With Week 14 in the books, FOX Sports South fearlessly projects and seeds the six participants for the upcoming NFC playoffs. In other words, we've already done the (evolving) math, in terms of breaking up the logjam of clubs at 10-3 (Green Bay, Arizona) and 9-4 (Seattle, Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas). Spoiler alert: A double-digit-victory club won't reach the postseason. We also carved out some time to address the subpar, but strangely fascinating race in the NFC South. (Photos: Mark J. Rebilas/Jeff Hanisch/Matthew Emmons/Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
#1 Seed -- Green Bay Packers
CURRENT RECORD: 10-3 ... GAMES REMAINING: @ BUF, @ TB, DET ... WHY THE PACKERS EARN THE #1 SEED: 1) Green Bay (9-1 since Aaron Rodgers' famous R-E-L-A-X comment) runs the table in its final three games (projected 13-3 record), including an NFC North winner-take-all showdown with Detroit in Week 17. 2) The Packers garner the top speed, by virtue of a one-game edge over Seattle. 3) Since Week 2, Rodgers has enjoyed a mind-boggling 34/2 TD-INT ratio. Of that 12-game span, the NFL MVP front-runner has accounted for 300 yards passing and/or three TDs 11 times. 4) Sunday's cold-weather clash at Buffalo has the feel of a trap game ... before the Packers head to Tampa Bay. However, RB Eddie Lacy (above -- seven TDs since Week 10) and Co. understand the monumental importance of owning home field throughout the NFC playoffs.
#2 Seed -- Seattle Seahawks
CURRENT RECORD: 9-4 ... GAMES REMAINING: SF, @ ARI, STL ... WHY THE SEAHAWKS EARN THE #2 SEED: 1) Seattle (projected 12-4 record) claims victory for Weeks 15-17 -- including a secure-the-NFC-West showdown over Arizona in Week 16. 2) For this weekend at home, a Seahawks win would effectively boot the slumping 49ers from playoff contention. 3) The Seahawks defense has held the Cardinals, 49ers and Eagles -- three contending clubs -- to paltry averages of 6.7 points over the last three games (all victories). 4) Digging deeper, Seattle has limited the opposition to less than 325 total yards for eight consecutive games. 5) Since Week 11, QB Russell Wilson (above) has accounted for seven TDs and zero INTs.
#3 Seed -- Philadelphia Eagles
CURRENT RECORD: 9-4 ... GAMES REMAINING: DAL, @WAS, @NYG ... WHY THE EAGLES EARN THE #3 SEED: 1) Simply put, the Eagles (projected 11-5 record) have everything to lose and everything to gain from this week's home showdown with the 9-4 Cowboys. 2) The winner should have a significant upper hand for the NFC East crown. The loser risks missing the postseason. 3) Weeks 16 and 17 could be trap games for the enigmatic Eagles ... but we have Philly splitting the roadies (win at Washington). 4) The Eagles boast the NFL's most prolific defense/special teams, accounting for eight TDs. 5) Tailback LeSean McCoy (above -- 1,179 total yards, 4 TDs) notched 396 total yards and two TDs for Weeks 11-13 -- including 159 rushing yards/1 TD against Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.
#4 Seed -- Atlanta Falcons
CURRENT RECORD: 5-8 ... GAMES REMAINING: PIT, @ NO, CAR ... WHY THE FALCONS EARN THE #4 SEED: 1) Julio Jones (above -- franchise-record 259 yards on Monday) and the Falcons become just the second team of the Super Bowl era to claim a division title with a losing record (2010 Seahawks). To earn that 7-9 finish, Atlanta knocks off Pittsburgh and Carolina at the Georgia Dome. 2) Our office projections have the Saints (5-8) beating the Falcons in Week 16 ... but squandering their chance for an NFC South title by losing at Tampa Bay in Week 17. So how does Atlanta secure the playoff berth over New Orleans? A 5-1 divisional mark busts the tiebreaker. 3) On paper, the Falcons don't stack up against the other NFC contenders. However, none of that means squat ... after Atlanta gets a home game on Wild Card Weekend.
#5 Seed -- Arizona Cardinals
CURRENT RECORD: 10-3 ... GAMES REMAINING: @ STL, SEA, @ SF ... WHY THE CARDINALS EARN THE #5 SEED: 1) The first-place Cardinals (projected 11-5 mark) cleared a significant hurdle on Sunday, rallying to beat the Chiefs at home. In earnest, Arizona could lock up a postseason slot with one more seasonal win. 2) Of course, Michael Floyd (above -- #15) and the Cardinals are dreaming bigger than that; and a Week 16 home victory over the Seahawks would essentially clinch the NFC West. 3) With 12 wins, Arizona would be a shoo-in for a bye during Wild Card Weekend. 4) In reality, though, we're projecting the Cardinals to go 1-2 down the stretch (Week 15/16 defeats) and subsequently ceding the division title to the defending champion Seahawks. 5) As a small consolation, Arizona would draw sub-.500 Atlanta in the wild-card round.
Mark J. Rebilas
#6 Seed -- Detroit Lions
CURRENT RECORD: 9-4 ... GAMES REMAINING: MIN, @ CHI, @ GB ... WHY THE LIONS EARN THE #5 SEED: 1) Detroit takes care of business against Minnesota (Week 15) and Chicago (Week 16), but falls to Green Bay in Week 17. (The Lions haven't won in the state of Wisconsin since 1991.) 2) The Lions' elite-level defense has already held the opposition to 17 or fewer points nine times. 3) Detroit (projected 11-5 mark) boasts a 7-1 record against sub-500 clubs. 4) QB Matthew Stafford (above) has accounted for 701 yards passing, five TDs and zero INTs in his last two games -- both Detroit victories. 5) The Lions are still reasonable bets for a first-round bye. 6) One final note: Dallas misses the playoffs with an 11-5 mark, thanks to a November loss to Arizona and worse conference mark than Detroit.