Here is a breakdown of the NFC playoff picture. I'll have picks and predictions on Friday.
The "Odds" listed below are to reach the Super Bowl and are from sportsbook.com.
New York Giants (12-4)
Good news: The Giants pretty much went wire-to-wire as the best team in the NFC. A punishing run game averaged 157.4 yards per game, tops in the NFL. Eli Manning had probably the best year of his career, setting personal bests with a 60.3 completion percentage, an 86.4 QB rating and just 10 interceptions. As a team, New York finished with just 13 turnovers, setting a new 16-game NFL record (the Dolphins also had 13 turnovers this season).
Bad news: You can argue that the games didn’t mean much, but the Giants finished 1-3 in their last four games. In two of those losses against the Eagles and Cowboys, New York managed just 14 and 8 points respectively. The Giants will of course be without Plaxico Burress the rest of the way.
New York gets a first-round bye and then will host games at the Meadowlands the rest of the way. The Giants’ first game will be against the lowest-seeded winner from wild-card weekend.
How they got in: The Giants won the NFC East and earned the No. 1 seed with a Week 16 win over the Panthers.
Carolina Panthers (12-4)
Good news: The Panthers averaged 152.3 yards per game on the ground. Running back DeAngelo Williams may have been the league’s breakout player, piling up 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns. Rookie Jonathan Stewart added 836 yards and 10 TDs. In the pass game. Through the air, Steve Smith set a career-high with 1,421 yards despite being suspended for the game’s first two games.
Bad news: Is the defense good enough? Carolina allowed 30 points or more three times in the last five weeks. Overall the Panthers’ defense ranked 18th in the NFL, allowing 331.2 yards per game.
Path: Carolina gets a first-round bye and then will host the highest-seeded winner from wild-card weekend. The Panthers would host the NFC Championship against any team except for the Giants. If it’s Carolina-New York, the game would be at the Meadowlands.
How they got in: The Panthers won the NFC South in Week 17 with a win over the Saints. They are the No. 2 seed overall.
Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
Good news: They won five of their last six behind the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson (1,760 yards). Their defense ranked sixth in the NFL (292.4 yards per game), and their rushing defense is No. 1 (76.9 per game).
Bad news: In a must-win game, the Vikings needed a last-second field goal to beat the Giants’ backups in Week 17. Is Minnesota too one-dimensional? Tarvaris Jackson began the season as the starting quarterback, but was benched before Week 3. He’s back at the helm now, but Minnesota’s pass offense ranked 14th in the NFC. Defensively, it is unclear whether the Vikings will have Pro Bowl DT Pat Williams, who missed the last two games because of a broken shoulder blade.
Path: The Vikings host the Eagles in the first-round and would travel to Carolina in the divisional round if they win. Minnesota could potentially host the NFC Championship if its opponent is Arizona or Atlanta.
How they got in: The Vikings clinched the NFC North with a Week 17 win over the Giants. Minnesota is the No. 3 seed overall.
Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
Good news: The Cardinals find themselves back in the playoffs for the first time since 1998. Kurt Warner leads a passing attack that averaged 292.1 yards per game, second-best in the NFL. Arizona has the best pair of wide receivers in the NFL. Larry Fitzgerald led the NFC with 1,431 yards and tied for an NFL-best 12 touchdowns. Anquan Boldin added 89 catches for 1,038 yards and 11 scores.
Bad news: The Cardinals didn’t exactly finish with a bang, dropping four of their last six games, including blowout losses to New England (47-7), Minnesota (35-14) and the Eagles (48-20). Offensively, the Cardinals are one-dimensional. Their run game ranked dead-last in the league, averaging 73.6 yards per game. Arizona’s scoring defense ranked 28th in the NFL, allowing 26.6 points per game.
Path: The Cardinals host the Falcons in the first round. In the divisional round, they would face the Giants if the Vikings win and the Panthers if the Eagles win. The Cardinals could potentially host an NFC Championship game if it’s against the Eagles.
How they got in: The Cardinals clinched their first division title in 33 years with a Week 14 win over the Rams. They are the No. 4 seed.
Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
Good news: The Falcons were the NFC’s surprise team, earning a wild-card berth one year after a 4-12 finish and the Michael Vick mess. Michael Turner finished second in the NFL with 1,699 rushing yards, and Penn Charter product Matt Ryan is getting MVP consideration after a stellar rookie campaign. His favorite target was wide receiver Roddy White, who had 88 catches for 1,382 yards and seven touchdowns. Defensively, John Abraham finished with 16.5 sacks.
Bad news: The Falcons’ run defense was 25th in the league, giving up 127.5 yards per game. Overall, their defense ranked 24th. The Falcons were 4-4 on the road this season.
Path: The Falcons open at Arizona Saturday and would then face the Panthers in the divisional round if the Eagles win. If the Vikings win, Atlanta would go to New York. The Falcons could potentially host the NFC Championship if it’s against the Eagles.
How they got in: The Falcons were locked into a playoff spot going into Week 17. Atlanta got the No. 5 seed after the Panthers won their game against the Saints.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1)
Good news: The Birds won four of their last five and have beaten four teams in the playoffs (Steelers, Falcons, Cardinals, Giants). The Eagles have the top-ranked defense in the NFC, and Donovan McNabb has thrown just one interception in five games since being benched against the Ravens.
Bad news: Even during the successful stretch to close out the season, the offense had lapses, most notably a three-point outing against the Redskins in Week 16. And probably the biggest question facing this team is: Can it win close games? The Eagles were 1-5-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer.
Path: The Eagles open at Minnesota and would face the Giants in New York with a win. If they were to make the NFC Championship, the Birds would be on the road once again. It will take three wins away from the Linc to reach the Super Bowl.
How they got in: The Eagles caught all the breaks in Week 17, getting a Bears loss, a Bucs loss and a win over the Cowboys to sneak in as the No. 6 seed.