Fans of the Seattle Seahawks can start getting ready for a home playoff game again. That's how much the NFC landscape has changed over the last two weeks.
After crushing division rivals Arizona and San Francisco in convincing fashion, the Seahawks look like favorites to win the division. The Cardinals have shown serious cracks on the road. Their game in Atlanta was probably the easiest one left on their schedule, and they weren't competitive. You can't find an easy game left on the Cardinals' schedule. The NFC West title should come down to Cardinals-Seahawks in Week 16, and Seattle is not out of the mix for a bye. (Or even the No. 1 seed in the NFC.)
Green Bay now favorite for No. 1 seed
Yes, the Lions "control their destiny" in the NFC North if they win out, including a game in Green Bay. You can say that about practically every NFC contender, and it's meaningless with four weeks left in the season. The Lions have not looked like a team capable of winning in Green Bay, and they look like a team very capable of losing to an inferior team before they get there. (Detroit has a tricky Week 15 matchup against Minnesota and a road date in Chicago.)
It's been a great two weeks for the Packers. They conquered their biggest obstacle to the NFC's No. 1 seed by beating the Patriots. The Packers got the help they needed by an Arizona team that looks to be in free fall. The Packers are the most complete team in the league, and they know it after controlling the game against New England. The Packers have some tricky games left but we fully expect them to run the table, and wind up earning homefield advantage in the playoffs.
How far could the Cardinals fall?
Marc Sessler broke out the doomsday scenario for the Cardinals before they even faced Atlanta: A six-game losing streak to end the season at 9-7. While that's rough to imagine, the Cardinals are licking their wounds after being dominated by the hapless Falcons. I see this week's game as the key game left in the Cardinals season. If they can't beat Kansas City at home, there is very little chance they will have the ability to win on the road in San Francisco and St. Louis. The Cardinals know that their margin for error in the NFC West is down to nothing; they'll likely have to beat Seattle in Week 16 to win the division. It's more likely that Arizona sneaks into the playoffs as a wild card, if they do at all.
We predicted last week that Dallas and San Francisco would miss the playoffs. Depressing home losses haven't changed our stance there, although Arizona's collapse could make another playoff spot available.
NFC South eliminates one
Carolina is mathematically alive in the NFC South, but this has been a dead team for months. They have won one game since Week 2. Sunday's results put the Panthers a game and a half back in the division, which seals their fate.
The Falcons' win over Arizona, meanwhile, ensures that Atlanta will be a relevant team until at least Week 16. It's hard to believe. That's when Atlanta heads to New Orleans to face the Saints, who also won to move to 5-7. The Falcons' Week 1 victory over the Saints means that Atlanta has a bigger margin for error. They can fall a game behind and still be very much alive, knowing they'll need to win in the Superdome to win the worst division in the league.