NFC Playoff Race: Packers Given 33.3% Chance to Get No. 1 Seed
Since Tom Brady’s move from New England to Tampa Bay, it seems as though the NFC has become what the AFC used to be. As in the days of Brady’s Patriots, Manning’s Colts and Big Ben’s Steelers, the very top of the league is full of elite teams led by their elite and – in most cases – experienced signal callers. Brady and his Buccaneers have six wins, while Dak Prescott’s Cowboys check in at 7-2, trailing only the eight-win Cardinals and Packers – led by Kyler Murray and Aaron Rodgers. The question is, who’s most likely to end the year with the NFC’s top record and secure that ever-important home-field advantage?
NFC Playoff Race - No. 1 Seed Rankings
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+550)
Don’t look now, but Brady and his team are right in the thick of things. By the odds, they’re positioned ahead of both the Rams and Seahawks (+850), and rightfully so. According to Football Outsiders, the Bucs are second in the entire NFL in DVOA and first in their conference.
Bruce Arians’ offense leads the way, but what’s surprising is that it's proven to be efficient in both the pass and run games, rating out first and sixth, respectively. Leonard Fournette has been the primary back, as he and Ronald Jones have each averaged more than four yards per tote over the course of the season. And, ya know, Brady has been up to his usual G.O.A.T. things, having tossed a league-high 27 touchdowns on his way to the fourth-best adjusted net yards per pass attempt.
A stout run defense sets up Tampa well for a deep playoff run and the potential to be the top seed. Over the remaining eight games, they face the league’s ninth-weakest schedule, according to Tankathon. Games against the Jets, Giants and Falcons virtually guarantee nine wins, but a home matchup against the Bills and road clashes with the Colts and Panthers could keep them outside the top one or two seeds.
4. San Francisco 49ers (+470)
At first glance, the 49ers seem out of place in this group of five. Not only is Jimmy Garoppolo more of a game manager, and one that has struggled at times this season at that, but by record, the Niners are only 4-5 and rank third in their own division behind the Cardinals and Rams.
The advanced metrics are telling as far as their underachieving goes. By DVOA, they are seventh overall, owning the NFL’s 3rd-most efficient offense and 13th-best defense. Because of that, Football Outsiders has them at an estimated 6.1 wins – or two beyond their actual results at this point.
How could they possibly find the path to the NFC’s top spot? For starters, San Francisco can get and stay healthy. Jimmy G needs to stay on the field, and George Kittle needs to maintain himself as the top threat not named Deebo Samuel. But on top of that, they need to capitalize on easy matchups against the Texans, Jaguars and Falcons down the stretch.
T2. Dallas Cowboys (+300)
It seemed like coming into this season not anyone doubted the ability of Dak Prescott to bounce back and be the elite signal caller and leader he was prior to his injury. And he’s proven all those people right, only in a way they could not have anticipated.
For the most part, Dallas has returned to their balanced attack with Dak through the air and Ezekiel Elliott on the ground. If you don’t believe it, the proof is in the pudding -- the pudding being Football Outsiders’ third overall offense, consisting of the fourth-ranked pass game and fourth-ranked run game.
Dallas will head into their final eight contests with a surprisingly great pass defense, too, which should add to their chances at finishing out strong in the second half. They’ll need to maintain their success on that side of the ball to go up against the likes of Arizona, as well as Kansas City and New Orleans on the road. Being in the NFC East should counterbalance that, seeing as the Cowboys draw the Giants, Eagles and Football Team (twice) from Week 14 on.
T2. Arizona Cardinals (+300)
Arizona’s dynamic QB has been on the sidelines the last two weeks, but that hasn’t stopped the Cardinals from winning one of two in that span. They bested the 49ers by 14 on the road with Colt McCoy at the helm. What’s left to really doubt?
After all, Arizona is 11th as an offense despite just the league’s 22nd-ranked rushing attack. They've been held up by the high-flying passing attack that’s been further improved with the addition of Rondale Moore in the draft and Zach Ertz via trade. The fact that their defense is second overall and fourth against the pass is what makes them so dangerous.
Kliff Kingsbury and company also benefit from the fourth-most advantageous schedule over the remainder of the campaign. They will be favored in most games, but they should be shoo-ins for wins over the Lions, Bears and even Seahawks.
1. Green Bay Packers (+200)
The Packers have looked very ordinary at times this season, and it’s not just because of the Jordan Love game. They opened with a stinker of a loss against the Saints, and while they bested the Cardinals in Week 8 they had a rather unimpressive 17-0 win over the Seahawks in Week 10.
Football Outsiders has them 12th overall, 7th offensively and 11th defensively, which in a nutshell might just tell the story about this team. They are very solid all-around, and with a quarterback Aaron Rodgers it’s hard to doubt their chances at the top seed.
They will be challenged, with Aaron Jones set to now miss a couple of games with a sprained MCL. However, the good seems to outweigh the bad. They are just behind the Cardinals in terms of favorable schedules given matchups with division rivals Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota. Plus, they get a Week 13 bye to recharge before ending with three out of five in the confines of Lambeau Field.