With NFL Week 15 in the books, FOX Sports South projects and seeds the six participants for the upcoming NFC playoffs. Yes, we've already done the math, in terms of finding a playoff-slot home for the 11-3 Cardinals, breaking up the logjam of 10-4 teams (Green Bay, Detroit, Seattle, Dallas) and handicapping the eminently subpar, but strangely fascinating race in the NFC South -- featuring the 6-8 Saints, 5-8-1 Panthers and 5-9 Falcons. (Photos: Jeff Hanisch/Matthew Emmons/Jeremy Brevard/Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
#1 Seed -- Seattle Seahawks
CURRENT RECORD: 10-4 ... GAMES REMAINING: @ ARI, STL ... PROJECTED MARK: 12-4 ... WHY THE SEAHAWKS EARN THE #1 SEED: 1) Seattle knocks off Arizona in this week's virtual winner-take-all showdown for the NFC West title ... and then has enough remaining energy to beat the pesky Rams in Week 17. 2) Even if the Cardinals and Seahawks finish at 12-4, Seattle would own the tiebreaker edge, due to a head-to-head sweep. 3) RB Marshawn Lynch (above) and the Seahawks would also carry the head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay, thus clinching homefield throughout the NFC playoffs. 4) The Seahawks defense has held the Cardinals, Eagles and 49ers (twice) to paltry averages of 6.9 points over the last four games (all victories). 5) by extension, Seattle has limited the opposition to less than 325 total yards for nine consecutive games.
#2 Seed -- Green Bay Packers
CURRENT RECORD: 10-4 ... GAMES REMAINING: @ TB, DET ... PROJECTED MARK: 12-4 ... WHY THE PACKERS EARN THE #2 SEED: 1) With its Week 15 loss to Buffalo, Green Bay squandered a golden opportunity to eventually secure home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs. At Lambeau Field, the Packers are averaging 41 points per game; on the road, their pedestrian tally stands at 21 points per outing. 2) Since Week 2, QB Aaron Rodgers (above) has enjoyed an amazing 34/4 TD-INT ratio. Of that 13-game span, the NFL MVP favorite has accounted for 300 yards passing and/or three TDs 11 times. 3) Tailback Eddie Lacy (seven straight outings of 100 total yards and/or 1 TD) and the Packers must now focus on handling the Bucs (in sunny Florida) before their winner-take-all home clash with the Lions (10-4) in Week 17 -- with the victor claiming the NFC North.
Timothy T. Ludwig
#3 Seed -- Dallas Cowboys
CURRENT RECORD: 10-4 ... GAMES REMAINING: IND, @ WAS ... PROJECTED MARK: 11-5 ... WHY THE COWBOYS EARN THE #3 SEED: 1) The potential Week 16 absence of RB DeMarco Murray (broken hand/finger) could derail the Cowboys' hopes of going 12-4 and clinching a bye during the wild-card round. 2) Of course, receiver Dez Bryant (above -- three TDs on Sunday) has the capacity to carry a shorthanded Dallas team against Indy (still competing for the AFC's top playoff seed) and wretched Washington. 3) If the Cowboys split their final two outings (falling against the Colts, beating the Redskins), they would be vulnerable to losing the NFC East crown to the Eagles -- who currently own the divisional tiebreaker (if applicable). 4) Of his last five games, QB Tony Romo has notched three or more TD passes four times.
#4 Seed -- New Orleans Saints
CURRENT RECORD: 6-8 ... GAMES REMAINING: ATL, @ TB ... PROJECTED MARK: 8-8 ... WHY THE SAINTS EARN THE #4 SEED: 1) The Saints take their final two games to capture the NFC South crown. 2) New Orleans must keep winning to stay ahead of 5-8-1 Carolina and 5-9 Atlanta ... which curiously controls its own destiny, despite sitting in third place. 3) If the Saints can go 2-0 down the stretch, they would avoid becoming the second NFL team of the modern era to claim a division title with a sub-.500 record. It would also silence the national pundits who've been demanding a 're-seeding' change to the current postseason structure. 4) Citing the Saints' last two victories, QB Drew Brees (above) has tallied eight TDs and a completion rate of 76 percent.
#5 Seed -- Arizona Cardinals
CURRENT RECORD: 11-3 ... GAMES REMAINING: SEA, @ SF ... PROJECTED MARK: 11-5 ... WHY THE CARDINALS EARN THE #5 SEED: 1) It's a simple proposition for Larry Fitzgerald (above) and the Cardinals: Beat the Seahawks and clinch homefield throughout the NFC playoffs ... or settle for the 5-seed. 2) Even if Arizona ends up at 11-5, it would still possess wild-card tiebreakers over Dallas, Detroit and Philadelphia -- thanks to three head-to-head wins. 3) The injury-ravaged Cards may have to ride backup-grade QBs like Ryan Lindley/Logan Thomas for the postseason -- although a certain FOX Sports writer recently channeled a few retired stars to help Arizona out in a pinch. 4) The Cardinals' wild-card consolation: Drawing the NFC South champ. In our hypothetical, Arizona would play New Orleans, which has already dropped four games at the Superdome.
#6 Seed -- Detroit Lions
CURRENT RECORD: 10-4 ... GAMES REMAINING: @ CHI, @ GB ... PROJECTED MARK: 11-5 ... WHY THE LIONS EARN THE #6 SEED: 1) Detroit takes care of business this week, but falls short of the NFC North crown -- after losing to Green Bay in the regular-season finale. 2) The Lions' elite-level defense -- led by Ziggy Ansah (left) and Ndamukong Suh (right) -- has held the opposition to 17 or fewer points 10 times. 3) Detroit boasts a 8-1 record against sub-.500 clubs. 4) QB Matthew Stafford (above -- 3,797 yards passing, 21 TDs) has accounted for 854 yards passing, six TDs and zero INTs in his last three games -- all Detroit victories. 5) Detroit likely draws a road/primetime clash with Dallas on Wild Card Weekend. 6) Regarding the other NFC contender ... the Eagles split their final two games to finish at 10-6.