Another entertaining week in the NFC saw both NFC East leading teams win for what first like the first time this season. There was also a monumental upset as the Atlanta Falcons knocked off the San Francisco 49ers as nine-point underdogs, pushing the 49ers from the top seed to #5. Interestingly, three divisions are still up for grabs with two weeks to go, although there is a chance two of those get decided this week. However, with three teams at 11-3, the divisions are just a small part of a fantastic NFC playoff picture as we enter Week 16.


  • New Orleans Saints – NFC South
  • Green Bay Packers – Playoffs
  • Seattle Seahawks – Playoffs
  • San Francisco 49ers – Playoffs

All of the playoff numbers in this article are courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL.

NFC East

Week 16 NFC Playoff picture
Image courtesy of @LeeSharpe

Dallas Cowboys (7-7)

That was quite the statement win in Week 15 from the Cowboys. The Los Angeles Rams came in on a high, looking to put themselves in position to continue their playoff push, but the Cowboys manhandled them to a comfortable victory. That now sets up the battle for the NFC East this weekend with the Eagles. 

If the Cowboys win the game, the division is theirs, but a loss would swing things into the favour of the Eagles. With both teams having winnable Week 17 games, this contest is essentially for the division. Although, neither of these teams have been particularly reliable this season, so an Eagles loss does not shut the Cowboys out completely. In fact, Lee Sharpe’s model still gives the Cowboys a 32% chance of making the playoffs with a loss here. 

Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

It has not been pretty the last two weeks, but the Eagles avoided their banana skin games to arrive at this game with a chance to take the division. This is an all-or-nothing game for the Eagles. Lose and they are watching the playoffs in January. Win, well then they have a chance to put the division away in the home of the Giants. The fact that a win here gives the Eagles all the tie-breakers, but they still only have a 68% chance of securing a playoff birth just highlights how inconsistent they have been this season.

NFC North

Image courtesy of @LeeSharpe

Green Bay PAckers (11-3)

The Packers had a successful week. They remained the #2 seed for one more week, and knocked their biggest rivals out of the playoff picture. However, things do not get easier for them. This week they travel to Minnesota. Now this game does not decide the division, because the Packers have the tie-breaker on Minnesota and would still have a 68% chance of winning the division even if they lost. The reason for that is because they have the Lions in Week 17, which they should win, and a victory in Detroit would give them the division, with a better in-division record than the Vikings.

Where things get messy is when we look at which of the top three seeds the Packers could wind up with. Let’s try and keep this simple:

  • Go 2-0 and they are assured of the #2 seed due to having the conference tie-breaker on the Saints
  • If the Seahawks and 49ers then both go either 1-1 or 0-2 and the Packers go 2-0 they would have the #1 seed
  • If they go 1-1 it gets complicated. 1-1 leaves them with no chance of the #1 seed.
  • 1-1 with the Saints going 2-0 puts the Packers as the #3 seed.
  • 1-1 with the Saints also going 1-1, but beating the Panthers, would push the Packers to the #3 seed as the Saints would have a better strength of victory
  • 1-1 with the Saints also going 1-1, but losing to the Panthers, would mean the Packers are the #2 seed based on having a better conference record.
Easy right? Perhaps we revisit this next week when the picture should be clearer

Minnesota Vikings (10-4)

The Vikings are in a tough spot. That loss to the Bears in Chicago is hurting them badly. Because of that loss, they cannot finish above the Packers for the division, as long as the Packers beat the Lions in Week 17. If the Packers lose to the Lions and the Vikings this week, well then the Vikings would have the better record, as long as they beat the Bears in Week 17 of course.

The Vikings have a VERY slim chance of getting a bye still. However, they would need the Saints to also lose both of their remaining games as they currently have the tie-breaker over the Vikings. Right now, the Vikings just need to win this week, because then they would at least clinch their playoff birth. After that they can worry about the permutations with the Bears heading to town in Week 17.

NFC West

Week 16 NFC Playoff picture
Image courtesy of @LeeSharpe

Seattle Seahawks (11-3)

In terms of the division this week s actually irrelevant in the NFC West. Essentially, whoever wins the Week 17 showdown will win the division. Where this week does matter is the races for byes and home-field advantage. Wins this week for the Seahawks and 49ers would ensure that the winner of the game next week will be the #1 seed. 

The Seahawks have the easier game against the Cardinals, but with the way Kyler Murray played last week, they can take nothing for granted. The 49ers fell into their trap game last week, and if the Seahawks do this week, they could risk falling as far as the #3 seed even if they do win in Week 17.

San Francisco 49ers (11-3)

Everything I wrote above applies here. The game this week is not relevant to the division, but it is relevant to the final seeding. A win puts the 49ers in a great position to lock up the #1 seed with a victory in Week 17. A loss and they could be heading for the three seed, even with victory.

Los Angeles Rams (8-6)

Last week was very hard to take for Rams fans. A win last week would have given the Rams a real chance of challenging the Vikings for the #6 seed. However, now the Rams need a lot of help. They need to win both games, and hope the Vikings lose both. It is a long shot, but after the way the middle portion of their season went they are likely just happy to still have even a small chance.

NFC South

Image courtesy of @LeeSharpe

New Orleans Saints (11-3)

So this is a similar story to the Packers really. If the Saints go 2-0 they have a great chance of earning a first-round bye. For them not to they would need two of the Packers, Seahawks and 49ers to go 2-0. Now that is distinctly possible, but while the chart above has the Saints over 70% likely to clinch a bye, that would drop massively if all three of the Packers, 49ers and Seahawks win this week. 

The reason the number is so high is because the Packers are underdogs this week, and if they lose the Saints can secure a bye by beating the Panthers, regardless of whether they beat the Titans or not. In fact, beating the Titans would actually count for nothing if they lose to the Panthers and end up on the same record as two of the other teams.

NFC clinching scenarios

Week 16 NFC playoff picture
Image courtesy of NFL communications

Ben Rolfe

NFL Analyst