Pretenders and Contenders: NFC Edition
While there are 14 playoff teams, only a handful prove to be good enough to compete for a Super Bowl. As we head into Week 17, I decipher between teams that will legitimately have a chance at hoisting the Lombardi and teams that are simply posing as such. Week 17 also has plenty of implications for teams hoping to make the playoffs, seeding/matchups, and home-field advantage in the NFC.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Week 17 Matchup @ Giants
Clinches NFC East title with: WIN + Washington LOSS
I know this may come as a shock to some people, but yes—the Cowboys can still make the playoffs. Despite the many injuries, including the loss of QB Dak Prescott for the season, they have managed to quietly put themselves in a position to win the NFC East title in Week 17. Sadly, I'm afraid whoever is representing this division will likely face the fate of a first-round exit; the Cowboys, especially, are no real threat to sending another team home.
9. New York Giants
Week 17 Matchup vs Cowboys
Clinches NFC East title with: WIN + Washington LOSS
Another potential NFC East title winner—the New York Giants. Much like the Cowboys, if they manage to sneak into the playoffs, they prove to be no real threat. Even with their much improved, stingy defense, they just don't have enough firepower on offense to seriously compete with the top seeds. With the loss of RB Saquon Barkley early in the year, the Giants' offense has struggled and will prove to be their downfall.
8. Washington Football Team
Week 17 Matchup @ Eagles
Clinches NFC East title with: WIN
As the current NFC East leader, the Washington Football Team could surprise some people come playoff time. With the three-some of experienced Head Coach Ron Rivera, veteran QB Alex Smith, and one of the best front sevens in all of football, Washington has the making to provide a first-round upset. They're another team with a lot of promise, but I wouldn't expect much more than a potential upset—they're another team that is a year or two too early.
7. Arizona Cardinals
Week 17 Matchup: @ Rams
Clinches playoff berth with: WIN
The Cardinals are an incredibly young team that has a bright future. With Kingsbury and Kyler Murray as the face of this team for the foreseeable future, you can only be left to assume they will be a frequent playoff team in the coming years. However, that will not be the case this year. The Cardinals are just a couple of years away from seriously being dangerous; they just aren't quite there yet. If they end up making the playoffs, don't expect them to make much noise.
6. Chicago Bears
Week 17 Matchup:
Clinches playoff berth with: WIN OR Cardinals LOSS
The Bears' season can best be defined as a rollercoaster. After a 5-1 start, the Bears followed it up by losing six straight and then managed to rattle off three consecutive victories with a chance to make the playoffs. While their offense has been hot, their defense has been as cold as an icebox. If the Bears want to make any noise in the playoffs, they will have to start playing much better on the defensive side of the ball and will have to hope their offense continues to perform against top-tier defenses. If they can do this, they may be able to stun a few opponents or at least make it out of the opening round; however, this doesn't seem likely.
5. Los Angeles Rams
Week 17 Matchup: vs Cardinals
Clinches playoff berth with: WIN OR Bears LOSS
The Rams have bounced back strong from their one-year drought from the playoffs. As expected, the Rams have been headlined by a top-five defense and a strong rushing attack. While their success will ultimately be contingent on the health of starting QB Jared Goff, this is an extremely well-rounded team that has the potential to make a deep push. While they do prove to be a team that can disrupt the NFC playoffs, I'm not sure I see them being able to make it through the juggernauts—the Bucs, Saints, Seahawks and Packers.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 17 Matchup: vs Falcons
Clinched playoff berth - Cannot clinch #1 seed
Pairing a top-10 defense with Tom Brady is always a recipe for success. Throughout the year there were some growing pains, but it hasn't been anything that the six-time Super Bowl champion couldn't overcome. It will be interesting to see how this largely inexperienced roster fares in their first trip to the playoffs, but their stout defense and firepower on offense is capable of winning the Super Bowl for the first time since 2003.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Week 17 Matchup: @ 49ers
Clinched NFC West title - Clinches #1 seed and bye with: WIN + Packers/Saints LOSSES
After having cooled off from a strong start to the season, the Seahawks have begun to find their groove again. Russ is playing at a high level, and a breakout year from WR D.K. Metcalf has their offense at the best it has been in years. Along with that, the defense has quietly come on in the last few weeks. While it was against some weaker opponents, I believe it was exactly what they needed to jump-start the defensive side of the football. If their defense can hold up, I love the Seahawks to be a quiet contender this year. They will have to overcome some difficult matchups on the road, but I would not put it past an experienced Russell Wilson and Head Coach Pete Carroll.
2. New Orleans Saints
Week 17 Matchup: @ Panthers
Clinched NFC South - Clinches #1 seed and bye with: WIN + Packers LOSS + Seahawks WIN
Could this be the year Drew Brees and Sean Payton go for their second Super Bowl? The Saints have yet to be at full-strength this year and have still managed to win 11 games. Once they get their offensive core all back on the field, they can trouble a lot of defenses. Not to mention that this is one of the best defenses that New Orleans has fielded in recent memory. The Saints are another team where if they are clicking on all cylinders and their defense continues to play as a stingy unit, I would not be shocked to see them representing the NFC in February. The only thing not having them higher on this list is the home field advantage that the Packers are currently in control of. If the Saints manage to grab control of the #1 seed, I would move them up to the number one spot.
1. Green Bay Packers
Week 17 Matchup: @ Bears
Clinched NFC North title - Clinches #1 seed and bye with: WIN OR Seahawks LOSS
Despite having the best record in the NFC through 16 weeks, the Packers have rarely been tested—only having two wins against teams above .500. It will be interesting to see how they handle consecutive games against strong opponents. Aside from that, the Packers give us no reason to believe they aren't every bit of what their record shows. Aaron Rodgers has shown he can still play at MVP-caliber, and despite speculation on their lack of weapons, Aaron Jones, Davonte Adams, and breakout TE Robert Tonyan, have proved to be more than enough to make this offense excel. If the Packers do secure home-field advantage in Week 17 against the Bears, I like them to make it out of the NFC. With Rodgers playing at an MVP level and having to travel up to the frigid Lambeau Field, I would be shocked if they lost.