With the Eagles adding some juice to their season by beating the Giants last week, I thought I'd take a look at what lies ahead for teams vying for wild-card berths in the NFC.
Now keep in mind that this breakdown relies on a couple assumptions. One is that the Panthers will win the NFC South. Carolina is 10-3, one game better than the Bucs. Number two, the Vikings will win the NFC North. Minnesota is currently 8-5, one game better than the second-place Bears. We'll do this again next week so I can tweak those assumptions if need be.
In the meantime, here's a look at the team's battling it out for the two wild-card spots.
Tampa Bay Bucs (9-4)
Remaining games: at Falcons, Raiders, Chargers
Opponents' record: (16-23)
Quick glance: Jon Gruden has plenty of ways to motivate the Bucs after they got physically manhandled on Monday night against the Panthers. NFC South teams have been pretty much unbeatable at home this season, and the Bucs are no exception. They are 6-0 at Tampa and get two of their last three at Raymond James Stadium. They should nail down one of the wild-card spots.
Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
Remaining games: Bucs, at Vikings, Rams
Opponents' record: (19-20)
Quick glance: The offensive line does a great job of protecting Matt Ryan, and I heard some analyst call Ryan, Roddy White and Michael Turner the new Triplets. Like the Bucs, the Falcons have been very good at home (5-1). Let's hope that the Eagles aren't counting on the Rams to pull off the upset in Week 17.
Dallas Cowboys (8-5)
Remaining games: Giants, Ravens, at Eagles
Opponents' record: (27-11-1)
Quick glance: How quickly things can change. On Sunday evening, it looked like the Cowboys would be a lock for the postseason. But after the Steelers scored 17 unanswered in the fourth quarter at Heinz Field, we're all singing a different tune. Tony Romo and Jason Witten aren't on the same page. Terrell Owens is in the ear of his receivers coach. And Jerry Jones is questioning Marion Barber's toughness. On top of all that, the Cowboys have the most difficult remaining schedule of the teams on this list. The talent is there to reel off three in a row, but I'm not sure the discipline is.
Philadelphia Eagles (7-5-1)
Remaining games: Cleveland, at Washington, Dallas
Opponents' record: (19-20)
Quick glance: As Rich Hofmann blogged about earlier today, you'll want to be rooting for the Bucs to take down the Falcons this weekend. If that happens, the Eagles control their own destiny. If the Falcons beat Tampa Bay, both teams could potentially finish 11-5, thus leaving the Birds on the outside looking in even if they win out.
Washington Redskins (7-6)
Remaining games: at Bengals, Eagles, at 49ers
Opponents' record: (13-24-2)
Quick glance: The way the Redskins are struggling offensively, it's hard to see them squeezing into the last spot, but Washington has the easiest remaining schedule of any team on this list. The Week 16 game against the Eagles will knock one of the teams out. Suddenly that game at San Francisco doesn't look like a gimme. The 49ers have won two in a row and three of their last four.
Chicago Bears (7-6)
Remaining games: Saints, Packers, at Texans
Opponents' record: (18-21)
Quick glance: The Bears have been tough to figure out. None of their final three games are gimmes. The Saints are battling for a playoff spot, the Packers are capable of playing better than their record indicates, and the Texans have won three in a row.
New Orleans Saints (7-6)
Remaining games: at Bears, at Lions, Panthers
Opponents' record: (17-22)
Quick glance: Big game this weekend for New Orleans at Chicago. The Saints are just 1-5 on the road, but they're not out of it yet after last week's win against Atlanta. The Panthers play the Broncos and Giants the next two weeks so they could very well need that game in Week 17.