The Week 12 NFC playoff picture got a little cloudier, as the NFC West and Conference leading Arizona Cardinals suffered defeat at the hands of Earl Thomas and the Seattle Seahawks. The Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers gained ground on Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions while the Philadelphia Eagles special teams roller-coaster picked up speed.
After several seasons of having the more competitive conference, the NFC has slipped this season and the playoff race reflects it. While on paper the Arizona Cardinals look like strong contenders for home field advantage with a 7-1 conference record, it is their division record that should give us pause. After losing on the road to Seattle in Week 12, the 9-2 Cardinals’ next games are at Atlanta, home versus Kansas City, and at St. Louis. They’ll then return home to face the Seahawks again before finishing up on the road at San Francisco. While Arizona needs just two wins to ensure a playoff spot, it is not impossible that with numerous issues on offense, including having their backup quarterback under center, the Cardinals lose out and miss the playoffs entirely.
Green Bay (8-3) controls the NFC North race this week, after division rival Detroit (7-4) fell on the road to AFC powerhouse New England. The bad news for the Packers is that they host the Patriots and their revitalized offense this week. Green Bay’s defensive struggles have largely been overlooked with Aaron Rodgers having the best season of any quarterback in the NFL, but New England will test that defense on Sunday.
Thanksgiving Day brings a clash between two 8-3 rivals from the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. Since it is still November, we will mention that Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is now 26-5 in the penultimate month of the regular season. But because it is not yet December, we shall refrain from mentioning his record during the month that matters most for the playoff chase.
The wild cards will come from the West, the North, or the East, as the Seahawks, 49ers, Lions, and Cowboys all chase the division crown and two will slip through the back door into the tournament. Teams like the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, and St. Louis Rams should soon join the third installment of this weekly series – the chase for the #1 overall pick and draft positioning – as well as playing spoiler to various division rivals down the stretch.
Once again, we end with the unbelievably awful NFC South. The Falcons continue to cling to their slim virtual lead over New Orleans – despite being 4-0 in division contests they are 0-4 in all other conference games and a dismal 4-7 overall. With the Saints losing to the Ravens on Monday Night Football, the teams are tied with 4-7 records. However, Atlanta currently has the head-to-head tiebreaker based on their season-opening overtime win over New Orleans. They’ll square off again just before Christmas. Whoever “wins” the NFC South will be keeping a much, much better football team at home. The possibility that a 10-win team gets left out of the playoffs while this “division champion” hosts a playoff game is an absolute disgrace.
Follow David on Twitter @SoSH_davemc.