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NFC Playoff Picture Week 14: Can Brock Purdy keep the 49ers afloat?

Just keep winning, and that won’t matter.

Miami Dolphins v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The NFC Playoff picture had a few changes after Week 13. The Commanders and Falcons fell in the standings, while the Packers, Lions, and Seahawks bumped up a spot. Seattle is now in the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, while the top six remain unchanged from a week ago.

#1 Seed - Eagles (11-1, NFC East leader)

Philadelphia destroyed Mike Vrabel and the Titans as A.J. Brown had payback over his old team, and Jalen Hurts continues to make his case for the MVP.

The Eagles had the perfect game plan, as you cannot run on the Titans. On the other side of the ball, they took Derrick Henry away and forced Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball. That’s how they won 35-10.

If the 49ers want any shot at the top seed, they’ll need the Eagles to slip up a few times in December.

Next three opponents: Giants, Bears, Cowboys

#2 Seed - Vikings (10-2 NFC North leader)

Minnesota continues to play with fire and get rewarded. Kevin O’Connell outcoached Robert Saleh in the first half as the Vikings raced out to a 20-6 lead. They’ve consistently gotten double-digit leads in the first half, which makes you believe they’re for real.

Then, the Vikings always hold on for dear life in the second half. The only time they scored was the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter when New York put Sauce Gardner on the opposite side of Justin Jefferson.

Minnesota could be 14-2, and I’d still doubt that they are a legitimate contender. Something feels off, but Mike White was never going to take advantage of a porous defense.

If you think it’s just me, the Lions are favored over the 10-2 Vikings this week.

Next three opponents: Lions, Colts, Giants

#3 Seed - 49ers (8-4, NFC West leader)

Somewhere along the way, Kyle Shanahan did something unforgivable. The 49ers' head coach is one of the unluckiest coaches in recent memory. There hasn’t been a season where Shanahan has caught an injury break.

But the show must go on, despite Jimmy Garoppolo being ruled out for the season. So now, it’s up to Shanahan to make life easy for Mr. Irrelevant. Thankfully, Brock Purdy has the best supporting cast in the NFL and the best defense on the other side of the ball.

He did what was necessary against the Dolphins, but the schedule doesn’t get any easier, and teams will do everything they can to confuse the rookie. Coming out victorious during the next two games and then getting a mini-bye will do wonders from a rest standpoint.

Arik Armstead’s return paid off instantly. Hassan Ridgeway is out for 6-to-8 weeks. Could we see Javon Kinlaw soon?

Next three opponents: Buccaneers, Seahawks, Commanders

#4 Seed - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - (6-6, NFC South leader)

Tom Brady looked every bit of 45 on Monday night as the Bucs looked lifeless for much of the game against the Saints. Had it not been for some clueless decision-making from New Orleans, Tampa Bay would be sitting below .500.

Instead, Mark Ingram runs out of bounds, the Saints throw it on 3rd & 1, give it back to Brady, and we all knew how that story would end.

The NFC South is what we’re used to seeing from the NFC East. No team scares you. I thought the Bucs would have figured it out by now. That hasn’t happened, and it’s unlikely to — especially with their next two games.

Next three opponents: 49ers, Bengals, Cardinals

#5 Cowboys (9-3, 2nd NFC East)

The Cowboys are for real. They are the only team in the conversation with the 49ers for the best defense in the NFL. Dallas outscored the Colts 33-0 in the fourth quarter on Sunday night after going scoreless in the third quarter and being fortunate to lead at halftime after a Matt Ryan interception.

The Cowboys also have the two highest-scoring games this season at 54 and 49. We’ll see if they end up signing Odell Beckham Jr., but he paired with CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup would make for a scary potential.

If Philly slips up once, Dallas could be the top seed in the conference.

Next three opponents: Texans, Jaguars, Eagles

#6 - New York Giants (7-4-1, 3rd NFC East)

The Giants trailed the Commanders 10-0 and came back to tie the game. They went up seven, Washington returned the favor to tie it at 20. And that’s where the game finished, which means Washington technically loses since they have more losses.

Daniel Jones led New York in rushing with 71 yards. New York recovered two fumbles and sacked Taylor Heinicke five times, which was the difference in the game.

We keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but New York keeps finding ways to keep its head afloat. They face arguably the most difficult remaining schedule of any playoff team in the conference.

Next three opponents: Giants, Commanders, Vikings

#7 - Seahawks (7-5, 2nd NFC West)

Seattle flirted with the idea of losing to a Matthew Stafford-less Rams team, but Geno Smith and DK Metcalf connected on a touchdown pass in the final seconds to come away victorious.

Geno looks like the real deal and has all season. But Seattle’s defense leaves a lot to be desired and could very well be the reason the Seahawks miss the playoffs. I’d guess the Vikings would rather play a team like Washington over a Seattle team that can score against anybody (except their Week 2 opponent).

Seattle has its work cut out for them in December.

Next three opponents: Panthers, 49ers, Chiefs

On the outside looking in:

#8 Washington Commanders 7-5-1
#9 Detroit Lions 5-7

The Commanders and Lions still have a chance. I’m not counting the Packers, Falcons, or Cardinals, as they all have eight losses, and even in an unpredictable ‘22 season, it’s difficult to imagine an 8-loss team making the playoffs unless the wheels fall off for the Seahawks and Giants.