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NFC playoff picture: Green Bay Packers in line for bye

We have just three more football-stuffed Sundays this season. That's mildly depressing, but they also should be a lot of fun because the playoff picture is packed so tight.

That's especially true in the NFC. Here's what we learned after Week 14:

Packers are angling for a bye

The Green Bay Packers now own sole possession of first place in the NFC North. We've expected this takeover all season, but Green Bay's bid for a playoff bye snuck up on us.

The Packers don't have tiebreakers against the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, but they might not need them. The 49ers still have to travel to face the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. If the 49ers fall once, the Packers can grab the No. 2 seed by winning out. If they lose in New England, well ...

Seahawks still have a shot at the NFC West

If the following two things happen next week, the Week 16 clash between the 49ers and host Seahawks essentially could decide the NFC West:

  1. The 49ers lose to the Patriots.
    1. The Seahawks beat the Buffalo Bills in Toronto.

That's not that far-fetched of a scenario. How great would a Jim Harbaugh-Peter Carroll, Colin Kaepernick-Russell Wilson clash with the NFC West on the line be? It would be our game of the season in Week 16.

Bears could slip right out of the playoffs

The Chicago Bears have five losses, a ton of injuries and must face the Packers next week. Don't be surprised if they fall right out of the playoffs.

The Washington Redskins have the best shot to make it happen, assuming RG3 is healthy. The Redskins face the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles the next two weeks. They have fewer conferences losses than the Bears. The Redskins are in position to create a "win-and-in" scenario for themselves in Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys.

Redskins still have two routes

The New York Giants held serve with a big home win over the New Orleans Saints, but they remain only one game ahead of the Redskins in the NFC East. The Giants' schedule remains very difficult. The Redskins have a good shot to sneak into the playoffs because they have two routes to get there: the division title and the wild card.

Saints, Bucs all but done

Any small chance for a Saints miracle run late in the season evaporated against the Giants. Their eighth loss all but mathematically knocks them out of the mix.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneershome loss to the Eagles was nearly as devastating. The Bucs still have road games against the Atlanta Falcons and Saints. They have six conference losses. Now 11th in the NFC, they simply have too many teams to pass.

Cowboys, Vikings only took small steps

The Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings both had huge wins Sunday against winning teams. They still have very little margin for error moving forward. The Cowboys have no gimmes left on the schedule and probably have to win out. The Vikings have to travel to play the St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans before hosting the Packers. We'd still be stunned if the Vikings made the playoffs.

Falcons' loss probably doesn't matter

The 49ers' slip up against the St. Louis Rams last week gave the Atlanta Falcons plenty of breathing room. They just have to win two of their final three games to clinch the No. 1 seed. It's quite possible the Falcons could lose two more games and still clinch home-field advantage.

Looking ahead to Week 15

New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons: It's a bigger game for New York, all things considered.

Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams: Elimination game? If the Rams win here to move to 7-6-1, it's time to take them more seriously as playoff contenders.

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: It doesn't get much better than Packers-Bears in Week 15 with a division title on the line.

Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns: The Browns are playing well enough to give the Redskins problems, RG3 or not.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys: Dallas needs to win another tough game to make us believers.

San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots: This potential Super Bowl preview will decide if the 49ers are battling for a bye or a division title in Week 16.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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