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NFC Playoff Picture: The 49ers path to the Super Bowl looks favorable....on paper

We’re predicting an upset in the Wild Card round

NFL-San Francisco 49ers at Washington Commanders Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The 49ers have clinched the best record in the NFC. With little to play for, Week 18 is meaningless. Now, San Francisco can rest up for two weeks and see which opponent they’ll play at home in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Here’s a look at the NFC Standings with one week remaining in the regular season:

Clinched

1. z-San Francisco 49ers (12-4)

2. x-Dallas Cowboys (11-5, win over DET)

3. z-Detroit Lions (11-5, loss to DAL)

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers# (8-8, record in common games > NO)

5- x-Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)

6. y- Los Angeles Rams (9-7)

Season on the line

7. Green Bay Packers# (8-8)

8. Seattle Seahawks# (8-8)

9. New Orleans Saints# (8-8, record in common games < TB)

10. Minnesota Vikings% (7-9)

11. Atlanta Falcons% (7-9)

Playing spoiler

12. e-Chicago Bears (7-9)%

13. e-New York Giants (5-11)

14. e-Washington Commanders (4-12, win over ARI)

15. e-Arizona Cardinals (4-12, loss to WAS)

16. e-Carolina Panthers (2-14)

The Lions have clinched the NFC North, but the other two divisions are still up for grabs. Well, kind of. The Eagles losing means they’re all but locked into the No. 5 seed. Philly needs to beat the Giants and for the Commanders to upset the Cowboys. The last time Washington played Dallas was on Thanksgiving, and they lost by 35 points.

As for the NFC South, Baker Mayfield and the Bucs have the best odds of winning, according to the New York Times playoff simulator:

Buccaneers — 56%
Saints — 27%
Falcons — 17%

Tampa Bay is on the road playing Carolina. Beat the worst team in the NFL, and you’re division champs. Atlanta and New Orleans are going head-to-head. The winner hopes Bryce Young pulls off a miracle so they can hoist the division trophy.

The most likely Wild Card matchup is the Eagles going on the road to face the Buccaneers.

Ten thousand tiebreakers

As for the teams with the pound sign next to them, there are tiebreakers galore. The first thing that needs to happen is the NFC South tiebreaker. Tampa Bay’s wins over New Orleans on record versus common opponents. In the three-way Wild Card tie between the Packers, Saints, and Seahawks, the Saints are eliminated by conference record.

The Packers and Seahawks go all the way to strength of victory, where the Packers squeak in. Seattle and New Orleans go to a tiebreaker that Seattle wins on conference record.

And now for the teams with the percentage sign after their names. The Vikings and Falcons go to a tiebreaker. The Vikings own the NFC North tiebreaker over the Bears based on record in common games, but Chicago was eliminated Sunday night with the Packers win. Minnesota beat Atlanta, which means the tiebreaker resets to the Bears and Falcons, and the Bears just beat Atlanta.

Battle for the 7 seed

There are five teams playing for one spot. The 49ers play the lowest seed. Would you rather play the Cowboys or the Lions? Both teams play in favorable conditions. But based on what we’ve seen during the past month, it would have to be Dallas, right?

You have to make the playoffs, first.

Let’s act under the impression that Tampa Bay wins, which eliminates Atlanta and New Orleans. Minnesota’s path isn’t likely, either. The Vikings need the Saints or the Bucs to lose, the Seahawks to lose at Arizona, and the Packers to lose at home to Chicago. Let’s cross out Minnesota.

Green Bay has a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to the New York Times simulator, even if they lose to the Chicago Bears. A win and they’re in. A loss and the Packers would a combination of losses from other teams vying for playoff spots.

Seattle needs help, too. The Seahawks were in the driver’s seat, but lost at home to Kenny Pickett in Week 17. Seattle needs to beat Arizona and for the Packers to lose to the Bears.

I think the Bears pull off the upset at home, and we’ll have three NFC West teams in the playoffs. And the Rams own the head-to-head tiebreaker, so they’d face the Cowboys and the Rams would go on the road with Matthew Stafford to Detroit. Talk about a storyline.

Playoff matchups

Here’s my guess for the Wild Card round:

  1. 49ers bye
  2. Cowboys vs. 7. Seahawks
  3. Lions vs. 6. Rams
  4. Buccaneers vs. 5. Eagles

If you’re San Francisco, you couldn’t ask for a better path to the Super Bowl. You’ve already beaten every team in the field save Detroit, and nobody is picking Jared Goff on the road in a playoff game.

I think there’s a high likelihood that two of the Cowboys, Eagles, and Lions lose in the first round, too. If it plays out that way, there would be few excuses for the 49ers to come out of the NFC, especially if they get a home playoff game against a division opponent.

Remember, they’ll get the lowest seed that advances. So between the combination of Seattle and Green Bay, or the Rams, the 49ers would play a defense where you’d expect them to score 30+ points. Although the same argument could be made for the other playoff teams.