With just 3 weeks to go, there are still 10 teams with reasonable playoff hopes still alive in the NFC, although the Packers and Cardinals are running out of time. There are no new obituaries this week, so let's get right to the hierarchy...
10) Cardinals (8-5)
The Cardinals are better than a lot of teams lower than them in the hierarchy, but their chances of making the playoffs are very thin. They only trail the Niners and Panthers by one game in the wildcard race, but they have 5 conference losses. The Niners and Panthers have 3 each, and would win in most tie-breaking scenarios.
I suppose if the Eagles were to make the playoffs, you'd rather face the Cardinals than the Panthers or Niners, but at the same time, it just seems cosmically correct for this whiney team to just go away.
9) Packers (6-6-1)
The Packers are reportedly pessimistic that Aaron Rodgers will be able to play this week in Dallas.
8) Cowboys (7-6)
If indeed Aaron Rodgers does not play this week, the Cowboys will likely face 5 QBs who were not opening day starters:
That is an insane string of luck, and yet, the Cowboys will almost certainly finish dead last in overall defense.
The Bears' win over the Cowboys on Monday night was almost like an SNL skit in which the Superfans make ridiculous game predictions:
"Mike Ditka will get honored at halftime, and the Bears won't punt once."
The Cowboys have allowed at least 475 yards in 6 games this season. That is gross.
7) Bears (7-6)
When Jay Cutler is healthy again, what do you do? Josh McCown has clearly outplayed Cutler:
The Bears are optimistic Cutler will be ready to play this Sunday, and if he's cleared, he'll start. That seems odd, especially considering the report that the Bears are ready to let Cutler walk in free agency this offseason.
Plus, McCown does downright bizarre public service announcements about pornography, so he has that going for him.
6) Lions (7-6)
The Lions are 1-3 in their last 4 games, including losses to the Steelers and Bucs, who have a combined record of 9-17. The Lions are also 3-5 outside the NFC North, and but still lead the division because they've feasted on the crappy teams within it.
5) Eagles (8-5)
The Eagles have sole possession of first place in the NFC East. While they have some work to do before we crown them NFC East champs, it would be the 11th consecutive year that a team has gone from worst to first, if they can hang on. Worst to first teams over the last 10 years can be found here.
There's a decent chance that 3 of the 4 divisions in the NFC will have a team that goes from worst to first. They would be the Eagles, Lions, and Saints, who tied with the Panthers and Bucs for last place in the NFC South last year.
Conversely, there are 2 teams in the NFC (Redskins and Falcons) who are likely to go from first to worst.
4) 49ers (9-4)
The Niners are on a 3 game win streak, including a huge win over the Seahawks. Still, it's hard to overlook Colin Kaepernick's poor play in the Niners' 4 losses this season:
People are beginning to think of the Niners as a team that can win the Super Bowl. That would require Kaepernick to string together 4 consecutive games that don't look like any of the above. Anyone betting on that?
3) Panthers (9-4)
It's funny how the perception of a QB is tied to his team's success. Good record, good QB. Bad record, bad QB. No need to dig deeper and actually watch film or even look up some basic statistics. Up until the Panthers lost handily to the Saints on Sunday, Cam Newton was in the conversation for MVP of the league? Really?!?
A season ago, the Panthers struggled and the perception was that Newton had a bad season.
In reality, Newton's 2012 and 2013 seasons aren't all that different.
2013 QBR: Cam Newton is 16th in the NFL.
2012 QBR: Cam Newton was 16th in the NFL.
The difference is that Carolina's defense this year is awesome, while last year's version was less than awesome. That's not to criticize Newton's season. He's been good, but any MVP talk is ridiculous. In 2012, he didn't deserve the heavy doses of criticism he received. In 2013, he doesn't deserve the overzealous praise.
2) Saints (10-3)
In Week 13, the Seahawks stomped all over the Saints. Credit Drew Brees and Co for coming back strong against the Panthers in a huge divisional game.
The Saints have 3 losses this season. In the games following those losses, they've outgained their opponents by a combined 653 yards.
1) Seahawks (11-2)
The Seahawks gain 5.9 yards per play. They allow 4.6 yards per play. That is a differential of 1.3, which is by far the best in the NFL.
Note where the Eagles and Cowboys rank on that list.