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New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers still class of NFC

Graham Harrell played on Sunday night, and not in a good way for the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers' 38-10 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday was one of the worst defeats of the Mike McCarthy era because we felt the Packers were past this. The Packers came into Sunday night on a five-game winning streak, but their considerable injuries have created holes on both sides of the ball.

Green Bay can't protect and the pass rush is nonexistent. They have been pushed around by the Giants before. Aaron Rodgers can turn this team around, but weak play up front doesn't bode well in a crowded NFC field including strong defenses in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and even Seattle. Sunday night's loss will make a playoff bye very difficult to attain.

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It felt like we've seen this before out of the Packers, although they didn't have a gaudy 15-1 record this time around. It wasn't the only NFC game bringing back memories. The final four teams from last season's NFC playoffs faced off again Sunday, and the same teams won: San Francisco and New York. The 49ers defense absolutely dominated Drew Brees in the Superdome in the second half. Colin Kaepernick gives the 49ers offense a new dimension, and the defense is starting to peak. No team is tougher to prepare for.

The Saints still have a shot to make a run at the No. 6 seed, but this is a franchise out for titles. Sunday was humbling for them, just like it was for the Packers. San Francisco and New York still look like the most physical teams in the NFC, just like one year ago.

They're real and spectacular

1. Jay Cutler really is the difference for the Chicago Bears. The Bears didn't protect him that well against Minnesota, but he made plenty of incredible throws under duress. He had two incompletions in 17 attempts at halftime. The Vikings had three first downs at the time. If Cutler plays, the Bears should always have a chance.

2. Another eight catches, 102 yards for Reggie Wayne. This is the type of season that Hall of Fame voters remember. Beating Buffalo was so pivotal for Indianapolis. The Colts probably just need to take care of the weak links on their schedule (Tennessee, Kansas City) to make the playoffs. I've had my doubts Indianapolis can keep it up, but this was a huge step.

3. Ryan Tannehill's fourth quarter was the most impressive performance I saw all day. Two 80-yard touchdown drives and a 65-yard, 92-second field-goal drive to win it off his own 10-yard line. Against the Seahawks. No matter what happens the rest of the way, this Dolphins season was a success because of Tannehill.

4. Julio Jones went from game-time decision to a 147-yard performance. The Falcons are the masters of the last-second win. They are 7-1 in one-score games. They remind me of early Belichick Patriots teams; every opposing team leaves a Falcons game thinking they should have won. But it almost never happens.

5. Ray Rice's fourth-and-29 conversion against San Diego was one of the plays of the year. And it's typical of a Ravens team that has matched Atlanta in "what the ..." category of wins. Forget fourth-and-29; coming back from 13-3 with under eight minutes to go was remarkable.

So you're saying there's a chance

1. The Bengals have won their last three games by a combined score of 93-29. I don't care who they were playing; that's a three-game stretch of a true playoff contender. They didn't allow the Raiders to reach the red zone on Sunday. Cincinnati's Week 16 game in Pittsburgh might decide the final AFC playoff spot.

2. Chad Henne may hold on to the ball too long and take a ton of sacks, but he's averaged over 10 yards-per-attempt in the last two weeks with six touchdowns and an interception. He's making Blaine Gabbert look very bad.

3. The Rams aren't ready for prime time yet, but they are 3-0-1 in the NFC West after beating the Cardinals. It's a start.

Don't panic

1. We touted the Saints' rushing attack last week. They had 59 yards against San Francisco. The positive: All the other NFC Wild Card contenders lost. The defense actually created a lot of pressure. Don't count them out quite yet. The other NFC contenders -- Seattle, Tampa Bay and Minnesota -- all have tough games ahead. It's quite possible a 9-7 team gets the final NFC Wild Card spot. We expect a 9-win team (or two) to make the AFC playoffs.

2. The Steelers have no chance to win the AFC North now. They will have to battle just to make the playoffs. But Ben Roethlisberger is a pretty sweet late-season acquisition even if he doesn't return until after the Ravens game.

Maybe Mike Silver was right

Hue Jackson's biggest defender in Oakland is looking pretty smart. The Raiders have allowed over 400 yards of offense and over 150 rushing yards in three of their last four games. The Raiders have allowed over 34 points in four straight games. They didn't enter the red zone. It's not hard to argue that the worst two teams in the NFL are in the AFC West.

"I'm just really tired of losing," safety Mike Mitchell told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's going from anger to sadness to ... I don't know."

Some panic is acceptable

1. The Vikings defense couldn't get off the field against Chicago in the first half. Christian Ponder leaves the pocket too early and struggles against pressure. After starting 4-1, they are staring at 6-7 unless they can beat Green Bay or Chicago in the next two weeks.

2. The Bears now have a one game lead in the NFC North, but at least six starters were banged up against Minnesota. Their schedule remains very challenging.

3. The Bills got 107 yards on 14 carries from C.J. Spiller and still could only put up 13 points against one of the worst defenses in the league.

4. Brady Quinn is trying to show that he can be a starter in the NFL. He averaged five yards-per-attempt in Denver.

5. The Buccaneers have been a great story and will remain a tough out the rest of the way. But it's hard to see them making the playoffs with road games left in Denver, Atlanta and New Orleans.

6. We'll end the Scramble with perhaps the biggest news of the day. Seattle goes from a favorite for a playoff spot to a major question mark after the loss in Miami if reported suspensions for cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are upheld.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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