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NFC playoff picture and Week 15 games to watch

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Two spots are secured, but another three are on the table this week.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The New Orleans Saints are back in control of the NFC after spending a week with the second seed.
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints locked down the NFC South for the second consecutive year, and they took over the number one seed in the NFC in the process. With only 3 games left in the regular season, playoff spots are beginning to be locked down and teams on the outside are dealing with fewer and fewer chances to work their way into the conversation. Before the Rams even kick off on Sunday Night Against the Philadelphia Eagles, five of the six playoff berths can be clinched. Let’s take a look at the standings and clinching scenarios for each team

  1. New Orleans Saints (11-2) (holds head-to-head tiebreaker over Rams)
  2. Los Angeles Rams (11-2)
  3. Chicago Bears (9-4)
  4. Dallas Cowboys (8-5)
  5. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
  6. Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1)
  7. Carolina Panthers (6-7) (holds head-to-head tiebreaker over Eagles)
  8. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) (holds head-to-head tiebreaker over the Redskins)
  9. Washington Redskins (6-7)

Some quick thoughts on the standings:

  • The six teams sitting in the playoffs right now are likely to be the teams that finish that way. The Panthers have two games remaining against the conference-leading Saints. The Eagles will likely need to make a push without QB Carson Wentz. And the Redskins are leaning on QB Josh Johnson, who was recently drafted by something called an AAF.
  • If the standings hold, the Vikings and Bears will play for the third time this season during Wild Card Weekend. The other Wild Card game will feature another rematch with the Seahawks visiting the Cowboys.
  • If the Rams finish with the second seed, the only team the Rams can’t play would be the six-seeded Vikings. The top seed plays the lowest remaining seed, meaning the Saints would get the play the Vikings should they win on Wild Card Weekend.
  • The Saints can clinch a first-round bye with a win. The Rams can clinch a first-round bye with a win AND Bears loss. The Bears clinch the NFC North with a win OR Vikings loss OR if both teams tie. The Cowboys clinch the NFC East with a win OR losses by the Redskins and Eagles. The Seahawks clinch a Wild Card spot with a win OR a tie with several combinations of the Redskins, Panthers, Eagles and Vikings losses/ties.

Week 15 Games to Watch

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers

When: Monday Night Football, 5:15 PM

Why: The Rams don’t have a lot to watch the scoreboard for, but a win against the Eagles on Sunday would put pressure on the Saints to hold serve on Monday Night. These two teams play each other twice in the last three weeks and will likely determine the Panther’s playoff fate as well as the top seed in the NFC.

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

When: 10:00 AM Sunday

Why: The only other team that can potentially influence the Rams’ playoff seeding, the Bears have to shake some demons by taking on the Green Bay Packers. The Packers aren’t technically dead, but would need to win out and would need the teams in front of them to fall off. If the Bears revert to their ways by losing to the Packers, the Rams would be playing for a bye on Sunday Night.

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers

When: 1:05 PM Sunday

Why: I’m telling you, the Rams aren’t done playing the Seahawks. They should beat the 49ers and the Cardinals, but their Week 16 game against the Kansas City Chiefs will be a real barometer for how good they are.