It's Week 15 of the NFL season, and that means things are getting heated as teams scratch and claw for the right to play football in January. There are some who are very near to clinching their seat at the table, but even they can't relax with seeding on the line.
The beauty of professional football is while there are seemingly always the usual suspects making noise in each conference, there's also the chance one or two teams will barrel through low expectations to put everyone on notice. This season has been no different when it comes to the NFC, where the San Francisco 49ers went from a supposed rebuild to a powerhouse in short order, and have created havoc atop the conference the entire season.
As they continue to exchange blows with the Seattle Seahawks for divisional supremacy and the New Orleans Saints to remain in the driver's seat for home field advantage, the Green Bay Packers would now like a word -- having ascended to the No. 2 seat following the 49ers harrowing 48-46 victory over the Saints in Week 14. It's an all-out brawl between those four teams, and the Minnesota Vikings aren't far behind, currently in a wild-card spot but within striking distance of every team above them.
With only three regular season games remaining, it's time to see who sits where and, while we're at it, let's rank the teams who still have a viable shot at taking one of the two wild-card spots in the NFC -- based upon their chances.
1. Seattle Seahawks (10-3) - Projection: No. 5 seed
At one point this season, the 49ers were the lone undefeated club, but since have dropped two games with one of them being to the Seahawks. Losing to the Ravens then kicked the door open for Seattle -- who went on to win five in a row -- to walk through and take the lead in the NFC West, and they did just that when they defeated the Vikings to match the 49ers record, overtaking the latter because of the win in Week 10. This knocked the 49ers down into the wild-card chase for the first time this season, but that didn't last long. Following a signature win in New Orleans that pushed the Saints out of the No. 1 spot and a loss by the Seahawks to the Los Angeles Rams, it's now Seattle shoehorned into a wild-card seat. This sets the stage for the looming rematch in Week 17, which might decide home field advantage in the NFC, but the Seahawks are a lock to at least be a wild-card team.
Conference record: 7-2
Strength of victory: .477
Final three: Panthers, Cardinals, 49ers
2. Minnesota Vikings (9-4) - Projection: No. 6 seed
The added question for Seattle (and the 49ers) is simple: whomever lands in the wild card, will they be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed? The Vikings have played so well this season they have a great chance to reach up and grab the lead in the NFC North and leave talk of a wild-card berth behind altogether, but they suffered a setback regarding the former this week. They found themselves squaring off against the Seahawks on "Monday Night Football," and gave them a run for their money at CenturyLink Field, but lost juice when Dalvin Cook left the field with injury. The loss cost them a tiebreaker against Seattle and put them 1.5 games back of the Packers -- having also lost to Green Bay in Week 2 -- and Minnesota now needs a collapse by Green Bay and a surge of their own to win the division. It's now more likely they secure a wild-card spot instead of the NFC North crown, and downing the Lions in Week 14 helps that cause.
Conference record: 7-3
Strength of victory: .330
Final three: Chargers, Packers, Bears
3. Los Angeles Rams (8-5) - Projection: Out
They're getting hot at the right time, but is it too little, too late? This isn't the same team that mowed down opponents in 2018, but they've done enough to remain a viable contender for a wild-card spot in the NFC. Their win over the Cardinals in Week 12 was good for both morale and for their conference record, and they haven't lost two games in a row since early October. Having now avenged their early season loss to the Seahawks, the Rams have shown they can take the top teams in the NFC to the limit -- when they're not making mistakes. The likelihood of the Rams finding a way to win the NFC West is not impossible, but exceedingly implausible. That leaves only a wild card spot, but they'd need the Vikings to fall flat to make into the tournament. It's now feasible Sean McVay will go from being heralded as a football god and appearing in the Super Bowl to missing the playoffs altogether, and in only one year.
Conference record: 6-3
Strength of victory: .477
Final three: Cowboys, 49ers, Cardinals
4. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) - Projection: Out
It's almost like the Eagles found a way to get broken by their own bye week, having entered it on a two-game win streak only to suffer three consecutive losses following their two week rest. Losing to the Patriots and Seahawks is one thing, but allowing the Miami Dolphins to hang 37 points on you in a week wherein you can regain a share of the NFC East lead is completely another, and it truly put their back against the wall in December. Their saving grace the Cowboys also riding a current three-game slide, but Dallas owns the tiebreaker against Philadelphia from a blowout win in Week 7. Scraping out a win against the lowly New York Giants on "Monday Night Football" keeps them breathing down the Cowboys' neck, and truly props up a win-or-go-home rematch between the two in Week 16.
