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It’s early, but the NFC is loaded

How about some playoff odds?

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams
oh there it is
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Well, as midseason approaches already, somehow, way too soon, like it always does, it comes to light that 2019 might treat us to one of the craziest playoff pushes in the NFC. The conference could house 11 good teams and five bad ones. You know who you are. Or do you?

The NFC’s North and West divisions have one team, total, with a losing record: the suddenly unterrible 2-3-1 Arizona Cardinals. The South is top-heavy, and the East is a mystery wrapped in a Eaglenigma. All of which makes life interesting for the Seattle Seahawks — as if they weren’t already doing that themselves, every minute of every game, and every minute in between, too.

With six weeks in the books, two teams have begun to build a strong case for earning a first-round bye, while nine others fight among each other to unseat them. That’s where I’m getting the 11 number: almost a dozen teams still have playoff odds at 25 percent or higher. Eleven! Seven squads are above .500 and four more are right at it, including three division winners from last year.

A simple table, first, full of self-explanatory value. It comes courtesy of the excellent people at football outsiders dot com.

Playoff Odds After Week 6

Team W-L record Playoff odds
Team W-L record Playoff odds
SF 5-0 90.7
NO 5-1 88.9
GB 5-1 73.1
SEA 5-1 62.9
PHI 3-3 56.8
MIN 4-2 51
DAL 3-3 47.2
CAR 4-2 37.4
CHI 3-2 28.8
LAR 3-3 25.6
DET 2-2-(1) 24.5

Main takeaways are:

  • Like I mentioned, four teams sit at .500; one of them will win the NFC East, but the other three are going to pay dearly for their next defeat. The Rams travel to the Falcons, the Lions host the Vikings, and Eagles and Cowboys meet for the first time this season, in Dallas. Virtually every week is going to have some sort of game with a wild playoff swing at stake, overflowing with leverage.
  • When the Packers defeated the Lions on Monday Night Football after what we’ll call a series of fortunate officiating events, their chances for a bye increased to 28.8. Had they lost and fallen to 4-2, they’d be tied with the Vikings and wold be looking at something more like Minnesota’s 11.6 bye odds. Never root for the Lions, as Lions fans would tell you without hesitation.
  • The Bears and Rams are in third place in their respective divisions, so they’ve got two teams each to pass for an automatic bid and a tough wild-card field, which damages their prospects.
  • The Panthers trail the Vikings because of conference record. Win those NFC games, people.
  • Wow it would’ve been nice to win that Saints game and have the inside track on a bye. Greg Zuerlein’s missed kick, the biggest play of the year for Seattle, will have to do as a consolation prize.

So let’s also talk about that first-round bye, the most valuable of playoff positions. No team seeded worse than second has won the NFC since 2011. It’s just so much harder to win three playoff games, all on the road, than two, at least one of which is at home.

Bye Odds After Week 6

Team Bye odds
Team Bye odds
SF 58.5
NO 53.7
GB 28.8
SEA 17
MIN 11.6
CAR 8.2
PHI 6.4
CHI 5.5
DAL 3.9

Pretty sure that before the season started, most of us here at FG would have taken 17 percent odds to get that first-round bye, especially if it came attached with 2 percent for the Rams. The 49ers games — Monday Night Football on November 11 and then Week 17 — might be quite meaningful this year for reasons other than pride and bragging rights.

The early madness across the NFC stems in part from how the conference is dominating the AFC so far.

Extrapolating, the NFC is nine games above .500 this year, so far, against the Kraft-Belichick-Brady Memorial Conference. I’d be willing to wager that one, maybe two 10-6 teams will be left out of the postseason on this side of the bracket. That’s a phenomenon that used to happen a lot but has taken a few seasons off. Here’s the list of recent 10-6 January mopers:

2015: Giants

2014: Eagles

2013: Cardinals

2012: Bears

2010: Packers and Buccaneers

Back in 2008, of course, as fans older than teenagers will remember, the Patriots missed the playoffs at 11-5, in the year they also lost Tom Brady for the season. It’s not hard to imagine, say, the Rams catching fire again, the Seahawks reaching 12 wins, and the Niners staying home at 11-5 because they lose a tie-breaker with the Bears or Vikings or whoever. It’s not hard, and it’s also fun.

Pretty Premature Playoff Picture

Wild-card round

Seahawks (5) at Eagles (4)

Vikings (6) at Packers (3)

The mouth waters.

Divisional round

Worst remaining seed at 49ers (1)

Best remaining seed at Saints (2)

Wrapping up here today by creating three tiers for our playoff hopefuls. I’ll promote and demote teams as the season races on.

Legit Contenders

Saints, Niners, Packers, Seahawks

Need A Break Or Two

Vikings, Panthers, Bears

Next Loss Stings

Eagles, Cowboys, Rams, Lions

I’ll throw the playoff odds, the playoff picture, and the team tiers at you each week, in quick form or, as December approaches, with a ridiculousness that promises to level up in an already-looking-kinda-ridiculous season.