NFL Week 16 Playoff Scenarios – NFC Standings, Key Matchups, and Projections
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It's a sad day when a six-win New Orleans team has better shot of backing into the playoffs than double-digit winners in Dallas and Green Bay.
Aaron Rodgers and DeMarco Murray are MVP frontrunners but may not take the field in January, thanks to the automatic postseason bid given to the NFC South winner. If the playoffs started today, the Saints' 6-8 mark would be enough to garner home-field advantage against either the Packers or Seahawks.
Philadlphia nearly eliminated themselves from the playoffs Saturday in losing to Washington, leaving their fate in Dallas' hands. That means the disastrous southern division will leave either Dallas, Green Bay, or Seattle on the outside looking in.
Carolina's Derek Anderson and Arizona's fourth-stringer Ryan Lindley, who hasn't started a game since 2012, will potentially lead a division winner into the playoffs. For an NFL fan, there's nothing worse than watching an inept quarterback stumble to a loss while a Tony Romo or Russell Wilson vicariously watches between rounds of golf.
New Orleans' assures themselves a division crown with a win or Panthers' loss. Then again, things could have been worse, Tampa Bay (2-12) was in playoff contention until Week 14. Let's all be thankful for that.
Here's a look at Sunday's pivotal matches.
Seattle Seahawks (10-4) at Arizona Cardinals (11-3) - Glendale, AZ
Given their seemingly impenetrable defense over the last month, it would be quite a surprise if Seattle wasn't the first defending champion returning to the playoffs since 2005. They're riled off four wins in a row and haven't allowed more than 14 points in a game since Nov. 16, a 24-20 loss in Kansas City.
The Seahawks' defense has allowed 27 points, 752 total yards, 81.3 rushing yards per game, and just under 13 first downs per game during the four-game winning streak. In that time they've garnered 16 sacks, thanks in large part to Bobby Wagner's returning prescience up the middle.
With Arizona's quarterback issues, it's hard not think of this season as a fluke. Carson Palmer's season-ending knee injury came as the Cardinals began to look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Then backup quarterback Drew Stanton got injured, leaving head coach Bruce Arias to choose between lifetime benchwarmers.
If they can beat the Seahawks, and the 49ers next weekend, Arizona may be the least inspiring conference champion in NFL history. Russell Wilson ran around Arizona's solid defensive line last month. Expect a repeat performance this time around.
Prediction: Seahawks 24-13.
Indianapolis Colts (10-4) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4) - Arlington, TX
How will Murray perform with a broken left hand? The running back had surgery Monday and went through two limited practices before being listed as questionable for a crucial matchup with Indianapolis.
Murray is the backbone of Dallas' offense. Earlier this season, he became the first running back in NFL history to have his first seven games go for 100-plus rushing yards. With 86 more yards, Murray will surpass Emmett Smith (1,773 yards) for most single-season rushing yards in franchise history, a mark the Dallas legend set in 1995.
Without Murray, the Cowboys a playoff team. With him, they're a Super Bowl contender.
Indianapolis' strong pass defense gives them a decided advantage. While they have Vonta Davis to contain Dez Bryant, Dallas doesn't really have an answer for Andrew Luck's plethora of receiving options, especially with Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener sharing tight end duties.
Their saving grace may be that Colts' star wideout T.Y. Hilton is questionable with a hamstring injury and an aging Reggie Wayne is out for non-injury related reasons. Factor in that Luck's six fumbles are second-worse to Chicago's Jay Cutler and this game may come down to which defense comes up with the key turnover.
Predictions: Colts 27-23
Detroit Lions (10-4) at Chicago Bears (5-9) - Chicago, IL
The Lions may seem like a clean-cut favorite on paper. They've won three in a row, are relatively healthy, and the Bears just replaced Cutler with a Notre Dame alum who carries a career 1-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
How quickly their 2013 season is forgotten. Detroit lost their final three regular season games by three points or less, despite leading the NFC North for most of the season. While monumental collapse isn't as likely this time around, the possibility exists that Green Bay, once again, takes advantage of Lions' missed opportunities.
Matthew Stafford threw a season-high 390 yards in a Thanksgiving Day meeting with the longtime rival, connecting with Calving Johnson 11 times for two touchdowns and 146 yards. Chicago's defense is a train wreck made worse by injuries to safety Chris Conte and cornerback Tim Jennings. There is no reason the Lions should lose this game.
Detroit hasn't won at Lambeau Field since Barry Sanders was a third-year running back. They're 0-23 in the frozen tundra since 1992. Needless to say, a winner-take-all scenario next weekend is to be avoided by all means possible.
They've guaranteed themselves a spot in the playoffs. Now if they could only avoid a first round exit.
Predictions: Lions 30-10
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