The NFC race is wide open in 2022, with six weeks remaining in the regular season. For a long time, earning a bye week was paramount to representing the conference in the Super Bowl. For eight straight seasons, from 2012 through 2019, a team that earned a bye week made it to the Super Bowl. That's changed with the addition of the seventh playoff seed over the last two seasons. The shift means only the top seed has a bye and since the conference has been won by teams needing to get through all three rounds of the playoffs. First Tom Brady and the Bucs went from the wild-card spot and last year Matt Stafford led the NFC West-champion Rams to the Lombardi.
Will this be a new trend or just a blip? Regardless, every team will fight to win the No. 1 seed, even if those who fall short have reasons to remain confident. The Dallas Cowboys are a team firmly in the hunt, but will still need some help in getting there. Currently the No. 5 seed, Dallas needs to handle their business in the final stretch plus see both the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles to lose one more game than them. If that happens, the Week 16 tilt between Dallas and Philadelphia will be for the sought-after prize.
Here's our predictions for how the rest of the season will go for the nine teams with realistic shots of making the playoffs from the NFC.
Records against other (current) playoff teams
This fluctuates week by week, as the teams currently in position for the playoffs change. Following Dallas' win on Thanksgiving, they had a 4-2 record against other playoff teams. Without playing another game, that improved to 5-2 after Washington moved into the No. 7 spot with their win and Seattle's loss.
No other NFC team has more than three wins in this scenario.
Here's a look at the "Vs. Current Playoff Teams" standings:
Cowboys: 5-2 (wins over CIN, MIN, NYGx2, WAS)
Eagles: 3-1 (DAL, MIN, WAS)
Vikings: 3-2 (MIA, WAS, BUF)
Giants: 2-2 (TEN, BAL)
Buccaneers: 1-2 (DAL)
Commanders: 1-4 (PHI)
Week 13 Predictions
Out of the other nine NFC teams, only two have a realistic shot of joining the fray based on performances thus far. The 5-7 Atlanta Falcons are a half game behind the Bucs for the NFC South lead. The 6-5 Seattle Seahawks are a half game behind Washington for the final wild card spot.
Those teams will be included in our predictions.
PHI: lose vs Tennessee (10-2)
MIN: lose vs NY Jets (9-3)
SF: lose vs Miami (7-5)
TB: win vs New Orleans (6-6)
DAL: win vs Indianapolis (9-3)
NYG: win vs Washington (8-4)
WAS: lose vs NY Giants (7-6)
SEA: win vs LA Rams (7-5)
ATL: win vs Pittsburgh (6-7)
Unlucky 13 for some top teams in this prediction. This week will be the season reset for the conference, bringing things even closer together for a wild final five weeks of the season.
Week 14 Predictions
PHI: win vs NY Giants (11-2)
MIN: win vs Detroit (10-3)
SF: win vs Tampa (8-5)
TB: loss vs San Francisco (6-7)
DAL: win vs Houston (10-3)
NYG: loss vs Philadelphia (8-5)
WAS: bye (7-6)
SEA: win vs Carolina (8-5)
ATL: bye (6-7)
Week 15 Predictions
PHI: win vs Chicago (12-2)
MIN: win vs Indianapolis (11-3)
SF: win vs Seattle (9-5)
TB: loss vs Cincinnati (6-8)
DAL: win vs Jacksonville (11-3)
NYG: loss vs Washington (8-6)
WAS: win vs NY Giants (8-6)
SEA: loss vs SF (8-6)
ATL: loss vs New Orleans (6-8)
Week 16 Predictions
PHI: loss vs Dallas (12-3)
MIN: win vs NY Giants (12-3)
SF: win vs Washington (10-5)
TB: loss vs Arizona (6-9)
DAL: win vs Philadelphia (12-3)
NYG: loss vs Minnesota (8-7)
WAS: loss vs SF (8-7)
SEA: loss vs Kansas City (8-7)
ATL: loss vs Baltimore (6-9)
Week 17 Predictions
PHI: win vs New Orleans (13-3)
MIN: loss vs Green Bay (12-4)
SF: win vs Las Vegas (11-5)
TB: win vs Carolina (7-9)
DAL: win vs Tennessee (13-3)
NYG: win vs Indianapolis (9-7)
WAS: loss vs Cleveland (8-8)
SEA: win vs NY Jets (9-7)
ATL: loss vs Arizona (6-10)
Week 18 Predictions
PHI: win vs NY Giants (14-3)
MIN: win vs Chicago (13-4)
SF: win vs Arizona (12-5)
TB: loss vs Atlanta (7-10)
DAL: win vs Washington (14-3)
NYG: loss vs Philadelphia (9-8)
WAS: loss vs Dallas (8-9)
SEA: win vs LA Rams (10-7)
ATL: win vs Tampa (7-10)
Final Record Predictions: NFC Playoff Field
San Francisco (12-5)
Tampa Bay (7-10)
New York Giants 10-7)
Using ESPN's NFL Playoff Machine, I plugged in these results plus how I though the rest of the games would go so that all tiebreaker scenarios were completed.
The Cowboys earn the tiebreaker over Philly virtue of a better record within the division (5-1 vs 4-2).
The Bucs actually locked up their NFC South crown in Week 17, rest their starters in Week 18 leading to the loss.
Seattle and the Giants clinched their spots in Week 17 and rested their starters in the season finale. In a funny schedule glitch, the Giants return to Minnesota two weeks in a row.
WILD CARD 1: 7. New York Giants (10-7) @ 2. Minnesota Vikings (13-4)
As mentioned above, this would be a Week 18 rematch. It likely, because of the New York market, makes one of the primetime slots which is normally a death sentence for the Vikings' offense and Kirk Cousins.
It is again, Giants pull the upset. New York 24, Minnesota 21.
WILD CARD 2: 6. Seattle Seahawks (10-7) @ 3. San Francisco 49ers (12-5)
The 49ers, in this projection, are on a five-game winning streak including their second win over Seattle. Make it three wins over Seattle. San Fran 20, Seattle 17.
WILD CARD 3: 5. Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) @ 4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-10)
The Eagles have a much tougher fight than they should, but it's Tom Brady and a Todd Bowles defense. Still, they prevail to move on to the divisional round. Philadelphia 27, Tampa Bay 24.
No. 7 New York Giants (10-8) @ No. 1 Dallas Cowboys (14-3)
No. 5 Philadelphia Eagles (15-3) @ No. 3 San Francisco (13-5)
Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire