The New Orleans Saints lost to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14 and the Los Angeles Rams beat the Seattle Seahawks, which completely shook up the playoff picture.
Heading into Week 14 the New Orleans Saints were the No. 1 team in the NFC with a 10-2 record, the Seattle Seahawks were the No. 2 team with a 10-2 record, the Green Bay Packers were the No. 3 team with a 9-3 record and the San Francisco 49ers were the No. 5 team with a 10-2 record.
Things are now different after the 49ers beat the Saints, the Packers beat the Washington Redskins and the Seahawks lost to the Los Angeles Rams.
The 49ers are the No. 1 seed, the Packers are the No. 2 seed, the Saints are the No. 3 seed and the Seahawks are the No. 5 seed.
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Tiebreakers are important to note as well. The 49ers not only have a one-game lead over the Saints and Packers but have the tiebreaker advantage over them as well, essentially making it a two-game lead with three games to go.
The Seahawks currently have the tiebreaker over the 49ers but if the 49ers beat them in Week 17 then it will go to conference record. Which, at that point, a win over the Seahawks would likely guarantee the NFC West.
So what about the Saints? How can the Saints get a first-round bye or even sneak into the first seed and clinch home-field advantage?
If they simply want to outlast the Packers then they are going to need to finish with the better record, as if both teams win out, the Packers would own the conference-record tiebreaker. The Packers have three division games against the Bears, Vikings and Lions.
Let’s say the Packers lose one game and the Saints lose to either the Colts or Titans, which would not hurt the team’s conference record. At that point, both teams would be 12-4 and have the same conference record, so the tiebreaker would resort to the record in common games.
If the Packers beat the Bears then they would be 4-1 in common games and assuming the Saints beat the Panthers, the Saints would also be 4-1. It then resorts to strength of victory and the Saints have the better strength of victory right now.
So the Saints need to hope that the Packers lose at least one game and if the Saints are going to lose it all, it has to be against an AFC team. If they beat the Colts and the Titans and lose to the Panthers and the Packers finish 2-1 then the Saints would not get a first-round bye.
There is even the possibility of there being a three-way tie atop the NFC. At that point, head-to-head matchups do not matter and it goes to conference record. If that were to happen, the Saints would need help as they are the only team among the 49ers, Packers and Seahawks that have three conference losses.
Granted, one of the 49ers or Seahawks has to lose in Week 17, but the loser of that game probably is not going to be tied atop the NFC regardless.
There are two ways the Saints can escape with the No. 1 seed, both of which include the Green Bay Packers losing at least one game. If the Packers win out, no matter what else happens, they would finish above the Saints in the NFC.
The first way the Saints could escape with the No. 1 seed is less likely, but it would take the Seahawks losing one more game this season, the 49ers winning two games and the Saints winning out.
The Seahawks would have to beat the 49ers so they would then have to lose to either the Panthers or Cardinals, which is not all that likely. The 49ers would have to lose to Seattle and one of either the Falcons or Rams, which is more likely as the 49ers could lose to the Rams and Seahawks.
That would leave both teams with four losses. The other alternative is simply for the Seahawks to win out. If the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints both win out then it would actually give the Saints the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The Seahawks would finish 13-3 and would win the division over the 49ers as they would have the same record and would have won both head-to-head matchups. From there, the Saints get the tiebreaker over the Seahawks because of their head-to-head win against the Seahawks.
So what is the bottom line? The New Orleans Saints cannot lose, the Seahawks need to win out and the Packers need to lose at least one game. That is probably the most likely outcome of those presented.