The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a one-game lead in the NFC South with four weeks to play. That's how things stand after a compilation of Week 14 results that definitely did not help Tampa Bay's bottom line in the NFC playoff hunt.
While Tampa Bay was taking it on the chin in San Francisco, the Atlanta Falcons were finally enjoying their bye week and the Carolina Panthers were pulling off an upset in Seattle. As a result, as Week 15 begins the 6-7 Buccaneers are clinging to a tight lead over the Falcons and Panthers, each of which are sporting 5-8 records.
Given that the 10-3 Dallas Cowboys are essentially a lock for the top Wild Card spot, at the least, and there are three other NFC teams with seven wins already, it will be exceedingly difficult for an NFC South team to capture a Wild Card berth. That creates a four-week free-for-all to grab not only a playoff berth but the fourth seed in the NFC and a home game to start the postseason.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia has moved closer to clinching the first-overall seed in the conference and the 49ers have won six in a row to put themselves in a strong position with four weeks to go. Here's how the NFC playoff race stands after 14 weeks:
1. Philadelphia (12-1), NFC East Leader
To the surprise of few, the Eagles made it clear on Sunday that not only are they the favorites in the conference but that the Giants have a very tenuous hold on a playoff spot. The Eagles rolled the Giants on the road, 48-22, and they will have a shot to finish off New York at home in Week 18, if necessary. Not only do the Eagles now hold a two-game lead over the Vikings but they beat Minnesota in Week Two, so basically we're talking about a three-game lead with four to play. Philadelphia's two remaining non-division games are against the Bears and Saints, which isn't exactly terrifying. Jalen Hurts is playing at an MVP level and the Eagles have earned what is an overwhelming advantage in the NFC.
2. Minnesota (10-3), NFC North Leader
Things aren't quite as rosy for the Vikings, who were 2.5-point underdogs going into Detroit against a 5-7 Lions team, and apparently for good reason. Detroit clearly looked like the better team in a 34-23 win and has now won five of its last six after a 1-6 start. The Vikings are undoubtedly going to win the division, given their four-game lead, but their number-two seed looks a lot more tenuous at this point, especially after San Francisco's huge win (grumble, grumble) over the Buccaneers on Sunday. The Vikings and 49ers didn't play each other this season but San Francisco's 7-2 conference record is currently a game better than Minnesota's mark.
3. San Francisco (9-4), NFC West Leader
Other than Philadelphia, which clinched a playoff spot, the 49ers were the big winners in the NFC in Week 14. Not only did they find a potential replacement for Jimmy Garoppolo in rookie seventh-rounder Brock Purdy, but they pulled away from Seattle in the NFC West and got within breathing distance of the second seed in the conference. San Francisco's final month is full of enigma teams – Seattle, Washington, Las Vegas, Arizona – and there's no guarantee Purdy won't turn back into a pumpkin, but the 49ers look to have a clear path back to the NFC Championship Game thanks to a smothering defense and Kyle Shanahan's offensive creativity. How quickly Deebo Samuel can return from the ankle injury he suffered Sunday could be a key factor in their attempts to advance even further in 2022.
4. Tampa Bay (6-7), NFC South Leader
Well, Week 14 didn't go well for the Buccaneers, and their division lead, as noted above, is down to one game. You will surely hear on multiple occasions that the Carolina Panthers now "control their own destiny" in terms of winning the division, but don't get it twisted, so do the Buccaneers. It all potentially comes down to a Week 17 game at Raymond James Stadium between the Bucs and the Panthers. Carolina does hold an advantage thanks to a Week Seven win over Tampa Bay in Charlotte, but that edge would become moot with a Buccaneers victory to even the season series. FiveThirtyEight still has the Buccaneers' with a 65% chance to win the division, followed by 31% for the Panthers and 4% for the Falcons. The Buccaneers also face the Falcons in Atlanta in Week 18, if it were to come down to that.
5. Dallas (10-3), Wild Card #1
The Cowboys looked like a juggernaut in Week 13 with their blowout win over Minneapolis, not to mention their dismantling of Minnesota two weeks before that. Then they went into Week 14 as 17-point favorites over the 1-10-1 Houston Texans and…well, barely escaped with their lives. Chances are their recent run of dominant victories is more indicative of their true strength than one sort-of bad afternoon, and the Cowboys are nearly locked into the fifth-overall seed as the top Wild Card team. Dallas surely still has aspirations of a division title, but the Eagles aren't giving any ground. The Cowboys and Eagles meet again in Week 16 (Philly won the first meeting), but Dallas also has to contend with two AFC teams that could put up a pretty good fight in Jacksonville and Tennessee.
6. Washington (7-5-1), Wild Card #2
What a weekend for the Commanders, who simply sat at home and watched their fortunes evolve from being the first team on the outside looking in to being the holder of the second Wild Card spot. An unappetizing 20-20 tie with the Giants the week before had dropped Washington out of the top seven, barely, but losses by New York and Seattle in Week 14 made everything right again. The Commanders and Giants will play again this week, but Washington has the advantage of a bye week study up on their opponent while the Giants were absorbing a beatdown by Philadelphia. Washington still has to play San Francisco and Dallas but FiveThirtyEight gives the Commanders a 73% chance to make the playoffs.
7. N.Y. Giants (7-5-1), Wild Card #3
While the Commanders were idle, the Giants were getting schooled by the Eagles, and since Washington has a slightly better in-conference record than New York (4-4-1 to 3-5-1), it has usurped the Giants in the overall standings. New York has a brutal stretch-run schedule, beginning with the Washington rematch this coming weekend and including visits to Minnesota and Philadelphia.
On the outside…
8. Seattle (7-6)
The Seahawks took a tough loss at home in Week 14, losing to the Carolina Panthers, 30-24, and thus dropped out of the top seven in the conference seeding. They also fell two behind the 49ers in the NFC West race, making their Week 15 home game against San Francisco a must-win if they want to keep their division-title hopes alive. FiveThirtyEight still gives the Seahawks a 55% chance to make the playoffs but they also must face the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 16.
9. Detroit (6-7)
The NFL's darlings after crushing the Vikings to record their fifth win the last five outings, the Lions now have a 20% playoff chance according to FiveThirtyEight. That might seem depressing, but this team was basically dead in the water after a 1-6 start. The Lions have virtually no chance to win the NFC North title, which means they have to reel in several other Wild Card contenders. At this point, though, they are just a little over one game behind the last playoff spot. After playing the Jets next weekend, the Lions have three straight games against teams with losing records (Carolina, Chicago, Green Bay).
10-11-12. Green Bay (5-8), Carolina (5-8), Atlanta (5-8)
Carolina and Atlanta are on this list because they are definitely in contention for the NFC South title, despite being three games under .500. Green Bay is on the list because it has the same record as the aforementioned teams, but their playoff odds on FiveThirtyEight are down to 6%. As noted, both the Panthers and Falcons are going to get a shot at the Buccaneers in the final two weeks of the regular season. Carolina and Atlanta have already split their two-game series.
What Lies Ahead for Tampa Bay:
The Buccaneers face another tough AFC opponent on Sunday when Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and the Cincinnati Bengals come to town. The Buccaneers will be looking for their first win against an AFC opponent this year, and while interconference games aren't as impactful in tiebreaker situations as in-conference games, the team is desperate for as many wins as it can get.