-6) – at Chicago, at Detroit, Carolina

This Sunday’s contest against Chicago is the league’s first true unofficial elimination game. Both teams had playoff aspiration to start the season and only one will still have a chance at achieving their goals after Sunday.

Prediction: (2-1) No playoffs


NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (8-5) – Minnesota, at New England, Seattle

The Cardinals clinched their first division title in 33 years, mercifully ending the NFL’s longest first-place drought. Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner is playing at an NFL MVP level, helping the offense rack up 338 points this year.

The defense has been optimistic, ranking third with 23 take ways so far. But if the Cardinals plan to win in the post season, they have to get the run game going. Arizona ranks dead last in the NFL in total rushing yards (980) and rushing yards per game (75.4).

Prediction: (1-2) Division Title


NFC North

Minnesota Vikings (8-5) – at Arizona, Atlanta, New York Giants

The Vikings have won three in a row, but will be playing the remainder of the regular season without pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, who were banned for violating the league’s banned substance policy.

Playing those three games against teams with a combined record of 27-12 without the big eaters up front could spell disaster for the Vikings. The Bears are only one game back and have spilt the season series with Minnesota.

Prediction: (1-2) Division Title


Chicago Bears (7-6) – New Orleans, Green Bay, at Houston

The Bears host a de facto playoff game this Sunday against New Orleans.  If their porous pass defense can rise up in the cold and earn a win, they will face two unmotivated teams in Green Bay and Houston, who have both already been eliminated from the playoffs.

Prediction: (2-1) No playoffs