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NFC playoff picture: New Orleans Saints in the hunt

Week 12 included no fewer than five games between NFC contenders: Giants-Packers, 49ers-Saints, Vikings-Bears, Buccaneers-Falcons and Redskins-Cowboys. While the results reminded us of last season's playoffs, we're more interested in what it told us about this year's NFC playoff picture. Marc Sessler broke down the AFC playoff race.

Six seed leaders have problems

Let's assume for a minute that the Bears and Packers both make the playoffs. Their talent and respective records make that very likely. That creates a battle royale for the final playoff spot other than the four division winners. And all of the leading candidates -- and they all lost this week -- have serious problems.

Seattle Seahawks: They have only one road win after losing to the Miami Dolphins24-21 on Sunday. Seattle remains a strong contender because of their defense, but the Seahawks' starting cornerbacks are facing suspension and they still have games left against the Bears and 49ers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:Sunday's home loss to the Falcons was brutal because the Bucs' remaining tough opponents are all on the road: Denver, Atlanta and New Orleans. Yikes.

Minnesota Vikings: They are 2-4 since a fast start and don't pass the eyeball test. They could be out of the race after facing the Packers and Bears in the next two weeks.

New Orleans Saints: New Orleans also has a brutal schedule, but the Saints are only one game back and remain the most dangerous team of the bunch. The losses by the teams above also gave renewed wild card hopes to the Cowboys and Redskins. Then again ...

Giants can wrap up the NFC East this week

The Giants win against the Packers on Sunday night was a game-changer. It could be used as a tiebreaker for playoff seeding. It showed the Giants can still be among the very best in the NFL when they play their best. And it could end the NFC East race early.

The Giants have a two-game lead in the NFC East with five to play. A win at the Redskins on Sunday would essentially knock the Redskins out of division contention. Dallas would be two back with four to play -- at best. Realistically, this race is over if the Giants can get the road win against Robert Griffin III. The race will go on if the Redskins win. It won't be easy, but that's a nice scenario for New York considering it's only Week 13.

Hope for a seven-loss wild card team

For most of this season, it's looked like you would need at least 10 wins to make the NFC playoffs as a wild card. That may very well still be the case, but all of the issues of the five-loss teams above makes it far more likely a 9-7 sneaks in. That's why the Saints, Cowboys and Redskins remain very much alive. And why the Detroit Lions have to be sick to their collective stomachs.

Niners in great position for a bye

We have a lot of big games left, but it's fair to say that the Falcons and San Francisco 49ers are now heavy favorites for byes. Sure, the Bears only have three losses. But they have serious offensive line problems, major injuries and the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers left on their schedule. The 49ers win in New Orleans was massive. The 49ers have practically clinched the NFC West and will be tough to dislodge for a bye. The No. 1 seed could still be in play.

Looking ahead

Saints @ Falcons: The Falcons could really damage their rivals with a win on NFL Network's "Thursday Night Football."
Seahawks @ Bears: The Seahawks fall back to .500 unless they get their first tough road-win of the year.
Vikings @ Packers: The five-loss teams will all be road underdogs this week. This Wild Card race will take a while to shake out.
Buccaneers @ Broncos: The Buccaneers are going to have to win a road game or two you don't expect to make the playoffs. Here's their chance.
Giants @ Redskins: A sweet way to end the week.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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