Predicting the NFC playoff picture

Alex Hall

Journal Staff

Another wild week of NFL action is in the books, with the NFC playoff picture looking very similar to the way it did at the end of Week 11, but with plenty of questions left to be answered.

The Dallas Cowboys suffered the most devastating loss in the playoff hunt, losing in overtime to the Arizona Cardinals thanks to a controversial last second timeout at the end of regulation on the part of Dallas head coach Jason Garrett.

It appeared the ‘Boys’ had won the game in regulation with a last second Dan Bailey field goal, but it was discovered Garrett had called for a timeout in effect icing his own kicker. When it was time for the redo, Bailey’s kick was short and the Cards would go on to pull off the upset in overtime.

The New York Giants were almost able to end the Green Bay Packers’ undefeated streak, but Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers led his team into field goal position with just two plays with the game clock under one minute. The G-Men will meet their NFC East rival Cowboys next week in one of the most important games of Week 13 and the first meeting between the division foes in 2011.

With the New Orleans Saints emerging victorious over the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football and the Atlanta Falcons losing to T.J. Yates and the Houston Texans earlier that day the NFC South appears to be controlled by the Saints.

New Orleans’ remaining schedule consists of the Minnesota Vikings, Falcons and then the Carolina Panthers to finish the season while Atlanta plays the Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans and then the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers to finish out the year. The south is still a bit of a question mark with the winner of their Week 15 matchup likely winning the division crown, and I’ll put my money on the Saints for that one.

The NFC North will go to Green Bay considering their currently undefeated and looking unstoppable, but the Falcons are battling with the Lions for one of the two wildcard spots, both stumbling into the latter of the regular season. With the injury to Bears’ running back Matt Forte and the team still having to start Caleb Hanie at quarterback due to Jay Cutler’s injury the spot is Detroit’s to lose but that scenario is very likely.

Both teams could even end up out of the playoffs if the Giants and Cowboys finish the season strong. The Lions and Falcons are the teams I see taking the wildcard spots, but that’s not a confident pick by any means.

The only part of the NFC playoff picture we know for sure is that the San Francisco 49ers and the Packers will be the top two seeds, with the ‘9ers clinching their division last Sunday and the Packers close to doing so themselves.

The rest of the teams will be watching Dallas and New York’s two meetings this month closely along with the Saints and Falcons Week 15 matchup, meaning the playoff picture for this conference looks to remain grey up until the very end of the regular season.