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How the Thanksgiving games affected the playoff picture in the NFC

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Buffalo Bills v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Thursday saw wind for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, a lot of turkeys cooked across the country and an NFC heavy slate of NFL games for fans to enjoy. In the early game the Chicago Bears defeated the Detroit Lions, then America watched as the Dallas Cowboys were embarrassed at home by the Buffalo Bills before settling in for a night cap with saw the New Orleans Saints defeat the Atlanta Falcons.

The Bears-Lions game featured two teams that aren’t likely to make the playoffs, with the victorious Chicago squad still two and a half games behind the Minnesota Vikings with just four games to go in the season. The Bears aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs just quite yet, but it won’t take a whole lot for that to happen, so I’m not going to spend too many words writing about this contest.

In the late game, the Saints defeat of the Falcons officially eliminated any hope of an Atlanta playoff berth. They now sit five and a half games back with just four games yet to play, which, means Dan Quinn and his boys won’t be playing in January next year. On the flip side, the victory by New Orleans gave the Saints their third straight NFC South title, which means they have also clinched no worse than a home playoff game in the Wild Card round.

The win also effectively gave the Saints a one and a half game lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the race for home field advantage through the playoffs, with a potentially huge game looming in Week 14 against the San Francisco 49ers. How important the Week 14 game against the 49ers depends on the outcome of the 49ers game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, so we’ll wait until that has been played before getting into the jumble at the top of the standings that could result.

Perhaps the biggest impact on the playoff picture comes from the Cowboys loss. Dallas is now just 6-6, with games against the Bears, Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams left. That’s far from a murderer’s row, but the risk comes in the form of the Eagles, who in spite of having lost four of their last six games, dcould move into a tie for first place in the NFC East with a win on Sunday. In addition, the Eagles schedule over the final five weeks features four games against teams currently slated to be picking in the top four of the NFL draft. Their remaining schedule is:

  • Week 13: Miami Dolphins (2-9)
  • Week 14: New York Giants (2-9)
  • Week 15: Washington Redskins (2-9)
  • Week 16: Dallas Cowboys (6-6)
  • Week 17: New York Giants (2-9)

Basically, the Eagles remaining opponents have a winning percentage of .250, and they have a real chance to sneak into first place in the NFC East and win the division. That could prove important to the Seahawks, because if Seattle is somehow unable to maneuver past the 49ers to win the division between now and the end of the season, they could potentially wind up as the fifth seed in the playoffs. The fifth seed, of course, travels to take on the fourth seed, and that could set up a rematch of the Seattle-Philadelphia contest we watched last weekend that ended 17-9, but easily could have been 37-9.

In any case, the situation in the NFC East will certainly be one to watch in the coming weeks, as the Cowboys could find themselves not just dealing with rumors of a coach on the hot seat, but with the potential of sitting at home in January suddenly very real.

The debacle in the NFC East also has the potential to set up one other thing of beauty for Seattle fans. While the Rams have won just a single game over the past month, their schedule has two winnable (also loseable, given their current level of play) games against the Arizona Cardinals and a third game against the reeling Cowboys. That gives the Rams a very real possibility of finishing with a better record than whichever teams winds up winning the NFC East, while not making the postseason.