American Football

The Week 17 NFC South playoff picture

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The Week 17 NFC South playoff picture
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One down, two contenders to go

The Carolina Panthers posted a convincing, if costly, win against the Detroit Lions on Christmas Eve to keep their division title and playoff hopes alive. Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers completed an overtime come back against the Arizona Cardinals to stay on top of the division. The standings, in fact, did not change at all in Week 16.

The New Orleans Saints beat the Cleveland Browns to keep pace with the Panthers and the Bucs. The Atlanta Falcons presented the only real change. They lost to the Baltimore Ravens to eliminate themselves from any mathematical contention for the NFC South title. That’s one contender down and two more to go before this division, and it’s guaranteed playoff spot, gets decided.

Here are your current NFC South standings:

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-8 (3-1)
  2. Carolina Panthers 6-9 (3-1)
  3. New Orleans Saints 6-9 (2-3)
  4. Atlanta Falcons 5-10 (1-4)

The numbers above are the team’s records followed by their (divisional records).

While the division is technically still the Bucs to lose, the likeliest reality is that the NFC South title will go to the winner of this week’s Panthers at Bucs game on New Year’s Day. Both teams have a remaining divisional game in Week 18 that could sow chaos, but this Week 17 match up is the biggest domino left to fall.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Week 17: vs Carolina Panthers
Week 18: at Atlanta Falcons

The simplest scenario is a Bucs win this Sunday against the Panthers. That clinches the division for them. They would have a superior division record than the Saints could possibly have and more total wins than the Panthers could possibly have. That’s the whole story.

A Bucs loss doesn’t shut the door on their playoff hopes, however. If the Panthers lose to the Saints in Week 18 and the Bucs beat the Falcons then they still have a shot depending on how New Orleans and Carolina match up in various tie breaker scenarios.

The Carolina Panthers

Week 17: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 18: at New Orleans Saints

The Panthers have to beat the Bucs this week to stay alive. They have to win out to guarantee a playoff spot. That’s what controlling their own destiny means: win (every week) and they are in. And they have to go on the road in back-to-back weeks to do it.

A Panthers loss to the Bucs eliminates them. A Panthers win against Tampa Bay and loss in New Orleans gets tricky.

A 1-1 Panthers team over the next two weeks could make the playoffs if the Bucs go 0-2 and the Saints go 1-1 (beating the Panthers, in this scenario). The three contending teams in the NFC South would then be tied in overall record at 7-10 to end the season.

The first tie breaker in the NFL rule book for a three-way tie is record in head-to-head games amongst the clubs. The Panthers, in this scenario, would be 3-1 (2-0 vs Bucs, 1-1 vs Saints), the Bucs would be 2-2 (2-0 vs the Saints, 0-2 vs the Panthers), and the Saints would be 1-3 (1-1 vs the Panthers, 0-2 vs the Bucs). The Carolina Panthers would go to the playoffs in this scenario. This scenario is that the NFC South ends with a 7-10 tie AND the Panthers beat the Bucs this weekend.

The New Orleans Saints

Week 17: at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 18: vs Carolina Panthers

The New Orleans Saints are rooting for the Carolina Panthers this weekend, because a Bucs win clinches the division for Tampa Bay. The Saints have to win out and have the Bucs lose out. That would leave the Panthers in second place in the division, tied overall with the Bucs with a 7-10 record while the Saints win the division with an 8-9 record.

Any win by the Bucs eliminates the Saints just as any loss by the Saints does.

They face the 13-2 Philadelphia Eagles this week. So, good luck with that, New Orleans.

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