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NFC playoff picture: Are the 49ers the team to beat?

The winning streak says yes, but what about the rest of the NFC?

San Francisco 49ers v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

With the eighteenth and final week of the NFL regular season approaching, six of the seven NFC Playoff spots have already been secured, leaving three teams vying for the seventh and final spot.

The Eagles, 49ers, Vikings, Buccaneers, Cowboys, and Giants have all clinched, while the Seahawks, Lions, and Packers all hold out hope to be the one to grab the lone spot that remains.

Currently, the only guaranteed seeding is Tampa Bay as the four seed and New York as the sixth seed. All five other spots still remain in flux, including the number one seed, which the 49ers are still very much in play for.

I’m going to go team by team and put where each respective squad currently stands and their possible scenarios for seeding based on the outcomes of the week 18 slate of games. Let’s start with the Eagles, who still hold the number one seed

(1) Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
The Eagles are still holding on to that top spot despite losing their last two games, but their margin for error is nonexistent heading into the regular season finale with the 49ers right on their heels.

Philadelphia has a straightforward task this week. Win, and they secure the number one seed and the NFC East crown. In addition, they are guaranteed home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they handle business against the Giants this weekend, regardless of any other outcome in games being played this season.

If the Eagles lose to the Giants, the 49ers would then be in a position to leapfrog them for the number one seed with a win at home over a depleted Arizona Cardinals team. This would also open the door for Dallas to jump them for the top spot in the NFC East with a win over the Washington Commanders.

The Eagles HAVE to win this game. A win locks down home field and a bye, and a loss potentially puts them on the road against Tampa Bay in the wild-card round, which is exactly where they were last season before being on the losing end of a beatdown that saw them go down 31-0 in the second half.

(2) San Francisco 49ers (12-4)

The 49ers have plenty to play for on Sunday despite wrapping up their division and the guaranteed home playoff game that comes with it weeks ago. With a win over Arizona, the 49ers would ensure that they would be no worse than the 2nd seed in this year's playoffs.

A 49er win and an Eagles loss would allow the 49ers to snatch the number one seed from Philadelphia due to having a better record within the conference. On the flip side, a loss would give Minnesota the chance to take back the two seed with a win over a Chicago Bears team that will be without its starting quarterback Justin Fields.

San Francisco is still in play for the one seed, and the lowest they could possibly drop to would be the three seed which would require a 49ers loss and a Vikings win or tie. At the bare minimum, the 49ers control their own fate for the two seed. Win against a battered Cardinals team, and it’s all theirs.

(3) Minnesota Vikings - (12-4)

Minnesota got overtaken for the two-seed by the 49ers following a brutal loss on the road to the Packers at Lambeau. They’ve already got the NFC North wrapped up and will need some help from the Cardinals if they are to retake the two seed from the 49ers.

The Vikings are also at risk of remaining in the three seed should Dallas end up winning the NFC East, as the Cowboys have the superior head-to-head conference record between these two teams. Best case scenario for Minnesota is the two-seed, worst case scenario, is they stay put and remain the three-seed.

(4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - (8-8)

The Buccaneers are locked into the fourth seed no matter how this weekend might shake out, so the only real thing they have left to play for at this point is ensuring that this doesn’t become the first official losing season on Tom Brady’s hallowed resume that stretches back 23 seasons.

Seriously did any of you actually think that a Brady-led team wasn’t eventually going to figure it out and find a way into the postseason? We’ve seen this movie far too many times. Probably one of the more predictable storylines of this NFL season, quite frankly.

(5) Dallas Cowboys - (12-4)

Dallas finds themselves in the less than envious position of being the team who has had a fantastic season but is still falling just short of another team from their respective division. So despite the Cowboys being in a position to win 13 games, they are currently in a position to travel to Tampa Bay for the wild card game.

Dallas still has a chance to win the NFC East and be as high as the two seed, but it would require an Eagles loss as well as a Cowboys win. There is also a chance they could jump all the way to the one seed, but it would require a Dallas win over Washington + losses by both the 49ers and Eagles, who have each opened as two-touchdown favorites this weekend.

The best case scenario for Dallas is the one seed, while their worst possible outcome would put them right back where they are now in the fifth seed.

(6) New York Giants - (9-6-1)

The Giants cannot advance or detract from their own spot in the standings this weekend, as they are firmly locked into the sixth seed heading into this year's playoff. The G men can, however, completely revamp the NFC playoff picture with a win over their division rival Eagles.

With not much left to play for, don’t be surprised to see a good number of starters sit, but if they can pull off a miracle and upset Philadelphia, it would be a massive win for the 49ers.

(7) Seattle Seahawks - (8-8)

The Seahawks are currently slotted in the seventh and final playoff spot, but if they want to maintain it, they will need assistance from the Detroit Lions on Sunday night football.

A Seattle win over the Rams, coupled with a Lions win over the Packers, would put the Seahawks in the playoffs with a road date with the number two seed that is currently being held by the 49ers.

Best case scenario: win + Detroit win. Worst case scenario, loss or win + Green Bay win.

On the bubble

Green Bay Packers - (8-8)

After a bit of a hot streak, the Packers' path to sneaking in the backdoor into these playoffs is cut and dry. Win, and they're in. There is no dependence or anxiously awaiting the result of another game.

If they win on Sunday night vs. Detroit, they will enter the playoffs facing the two seed, which, as of now, would be the 49ers, a team that has given Aaron Rodgers and these Packers teams a lifetime worth of playoff nightmares.

Best case scenario: win, and they're in. The worst-case scenario is to lose, and there are no playoffs.

Detroit Lions - (8-8)

The Lions' path to the postseason is nowhere near as clear as Green Bay’s. Detroit not only needs to win their finale vs. the Packers, but they also need the Rams to play spoiler in their end-of-season meeting with Seattle. Here are the ways Detroit can still sneak into the playoffs.

  • Win + Seahawks loss or tie
  • Tie + Seahawks loss
  • Tie, Seahawks tie, Commanders win vs. Dallas