NFC Playoff Picture: Great week for power teams


It was a great week for the power teams in the NFC playoff picture. Carolina cruised to 10-0 and dominated Twitter. Arizona survived one of its toughest tests left on the schedule, with Carson Palmer getting a sweet measure of revenge. And Green Bay, the conference's preseason darling, took control of the NFC North. Again.

Sure, the Vikings are still tied for first in the division. But they still have games remaining against Seattle, Arizona and at Green Bay. Minnesota's offensive line couldn't hold up against the Packers. How are they going to do against the NFC West powerhouses?

Seattle is only 5-5, yet we'd be surprised if they don't make the playoffs. Atlanta still holds a wild card spot at 6-4, but they have lost four of their last five games. None of those losses came against teams with a winning record. That sets up a massive game in Week 12 between the Vikings and Falcons in Atlanta.

The winner of that game will have a big leg up on a playoff spot with five weeks remaining. The loser is in danger of sliding right out of the playoffs. And there are still plenty of teams in position to jump up from the pack:

The Hateful Eight

There are eight teams in the NFC at 5-5 or 4-6, including most of the NFC East. The Rams had the most painful loss of the group. If they can't hold on to a 10-point lead in Baltimore, it's hard to see this St. Louis squad making a run. Jeff Fisher is starting to face a lot of tough questions in St. Louis, especially about his managing of the quarterback position. This was possibly Fisher's lowest moment as coach of the Rams even before he kept Case Keenum in the game after suffering a concussion.

The Eagles' blowout loss to the Bucs, which drops Philadelphia to 4-6, was an example of two teams heading in opposite directions. Jameis Winston continues to make impressive progress, while the previously strong Eagles defense gets worse every week. The Bucs, at 5-5, are right in the thick of the wild card race. Their next five games are against teams squarely in the middle of the pack. Tampa showed on Sunday that they could win any one of those games.

New Orleans and Chicago are also ostensibly still in the mix for a spot at 4-6, but their margin for error has been erased.

Do the Cowboys have a chance?

Dallas' performance in Miami was as complete an effort as we've seen from an NFC East team in a while. Tony Romo made a few huge mistakes, but he had the skills to make up for it with a number of big-time throws. The Cowboys defense got off the field in a hurry. The team's offensive line and running game took over in the fourth quarter. At 3-7, the Cowboys would be my pick as the best team in the division. But it's hard to talk seriously about their chances with Carolina coming to town on Thanksgiving.

Beat the Panthers and we can speculate seriously about Dallas' chances of catching up in the division. Otherwise they are 3-8 and more buried than they were before Romo's return.

The Giants had the best day of anyone in division. Now alone in first at 5-5, they watched the Eagles and Redskins look like roadkill. Then again, if Washington can beat the Giants in Week 12, no team in the division will have a winning record.

Packers are heavy favorites now

Green Bay is tied atop the NFC North, but it would be a surprise if they didn't win the division after Sunday's win. Minnesota has to come to Lambeau, and the Packers only play one more game all season where they could be the underdog. The Vikings should be underdogs in four of their remaining games.

Early clinchings

The Panthers' four-game lead in the NFC South means they should be clinching early. Arizona is three games up in the NFC West, and has two games in a row against losing teams. Don't expect these races to drag out too long.

That's the NFC playoff picture before Week 12. We'll talk about the AFC picture on Tuesday.