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NFC Playoff Picture: Seahawks in the power seat

Christmas Eve, 2011.

That's the last time the Seahawks were beaten on their own turf in the regular season, falling 19-17 to the San Francisco 49ers.

Seattle is 14-0 at home since, with CenturyLink Field becoming the place nobody wants to go -- but the NFC has no choice.

Barring a series of stunning events, Seattle (11-1) is barreling toward home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Monday night's romp over New Orleans clinched a playoff berth for the Seahawks and shoved the Saints into a tight spot. They're still a good bet for the No. 2 seed, but the Saints (9-3) now face the surging Carolina Panthers (9-3) twice over the next three weeks and must carve out a one-game lead over Seattle with just four tilts to go.

We don't see that happening for New Orleans -- or any other team. The road to the Super Bowl will run through the Pacific Northwest.

Here's what else we learned:

49ers make their push

The playoff picture


How would your team's prospects look if the season ended today? See where each team stands in the playoff picture midway through the season. **More ...**

They'd need a minor miracle to catch Seattle in the West, but San Francisco is sitting pretty for a wild-card spot.

Sunday's win over St. Louis thrust the 49ers (8-4) into sole possession of the conference's sixth seed. The Eagles (7-5), Cardinals (7-5) and Bears (6-6) only can stare up at a Niners team that's playing outstanding defense and now has Michael Crabtree back in the mix at wide receiver.

A win over the Seahawks at home on Sunday would do wonders for Jim Harbaugh's bunch. With the Buccaneers, Falcons and Cardinals down the stretch, San Francisco has a soft schedule that should put the 49ers at 11 (maybe even 12) wins by the end.

It hasn't been an easy campaign, but this squad can beat anyone in the NFC on a good day.

Two playoff teams from the East?

Let's say none of that happens for San Francisco, and the 49ers collapse down the stretch.

An unlikely hypothetical, but it would open the door for another team at the No. 6 spot behind either Carolina or New Orleans at No. 5.

Weeks ago, only unhinged madmen would have listened to theories of two NFC East squads making the playoffs, but hear me out:

Dallas (7-5) currently owns the tie-breaker over Philly. They play each again in the regular-season finale, and both teams sit just one game behind the eight-win Niners. Philly's 24-21 win over the Cardinals on Sunday gives the Eagles a tie-breaker over Arizona with games remaining against the Lions, Vikings, Bears and 'Boys.

Dallas, meanwhile, will haveSean Lee back this week and faces a manageable slate with the Bears, potentially Aaron Rodgers-free Packers, Redskins and Philly over the final four games.

If the 49ers were to falter -- or be sucked away by an ungodly wind -- there's a chance the once-woeful East sends half the division into the postseason.

Northern abyss

Before the leaves changed, the NFC North looked like a lock to send multiple teams to the dance.

Then Chicago's defense went apocalyptic, and Green Bay -- now near death at 5-6-1 -- lost the countryside's greatest quarterback.

The explosive Lions have taken advantage of the changing scenery, but they remain highly unpredictable. Detroit throttled the Packersin Week 13, but just days after falling to Tampa Bay on the heels of an ugly loss to Pittsburgh.

Total mystery team, but -- today -- the division's brightest hope.

Dirt Nap, Inc.

The Buccaneers, Falcons and Redskins -- all 3-9 -- have been eliminated from playoff contention. Even if they win out, 7-9 won't touch the Saints, Panthers or 49ers.

Looking ahead to Week 14

Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers: Green Bay's final stand. Crumble Sunday and the Packers are essentially done, with or without Rodgers.

St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals begin a brutal stretch run that starts with St. Louis and finishes with the Titans, Seahawks and 49ers.

Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles: Neither team can afford to slip up Sunday in what might be the week's hardest game to pick.

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers: They couldn't beat the Panthers or Saints, but a win over Seattle would tell us the 49ers are fully back.

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: Nice work, scheduling droids. Two games in three weeks between this pair will decide the South.

Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears: Another loss for the Bears would sink a knife into Chicago's once-rosy playoff hopes.

The latest "Around the League Podcast" recapped every Week 13 game.

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