The Zombie Seahawks are still standing. But they are diminished like the rest of the NFC’s power teams from 2016, struggling to get to this season’s finish line.
Seattle’s bizarre win in Dallas, where the Seahawks had more penalty yards (142) than actual yards (136), officially knocked out last year’s top seed. The No. 6 spot in the NFC comes down to the Seahawks and the reigning NFC champion Falcons, two teams that have stumbled while chasing expectations all season and could already be looking ahead to next year. The top five spots in the NFC, meanwhile, are all accounted for by teams that went .500 or worse in 2016.
Here’s how the NFC playoff picture looks after Christmas Eve, with a peek at what’s ahead for each team:
2017 SEASON: WEEK 16
▹ The Debrief: Everything at stake in Week 17
▹ Jimmy G. making 49ers football fun again
▹ Seahawks survive, ending Cowboys season1) Philadelphia Eagles Jerseys (12-2): A win on Christmas night would clinch the No. 1 seed for the Eagles and possibly tempt coach Doug Pederson to rest some starters in the Week 17 finale against Dallas. That’s a risky proposition with a new starting quarterback (Nick Foles Jerseys Jerseys Jerseys) who needs reps and an Eagles defense that wants to return to form after a few scratchy outings.
2) Minnesota Vikings Jerseys (12-3): Minnesota’s 16-0 victory over the Packers put the team one step closer to a first-round bye and a home Divisional Round game. A win over the Bears on Sunday clinches the bye, although the Vikings can also back into the bye if the Saints win or the Panthers lose or the Rams win. (So it’s happening.)
In an unpredictable league, the Vikings know exactly what team they are each week. The defense is so fundamentally sound, wearing opponents down and forcing them to complete mistake-free drives. It’s not like Aaron Rodgers Jerseys Jerseys’ presence should be required for Vikings fans to fully enjoy a dominant season sweep of the Packers, with “Skol” chants late on Christmas Eve Eve at frigid Lambeau Field. This Vikings squad can win its 13th game this week — that’d mark the second-most regular-season victories in the team’s 57-year franchise history. Vikings fans should savor a team with a chance to host a Super Bowl while they can because seasons like this don’t come around often.
3) Los Angeles Rams Jerseys (11-4): Sean McVay will be the youngest coach in NFL playoff history next month. A narrow victory in Tennessee clinched the Rams’ first NFC West title since the days of Marc Bulger and Mike Martz slinging the ball around St. Louis.
The Rams have little to play for this week. They will host a Wild Card Weekend game as the No. 3 or No. 4 seed, with no chance at a bye. That could mean McVay rests some starters against the 49ers, especially MVP candidate running back Todd Gurley Jerseys. This Rams squad, which finished 7-1 on the road, has the defense and special teams that can travel in the playoffs. I believe the Rams have the best overall team of any NFC squad, and it will be fascinating to see how their young players (and coach) handle this opportunity.
4) New Orleans Saints Jerseys (11-4): Sunday’s comprehensive takedown of the Falcons kept the Saints in control of the NFC South and clinched a playoff berth. A win over the Bucs on Sunday (or a loss by the Panthers) clinches the division for the Saints. New Orleans can’t earn a playoff bye.
The win over Atlanta was a reminder of how this playoff team is different than any Sean Payton has coached before. It’s complete. On a day when New Orleans’ running game was largely bottled up, Drew Brees Jerseys Jerseys hit a few key deep passes and the Saints’ defense throttled Atlanta’s running attack. This is Brees and Payton’s best chance at another Super Bowl run since 2011, a season that Saints fans weren’t sure this group Cheap NFL Jerseys online would ever get again.
5) Carolina Panthers Jerseys (11-4): Cam Newton Jerseys Jerseys’s game-winning touchdown after recovering his own fumble against Tampa was the Panthers’ season writ small — ugly, but ultimately effective. Style points aside, the Panthers have an 11-4 record with Newton leading the way.
Carolina’s late comeback against the Bucs clinched a playoff berth for the Panthers and sets up a compelling visit to Atlanta in Week 17. The Panthers could climb as high as the No. 2 seed with a win and (unlikely) losses by the Vikings, Saints and Rams. (Don’t ask why the Rams matter in this scenario, but they do.) The Panthers are more likely to be a wild-card team because a Saints win in Tampa clinches the NFC South for New Orleans. The Panthers’ recent formula of “just enough” has resulted in seven wins out of eight tries, but that will likely only get them a road game on Wild Card Weekend.
6) Atlanta Falcons Jerseys (9-6): How many times do I need to watch the Falcons not have it this season to realize they don’t have it? Atlanta’s desultory loss in New Orleans sets up a simple Week 17 scenario. Beat the Panthers at home and the Falcons are in as the NFC’s six seed. Lose the game and the Falcons still make the playoffs as the No. 6 seed — if the Seahawks stumble against the Cardinals.
While the Falcons will make the NFC playoff field spicier in theory, they continue to be a far more dangerous team on paper than in reality, routinely playing their biggest games in a mental fog.
7) Seattle Seahawks Jerseys (9-6): It’s a surprise they still have a chance. After the team’s 42-7 loss to the Rams, the Zombie Seahawks showed some championship fight in Dallas. Seattle needs to beat Arizona in Week 17 and watch the Falcons crumble at home to Carolina, two outcomes that sound too plausible to actually happen in this implausible, upside-down season.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.