You can go ahead and strikethrough three more NFL teams this week in your playoff hunt tracker, with the Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers having each been eliminated from playoff contention due to losses in Week 15. Each of the three were in a must-win situation and did the opposite, shrinking the number of horses remaining in the race for a wild card berth in the NFC. That makes things that much more interesting going down to the regular season wire, seeing as it's yet another week wherein the conference race will tighten by virtue of key division clashes that will ultimately determine how the tournament bracket looks in January.
Last week wasn't all about who got eliminated though, because the Seattle Seahawks officially stamped their ticket to the playoffs by virtue of a win over the Washington Football Team, who are suddenly in a quarterback conundrum with the status of Alex Smith versus the play and . Still, until further notice, Washington is very much in the driver's seat atop their division, which is more than the following teams can boast, as they try to dig in and claim a wild card seat.
Strap in, folks. It's setting up to be a wild ride to the regular season finish line.
1. Tampa Bay (9-5)
Tom Brady never says die.
Not only did he once again prove it by leading an impressive comeback against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday to keep the Bucs atop this list and the most likely to get a wild card spot but, in case you forgot, he also has six Super Bowl rings. That's exceedingly poignant and goes to his level of experience in both chasing down the postseason and performing when gets there (far more often than not) -- also considering he has the Buccaneers in prime position to take a playoff seat in just his first year in Tampa. From there, take a gander at the weapons on offense and just how dominant the defense can be when firing on all cylinders, and it's difficult to fathom the Bucs not being the most likely team on this list to earn a wild card berth. Brady and the Bucs simply need to be on their best behavior and defeat the dismal Lions and Falcons (again).
Conference record: 6-4
Strength of victory: .405
Final two: at Lions, vs. Falcons
2. Los Angeles Rams (9-5)
Suddenly, things are tense for Sean McVay and Co.
Losing to the winless New York Jets will usually yield that effect, and while the Rams aren't suddenly being dismissed in the NFC, they yielded the No. 1 seat in the NFC West with their loss to Adam Gase's group. In addition to their slide down to the No. 2 spot, they also cleared the path for the Seahawks to clinch a playoff berth -- as noted above. It's incumbent on the Rams to now figure out how to brush off their ego and head into a brutal final two games with a sharpened sense of self, and a reminder they can't afford to take a day off as their way through a loaded division. The coming battle with the Seahawks is massive, as is the Week 17 finale against the now righted red birds. It's time to find out, once and for all, who's the best in the west.
Conference record: 8-2
Strength of victory: .480
Final two: at Seahawks, vs. Cardinals
3. Arizona Cardinals (8-6)
They are beginning to fly again.
While they're not soaring like they were in the first half of the season, having suffered three consecutive losses before finally grabbing their seventh win in Week 14 against the New York Giants, they've now strung together two wins in a row to pull closer to the Rams and Seahawks. Playing the NFC East proved to be the prescription for what ailed them, and it's now time to turn their eyes back to their own division -- one that sees them jockeying with Seattle and Los Angeles for playoff position. Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins could easily become must-see TV once again as the pressure mounts to conclude December, but first, they have to sidestep what might be a trap game awaiting with the 49ers, then head to an exciting final clash with a Rams team that also can't afford to lose.
Conference record: 6-4
Strength of victory: .424
Final two: vs. 49ers, at Rams
4. Chicago Bears (7-7)
Kudos to Matt Nagy for having his team in this discussion, despite the QB issues.
From Mitchell Trubisky to Nick Foles and back to Mitchell Trubisky due to an injury to Nick Foles, the rollercoaster at the position has been far from fun for Bears fans, but the team is still 7-7 and could shake the table in the NFC -- assuming the defense helps in a major way. Trubisky will make mistakes, and sometimes lots of them, so Khalil Mack and Co. better be prepared to try and delete as many as they can by keeping opposing offenses out of the end zone. If Trubisky is forced to shoot it out with the Packers, it'll almost certainly end badly in the regular season finale. The team outlasted the Vikings in Week 15 and sent them to a second-straight loss though, garnering a second consecutive win of their own in the process, and if they can avoid making the same mistake the Rams made -- namely losing to a team aimed at the top-overall draft pick -- it will likely slam the door on Minnesota and possibly set them up for a win-and-get-in scenario against Green Bay.
Conference record: 6-5
Strength of victory: .378
Final two: at Jaguars, vs. Packers
5. Minnesota Vikings (6-8)
It's getting frigid in Minneapolis, and I'm not simply talking about the weather.
Desperately needing to right the ship against a fledgling Bears team on Sunday, the Vikings did the polar opposite -- stepping into a casket they may not be able to escape from. Up next comes the New Orleans Saints, a team breathing down the neck of the Packers and home-field advantage in the playoffs, and one that now again features Drew Brees under center. Mike Zimmer is going to need a big game from Kirk Cousins and the usual suspects such as Dalvin Cook and rookie first-round sensation Justin Jefferson, but more than that, he'll need his defense to wake up. Otherwise, it'll be a third straight loss heading into a finale that would see them face off with the Lions, who would then love nothing more than to play spoiler and end the playoff hopes for their longtime NFC North rival.
Conference record: 4-6
Strength of victory: .381
Final two: at Saints, at Lions
6. New York Giants (5-9)
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present the NFC East.
A less-than-healthy Daniel Jones got pummeled by the Cardinals en route to the team's eighth loss in Week 14, ending an impressive four-game win streak that included a world-shocking upset over the Seahawks. It was Colt McCoy who pulled the latter off, however, but McCoy couldn't channel that magic again the following week -- losing to the Cleveland Browns after leading an offense that could muster only six points in four quarters of football. Despite the defense mostly playing well as of late, questions at QB and a lack of offensive potency due to it could cripple them going forward. To make matters that much more daunting, they'll now face reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, who themselves smell blood in the water with the Pittsburgh Steelers now tumbling in the AFC North. If they have to outscore the Ravens, they're probably toast, and if they lose but Washington wins -- Big Blue is eliminated from the hunt.
Conference record: 4-7
Strength of victory: .429
Final two: at Ravens, vs. Cowboys
7. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1)
Jalen Hurts is the reason the Eagles aren't scraping the barrel here.
If it were Carson Wentz under center, it'd be all I could do to not drop Philly down to the last spot, but Hurts provides a dynamic of leadership and escapability that makes him a headache for opposing defenses. This is something the New Orleans Saints found out the hard way in Week 14, feeling the sting of an upset at the hands of Hurts. The rookie second-round pick gives the Eagles a real chance at stealing a wild card seat, but it won't be easy, and especially after losing a close one to the Cardinals in Week 15. To make matters worse, Hurts is standing , and must now take on a Cowboys team that is suddenly hawking the ball. If Philly loses to Dallas, you can put a fork in them, but Hurts could make for a long day against the latter's defense -- one that's still statistically the worst in NFL history.
Conference record: 4-6
Strength of victory: .425
Final two: at Cowboys, vs. WFT
8. Dallas Cowboys (5-9)
Beep. ... Beep. ... Beep.
That's the sound of the Cowboys fighting off the flatline, having now won two straight for the first time since September 2019. In doing so, they staved off elimination from playoff contention but
Conference record: 4-6
Strength of victory: .336
Final two: vs. Eagles, at Giants