NFC playoff picture: Will Buccaneers snag sixth seed?

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Aaron Rodgers knew all along.

Green Bay's star quarterback was chuckled at in November when he suggested the Packers would saddle up and "run the table."

Five games later -- five wins later -- Green Bay (9-6) has a chance to salt away the NFC North with a win over Detroit (9-6) on "Sunday Night Football." It's a game that will be watched closely by the conference's rash of postseason heavies, largely because the Packers have grown into a club nobody wants to face in January.

Operating as a white-hot gunslinger supreme, Rodgers has led an offense that has posted at least 30 points in three straight games while averaging 29 over their past nine tilts. Moreover, Rodgers is doubling as an on-field surgeon, carving up defenses with a bevy of weapons led by revived wideout Jordy Nelson.

With a victory in Detroit, the Packers -- once a 4-6 mess -- would win the North and host the Giants at frigid Lambeau Field as the NFC's No. 4 seed. Of course, the same applies to the Lions if they knock off Green Bay.

By the time the Lions and Packers kick off, we'll already know if their meeting doubles as a do-or-die contest: If the Redskins beat the Giants earlier in the day, the loser of Sunday night's divisional title bout is done for the year. If Washington stumbles, the loser of Packers-Lions would earn the conference's sixth seed.

There's more to get to in the NFC, so let's dig in:

The chase for No. 2

The Dallas Cowboys (13-2) waltzed into "Monday Night Football" with the No. 1 seed safely secured, but the NFC's second seed remains up for grabs.

Both the South champion Falcons (10-5) and West-winning Seahawks (9-5-1) have a chance to earn a precious bye -- and here's how:

A) Atlanta currently holds the No. 2 seed and will keep it by simply knocking off the Saints at home in Week 17.

B) If the Falcons tumble, the Seahawks can steal the second seed with a victory over the woebegone San Francisco 49ers.

C) If both the Falcons and Seahawks lose, the bye would still fall to Atlanta if Green Bay beats the Lions. If Atlanta and Seattle fall and Detroit knocks off the Packers, the Lions would grab the No. 2 seed and leave the Falcons to host a wild-card game as the No. 3 seed. Atlanta would invite in either the Redskins or Green Bay depending on how Washington fares on Sunday. Is your head spinning yet?

I'd be surprised not to see the Falcons -- an offensive fireball -- handle New Orleans and surge into January as one of the league's most fascinating teams. Only four clubs in NFL history -- the 2013 Broncos, 2012 Patriots, 2011 Saints and 2000 Rams -- have scored more points and posted more yardage per game than Atlanta's ultra-frisky attack.

Locked in

Guaranteed the fifth seed, the Giants have little to play for in Week 17. Depending on how the chips fall, New York could go on the road to face the Packers, Lions, Seahawks or Falcons in the Wild Card Round. Stay tuned.

Tampa's last stand

The up-and-down Buccaneers still have an insanely remote shot at the playoffs.

It would require a wild rash of events to neatly fall into place on Sunday, including all the following:

A) The Buccaneers beating the Panthers;

B) The Cowboys topping the Eagles;

C) The Lions knocking off the Packers;

D) The 49ers nipping the Seahawks;

E) The Colts banging the Jaguars;

F) The Titans blowing up the Texans;

G) And ... in our favorite playoff wrinkle in years, the Redskins and Giants ending in a tie.

This is a scenario for dreamers and lovers and men of imagination.

If all of this happens, the Bucs would snag the sixth seed and visit the Lions one week later in the wild-card round.

Does any of this matter?

It's plenty of fun to rifle through the mathematical probabilities of fringe teams mining their way into January, but are we simply fumbling over a hodgepodge of clubs destined to face destruction against the high-flying Cowboys?

That's TBD, but here's our Quickly Assembled Power Ranking of teams with a shot to DOWN THE BOYS:

1) Atlanta Falcons

2) Green Bay Packers

3) Seattle Seahawks

4) Washington Redskins

5) New York Giants

6) Detroit Lions

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