Playoff picture

The Giants have come so far in their late-season rally – winning three in a row, and six of eight –that they control their own destiny. All they have to do to make the playoffs is to win their final game. However, that "all" is a big one. The team they would have to beat is Philadelphia, which also controls its own playoff destiny.

The NFC East champions can clinch home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs by winning at New York. Philly wants to avoid having to go to either Green Bay or Tampa Bay, where the home teams had won 14 of 15 games before the Buccaneers hosted Pittsburgh Monday, Dec. 23.

 

Though Philadelphia, which defeated New York at home in October, has clinched the division title, the Giants and Eagles both will finish first in the NFL. Their 1:30 p.m. EST game Saturday, Dec. 28, is the first on the league's final weekend. Some three hours later, Big Blue could know whether it would be in the playoffs, if not where or when.

We know this: New York would be a wild card, opening the playoffs on the road during the first weekend in January.

The Giants would be either the fifth or sixth seed. As the fifth seed, they would go to play at San Francisco or Tampa Bay. As the sixth seed, Big Blue could play any of the NFC division champions -- Green Bay, San Francisco, Tampa Bay or Philadelphia again. If you have a long memory, you might recall that New York also lost to the 49ers on the season's opening night back in September.

While the first-place teams scramble for the top four positions – San Francisco can't gain either of the first two seeds; the Eagles and Packers can't be fourth-best – three teams remain in a scramble for the two wild cards.

The Giants' own good play was rewarded on Dec. 22 with some help from an unexpected source when Cincinnati defeated the Saints for just its second win this season.

Here's why the Jints would have a tiebreaker over New Orleans. The teams haven't met this season, so the next tiebreaker is their record in conference games. They're both 7-4, and whether they both won or both lost, they would finish with identical NFC records.

By the third tiebreaker, better record in common games, the Giants would have the advantage, 3-2 to 2-3. New York has beaten Washington twice and Minnesota while losing to San Francisco and Atlanta. The Saints have beaten Washington and San Francisco, but lost to Atlanta twice and Minnesota once. Neither of their final-weekend foes is a common opponent. Got it?

By virtue of the NFL's first tie in five years, Atlanta holds a half-game lead over New Orleans and New York. If the Falcons win or tie at Cleveland, which still is in the AFC playoff chase, they would clinch the first wild card. If Atlanta loses to the Browns, it would be out of the playoffs if the Saints and Giants both won.

If the Falcons finished 9-5-2, the ties would be counted as half a win and half a loss, so that would equal the 10-6 record Big Blue and New Orleans would have if they won their final game. Atlanta would win a tiebreaker over either or both teams because of head-to-head victories over them.

The Saints would appear to have an advantage in the schedule because they're hosting non-contender Carolina on the season's final Sunday. However, New Orleans was a clear favorite at Cincinnati, and that didn't help.

Recapping:

O The Giants would make the playoffs as the first wild card (fifth seed) if they win and Atlanta loses.

O New York would make the playoffs as the second wild card (sixth seed) if it and the Falcons both win, if the Giants win and Atlanta ties, or if both the Giants and Saints lose.

O Big Blue would be out of the playoffs if it loses and New Orleans wins. There are some tie scenarios there too, but we'll spare some space and some of your brain cells by not listing them.

Following is the order of the NFC's contending teams entering the season's final nine games:

 

In

 

1. **Philadelphia (12-3). The East champion would win a tiebreaker over Green Bay because of a better conference record (11-0 to 9-3). The first seed would have a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the NFC Championship Game. Remaining game: at New York Giants (9-6).

 

2. **Green Bay (12-3). The North champion ranked second pending the Buccaneers' Monday game. The second seed would have a first-round bye and home-field advantage at least for a Divisional Playoff. Remaining: at New York Jets (7-7 entering a Sunday night game at New England).

 

3. **Tampa Bay (11-3). The South champion would win a tiebreaker over Green Bay because of a head-to-head victory. The third seed would host a Wild Card Game against the second wild card, and could host the NFC Championship Game if the top two seeds lost Divisional Playoffs. Remaining: Pittsburgh (8-5-1, Monday, Dec. 23), at Chicago (4-11).

 

4. **San Francisco (10-5). The West champion. The fourth seed would host a Wild Card Game against the first wild card, and could host the NFC Championship Game if the top three seeds had lost. Remaining: at St. Louis (6-9) Monday, Dec. 30.

 

In position

 

5. Atlanta (9-5-1). The fifth seed could host only the NFC Championship Game, and only if the top four seeds had lost. Remaining: at Cleveland (8-7).

 

6. New York Giants (9-6). New York ranks ahead of the Saints because of the better record against common opponents (3-2 to 2-3). The sixth seed would play any postseason games on the road. Remaining: Philadelphia (12-3).

 

Still in contention

 

7. New Orleans (9-6). Remaining: Carolina (6-9).

 

Out of it

 

Arizona, Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, St. Louis, Seattle and Washington.

 

*-clinched playoff berth.

**-clinched division title.

***-clinched a first-round bye.

****-clinched home-field advantage through the NFC Championship Game.

 


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