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NFC playoff picture: The field is rounding into shape heading into Week 16

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Atlanta’s road to the playoffs is a simple one, but three NFC South teams could make it in all.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

How good is the NFC South this year? Pretty damn great, if you consider that the division seems extremely likely to send three teams to the playoffs. That would make it the only division in the NFL to do so when the dust settles, which is pretty impressive.

The top two spots in the NFC seem pretty set at the moment, though the Rams could make a last minute charge. The South is set to eat itself over the final two weeks, with the Saints playing the Buccaneers and Falcons, the Panthers playing the Buccaneers and Falcons, and the Falcons playing against their two playoff-hopeful rivals in Week 16 and 17. One of these three teams is going to move around the seeding, in all likelihood, based on how they fare over these final two weeks.

Here is the current picture.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles 12-2
  2. Minnesota Vikings 11-3
  3. Los Angeles Rams 10-4
  4. New Orleans Saints 10-4
  5. Carolina Panthers 10-4
  6. Atlanta Falcons 9-5

The Eagles could potentially lose their grip on the top spot in the NFC, but they should be a top two seed barring a collapse. This is still a talented football team without Carson Wentz, and while I don’t know if they’ll represent the conference in the Super Bowl, it’s hard to bet against them given the very real flaws of every other contender.

The Vikings might be the best team top-to-bottom in the NFC, but they’re still prone to bouts of inconsistent play and don’t have an elite quarterback solution, so they too are up in the air. I’d be surprised if they didn’t finish with a top two seed, as well.

Things get a little more interesting from here on down. The Rams are playing some inspired football right now and seem like a good bet for the third spot in the NFC, especially with the NFC South set to cannibalize itself over the final two weeks. They’ll be a very tough matchup for whoever draws them in the Wild Card round.

The Saints could catapult up this list with two wins in their final two weeks, or they could drop down to a Wild Card spot if they lose to the Falcons and/or Buccaneers the last two weeks. There’s some real urgency here for New Orleans in that regard, because they’ve held on to a narrow lead in the division that can come undone very swiftly here at the end.

The Panthers continue to beat the teams they should beat, and that last game against the Falcons will be absolutely critical for determining their seeding. In a best-case scenario for Carolina, the Falcons dispatch the Saints in Week 16, and then the Panthers win in Week 17 to potentially snag the division.

The Falcons, finally, did what they needed to by the narrowest of margins on Monday night. One win and they’re in, likely as the #5 or #6 seed, and two wins puts them atop the NFC South and ticketed for a #3 or #4 seed. There’s a lot of variability here, but the Falcons should be in if they can just pull off one win at the end of the year.

The Seahawks and Cowboys are the only two teams that would seem to still be in the running, and a loss for either one would effectively knock them out of contention. The Falcons, if they win just one more game, will eliminate both teams immediately.