After the Seattle Seahawks destroyed the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football, this season’s NFC playoff picture is beginning to take shape. After the early Week 14 games Sunday, fans have a better idea who is in and who is out of the playoffs. The first piece of that picture is firmly in place with the Seahawks on top.
The Seattle Seahawks are 1st seed at 11-1 and they are the first team t o clinch a playoff berth this season. They are trailed by the New Orleans Saints at 9-3. The Seahawks have struggled over the last few seasons to actually close out the playoffs with a shot at the big prize. The last time in recent history that they were in the Super Bowl was 2006, where they met the Pittsburgh Steelers. They came out of that game on the losing end, as the Steelers won 21-10.
Part of Seattle’s success this season comes from the young and highly intelligent third round draft pick quarterback, Russell Wilson. One must also give props to the Seahawks’ defense, nicknamed the “Legion of Boom.” Add in the legendary Twelfth Man at CenturyLink Stadium and a recipe for success is complete.
Similarly, the New Orleans Saints had their Super Bowl appearance in 2010 lead to a win over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. It was enough to whet the Big Easy’s appetite for Lombardi Trophy glory. In 2011 the Saints made it to the NFC Wild Card round, but were eliminated by Seattle 41-36.
Either of these division leaders is poised to carry the NFC torch into the Super Bowl, but they have to get past their next opponents first. Seattle travels to San Francisco to play the 49ers (8-4) and New Orleans will be facing the Carolina Panthers (9-3) on Sunday Night Football. Both the 49ers and the Panthers are Wild Card contenders for the playoffs. San Francisco is projected 6th seed and the Panthers are projected 5th.
The 3rd seed for the NFC Wild Card race falls to the 7-5 Detroit Lions, who saw some resurgence this season after a rocky start. Reggie Bush is having a year for the record books and so is quarterback Matthew Stafford. Of course the Lions have wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson to go to along with a slew of talented receivers that are hungry to bring a trophy home to Detroit in the midst of all the woes the Motor City is currently dealing with. The Lions are playing Philadelphia today for the chance to advance. For the Eagles, it is do or die.
The projected 4th seed in the NFC is the Dallas Cowboys at 7-5. Due to divisional wins (4-0 v Division) the Cowboys are actually 1st place in the NFC East. Until last week they were tied with the Philadelphia Eagles at 7-5 for 1st place. The Cowboys have already beaten the Eagles once this year in a Week 7, 17-3 route that saw quarterback Nick Foles concussed. That was the also the last time Foles lost.
Cowboys’ fans are cautiously optimistic, far too accustomed to quarterback Tony Romo and Company dropping the ball when it counts most. In the last two seasons, Dallas has finished a lukewarm 8-8 without a significant presence in the postseason. Defensive leaders Sean Lee, DeMarcus Ware and Barry Church are expected to get back on the field soon and if Romo can keep the offense on its current winning streak, they just might snap the curse and do better than .500 this year.
The Carolina Panthers are the expected 5th seed for the NFC. They may be the most dangerous team in the entire group. Quarterback Cam Newton has struck gold in recent weeks leading the Panthers to 7 straight wins. Carolina, like the Colts, have beaten teams they “should” have lost to. Their first win was a dominant shut-out of the New York Giants (38-0, Week 3). They went on to beat the Rams (30-15, Week 7), the 49ers (10-9, Week 10) and the Patriots (24-20, Week 11). They share their 9-3 record with the Saints and will face them later tonight. The Panthers have not lost since the first week of October, and the Saints may still be shaken from their Monday Night manhandling from the Seahawks.
The 49ers, at projected 6th seed might have a chance to move up in the ranks if they can deal with the Seahawks at Candlestick Park today. The last time the two teams played, Seattle owned San Francisco 29-3 in Week 2. That was at CenturyLink Stadium. On their own turf, the 49ers look forward to getting some of their own back, and making the playoffs something less than a breeze for the Seahawks.
The NFC teams out for the season as of Sunday morning is a longer list than the AFC. Playing for pride and draft picks in the NFC are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Redskins. Each of these teams held a record of 3-9 before the games started Sunday. As the day progressed, the Bucs won, beating the Bills 27-6. Washington lost to Kansas City 45-10. The Falcons also lost to Green Bay 22-21.
There are four teams fighting for survival in the NFC playoffs. The 7th seed Eagles won today against the Lions 34-20, so they are safe for Week 14. The 8th seed Arizona Cardinals will be facing the 5-7 St. Louis Rams, who must win or put aside their playoff hopes. The projected 9th seed Chicago Bears are scheduled to face the Cowboys on Monday Night Football, so they can only watch as the playoffs take shape without them at the moment. Finally 10th seeded Green Bay won today, and will now watch as the rest of the NFC plays out Week 14.
As the playoffs loom ever closer, desperation and deliberation will shape the remaining contenders and their strategies. The NFC picture is only slightly clearer than the AFC, but the only NFL team in the playoffs for certain -the Seahawks- still has to face opponents who would quite cheerfully take them out of Super Bowl contention.
By Brandi Tasby