I’ve never liked saying there’s a must-win game before we even get to December, but it’s hard to argue against it for the Dallas Cowboys this week. Now 5-5 after losing their first games of Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, they get one of the easiest opponents they’ll have the rest of the year. If the Cowboys can’t beat the Los Angeles Chargers today, they don’t deserve to make the playoffs.
Here are the current NFC standings. With six weeks left to go, we’ll include all of the teams with .500 records or better.
- Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)
- Minnesota Vikings (8-2)
- New Orleans Saints (8-2)
- Los Angeles Rams (7-3)
- Carolina Panthers (7-3)
- Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
- Detroit Lions (6-4)
- Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
- Green Bay Packers (5-5)
- Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
- Minnesota is ahead of New Orleans thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker from a Week 1 victory.
- The Falcons are the #6 team with head-to-head wins over both Detroit and Seattle.
- The Lions (5-3 vs NFC) are ahead of the Seahawks (4-3) thanks to a lightly better record in conference games.
- Green Bay is ahead of Dallas thanks to their head-to-head win in Week 5.
Getting back into one of those the NFC Wild Card spots will be tough for the Cowboys. They have given up losses to the Falcons and Packers. Green Bay will likely fall out of the race before long, but Atlanta is looking good to stick around. The Cowboys will have to hope that the Falcons collapse down the stretch.
Here are the NFC-relevant games from the Week 12 schedule:
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions
One of the best games of the week; longtime rivals with major playoff implications. If the Lions can use the short week and home field to their advantage, they will pull within just a game of the Vikings in the NFC North and pick up a critical NFC win for their Wild Card positioning. Minnesota will remain the division leaders even with a loss, but they would like to remain in that top two position for a first-round bye.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons
With head-to-head tiebreakers over Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay, and Seattle, the Falcons have some major leverage in the Wild Card hunt. What’s more, with two games left on the schedule against New Orleans and one with Carolina, still winning the NFC South is very much on their radar. They get a soft opponent this week in the 4-6 Bucs to maintain their solid position.
Carolina Panthers @ New York Jets
With a win today against the Jets and a very possible Saints loss in Los Angeles, Carolina could pull even with New Orleans in their division. The Saints do have a tiebreaker from beating the Panthers earlier this year, but they meet again next week in what could be a division-deciding showdown.
Chicago Bears @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles should keep on soaring with the sorry Bears coming to town. Philly gets to keep padding its lead both in the NFC East and as the top team in the conference.
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers
After a crushing loss last week to Atlanta, the Seahawks get take it out on the whipping boys of the NFC West.
New Orleans Saints @ Los Angeles Rams
A huge game in the NFC this week as two division leaders square off. The Rams are coming off a tough loss to the Vikings where they didn’t really look on their level. They need a confidence-restoring victory here, but the Saints have won eight-straight and are finding ways to win even the games they shouldn’t. A loss today by L.A. could be all Seattle needs to retake the NFC West.
Green Bay Packers @ Pittsburgh Steelers
A likely loss to the Steelers on Sunday night should knock the Packers out of the playoff conversation. However, they have winnable games with the Bucs and Browns after. With murmurs of Aaron Rodgers returning before the end of the year, perhaps they can stay alive long enough for him to come back and work some magic.