Posted: Wednesday December 22, 2010 11:21AM ; Updated: Wednesday December 22, 2010 2:27PM
Dom Bonvissuto
Dom Bonvissuto>INSIDE THE NFL

NFL Playoff Projections, Week 16

Story Highlights

While the AFC seems fairly well set, expect more movement in the NFC

It's not entirely crazy to think the Bucs could overtake the Saints for a wild-card

Tight races in the West, North and South will keep the AFC interesting

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Though four games under .500, the Niners, led by linebacker Patrick Willis, are still very much in the thick of the NFC West race.
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Think a memorable Week 15 helped clear up the playoff picture considerably? Think again. Our projections have four of the six NFC seeds changing hands over the final two weeks, with a not-too-far-fetched scenario for a fifth (get nervous, New Orleans). We have the AFC a little more chalk, but volatility in the West, North and South divisions make it anything but over.

Below, we lay out the playoff picture two ways: 1) As though the season ended today, and 2) As though the season will play out the way we predict it will. We use the NFL's official tiebreaker procedures to determine seeding. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail us or find us on Twitter. You can find the Week 16 clinching scenarios here. Without further ado...

NFC

ATLANTA FALCONS (12-2)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 1 seed
Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. New Orleans (L); vs. Carolina (W)
Final Projected Record, Playoff Seeding: 13-3; No. 1 seed
Extra Point: By proving us wrong and winning that classic trap game at Seattle last week, the Falcons earned the right to play what is essentially a meaningless game against the Saints on Monday night. All Atlanta has to do win one of its final two and it won't see anything but the Georgia Dome, save potentially Cowboys Stadium in February, until next season.

***

CHICAGO BEARS (10-4)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 2 seed (wins tiebreaker with Eagles on head-to-head)
Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. N.Y. Jets (L); at Green Bay (L)
Final Projected Record, Playoff Seeding: 10-6; No. 3 seed (wins tiebreaker with Green Bay on division record)
Extra Point: A two-game losing skid is no way to enter the postseason. But with two games against playoff-hungry teams, and a division title already in hand, it's hard to imagine the Bears hanging onto that No. 2 seed.

***

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (10-4)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 3
Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Minnesota (W); vs. Dallas (W)
Final Projected Record, Playoff Seeding: 12-4; No. 2 seed
Extra Point: Losing the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Bears likely won't factor for the red-hot Eagles, who are in great shape to grab a first-round bye because they're closing against two teams with nothing but pride to play for.

***

ST. LOUIS RAMS (6-8)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 4 seed (wins tiebreaker with Seahawks on head-to-head)
Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. San Francisco (L); at Seattle (L)
Final Projected Record, Playoff Seeding: 6-10; out
Extra Point: If the Rams were presented before the season with this exact scenario -- win final two games against division rivals to guarantee a playoff berth -- they would have gobbled it up. A loss Sunday wouldn't eliminate St. Louis, but it would take its destiny out of its hands.

***

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (10-4)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 5 seed
Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Atlanta (W); vs. Tampa Bay (W)
Final Projected Record, Playoff Seeding: 12-4; No. 5 seed
Extra Point: A Saints' loss Monday, coupled with a Bucs win, would set up a huge Week 17 showdown. If New Orleans and Tampa Bay finished tied at 10-6, the Bucs would win the tiebreaker based on common games.

***

NEW YORK GIANTS (9-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 6 seed
Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Green Bay (L); at Washington (W)
Final Projected Record, Playoff Seeding: 10-6; out
Extra Point: It's simple for the Giants: Win this week and they're in. Lose, and spend the next Sunday rooting like crazy for the Bears to beat the Packers.

***

GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-6)

If The Playoffs Started Today: Out
Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. N.Y. Giants (W); vs. Chicago (W)
Final Projected Record, Playoff Seeding: 10-6; No. 6 seed (wins tiebreaker with N.Y. Giants on head-to-head)
Extra Point: It's also simple for the Packers: Lose this week and they're out. Win, and they get to do it all over again in another must-win game against the Bears at Lambeau. No rest for the weary.

***

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-6)

If The Playoffs Started Today: Out
Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Seattle (W); at New Orleans (L)
Final Projected Record, Playoff Seeding: 9-7; out
Extra Point: The Bucs would have been in good shape had they beaten the Lions. Now, at miimum, they need to win their final two games, including a Week 17 trip to New Orleans, and get a lot of help. If the Giants, Saints and Eagles all win in Week 16, Tampa Bay will be eliminated from playoff contention.

***

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (6-8)

If The Playoffs Started Today: Out
Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Tampa Bay (L); vs. St. Louis (W)
Final Projected Record, Playoff Seeding: 7-9; out
Extra Point: One thing we know for sure -- the NFC West won't be decided Sunday. The only team that can be eliminated with a loss is San Francisco, while both Seattle and St. Louis would remain alive and play for the division title in Week 17.

***

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (5-9)

If The Playoffs Started Today: Out
Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at St. Louis (W); vs. Arizona (W)
Final Projected Record, Playoff Seeding: 7-9; No. 4 seed (wins tiebreaker with Seattle on division record)
Extra Point: Should the Niners squeak in, we can't imagine they'll enjoy the prospect of facing the defending Super Bowl champs.

NFC Playoff Picture
Scenario No. 1 Seed No. 2 Seed No. 3 Seed No. 4 Seed No. 5 Seed No. 6 Seed
If The Playoffs Started Today Falcons Bears Eagles Rams Saints Giants
SI.com Projections Falcons Eagles Bears 49ers Saints Packers
 
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