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Dissecting The NFC Playoff Picture And Dallas' Place In All Of It

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Photo by Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images.
Photo by Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images.

Through three quarters of the season, the NFC has seen upsets, blowouts, surprise successes, disappointments and lots of quarterback changes. Six teams in the NFC have had multiple quarterbacks start games for them this season. There’s been a dreaded tie, three of the four worst records in the NFC were playoff teams last season — Minnesota, Atlanta and Washington — and Nick Foles (yes, Nick Foles), has the highest QB rating in the NFL.

Carolina looks poised to claim their first playoff berth since 2008. Seattle still hasn’t lost at home since Christmas Eve in 2011. No surprises here but, Adrian Peterson is leading the NFL in rushing yards and Calvin Johnson is leading the NFL in receiving yards. One surprise however is the wide receiver from Chicago ranked second in the NFC in receiving yards is not Brandon Marshall. Alshon Jeffery has emerged as one of the most dangerous deep threats this season has already surpassed 1100 receiving yards with four games remaining.

Yet, the most intriguing thing about the NFC is that through 12 games played, there’s only one team with a virtual lock at a playoff berth. Seattle, at 11-1, has clinched a playoff berth and is three games up in the NFC West with four games to play, and would lock up the divisional title with a win at San Francisco on Sunday.

However, the rest of the field is wide open.

Both New Orleans and Carolina sit atop the NFC South, tied for first with 9-3 records. They face off twice over the next three weeks with the divisional title basically on the line. Two wins for either team in the next four games basically gets them in, but any mishaps in the must-win games could put either team on the outside looking in.

Detroit is leading the disastrous NFC North — the same division that had three teams last season with 10 or more wins. After looking dangerous at 6-2, Detroit dropped three straight before getting back on track against Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day. Chicago’s inconsistent play has them at 6-6 but still only a game out in the division. To say Green Bay has felt the loss of Aaron Rodgers would be an understatement. Rodgers’ injury has proved how well an elite quarterback can cover the team’s other problems. His absence has brought out the worst of Green Bay in all facets of the game, yet they still are in the mix.

Then there’s the NFC East. Titled the worst division in the league early in the season, the NFC East could realistically send two teams to the playoffs. Dallas and Philadelphia have started playing much more consistent and solid football. Both find themselves at 7-5 and clicking offensively. The Week 17 showdown in Jerry World will likely decide the division. With some help, both teams could find themselves in the playoffs.

The Giants are technically still in it, but two games back with two teams ahead of them and a poor divisional record? They might as well start dusting off their golf clubs.

So where does Dallas stand through three quarters of the season? Well, they should be pleased but neither comfortable nor satisfied. Based on the way the NFC teams have been playing this season, anything can happen. The Saints had been starting to pose themselves as a legit threat to win the NFC, but after getting dismantled at Seattle, they are right back in the mix. It looks as if either New Orleans or Carolina will win the NFC South with the other team taking one Wild Card spot — the last spot is up for grabs.

San Francisco is in the driver’s seat at 8-4 but they still have games versus Seattle and at Arizona. Dallas and Philly will battle for the NFC East with the other team holding an outside shot at a Wild Card spot. Arizona and Chicago don’t have control of their own fate because they have tiebreakers working against them, but still, a few losses by teams above them and they’re right back in the mix.

So with 12 games down and four remaining, Dallas controls their own destiny. They are tied atop the NFC East but hold the tiebreaker with their 4-0 divisional record. Their last four games are split with two at home and two on the road. They will face Chicago on Monday Night Football with an opportunity to put Marc Trestman and the Bears’ playoff hopes to bed. Following Chicago, Dallas will host Green Bay and then travel to Washington to face the Redskins before their final week showdown with Philly.

This is what NFL teams live for; this is what Jerry Jones lives for. The Cowboys will be playing in a playoff-type atmosphere from here on out. This will be Tony Romo’s opportunity to prove he can win in big games — Monday will be very telling. The Cowboys will be playing at Chicago in primetime against the Bears, who are fighting for their lives. If Romo steps up and embraces the spotlight, it will be the start of a very exciting run for Dallas fans.

Playoff predictions: Seattle will win the NFC West and take the top seed in the playoffs. The Panthers will win the NFC South and take the second seed in the NFC. The Lions will hang on and win the NFC North and the Cowboys will win the NFC East. The Saints will grab the first wild card spot and the 49ers will hold off Philadelphia from the final spot and take the No. 6 seed.