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NFC Playoff Picture, Week 16: Cowboys are now the top threat to Packers for 1 seed

With the Bucs and Cardinals losing on Sunday, the Cowboys are the closest team chasing the Packers in the NFC.

Atlanta Falcons v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With the NFL pushing two week 15 games to Tuesday — and with both of those games significantly affecting the NFC playoff race — we needed to wait until those results came in to know where the playoff picture sits in the NFC heading into week 16. Now that we know that the Rams beat the Seahawks and the Eagles defeated Washington, we can preview the field with three weeks to go.

It was two results on Sunday, however, that gave the Green Bay Packers some significant help in the chase for home-field advantage and the lone first-round bye. The Packers narrowly took care of their own business, beating the Baltimore Ravens 31-30, but they saw the other two teams that entered the week with three losses drop stunning upsets, both at home.

First, early in the day, the Arizona Cardinals lost a shocking 30-12 decision at the hands of the Detroit Lions, who had entered the game with just one win. Then on Sunday night, the Saints went into Tampa and beat the Buccaneers 9-0, leaving the Packers alone in first place.

Now a surging NFC East team is actually the Packers’ biggest threat to the conference title and a first-round bye, thanks to the tiebreaker scenarios. You can check out all of the odds for this week’s games courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook. Here’s a look at the standings heading into Week 16.

NFC Playoff Picture

  1. Green Bay Packers (11-3, NFC North champions, next vs. Browns)
  2. Dallas Cowboys (10-4, NFC East leaders, next vs. Washington on SNF)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4, NFC South leaders, next @ Panthers)
  4. Arizona Cardinals (10-4, NFC West leaders, next vs. Colts)
  5. Los Angeles Rams (10-4, Wild Card, next @ Vikings)
  6. San Francisco 49ers (8-6, Wild Card, next @ Titans on TNF)
  7. Minnesota Vikings (7-7, Wild Card, next vs. Rams)

With Tampa Bay’s and Arizona’s upset losses in week 15, that drops them a full game back of the Packers in the race for the top seed, with Green Bay currently holding the conference record tiebreaker over the Bucs and the head-to-head win over the Cardinals. However, Dallas is looming, and in a three-way tie against any two of the other division leaders, their superior conference record would give them a tiebreaker over all of them — the Packers included.

Currently, tiebreakers are necessary to decide the 2 through 5 seeds. The Cardinals have a division tiebreaker over the Rams at present based on record in the NFC West. That gives them the division lead, but the Cowboys’ superior conference record compared to Tampa and Arizona gives Dallas the 2 spot. Tampa then comes in at #3 over Arizona based on strength of record, setting up a possible divisional rematch in the Wild Card round.

Based on the current positioning, the Packers need to hope that Dallas loses one of its final three games to give Green Bay any sort of cushion. If the Packers drop one and the Cowboys win out, Dallas would get the top seed. It would be a surprising surge late in the season for Mike McCarthy’s team, which has been hanging around the 4th seed for much of the season but is now the Packers’ greatest threat for the top spot in the NFC.

Dallas’ best chance to lose a game will come in two weeks, when they host the Cardinals. It is therefore in the Packers’ best interest to see Arizona win that game, since Green Bay has both the head-to-head win over and a better conference record than the Cardinals.

In the Hunt

8. Philadelphia Eagles (7-7, next vs. Giants)
9. New Orleans Saints (7-7, next vs. Dolphins on MNF)
10. Washington Football Team (6-8, next @ Cowboys on SNF)
11. Atlanta Falcons (6-8, next vs. Lions)
12. Carolina Panthers (5-9, next vs. Buccaneers)
13. Seattle Seahawks (5-9, next vs. Bears)
14. New York Giants (4-10, next @ Eagles)

The Vikings’ hold on the 7th spot in the playoffs as tenuous at best and is based on tiebreakers over the Eagles (by record against common opponents) and Saints (conference record). Philadelphia has a head-to-head win over the Saints to claim that tiebreaker, while Washington holds the same over Atlanta. Carolina is then a step ahead of Seattle based on conference record.

New York is still theoretically alive for the Wild Card, as they could still end up with a better conference record than any of the other teams that are 7-7. However, the Giants need basically every team ahead of them to lose out and for them to win out in order to stay alive.

Eliminated

15. Chicago Bears (4-10, next @ Seahawks)
16. Detroit Lions (2-11-1, next @ Falcons)

Finally, a second NFC team was eliminated from contention this week as the Bears dropped to 4-10. Their conference record assures that they cannot even hold a tiebreaker for the 7th spot should they reach a tie with the combination of Minnesota, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. They join the Lions, who helped the Packers out in a big way this week by defeating the Cardinals in a major upset.