Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NFC Playoff Picture: Packers 3rd In Playoff Standings

As a distraction from all the Aaron Rodgers Day festivities, the following is a look at the NFC playoff picture.

Football Outsiders published their Week 14 ratings, and the Green Bay Packers came in at Number 5 overall in the NFL. The big story is the Seahawks, who've climbed up to No. 2 overall despite their modest 8-5 record. One interesting point: while Seattle's offense has been great over the last several weeks, their defense has slumped and only been slightly above average since Week 8. Here are their ratings for the current NFC playoff teams:
Team Record Overall Rank Offense % Off. Rank Defense % Def. Rank
Falcons 11-2 11 4.1 13 -0.7 13
49ers 9-3-1 4 20.1 2 -15.9 4
Packers 9-4 5 15.5 4 -5.3 9
Giants 8-5 7 13.4 6 -3.5 10
Seahawks 8-5 2 15.4 5 -16.7 2
Bears 8-5 6 -12.8 26 -27.8 1
The best NFC team that's currently out of the playoff picture is the Redskins, who are No. 7 in the playoff standings and ranked No. 10 overall by FO. However, their defense is below average and they're dealing with a bunch of injuries, so there isn't some great NFC team lurking in the background. I'd be surprised if this isn't the final six teams.

Each of these teams has their own strengths and weaknesses (and injuries) but the Seahawks, 49ers, Packers, and Giants are all similarly balanced teams with great offenses and defenses. When they meet in the playoffs, we'll have to take a closer look at match-ups and injuries, but they're in the mix. The remaining two teams standout in not-so-good ways.

The Falcons have the best record in the NFC despite ranking just above average on offense and defense. There isn't much separating them from the Redskins except four wins in the record column. They've played against the weakest strength of schedule in the league, currently sitting at .391, and only the Colts are anywhere near them at .420. That'll change a little when the Falcons play the Giants next Sunday. It'll be only the second time this season that the Falcons will have played a likely playoff team (they beat the Broncos in Week 2).

The Bears stand out by having the best defense in the NFL and will likely have the worst offense of any of the playoff teams. After they play the Packers on Sunday, they'll have finished the toughest part of their schedule with six games versus teams at or above .500, before finishing up the season with games at Arizona and Detroit. Unfortunately (for them) they've gone 1-4 over this stretch and their dominant defense has been struggling, in large part due to injuries. A loss to the Packers on Sunday could push them below one of the three 7-6 teams on their heels.

There's no playoff guarantee here to be made, but it's clear that there are four NFC teams that stand out and the Packers are one of them. They can't look too far ahead, they haven't yet clinched a playoff spot, but they'll be in the hunt come the postseason.

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