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NFC Playoff Picture: Three divisions up for grabs

The closer we get to January, the less we know about which teams will be the NFC's division winners.

The playoff picture
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The New Orleans Saints, in control of the NFC South all season, are now forced to win in Carolina to avoid potentially falling to the No. 6 seed in the conference. (Or falling right out of the playoff picture.)

Following Monday night's heartbreaker, the Detroit Lions went from sole possession of first place in the NFC North two weeks ago to sole possession of third place. Detroit needs two wins and help to get coach Jim Schwartz off the hot seat.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys took turns on Sunday blowing opportunities to capture the lead in the NFC East. Perhaps that shouldn't come as a surprise. We've been making fun of this division all season long.

There is so much left to sort out in the final two weeks of the NFC playoff picture. Let's break it all down:

The most fascinating division


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NFL Replay
will re-air the Green Bay Packers' 37-36 win over the Dallas Cowboys from Week 15 on Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 9 p.m. ET.

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Let's review: Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman made an unpopular decision to start incumbent quarterback Jay Cutler last week. Green Bay just pulled off the greatest comeback in franchise history and could get a league MVP back on the field. And Detroit's head coach is hanging by a thread. Yes, the NFC North is the most intriguing division for the next two weeks.

The Bears and Packers will hold a play-in game in Week 17 if both teams win in Week 16. That won't be easy. We have no idea whether Aaron Rodgers will be available to face Pittsburgh on Sunday. And the Bears should be considered slight underdogs on the road in Philadelphia.

The Lions need to win out, and hope at least one of their division rivals loses in Week 16 to keep Detroit's hopes alive heading into the final week. The Lions need the Packers and Bears to lose at least once each over the next two weeks, which isn't so hard to imagine. Detroit's schedule is in its favor: They face the Giants and Vikings to close the season.

One game. Four spots


The winner of Sunday's massive Carolina-New Orleans matchup should be the No. 2 seed in the NFC. (The Saints would clinch the No. 2 seed outright with a win. The Panthers also would have to win in Week 17 in Atlanta to clinch the division.) The loser of Saints-Panthers likely will fall all the way down to No. 6 in the playoff seeding behind San Francisco.

New Orleans has lost four of five games on the road, and faces the strong possibility of hosting no playoff games.

How the Eagles could clinch Sunday


Philadelphia might not even have to wait until Week 17. If the Cowboys collapse again in Washington, the Eagles will have a chance to sew up the NFC East on Sunday night against Chicago. If the Cowboys win in the afternoon, the Eagles will have little to play for in the game. It will all come down to the final week's Eagles-Cowboys matchup, just like we expected all along.

Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly already has confirmed that the Eagles will play all their starters to win regardless of Dallas' result early.

Clarity out west


The only division lacking drama: the NFC West. The Seahawks can clinch the division and home-field advantage with a victory against Arizona on Sunday. The 49ers can also clinch a playoff spot and jump up to the No. 5 spot with a home win over Atlanta.

The Cardinals picked the wrong season to start 9-5. Their situation feels hopeless. Even if they win in Seattle and against San Francisco in Week 17, the Cardinals would need help to get to the playoffs at 11-5. We'll break that all down next week if Carson Palmer wins in Seattle, which isn't too likely.

Looking ahead to Week 16


New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers: The Saints have lost their last two road games by a combined score of 61-23. Yes, they are underdogs.

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks: The Cardinals' faint playoff hopes go for a final spin?

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: The Cowboys could save their fans some Week 17 pain by losing this one.

New York Giants at Detroit Lions: The Lions are catching the Giants at the right time -- 2013.

Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles: There's a chance that the winner of this game could clinch a division title Sunday night.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers. Cheese. Aaron Rodgers.

Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers: There's an even better chance the 49ers will have a playoff spot clinched before this game starts.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" broke down the Cowboys loss and every other Week 15 game.

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