Analysis

NFC playoff picture: Rams, Seahawks battle for West crown

For the most part this season, the NFC hasn't been too tough to figure out. The Philadelphia Eagles have been the cream of the crop. The Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints have been the long-standing division leaders. NFC South powers, the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, plus everyone's sleeper, the Seattle Seahawks, have been dueling for wild-card spots. The Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers have been waiting for one, or any, of those squads to slip up.

Heading into Week 15, most of that still remains true. The race for the NFC South is closer, but the picture essentially remains the same.

So with just three games left in the season, what are some of the biggest storylines we'll be following from the teams in the NFC playoff race? Let's take a look.

Competing for the first-round bye

-- Philadelphia Eagles (11-2): at NYG, vs. OAK, vs. DAL.
-- Minnesota Vikings (10-3): vs. CIN, at GB, vs. CHI.
-- Los Angeles Rams (9-4): at SEA, at TEN, vs. SF.

How does Nick Foles change things in Philadelphia?

The Eagles lost Carson Wentz for the season because of an ACL tear, but the assumption is Foles will be able to guide the ship through a soft remaining schedule and lock up a bye and home-field advantage. He'll attempt to start that journey on Sunday against the Giants. If Foles doesn't do what most feel like he's capable of doing against the division rival G-Men, things atop the NFC could get a whole lot more interesting next week.

Can the Rams finally retake the West crown?

The Rams haven't won the division since 2003. They can't officially lock up the crown Sunday, but with a win over the Seahawks, they'll be up two games with just two left to play in the season. For Seattle, a loss to the Rams would devastate their playoff chances, not just their shot at the NFC West. Sunday's matchup should be one of the best this season.

Hanging in the picture

-- New Orleans Saints (9-4): vs. NYJ, vs. ATL, at TB.
-- Carolina Panthers (9-4): vs. GB, vs. TB, at ATL.
-- Atlanta Falcons (8-5): at TB, at NO, vs. CAR.

How is the NFC South going to shake out?

For now, the trio of NFC South teams sits comfortably in the picture. But they all play each other down the stretch, with the Falcons getting both the Saints and Panthers in back-to-back weeks to close out the season. What happens in those games will shape nearly half the playoff picture. Can New Orleans hang on? Can the Falcons avoid dropping two of three and allowing one of the teams below to leapfrog them? Can the Panthers catch and then pass the Saints? The South is the league's best division this year. It's fitting it will likely come down to Week 17 to figure out.

On the outside looking in

-- Seattle Seahawks (8-5): vs. LAR, at DAL, vs. AZ.
-- Detroit Lions (7-6): vs. CHI, at CIN, vs. GB.
-- Green Bay Packers (7-6): at CAR, vs. MIN, at DET.
-- Dallas Cowboys (7-6): at OAK, vs. SEA, at PHI.
-- Arizona Cardinals (6-7): at WAS, vs. NYG, at SEA.

Can the return of Aaron Rodgers help the Packers run the table?

Rodgers isn't just the Packers' best player -- he might be the best quarterback in the league, too. But even his return might not be enough to get Green Bay into the playoffs. The Packers have a brutal schedule to finish the year, with the Panthers, Vikings and Lions on the docket. Rodgers has no time to shake off the rust, because even if he's somehow able to lead Green Bay to a 3-0 record down the stretch, the Packers will still need help from teams in front of them.

Can the Cowboys hang on until Ezekiel Elliott's return?

Zeke is back from suspension in Week 16. His return, however, won't mean anything if Dallas doesn't beat the Raiderson Sunday night. The Cowboys likely need to win out to make the playoffs. That chore will become easier if they can beat the Raiders and get Elliott back for the Seahawks tilt.

Follow Edward Lewis on Twitter @Edward__Lewis.

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