The Eagles are capable of playing better than they have in narrow victories over the Giantsand Raiders over the last two weeks, but no Wild Card Round victor should fear a January trip to Philadelphia. The Eagles finished with only 216 yards of offense against the Raiders, and quarterback Nick Foles has only one more dress rehearsal as Carson Wentz's fill-in before stepping way up in class in the playoffs.
Five teams have clinched playoff berths in the NFC, and they all have legitimate routes to Super Bowl LII in Minnesota. Here's a look at how the playoff picture stands heading into Week 17, including the two-team battle for the No. 6 seed:
1) Philadelphia Eagles (13-2): At least the slumping Eagles defense delivered on Christmas night. While the cornerback group remains vulnerable, the Eagles' front seven will have to dominate to win any home playoff game. As ugly as the last two weeks have looked, it's notable that the Eagles have still found a way to win with Nick Foles behind center. (The fourth-quarter comeback against the RamsafterCarson Wentz left with his season-ending ACL injury also looms large.)
2) Minnesota Vikings (12-3): Minnesota's 16-0 victory over the Packers put the team one step closer to a first-round bye and a home Divisional Round game. A win over the Bears on Sunday clinches the bye, although the Vikings can also back into the bye if the Saints win or the Panthers lose or the Rams win. (So it's happening.)
In an unpredictable league, the Vikings know exactly what team they are each week. The defense is so fundamentally sound, wearing opponents down and forcing them to complete mistake-free drives. It's not like Aaron Rodgers' presence should be required for Vikings fans to fully enjoy a dominant season sweep of the Packers, with "Skol" chants late on Christmas Eve-Eve at frigid Lambeau Field. This Vikings squad can win its 13th game this week -- that'd mark the second-most regular-season victories in the team's 57-year franchise history. Vikings fans should savor a team with a chance to host a Super Bowl while they can because seasons like this don't come around often.
The Rams have little to play for this week. They will host a Wild Card Weekend game as the No. 3 or No. 4 seed, with no chance at a bye. That could mean McVay rests some starters against the 49ers, especially MVP candidate running back Todd Gurley. This Rams squad, which finished 7-1 on the road, has the defense and special teams that can travel in the playoffs. I believe the Rams have the best overall team of any NFC squad, and it will be fascinating to see how their young players (and coach) handle this opportunity.
The win over Atlanta was a reminder of how this playoff team is different than any Sean Payton has coached before. It's complete. On a day when New Orleans' running game was largely bottled up, Drew Brees hit a few key deep passes and the Saints' defense throttled Atlanta's running attack. This is Brees and Payton's best chance at another Super Bowl run since 2011, a season that Saints fans weren't sure this group would ever get again.
Carolina's late comeback against the Bucs clinched a playoff berth for the Panthers and sets up a compelling visit to Atlanta in Week 17. The Panthers could climb as high as the No. 2 seed with a win and (unlikely) losses by the Vikings, Saints and Rams. (Don't ask why the Rams matter in this scenario, but they do.) The Panthers are more likely to be a wild-card team because a Saints win in Tampa clinches the NFC South for New Orleans. The Panthers' recent formula of "just enough" has resulted in seven wins out of eight tries, but that will likely only get them a road game on Wild Card Weekend.
6) Atlanta Falcons (9-6): How many times do I need to watch the Falcons not have it this season to realize they don't have it? Atlanta's desultory loss in New Orleans sets up a simple Week 17 scenario. Beat the Panthers at home and the Falcons are in as the NFC's six seed. Lose the game and the Falcons still make the playoffs as the No. 6 seed -- if the Seahawks stumble against the Cardinals.
While the Falcons will make the NFC playoff field spicier in theory, they continue to be a far more dangerous team on paper than in reality, routinely playing their biggest games in a mental fog.
7) Seattle Seahawks (9-6): It's a surprise they still have a chance. After the team's 42-7 loss to the Rams, the Zombie Seahawks showed some championship fight in Dallas. Seattle needs to beat Arizona in Week 17 and watch the Falcons crumble at home to Carolina, two outcomes that sound too plausible to actually happen in this implausible, upside-down season.