Three games remain in the 2015 NFL season, but it appears the only drama in the NFC postseason picture will revolve around which team earns an automatic bid as the winner of the NFC East.
The Carolina Panthers (13-0) and Arizona Cardinals (11-2) have already clinched playoff berths. Carolina is locked into a first-round bye and fighting for a perfect season, while Arizona looks like a heavy favorite to secure the other.
Three other NFC teams—the Green Bay Packers (9-4), Seattle Seahawks (8-5) and Minnesota Vikings (8-5)—have also become huge front runners to make the postseason.
Either the Packers or Vikings will win the NFC North, which is likely to be decided in Week 17 at Lambeau Field. The loser will still be in a good position to get into the postseason as the NFC’s No. 6 seed.
That’s because the competition below the two 8-5 teams continues to lose.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7), Atlanta Falcons (6-7) and Chicago Bears (5-8) all lost on Sunday. No team currently on the outside looking in is at or over .500 after 13 games.
It seems unlikely any team will catch the surging Seahawks for one of the wild card slots. Seattle has won four straight games and six of the last seven after starting 2-4. With games against the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns left on the schedule, the Seahawks look like a great bet to get to at least 10 wins—which would guarantee Seattle a spot in the postseason field.
The Vikings have home games against the Bears and New York Giants (5-7) before traveling to Green Bay for the finale. Wins over the next two weeks would clinch Minnesota’s berth.
Tampa Bay and Atlanta probably need the Vikings to lose out, especially with both teams playing the Panthers over the final three weeks. The Buccaneers can win the conference tiebreaker and make the postseason over Minnesota at 8-8, while the Falcons can still get in at 9-7.
Both scenarios seem unlikely. But at least the conference has the NFC East.
All four teams are still capable of winning the division, including the 4-9 Dallas Cowboys.
If the season ended today, this would be the NFC playoff field:
1. Panthers (13-0)
2. Cardinals (11-2)
3. Packers (9-4)
4. Redskins (6-7)
5. Seahawks (8-5)
6. Vikings (8-5)
Wild Card Round matchups: Vikings at Packers, Seahawks at Redskins
The records will change, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if this assortment of teams (save for the NFC East winner) made up the NFC playoffs at the end of Week 17.