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NFL playoff picture: 49ers get some help, but not quite what was expected

The 49ers improved to 6-4, and gained some ground in the playoff race. We break down all the pertinent NFC action and what to look for moving forward.

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The San Francisco 49ers improved to 6-4 on Sunday, with a big road win over the New York Giants. The 49ers did not get all the help they needed in Week 11, but we saw some big victories and losses. The results actually moved the 49ers a spot up from No. 8 to No. 7, leaving them a game back of the two wild card teams. The 49ers can only handle the business directly in front of them, but it always helps when other teams are losing.

Week 11 comes to a close with another primetime AFC affair, this time between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans. We'll have an open thread later, but we can focus on the NFC for now.

The Arizona Cardinals are the best team in the NFC

From a purely record perspective, the Cardinals are king of the mountain. They defeated the Detroit Lions in what was a battle of the top two records in the conference. The Cardinals have not exactly blown teams out, but that defense is doing great work, carrying them to victory after victory.

The Cardinals do face some challenges moving forward. Larry Fitzgerald suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain. He suffered the injury in the first half, but managed to finish out the game. He says he expects to play this Sunday against the Seahawks, but it will be worth paying close attention to the injury report the next few days.

The Seattle Seahawks are hard to figure out

The Seahawks dropped their third road contest of the season, losing a tough one to the Kansas City Chiefs by a final score of 24-20. It was a close game, with Seattle unable to grab a lead until the closing seconds of the third quarter. The Chiefs managed an early fourth quarter touchdown, and the Seahawks could not get back down the field.

The loss drops Seattle to 6-4, and puts them in the No. 8 position for now. They are tied with the 49ers, but the 49ers get the edge based on division winning percentage. The 49ers are 1-2 in the NFC West, while the Seahawks are 0-1. The 49ers still have home games against Seattle and Arizona, and then a road game against Seattle. The Seahawks lost at St. Louis, and still have the remaining slate of five NFC West games to play.

The NFC South is a dumpster fire

The Atlanta Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers to improve to 4-6, and the New Orleans Saints lost to the Cincinnati bengals to drop to 4-6. The Falcons beat New Orleans in the Georgia Dome, and thus hold the tiebreaker for now. They will face off in New Orleans in Week 16. Atlanta will then close the season vs. Carolina.

I still think New Orleans does enough to win the division, but things are so absurd that the 2-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are only two games out of first. Compare that with the NFC West where San Francisco and Seattle are both 6-4, and 2.5 games out of first. Seriously?

The NFC North is top heavy

The Detroit Lions lost in Arizona, while the Green Bay Packers had no trouble with Philadelphia. That leaves both teams at 7-3, with Detroit holding the tiebreaker based on their home win against Green Bay. These two are scheduled to face off in Week 17. Right now it could be an epic NFC North matchup, but I would not be at all surprised to see the Lions slip at some point.

The NFC East is even more top heavy

The Eagles lost, and the Dallas Cowboys were on a bye in Week 11. We now have a pair of teams tied at 7-3, with the Eagles getting the edge based on division win percentage. The Eagles and Cowboys square off in Dallas on Thanksgiving, and then in Philadelphia in Week 15. The Eagles schedule wraps with Dallas at home, and then Washington and the New York Giants on the road. The NFC East will once again come down to the wire.

49ers implications

The Eagles loss keeps the Packers a game up on the 49ers, but drops the Eagles down to a game up. Considering the 49ers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Philadelphia, that is a good thing. The Arizona win does not help matters, and it will take a sizable Cardinals collapse for them to not win the division. The Cardinals face the 49ers in Santa Clara, and have two games with Seattle, so that opens some doors. Add in games at Atlanta, vs. Kansas City, and at a potential spoiler in St. Louis, and I suppose anything is possible.

Week 12 schedule

Washington (3-7) @ San Francisco 49ers (6-4)
Tennessee (2-7) @ Philadelphia Eagles (7-3)
Detroit Lions (7-3) @ New England Patriots (8-2)
Green Bay Packers  (7-3) @ Minnesota Vikings (4-6)
Arizona Cardinals (9-1) @ Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Dallas Cowboys  (7-3) @ New York Giants (3-7)

NFC Standings

1. Arizona Cardinals (9-1)
2. Detroit Lions (7-3)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (7-3)
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-6)

5. Green Bay Packers (7-3)
6. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)

Just outside, looking in

7. San Francisco 49ers (6-4)
8. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
9. New Orleans Saints (4-6)

More work to do

10. Carolina Panthers (3-7-1)
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8) - seriously

Draft prep

12. Minnesota Vikings (4-6)
13. Chicago Bears (4-6)
14. St. Louis Rams (4-6)
15. New York Giants (3-7)
16. Washington (3-7)

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