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Playoff scenarios for NFC contenders
AFC | NFC
Best-case scenario: Atlanta secures the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a home victory over lowly Carolina (2-13).
Worst-case scenario: Atlanta drops to a wild-card spot with a loss to the Panthers and New Orleans victory over visiting Tampa Bay.
Playoff forecast: With Carolina in freefall, the Falcons are a virtual lock for the No. 1 seed. That is significant considering Atlanta's 19-2 record inside the Georgia Dome under quarterback Matt Ryan and head coach Mike Smith. But Atlanta squandered the chance to make a strong statement about its Super Bowl chances by losing at home Monday night to the Saints. Philadelphia could be another problematic matchup with the Eagles having posted a Week 6 home win against the Falcons.
Best-case scenario: The Bears win at Green Bay, Atlanta gets upset by Carolina and New Orleans loses to Tampa Bay. That would give Chicago the No. 1 seed over the Falcons because of a better winning percentage against common opponents. The Bears would be 4-1 (.800 winning percentage) in games against Green Bay, Seattle, Carolina and Philadelphia; Atlanta is 3-1 (.750) vs. those same foes.
Worst-case scenario: New Orleans wins, Atlanta loses and Chicago falls to the Packers. That would give the Saints the No. 1 seed.
Playoff forecast: Thanks to Minnesota's upset over Philadelphia on Tuesday night, the Bears can drop no lower than the No. 2 seed. A 38-34 victory over the New York Jets last Sunday was a huge confidence boost after a blowout home loss to New England two weeks earlier.
Best-case scenario: Because of the Vikings loss, Philadelphia is locked into the No. 3 seed win or lose Sunday against Dallas.
Worst-case scenario: None.
Playoff forecast: Because the Eagles no longer have a shot at the No. 2 seed, Philadelphia can essentially use the Cowboys game as a bye. That means quarterback Michael Vick will have additional time to heal after suffering a leg injury against Minnesota.
New Orleans (11-4)
Best-case scenario: New Orleans takes the NFC South with a win over Tampa Bay and an Atlanta loss to Carolina. That would assure the Saints of at least the No. 2 playoff seed. New Orleans could then claim the No. 1 seed if Chicago lost at Green Bay.
Worst-case scenario: Atlanta wins. That would automatically relegate New Orleans to the No. 5 seed.
Playoff forecast: Even if the Saints can't claim the division title, New Orleans would still enter its first-round road playoff game as the favorite against the NFC West winner. The Saints defeated Seattle and St. Louis at home earlier this season by a combined score of 65-32.
St. Louis (7-8)
Best-case scenario: A win Sunday night at Seattle gives the Rams the NFC West crown.
Worst-case scenario: The Rams are eliminated with a Seahawks victory.
Playoff forecast: Sam Bradford has enjoyed a standout season, but rookie quarterbacks tend to get exposed in the playoffs. Nonetheless, the Rams have proven feisty at home with a 5-3 record and a much-improved effort after last season's 1-15 campaign.
Best-case scenario: Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst steps up and the Seahawks become the first division winner in NFL history with a losing record by topping visiting St. Louis.
Worst-case scenario: The Seahawks lose their fourth straight game and sixth in their past seven to end Pete Carroll’s first season as head coach on a down note.
Playoff forecast: An NFC West title would provide fuel to critics who believe the NFL's playoff formatting should be changed. If they make it, the Seahawks are almost assuredly a one-and-done qualifier. Seattle's only win against a playoff team came in Week 6 at Chicago.
Green Bay (9-6)
Best-case scenario: The Packers claim the second wild-card spot outright with a home victory over Chicago. Green Bay could receive some major help if Atlanta defeats Carolina in a 1 p.m. ET matchup. The Bears would then be locked into the No. 2 seed win or lose against Green Bay, which could prompt Chicago coach Lovie Smith to pull his starters early as a safeguard against injury.
Worst-case scenario: The Packers lose to Chicago. Green Bay would then qualify only if Tampa Bay and the New York Giants also are defeated.
Playoff forecast: The Packers can finish no better than the No. 6 seed, which would lead to a first-round game at Philadelphia. Green Bay defeated the Eagles on the road, 27-20, in Week 1, but that game is remembered more for Vick's second-half performance, when he entered the lineup in place of the injured Kevin Kolb. Vick ended up keeping the starting position for good and led the Eagles into the postseason.
New York Giants (9-6)
Best-case scenario: The combination of a New York win at Washington and Green Bay loss to Chicago would give the Giants the No. 6 seed.
Worst-case scenario: The Giants lose or Green Bay wins to eliminate New York and possibly ends Tom Coughlin's seven-year tenure as head coach.
Playoff forecast: Even if the Giants sneak into the postseason, it's hard to get excited about a team that has surrendered 83 points in consecutive losses to Philadelphia and Green Bay. Eli Manning also has thrown more interceptions (24) than any other NFL quarterback. That is inexcusable for a seven-year veteran with his type of talent.
Tampa Bay (9-6)
Best-case scenario: The Bucs win or tie against New Orleans followed by losses or ties by Green Bay and the New York Giants. That is the only way Tampa Bay can reach the playoffs.
Worst-case scenario: The Bucs eliminate themselves with a loss in New Orleans.
Playoff forecast: Even as injuries to key players have mounted, Tampa Bay has hung tough and shown great improvement in Raheem Morris' second season as head coach. That being said, a Week 15 home loss to Detroit is likely to haunt the Bucs throughout the offseason.
St. Louis (8-8)
New Orleans (11-5)
Green Bay (10-6)