With Week 16 in the books, FOX Sports South projects and seeds the six participants for next week's NFC playoffs. We've already done the quick math, in terms of finding a seeding-number home for the five 11-4 teams (Arizona, Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay, Seattle), along with handicapping the strangely fascinating, winner-take-all showdown between the 6-8-1 Panthers and 6-9 Falcons. (Photos: Mark J. Rebilas/Kim Klement/Steven Flynn/Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports)
#1 Seed -- Seattle Seahawks
CURRENT RECORD: 11-4 ... WEEK 17 FOE: STL ... PROJECTED MARK: 12-4 ... WHY THE SEAHAWKS EARN THE #1 SEED: 1) Seattle gets revenge on St. Louis this Sunday. Perhaps the Seahawks will find a creative way to score on punt returns, as well. 2) Even if the Seahawks and Cardinals tie at 11-5, Seattle still owns the tiebreaker edge, due to the head-to-head sweep. 3) QB Russell Wilson (above) and the Seahawks would also possess the head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay, thus clinching homefield throughout the NFC playoffs (presuming a 12-4 mark). 4) The Seahawks defense has held the Cardinals (twice), Eagles and 49ers (twice) to paltry averages of 6.6 points over the last five games (all victories). 5) Digging deeper, Seattle has abusrdly limited the opposition to less than 325 total yards for 10 consecutive games.
Mark J. Rebilas
#2 Seed -- Green Bay Packers
CURRENT RECORD: 11-4 ... WEEK 17 FOE: DET ... PROJECTED MARK: 12-4 ... WHY THE PACKERS EARN THE #2 SEED: 1) Jordy Nelson (above) and the Packers are averaging 41 points per game at Lambeau Field. 2) The Detroit Lions, in turn, have scored 30-plus points just three times all season. 3) Since Week 2, QB Aaron Rodgers has enjoyed an amazing 35/4 TD-INT ratio. Of that 14-game span, the MVP candidate has accounted for 300 yards passing and/or three TDs 12 times. 4) Tailback Eddie Lacy has notched eight consecutive outings of 100 total yards and/or one TD. 5) The Packers are prohibitive favorites in their winner-take-all showdown against the 11-4 Lions. At stake, a first-round bye ... and maybe more.
#3 Seed -- Dallas Cowboys
CURRENT RECORD: 11-4 ... WEEK 17 FOE: @ WAS ... PROJECTED MARK: 12-4 ... WHY THE COWBOYS EARN THE #3 SEED: 1) Even at 12-4, the Cowboys (7-4 conference record; NFC East champs) would need serious help to earn a first-round bye -- namely an Arizona loss (@ San Francisco) and Lions/Packers tie. 2) Should Dallas lose to Washington this week, as a means of resting the starters, the club still has the fall-back guarantee of a No. 3 playoff seed. 3) Of his last six games, QB Tony Romo (above) has incredibly tossed three or more TD passes five times. He's a viable MVP candidate.
#4 Seed -- Atlanta Falcons
CURRENT RECORD: 6-9 ... WEEK 17 FOE: CAR ... PROJECTED MARK: 7-9 ... WHY THE FALCONS EARN THE #4 SEED: 1) The Falcons capture the unlikeliest of division crowns by ekeing past the Carolina Panthers at home. 2) It's amazing how many times Atlanta has been two, three or four games below .500 this season ... and yet, controlled its playoff destiny -- thanks to a perfect NFC South record (now 5-0). 3) The Carolina-Atlanta victor will become the second NFL team of the modern era to claim a division title with a sub-.500 record. 4) QB Matt Ryan (above -- four straight 300-yard outings) has one more huge motivational carrot for Sunday: If the Falcons host a playoff game during Wild Card Weekend ... their opponent will likely be the injury-ravaged Cardinals.
#5 Seed -- Arizona Cardinals
CURRENT RECORD: 11-4 ... WEEK 17 FOE: @ SF ... PROJECTED MARK: 11-5 ... WHY THE CARDINALS EARN THE #5 SEED: 1) Even with a (hypothetical) road upset of San Francisco, Arizona remains a long shot to win the NFC West and collect a first-round playoff bye. 2) At 11-5, the Cardinals would possess the wild-card tiebreaker over Detroit (head-to-head win). On the flip side, the Packers would warrant the No. 5 seed -- if Green Bay and Arizona both falter this weekend. 3) The on-shaky-ground Cards will likely start rookie Logan Thomas (above) against the 49ers -- although a certain FOX Sports writer has brainstormed a few creative options, via retired QB stars. 4) The Cardinals' wild-card consolation: Drawing the NFC South champ for that first playoff weekend.
#6 Seed -- Detroit Lions
CURRENT RECORD: 11-4 ... WEEK 17 FOE: @ GB ... PROJECTED MARK: 11-5 ... WHY THE LIONS EARN THE #6 SEED: 1) Let's start with the bad news, in advance of the NFC North winner-take-all showdown with the Packers: The Lions haven't won in the state of Wisconsin since 1991. 2) The Lions' elite-level defense has held the opposition to 17 or fewer points 11 times. 3) Detroit boasts a 9-1 record against sub-.500 clubs. 4) Tailback Joique Bell (above) has racked up 100 total yards and/or one TD in four straight outings -- all Lions victories. 5) Detroit's realistically on path a road/primetime clash with Dallas on Wild Card Weekend. It would be a sort of homecoming for Texas native Matthew Stafford.