With Week 13 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 math in terms of breaking up the logjam of divisional leaders at 9-3 (Green Bay, Philadelphia, Arizona) and creating separation amongst the next wave of worthy conference-championship challengers. We also carved out some time to address the subpar, but-nonetheless-thrilling race in the NFC South. (Photos: Kim Klement/Troy Taormina/Cary Edmondson/Chris Humphreys)
#1 Seed -- Green Bay Packers
CURRENT RECORD: 9-3 ... GAMES REMAINING: ATL, @BUF, @TB, DET ... WHY THE PACKERS EARN THE #1 SEED: 1) Green Bay (8-1 since Aaron Rodgers' famous R-E-L-A-X comment) runs the table in its final four games (projected 13-3 record), including an NFC North winner-take-all showdown with Detroit in Week 17. 2) The Packers garner the top-seed tiebreaker over the Eagles, based on their 53-20 rout of Philly on Nov. 16 (Week 11). 3) Since Week 2, Rodgers (above) has enjoyed a mind-boggling 31/2 TD-INT ratio. Of that 11-game span, the NFL MVP front-runner has accounted for 300 yards passing and/or three TDs 10 times. 4) Even with the Lions on the docket, the Packers, on paper, have the easiest remaining schedule of any NFC contender.
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY SportsChris Humphreys
#2 Seed -- Philadelphia Eagles
CURRENT RECORD: 9-3 ... GAMES REMAINING: SEA, DAL, @WAS, @NYG ... WHY THE EAGLES EARN THE #2 SEED: 1) The Eagles, winners of two straight, go 4-0 from this point forward to clinch the No. 2 playoff seed (losing the tiebreaker to Green Bay -- at 13-3). 2) This Sunday's in-conference clash of Seahawks-Eagles will have swing-game implications by season's end -- with the eventuall division winner collecting a first-round bye ... and the other obligated to play during Wild Card Weekend. 3) The Eagles boast the NFL's most prolific combination of defense and special teams, accounting for eight touchdowns to date. 4) Tailback LeSean McCoy (above -- 1,129 total yards, 4 TDs) has notched 396 total yards and two TDs in his last three games -- including 159 rushing yards/1 TD against Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
#3 Seed -- Seattle Seahawks
CURRENT RECORD: 8-4 ... GAMES REMAINING: @PHI, SF, @ARI, STL ... WHY THE SEAHAWKS EARN THE #3 SEED: 1) Seattle (projected 11-5 record) falls to Philly this weekend, but runs the table for Weeks 15-17 -- including a crucial showdown win over Arizona. 2) Speaking of which, the Cardinals -- the NFL's best team after Week 11 (9-1) -- drop their final six games and miss the postseason altogether (reasons: limited offense/brutal schedule). 3) The Seahawks have won consecutive divisional games by 16 points ... which the question: Has any NFL team ever posted back-to-back victories by the same 19-3 score? 4) How's this for shutdown mode: Richard Sherman (above) and the vaunted Seahawks defenders have held the opposition to less than 325 total yards for seven consecutive games.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsKirby Lee
#4 Seed -- Atlanta Falcons
CURRENT RECORD: 5-7 ... GAMES REMAINING: @GB, PIT, @NO, CAR ... WHY THE FALCONS EARN THE #4 SEED: 1) Julio Jones (above) 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 (5-7) beating the Falcons in Week 16; but New Orleans squanders its 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 would mean squat ... when Atlanta gets a home game on Wild Card Weekend.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY SportsJason Getz
#5 Seed -- Detroit Lions
CURRENT RECORD: 8-4 ... GAMES REMAINING: TB, MIN, @ CHI, @ GB ... WHY THE LIONS EARN THE #5 SEED: 1) Detroit takes care of business against Tampa Bay (Week 14) and Minnesota (Week 15), but falls short of the NFC North crown -- after losing to Green Bay in the regular-season finale. (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 eight times. 3) Detroit (projected 10-6 mark) boasts a 6-1 record against sub-500 clubs. 4) Hall of Fame shoo-in Calvin Johnson (above) enjoyed his best game of the season on Turkey Day, crushing the Bears for 11 catches, 146 yards and two TDs. 5) IF the Lions can topple the Packers in Week 17, they'll be reasonable candidates for a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY SportsAndrew Weber
#6 Seed -- San Francisco 49ers
CURRENT RECORD: 7-5 ... GAMES REMAINING: @OAK, @SEA, SD, ARI ... WHY THE NINERS EARN THE #6 SEED: 1) San Francisco trumps Arizona in Week 17, clinching the better record (10-6). As mentioned in the Seahawks' slide, we have the Cardinals -- currently 9-3 -- losing their final six games and missing the postseason. 2) The 49ers, however, can't match the Lions' projected NFC record of 8-4, leading to their standing as the second wild card. 3) Get ready for another San Fran-Seattle showdown in the playoffs. 4) The 49ers (projected 10-6 record) take three of their final four games (losing only to the Seahawks) and re-commit to Frank Gore (above) and a power-rushing attack. 5) Here are the projections for those who miss the playoffs: Cardinals (9-7), Cowboys (9-7), Rams (8-8), Bears (7-9), Saints (7-9).