The 2014 NFL season was supposed to be about the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers making one more great run at each other. After making three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship Game and a Super Bowl appearance in 2012, the 49ers were primed to make the breakthrough and earn that elusive ring, something the franchise last earned in 1994.
Instead, San Francisco is in a state of shock and upheaval. The 49ers lost an unfathomable game to the Oakland Raiders, falling 24-13 and watching their playoff chances go out the window. More importantly, the defeat also signals change with the Jim Harbaugh era likely coming to an end.
Here is how the NFC playoff picture looks with three games to play:
1. Arizona Cardinals (10-3)
2. Green Bay Packers (10-3)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-3)
4. Atlanta Falcons (5-8)
5. Seattle Seahawks (9-4)
6. Detroit Lions (9-4)
In the hunt
7. Dallas Cowboys (9-4)
8. San Francisco 49ers (7-6)
9. New Orleans Saints (5-8)
10. Carolina Panthers(4-8-1)
Arizona holds a tiebreaker on Green Bay via conference record, while Seattle and Detroit top Dallas due to the same metric. The Seahawks own the fifth seed over the Lions based on record in common games.
This week will be another one of massive implications with playoff hopes facing each other. The most important game for the picture comes on Sunday Night Football when the Eagles host the Cowboys in their NFC East showdown in Philadelphia. The Eagles beat Dallas 33-10 on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium to take the divisional lead, but loss on Sunday to Seattle while the Cowboys trounced the Chicago Bears on Thursday.
Whoever wins the game will be in the NFC East driver’s seat, with both teams likely to favored in all their games down the stretch. Should Philadelphia lose, it would be in tough position considering its 5-5 conference record.
Arizona is at St. Louis this Thursday to play a tough Rams team. While St. Louis is only 6-7, it sports two consecutive shutouts and a nasty pass rush featuring Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. Seattle will try to hold steady or even gain ground with the 49ers coming to town. Seattle can put San Francisco down for the winter with a victory, one that is expected at CenturyLink Field.
Detroit and Green Bay are both heavy favorites. The Lions will play host to the Vikings while the Packers make the trip to Western New York to take on the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo has a nasty front four but could struggle to keep up offensively. Green Bay and Detroit will play each other Week 17 at Lambeau Field.
The NFC South remains an ugly mess. New Orleans will visit the Chicago Bears while Atlanta plays host to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Carolina, only a half-game back in the division, will welcome in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but could be without Cam Newton who suffered two fractures in his back during a car accident on Tuesday afternoon. The Panthers did beat the Buccaneers in Week 1 without Newton, getting the job done with Derek Anderson.