Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Recapping Week 15: The NFC Playoff Picture and Why the Redskins Will Win the East

The NFC at this point is a bit more wide open than the AFC. Three of the four divisions in the AFC have already been spoken for, and one more is on the verge of being claimed as early as this weekend.

The NFC is a different story, with just half of the playoff spots being taken after 15 weeks and only two division titles have been claimed.

In the South, Atlanta already had the division down a couple of weeks ago but are now just one win away (possibly this coming Saturday against Detroit?) from claiming the top seed in the NFC. A convincing 24-0 shutout of the contending New York Giants (8-6) has shown that Matt Ryan's Falcons are still the team to beat in the conference and are two wins ahead of the next team in line, San Francisco (10-3-1).

Here are the headlines from this past weekend in the NFC...
Packers Fend off Bears for NFC North Title; Chicago and Minnesota jockey for playoff spot

At 10-4, Aaron Rodgers and his Packers have taken home the division title for the second consecutive season. With games against Tennessee and Minnesota still left on the schedule, it's possible that the Pack could beat out the Niners for the second seed and a first round bye if the Niners lose to both the Seahawks and Cardinals.

The Bears have hit a sudden wall and, after starting the season at 7-1 and one of the top contenders in the conference, have fallen in 5 of its last 6 games. Now on the outside looking in on the NFC postseason (Chicago and Minnesota are both 8-6, but Vikings hold tiebreaker), the Bears are in dire need of a couple of victories. In order to have a shot, the Bears will need to win both remaining games on the schedule (Detroit and Arizona) and hope the Vikings do not win out.

That will be tough, however, as Adrian Peterson has put the Vikings on his back and carried them to victories despite an underachieving quarterback in Christian Ponder and losing wideout Percy Harvin for the remainder of the season. The Texans and Packers will be seeing a heavy dose of Peterson over the final two weeks and will need to hold him to under 294 yards if they would like to keep him from breaking the single-season rushing record (set by Eric Dickerson in 1984). I'll be looking closer into Peterson's record-breaking chase sometime in the next day or so.
49ers @ Seahawks: Week 16 Game to Watch

Lucky for us, the primetime Sunday night game this weekend will be between the two teams duking it out for the NFC West title. Normally the chase for the Western division title in the NFC is a pretty bland battle, with the winner finishing around 9-7, 10-6. But this year we've seen two young quarterbacks take over the reins and dazzle opponents, making for an unusual exciting finish out West.

Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick took over for the concussed Alex Smith in San Fran, and hasn't looked back since. In his first five professional starts, the 25-year old Kaepernick has posted a 4-1 record with 7 TDs, 2 INTs and over 1,200 yards. He's pulled off victories against teams such as Chicago, New Orleans and, most recently, the 10-win Patriots on Sunday night, putting up 41 points against one of the AFC's best teams.

The rookie signal caller in Seattle, Russell Wilson, has established himself as the Seahawks' future and is a dark horse candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year this season. Carrying Pete Carroll's 'Hawks to a 9-5 record, Wilson has a shot at once again silencing his critics on Sunday night if he can pull off a victory over the Niners. If the Seahawks win on Sunday, they can clinch a playoff spot. Even if they lose, they can still clinch if the Bears, Vikings and Redskins all lose.
Washington, Dallas Victories, Giants loss means a 3-way tie in East

Did I not tell you this would happen? I believe I did a couple of weeks ago. The "Giant" collapse in New York continued with a 24-0 shutout against the Falcons. Their fourth loss over the last six weeks puts them near the bottom of the list of "in the hunt" teams, at No. 9, while the second Redskins' rookie signal caller came out a victor in his first career start. Dallas' Tony Romo kept his 'Boys in the hunt with a 27-24 overtime victory over Big Ben's Steelers, but it will be Washington that ends up coming out a winner.

The Giants will get a Baltimore team sitting on a 3-game losing streak this Sunday, but with Ray Lewis expected to return I can see the Baltimore defense coming into the game hungry. Very hungry. Another Giants loss and the Cowboys facing the Saints, I believe it will be the Skins who pull out ahead in Week 16, defeating the Eagles in Robert Griffin III's return to action.

At 9-6, it will come down to a Cowboys/Redskins grudge match at Fedex Field in Week 17, a match-up in which the Skins will win, completing the season sweep and wrapping up the NFC East. It's a tough pill to swallow for the Giants, likely finishing out the second half of the season with a 3-5 record and completing 2012 with a 9-7 record. But Eli Manning's inconsistency has held back a team that very easily could be at 10-11 wins right now.
NFC Playoff Scenarios

*Falcons clinch first round bye and No. 1 seed with a win. Can clinch first round bye with a win OR a loss by Green Bay OR a loss by San Francisco.
*49ers clinch NFC West with a win over Seattle. Can clinch first round bye with a win AND the Packers lose.
*Seahawks can clinch a playoff spot with a win over San Francisco.
*Redskins can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Philadelphia AND losses by Giants, Bears and Vikings.
*Giants can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Baltimore AND losses by Redskins, Cowboys, Bears and Vikings.

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