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January 09, 2023

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Wildcard round edition

Eagles NFL
010923AaronRodgers Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

This is our yearly picture of Aaron Rodgers looking sad after choking to end the season.

The NFL regular season is in the books, and for a while there it was looking like I was going to have to pull a team out of the graveyard. But nope. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers choked in their regular season finale against the Lions, and the Seahawks benefited with a trip to the playoffs.





7) Seahawks (9-8): The Seahawks squeaked by the dead-and-done Rams to stave off elimination, and they went 9-8 when most (self included) thought they were going to have a long, rough season. So, kudos to Seattle for getting into the playoffs, especially in a year in which they own a first-round pick from a Broncos team that went 5-12.

But the real star for the Seahawks Week 18 was the Detroit Lions, who were eliminated when the Seahawks won during the late afternoon games, and ironically then got the Seahawks into the playoffs by beating the Packers.

Late in their game against the Packers, the Lions were trying to run out the clock. They had a holding call on 2nd and 7, creating a 2nd and 17, and they called this:

That's one of the play calls of the year. Two plays later they made the correct decision to go for it on fourth down, and were rewarded for their aggressiveness. Volume on for this video:

Also, this is fantastic:

Can we petition the league to just put the Lions in the playoffs instead of the Seahawks?

Last week: 7


6) Buccaneers (8-9): Congratulations NFC South! 🥂🍾

NFC South Record 

The Bucs became the fourth team in the Super Bowl era to make the playoffs with a losing record. (We are excluding the 1982 strike-shortened season, when there were only 27 NFL teams and 16 of them made the playoffs.)

The previous three:

2010 Seahawks (7-9): You all remember this run, I assume:

The Seahawks won that game before losing to the Bears.

2014 Panthers (7-8-1): That year, the NFC South looked like this: 

 NFC SouthRecord 
Panthers 7-8-1 
Saints 7-9 
Falcons 6-10 
Buccaneers 2-14 

The Panthers won their first playoff matchup against the Cardinals, before falling to the Seahawks.

2020 Washington: Taylor Heinicke actually gave the Bucs a battle in the wildcard round, before Tampa would eventually go on to win the Super Bowl.

So two out of three of those teams actually won a playoff game.

Last week: 6


5) Giants (9-7-1): The Giants did the smart thing by resting their starters against the Eagles. Look at this starting lineup:


Credit those guys for actually giving the Eagles a game. 

Last week: 5


4) Vikings (13-4): I was getting nervous watching the Vikings-Bears score for a bit, but the Vikings did it! 13 wins, negative point differential!


Last week: 4


3) Cowboys (12-5): Here are some Dak Prescott interception stats: 

  1. Prescott and the Texans' Davis Mills tied for the NFL lead in interceptions, with 15, despite the fact that Prescott missed five games. 
  2. He has thrown at least two interceptions in five games.
  3. He has at thrown at least one interception in 10 out of 12 games.
  4. He has thrown pick-sixes in three of the Cowboys' last four games.

In summary, Prescott's penchant for throwing interceptions is concerning. #Analysis.

Prescott had an abysmal regular season finale against the Commanders, completing 14 of 37 passes for 128 yards (a long completion of 15 yards), 1 TD, and a pick-six, shown here:

Prescott tried to throw Fuller a pick-six on the previous play, but Fuller tripped, so Prescott gave him another chance:

Defensively, I think this is an interesting point from Jon Machota:

The Cowboys' lone win on grass was against a Titans team that was resting their starters, and the Cowboys were not impressive in that game. As Machota notes, the Cowboys' path to the Super will have to go through Tampa (grass), and then probably either Philly (grass) or San Francisco (grass) in the divisional round, and then likely either Philly or San Francisco in the conference championship round.

It's probably also worth noting that the Cowboys finished up their regular season with two straight road games. Their wildcard matchup will be road game No. 3, the divisional round will almost certainly be road game No. 4 (on short rest) if they make it that far, and the conference championship would likely be road game No. 5. The Cowboys had some serious misfortune playing in the same division as the Eagles, or their playoff path could have been easier.

Last week: 3


2) Eagles (14-3): The Eagles are not playing well right now, but they'll have an extra week to get healthy and re-focused. They also caught a break from the playoff scheduling:

The Eagles could play one of four opponents in the divisional round of the playoffs:

  1. Buccaneers (4 seed)
  2. Cowboys (5 seed)
  3. Giants (6 seed)
  4. Seahawks (7 seed)

If they get either the Cowboys or Bucs, they'll be playing them on short rest, and in the Cowboys' case, as noted above, it will be their fourth straight road game. If they get the Giants or Seahawks, well, let's just say they'll be happy to get the Giants or Seahawks.

Last week: 2


1) 49ers (13-4): I think that we mainly think of the 49ers as a defensive team, but they scored 30 or more points in eight games this season, and they have done it seven times during their current 10-game winning streak.

This is pretty clearly the best team in the NFC heading into the playoffs, and they get the benefit of facing a mediocre Seahawks team in the wildcard round instead of Rodgers or the feisty Lions.

Last week: 1

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