NFL playoff picture, Week 9: Things are tightening up

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL playoff picture remains a bit muddle through nine weeks of the season. We've got a breakdown as the second half of the NFL schedule begins. New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

The NFL season is officially past the halfway mark, having wrapped up Week 9 of the 17 week season. We had only a couple upsets on the day, but the playoff picture still remains relatively muddled. Here is a rundown of the NFC playoff picture as it currently stands, heading into Monday Night Football:

1. Seattle Seahawks (8-1)
2. New Orleans Saints (6-2)
3. Green Bay Packers (5-2)
4. Dallas Cowboys (5-4)
5. San Francisco 49ers (6-2)
6. Carolina Panthers (5-3)

On the outside looking in
1. Detroit Lions (5-3)
2. Chicago Bears (4-3)
3. Arizona Cardinals (4-4)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)
5. Washington (3-5)

Draft pick watch
1. St. Louis Rams (2-6)
2. Atlanta Falcons (2-6)
3. New York Giants (2-6)
4. Minnesota Vikings (1-7)
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-8)

The Panthers currently hold the tiebreaker over the Detroit Lions based on better conference record (5-2 vs. 4-2). The Saints currently hold the tiebreaker over the Packers, with a better conference record (4-0 vs. 3-1). The Packers host the Bears on Monday Night Football in a pretty significant contest. The Packers are heavy favorites at -11, thanks in large part to the absence of Josh McCown. A loss will drop the Bears a full game back of the 5-3 wild card teams.

Tiebreakers

The 49ers are currently a game back of the Seattle Seahawks. One frequent question has been about the tiebreakers if the 49ers win out and the Seahawks lose to the 49ers but otherwise win out. Both teams would be 14-2, with the same winning percentage in divisional games, common games and conference games. While this outcome seems unlikely, it is worth noting that the next tiebreakers are strength of victory, and then strength of schedule.

User nickbradley broke down strength of victory in a FanPost last week, but I wanted to post some of the details here as well. Strength of victory is the combined record of the teams you've beaten, while strength of schedule is the combined record of all opponents. As Nick pointed out, given the number of common opponents, if the teams finished tied at 14-2, strength of victory would come down to a pair of teams for each. For the 49ers, this means their win over the Packers and a potential win over Washington. For the Seahawks, this means their potential wins over the Vikings and Giants. Washington and Green Bay are currently a combined 8-7, while the Giants and Vikings are a combined 3-13.

Week 10 schedule

Up above, I separated out teams that are on the outside looking in vs. those who are in the draft pick watch at this point. I kept Washington in the picture primarily because of the wretched NFC East. I should probably keep the Giants in there, but with Dallas claiming the win over Minnesota on Sunday, New York will need a win next week to climb back into the picture. Here are the pertinent Week 10 matchups:

Washington @ Minnesota Vikings (TNF) - This one is just to keep Washington on pace in the NFC East

Carolina Panthers @ San Francisco 49ers - We've got several games with early playoff implications, and this one is the biggest for us. The Panthers are playing solid football, having won four straight after a slow start. The 49ers have an extra week to prepare for this game, which usually bodes well for them.

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons - The Seahawks are the better team, but this Seattle team has shown inconsistency this season. Of course, they've generally found ways to win, but heading to Atlanta, can they do it again? The Falcons aren't exactly playing inspired football.

Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears - We're still waiting for the Bears to play the Packers on Monday Night Football. Whatever the result of that game, this will be a big one. If the Bears win tonight, they'll be tied with the Lions and Packers atop the NFC North. If the Bears lose tonight, they'll be a game back of the Lions, and two back of the Packers.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Green Bay Packers - The Eagles are a game back of the Cowboys in the NFC East, while the Packers are playing to maintain their hold on first place in the NFC North. The Eagles figured out a way to get in the end zone on offense. Can it continue in Green Bay?

Houston Texans @ Arizona Cardinals - The Cardinals seem like the team most likely to fall out of the pack in the playoff race, but for now, they continue to hang around. Case Keenum and the Texans looked good against the Colts before blowing the lead late. I really have no idea what to make of the Texans at this point.

Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints - This and the Panthers-49ers game could be the two best games of the week. This game is big for both teams, but for the purposes of playoff math, the Saints will need this one to maintain their undefeated conference record. Things are likely to bunch up near the top, and claiming as many conference games as possible will be huge.

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