Conference record: 3-5
Strength of victory: .503
Final three: Redskins, Cowboys, Giants
5. Chicago Bears (7-6) - Projection: Out
Things have quietly begun to turn in the Windy City, with the Bears having won four of their last five games, but there are still obvious questions regarding the potential of Mitchell Trubisky, who seems to finally have now come into his own and helped the Bears pick apart the Cowboys to avoid losing ground in the wild-card race. Time will tell if he can lead the inconsistent Bears offense through an absolute gauntlet to finish the year, with a massive test coming in Week 15 by way of a clash with the Packers at Lambeau Field. Like the Rams, the Bears are striking at the right time, but their midseason woes might end up being too much to overcome when it's all said and done in December. They must also face the Chiefs and Vikings to finish the year, making for arguably the toughest final stretch of games in the entire NFL.
Conference record: 6-4
Strength of victory: .356
Final three: Packers, Chiefs, Vikings
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys (6-7) - Projection: No. 4 seed
Well, here's a team that doesn't have to worry about battling for home-field advantage in 2019. Instead, the Cowboys are fortuitous enough to simply have sole ownership of the top spot in the NFC East, and that's thanks to how equally unimpressive the Eagles have been. Only one team in the division will get a playoff spot, and the Cowboys must defeat both the Eagles and Redskins in order to ensure it's them, having already lost to the Bears and now readying to take on the red-hot Rams. Considering the morale boost needed in Dallas, defeating Los Angeles is now mandatory, especially if they want to establish any sort of momentum going into January -- then praying it actually matters.
Clinched division (Y/N): No
Conference record: 5-4
Strength of victory: .247
Final three: Rams, Eagles, Redskins
NFC North: Green Bay Packers (10-3) - Projection: No. 2 seed
It feels like forever ago when Mike McCarthy was fired and Aaron Rodgers was blamed for it, but that's all water under the media bridge now, because the combo of LaFleur and Rodgers has helped the offense withstand injury and inconsistency, while their defense continues to hand out billows of smoke to opposing QBs. All they have to do to take the NFC North -- while having a shot at stealing home-field advantage -- is to dismiss the Bears in Week 15 and then run through the remaining two division rivals to conclude the regular season. Will it be easy? Doubtful, considering the Bears and Vikings -- particularly the latter -- still have a ton on the line. Rodgers said after the ugly win over the Washington Redskins that the Packers are fine being "unpretty" all the way to the Super Bowl, and it's best opposing teams take those words seriously and be ready to strap on the eight-ounce gloves.
Clinched division (Y/N): No
Conference record: 7-2
Strength of victory: .430
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers (11-2) - Projection: No. 1 seed
It's the best record in the NFC and tied for the best in the NFL, and they earned every bit of it in their Week 14 win over the Saints, the victory pushing them back atop the NFC West and NFC as a whole. They're now locked into a spot-swap battle with the Seahawks on a weekly basis from here on out, with the loser being relegated to playing visitor in January for a wild card battle. The win in New Orleans and the loss by Seattle shook things up in a major way, and things are made that much more interesting when noting the Packers and their 10-3 record. The good news for the 49ers is while they don't own the tiebreaker on the Seahawks, they do against the Saints and Packers, but getting cocky against the Falcons is not an option. Unless they outright collapse and other teams with a nearby record run the table, the 49ers are in, but they want home-field advantage.
Clinched division (Y/N): No
Conference record: 8-1
Strength of victory: .448
Final three: Falcons, Rams, Seahawks
NFC South: New Orleans Saints (10-3) - Projection: No. 3 seed
The loss to the Atlanta Falcons at home earlier this season stings more than they'd care to admit, and it looms large as they chased the 49ers and attempted to stay ahead of the Packers. Had they defeated a then-discombobulated Falcons team, the Saints would find themselves tied with the 49ers after also losing to San Francisco at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but the loss instead pushed them out of the top NFC spot and into the No. 3 seed, despite them having already clinched the NFC South. That latter simply means they can take solace in knowing they're the first team in the conference to secure a seat in the tournament, but there's no relaxing after tasting a chance at home field advantage only to cough it up one week later. They own the tiebreaker against Seattle, but not San Francisco, making another ascension into the top spot a daunting task -- made a bit easier by a soft schedule outside of the blazing hot Titans.
Clinched division (Y/N): Yes
Conference record: 8-3
Strength of victory: .458