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NFC playoff picture: Cardinals stand atop the conference

patrickpeterson

There’s much left to be decided in the NFC playoff race, but this much is clear: The Cardinals are well ahead of the pack.

After beating Detroit on Sunday, Arizona now owns a two-game lead over the rest of the NFC. The Cardinals, who are undefeated in conference play, also own the tiebreaker advantage over every other NFC team. All the Cardinals have to do is win at least four of their last six games, and the road to the Super Bowl will go through Arizona.

Here’s where the NFC playoff race stands, with six weeks to go:

THE PLAYOFF TREE
1. Arizona Cardinals (9-1) NFC West leader. The Cardinals’ schedule isn’t easy going forward: They still have road games at Seattle, Atlanta, St. Louis and San Francisco, as well as home games against the Chiefs and Seahawks. But there’s no reason to think the Cardinals can’t win four of those six, which is all they have to do to clinch the No. 1 seed.

2. Detroit Lions (7-3) NFC North leader. The Lions beat the Packers, which means they currently own the tiebreaker. But the Packers will have something to say about that when these teams meet in Green Bay in Week 17.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (7-3) NFC East leader. The Eagles are 2-0 in the NFC East, which means they own the tiebreaker in the division. But the Eagles and Cowboys still meet twice, in Dallas on Thanksgiving and in Philadelphia in Week 15.

4. Atlanta Falcons (4-6) NFC South leader. Someone has to win the NFC South, and right now the Falcons are on top because they’re 4-0 within the division. (And yes, for you math majors, that means they’re 0-6 against all teams outside the NFC South.) Atlanta will visit New Orleans in Week 16 in a game that may determine the winner of a bad division.

5. Green Bay Packers (7-3) First wild card team. The Packers would be the 5 seed right now because they lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Lions in the NFC North, but win the conference record tiebreaker with the Cowboys for playoff seeding.

6. Dallas Cowboys (7-3) Second wild card team. Dallas still has four NFC East games remaining, including two against the Eagles.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-4) Catching the Cardinals in the NFC West won’t be easy. The 49ers need to keep winning and hope the Lions, Eagles, Packers or Cowboys go into a slump.

8. Seattle Seahawks (6-4) Seattle is in the same position as San Francisco. The Seahawks and 49ers meet in Week 13 and Week 15. Those look like must-win games for both teams.

9. New Orleans Saints (4-6) Although Atlanta currently owns the tiebreaker, New Orleans is still the favorite to win the NFC South, as the Saints still get to face the Falcons at home. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a wild card team with a 10-6 or 11-5 record have to go on the road and play a 7-9 NFC South winner.