NFL Playoff Projection: Cowboys-Eagles will likely determine NFC's sixth playoff team

Frank Schwab

Five NFC playoff spots are practically locked up with two games to go, though there’s a lot of jostling left for byes and division titles.

We will get our likely answer on the sixth playoff team Sunday afternoon.

The Dallas Cowboys travel to the Philadelphia Eagles for what amounts to the NFC East championship game between two 7-7 teams on Sunday. If the Cowboys win, they clinch the division. If the Eagles win they don’t clinch, but would only have to beat the 3-11 New York Giants in Week 17 (or get a Cowboys loss to the Washington Redskins in the final week) to win the NFC East.

The Cowboys are getting the nod in this week’s NFL Playoff Projection:

(Yahoo Sports graphic by Paul Rosales)
(Yahoo Sports graphic by Paul Rosales)

The Eagles haven’t played well for weeks, though they are capable of winning one home game to flip the NFC East. A Cowboys win would allow them to rest all their starters in Week 17, though coach Jason Garrett played all of his key players in a similar spot last season.

The Eagles and Cowboys have been mediocre all season, but Sunday’s showdown will be fun. It’s a de facto playoff game.

NFC’s participants mostly set

Four NFC spots are officially filled. The Saints, Packers, Seahawks and 49ers have clinched. The Vikings are an overwhelming favorite for a spot as well; the Rams would need a miracle to get the No. 6 seed after losing to the Cowboys last week. It’s possible that all six spots will be clinched before Week 17, with only the seeds to figure out.

But the battle for division titles and seeds will be fierce. The top four teams in the NFC all have 11-3 records, and the Vikings are right behind at 10-4.

Only one NFC division clinched

The only division title that has been clinched in the NFC is the Saints in the South. The Saints play at the Titans this week (a big game in the AFC picture) and at the Panthers in the finale. Win both and they’re in good shape for the No. 1 seed, though they might need the Seahawks to win the NFC West. The Saints hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Seattle but not San Francisco.

The good news for the Saints is that Seattle hosts the 49ers in Week 17, and it looks like that game will be for the division.

NFC West almost surely will be decided Week 17

The NFL said that the NFC West can’t be clinched this week by the Seahawks or 49ers. Both teams are 11-3 and face each other in the finale. If the Seahawks win in Week 17 they win the division no matter what else happens. That’s due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

If the 49ers win in Week 17 but finish in a 12-4 tie with the Seahawks, the math gets tricky but everything appears to favor San Francisco in that tiebreaker. NBC Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco broke it all down, but the short version is that it would likely come down to strength of victory tiebreaker and the 49ers should win that.

49ers-Seahawks should be the prime-time game in Week 17, and it’ll be a good one. It’s possible the winner will get the No. 1 seed and the loser drops to No. 5 in the NFC. It’s rare for a regular-season game to mean that much.

NFC North favors Packers no matter this week’s result

Vikings-Packers on Sunday feels like an NFC North championship game, but it’s not. The Packers can clinch the division with a win Sunday, but they can also win the NFC North by beating a terrible Detroit Lions team in Week 17 (or if the Vikings lose to the Bears in the finale). So even if the Vikings win Sunday, they’d still need a huge upset in Week 17 by the Lions to take the North.

The reason the Vikings need so much help is a Week 4 loss at the Chicago Bears. The Packers have a 4-0 record in the NFC North and the Vikings are 2-2, with losses to the Packers and Bears. The Vikings will need to finish with a better record than the Packers to win the division.

AFC could get interesting with Patriots loss

The Ravens haven’t clinched the No. 1 seed yet, but they can with one more win or one more Patriots loss.

The Patriots are still in line to get the second bye, but the Buffalo Bills could change that. The Bills play at the Patriots on Saturday, and the Bills are a capable team. Buffalo is still not entirely out of the AFC East race either, but passing the Patriots would require a win Saturday and the 3-11 Dolphins winning at New England in Week 17.

While it seems unlikely the Bills will get help from the Dolphins in the finale, a loss by the Patriots in either of their remaining games would be huge for the Kansas City Chiefs. Due to the Chiefs’ win at New England, Kansas City would get the second bye if the two teams finish with the same record. The 10-4 Chiefs trail the 11-3 Patriots by one game so they need some help.

Texans can clinch this week, Titans need Steelers loss

The biggest win in Week 15 was by the Houston Texans. They became a big favorite to win the AFC South by winning at Tennessee. The Texans clinch the AFC South this week with a win over the Buccaneers or a loss by the Titans.

The Titans are now in a battle for the AFC’s final wild-card spot. The Steelers and Titans are each 8-6. The Steelers plays at the Jets this week and face the Ravens in Week 17. The big break for Pittsburgh is the Ravens could have the No. 1 seed clinched and rest starters in the finale. It would be a lot easier to get a win in Week 17 facing Robert Griffin III instead of Lamar Jackson. The Steelers get a playoff spot if they win out, because they would clinch the tiebreaker over the Titans due to a better conference record.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab