There were some big moves throughout the NFC playoff picture based on Week 15's results. But with many teams still divided by just tiebreakers, more changes could be ahead as we look into the Week 16 schedule and games with postseason implications.
The Cowboys jumped from the fourth to the second seed after surprising losses by Arizona and Tampa Bay. Thanks to a three-way tie between them, the Bucs' head-to-head win over Dallas from Week 1 is currently nullified and allows the Cowboys' superior record in conference play to put them on top.
We also saw a shift at the bottom of the bracket as Minnesota moved up into the last wild card spot following Washington's loss to Philadelphia.
Current NFC Playoff Standings
- Green Bay Packers (11-3)
- Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4)
- Arizona Cardinals (10-4)
- Los Angeles Rams (10-4)
- San Francisco 49ers (8-7)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
- Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)
- New Orleans Saints (7-7)
- Washington (6-8)
- Atlanta Falcons (6-8)
- The Cowboys (8-1) are ahead of the Bucs (6-4) and Cardinals (6-4) based on a superior record in conference games.
- The Bucs are ahead of the Cardinals based on strength of victory.
- The Cardinals (4-1) are ahead of the Rams (3-2) based on a superior record in their division games.
- The Vikings are ahead of the Eagles based on a better record against common opponents. They are ahead of the Saints based on a superior record in conference games.
- The Eagles are ahead of the Saints based on a head-to-head victory.
- Washington is ahead of the Falcons based on a head-to-head victory.
Current Playoff Game:
(7) Minnesota Vikings @ (2) Dallas Cowboys
If the playoffs started today, Dallas would host the seventh-seeded Vikings in the first round. Considering the Cowboys won in Minnesota in Week 8 with Cooper Rush at QB and other key players missing, this is one of the more attractive potential matchups they we could hope for.
One playoff-relevant game already occurred with the 49ers' loss to the Titans on Thursday. On its own it didn't change any seedings; San Francisco remains the sixth seed for now. But the loss did pull them down a little closer to the pack of other wild card hopefuls and perhaps will leave two spots up for grabs in the coming weeks.
The Niners' loss did clinch a playoff spot for the Cowboys. At worst, Dallas is now assured of at least being a wild card team. But the Cowboys have their sights set much higher now with a division title likely and the number-one seed in the NFC very much within their reach.
Week 16 Impact Games
Washington @ Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys may already know they're NFC East Champions before this Sunday night game ever happens. A loss or tie by the Eagles in their game against the Giants would secure it. Even if Philly wins, Dallas could still clinch the division with various game outcomes that would secure the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Eagles.
Even if they're named division champions before playing Washington, Dallas will still have plenty of motivation to keep giving their best. Not only would they love that number-one seed and the first-round bye, but staying in the top three and avoiding the 4th/5th matchup with the Cardinals or Rams should be a goal.
Cleveland Browns @ Green Bay Packers
The Packers have already clinched the NFC North and, along with Dallas, are one of just two teams to secure a playoff spot so far in either conference. With Cleveland fighting for survival in tight races for both their own division and the AFC wild cards, we can hope that they come to this game with more motivation and more opportunity now that Baker Mayfield and Jarvis Landry have been activated off the COVID list.
If Green Bay were to slip, and assuming the Cowboys are victorious in their own game, then Dallas would take over as the number-one seed thanks to having just one loss in the NFC. The Packers are 8-2 within the conference.
Indianapolis Colts @ Arizona Cardinals
Rooting interest with the Cardinals is a tricky thing right now. Their presence in our current three-way tie with Tampa Bay is what's currently nullifying the Bucs' head-to-head win over Dallas from Week 1. So from that standpoint, we may want them to keep on winning.
But with the Cowboys and Cardinals meeting next week, someone is obviously taking at least one more loss this season (barring a tie). But even if Arizona drops out, we could see the Rams become NFC West leaders and then join Dallas and Tampa in the triad. And with L.A. having a head-to-head win over the Bucs this year, that would cancel out their win over the Cowboys in a tiebreaker.
So yeah, it's complicated. And with three games left, hard to say what's best for Dallas with so many variables still swirling around.
Tampa Bay Bucs @ Carolina Panthers
There's no confusion when it comes to the Bucs. We want them to lose and keep right on losing the rest of the regular season, putting that head-to-head tiebreaker as far away as possible. While the Panthers don't seem likely to help our cause, it's hard to say anything's certain after watching Arizona and Tampa drop games to the Lions and Saints a week ago.
Los Angeles Rams @ Minnesota Vikings
The Rams are unlikely to drop any lower than the fifth seed, so this one's really about the Vikings' hopes for clinging onto a wild card spot. I would much rather see Minnesota in January than some other potential wild card teams, so I hope they can pull off the upset today.
Plus, should Los Angeles eventually win the NFC West, keeping them at least a game behind the Cowboys for seeding purposes wouldn't be a bad thing.
New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles
While I wouldn't mind seeing the Eagles in a playoff game, I would hate to see Philly fans able to crow about making the tournament. But if the Eagles getting a wild card spot means that the Saints don't (more on them in a minute), I'll take that outcome.
Detroit Lions @ Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are all but done but still mathematically alive. Unless Detroit's about to go on one of the more improbable win streaks in NFL history, this is a nice chance for Atlanta to pad their win column and strengthen their chances.
Miami Dolphins @ New Orleans Saints
After the Rams or Cardinals there's no potential wild card team I'd less like to see Dallas play than the Saints. They have a tough defense and a crafty, championship-level coach in Sean Payton who can make life difficult for anyone. If all the teams around .500 right now who the Cowboys might see in the first round, New Orleans is the one I think could most take advantage if Dallas isn't at their best.