The NFC Playoff Picture & Predictions

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Dreams will come true, hearts will break, and 300-pound men will cry on national television. There’s no season quite as anxiety-inducing for NFL fans as December, the proving ground for high-ranked teams and the last opportunity for the bottomfeeders to have their moment in the sun. This year’s NFC playoff race was a dead heat between the Eagles and everyone else–until Deebo Samuel decided to do his best Jerry Rice impression and leave a pair of touchdowns behind in the City of Brotherly Shove. We thought we knew who the good teams were, then the Rams came to play. Also, the Packers’ still have devil-magic on their side. 

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: Travis Kelce’s sexy brother and co. remain on top of the NFC for now. Despite the Madden cheat code they’ve implemented to much fanfare this season, the unstoppable force is coming off of a loss to the 49ers thanks in large part to a once-solid defensive unit that seems to once again be mortal. The secondary will have to deal with a healthy Dak Prescott slinging passes like his MVP trophy depends on it. Philly has the chops to pull off gritty wins–most of their games have come down to a score–and they’ll need every yard they can get to beat Them Boys for the second time this season.

  2. San Francisco 49ers: I have one question for Kyle Shanahan: how in the world does Brock Purdy afford housing in the Bay Area? The answer: he doesn’t, he makes his home in opposing team’s stadiums. San Francisco’s third-ranked offense put on a clinic against a strong Philly team, making it the latest in their four-game whalloping streak. (Somewhere, CMC scored another touchdown.) Their mid-season acquisitions on the defensive side of the ball have proven deadly for opponents of the fifth-ranked defense in the league. The Niners are a well-balanced football team getting hot when it matters, and we should all be scared.

  3. Detroit Lions: The Lions are the second-best offense in the National Football League. I repeat: Detroit is a high-octane, (usually) fun to watch football team. Jared Goff looks comfortable and if the defense can put together a performance, this team can hang with the best of them. Consistency is an issue for the Lions, but they won a close get-right game with New Orleans before this week’s divisional matchup with Chicago. If Aidan Hutchinson can put pressure on Justin Fields, the one-two rushing-receiving punch of David Montgomery and Amon-Ra St. Brown can do the rest. May Dan Campbell feast on the kneecaps of his opponents eternally.

  4. Atlanta Falcons: The latest victor of the NFC South, the Falcons are perhaps the most confusing team on this list. The Desmond Ritter/Taylor Heinecke Experience at starting QB overshadows the talents of Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts. Atlanta’s top-ten defense is keeping its below-average offense in the hunt, but this week’s divisional matchup against Tampa Bay could shake up the entire picture. Arthur Smith likely needs to make a playoff game to see next season–losing to the Bucs might get him shipped out of the Falcons locker room (FedEx pun intended).

  5. Dallas Cowboys: How bout Dem Boys? Dak Prescott is an absolute beast this season, boasting 26 TDs to 6 picks and a 70 percent completion rate. Prescott is a strong favorite for a Mahomes-Rodgers Memorial Player Award (also known as the AP NFL MVP). The Cowboys are undefeated at Jerryworld this season and face a visit from the Eagles this Sunday. Though the last matchup between these teams saw the Eagles take the win, the NFC East is revered for its bitter rivalries. It’s hard to beat a team twice, especially one that’s firing on all cylinders like the Dallas Cowboys.

  6. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings’ last game against the Bears was certainly one of the games of all time. Minnesota looked a whole lot better with a now-injured Kirk Cousins, but Passtronaut Josh Dobbs has been a serviceable replacement since his last-minute trade out of Arizona. The injury to Justin Jefferson has been part of the Vikings’ woes, but he is set to return for their matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders this week. Giving Dobbs another weapon to pair with the delightful play of Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson will surely yield some trouble for Vegas. Minnesota’s focus may be on the rest of the season, however, as their last three games are critical divisional games against the Lions and Packers.

  7. Green Bay Packers: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Packers draft a quarterback behind a seasoned, grizzled Hall of Fame veteran known for his big passing. Said veteran gets miffed, has a good season, then moves on to the New York Jets. The newbie has a rocky start, but eventually finds his rhythm and looks like a long-term starter and will be a favorite for the Mahomes-Rodgers Memorial Player Award for years to come. Jordan Love is him, and every NFC team with future Super Bowl aspirations should tank immediately and sacrifice their first round picks to Matt LeFleur to Appease the Cheese. The young cadre of wide receivers continue to work their magic, and the defense was clicking in last week’s defeat of Kansas City. Green Bay matches up with the New Jersey Giants on Monday night this week. If Love shows up through the rest of December like he did last month, the Packers may be a dark horse playoff team that ruins some dreams in the postseason.

Honorable Mention: In the Hunt

  1. Los Angeles Rams: St. Louis never forgets, Stan Kroenke, but gosh darn it if they won’t root for hometown hero Kyren Williams as he and rookie receiver Puka Nacua have breakout seasons. Wasn’t this team supposed to be in full tank mode and ready for a rebuild? Matthew Stafford isn’t what he used to be, but for once in his career he can play second fiddle to those around him. Aaron Donald is quietly demolishing quarterbacks for a respectable six sacks on the season. Put it all together and you have a team that could quietly sneak into the playoffs as the NFC North tears itself apart from the inside.

  2. Seattle Seahawks: Seattle is the definition of a streaky team this season. Currently on a three-game losing streak, Seattle faces a matchup against the white-hot Niners on Sunday. If their secondary can pick off Brock Purdy, their offense has a fighting chance to upset San Francisco in a crucial divisional game. That’s easier said than done for a team that ranks middle-of-the-pack in both categories. Gino Smith’s Cinderella story is over; he is now a respectable option for a starting QB in the NFL rather than the second coming of Drew Brees. The Seahawks’ receiver talent is undeniable, but their hope for the playoffs rests on the shoulders of the defense.