NFC Playoff Picture and clinching scenarios: Falcons, Packers do Cowboys a huge favor

The Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers did the Dallas Cowboys a huge favor by losing in Week 15.

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers
Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers / Jared C. Tilton/GettyImages
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The first of the NFL's last four weeks of the regular season has begun. There were 30 teams remaining in the playoff picture entering Sunday, 15 of them being in the NFC. The only team to clinch a spot in the conference was the San Francisco 49ers, who clinched their spot after their Week 14 win over the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers' loss to the New York Giants.

On Sunday, there was a new team to clinch their place in the playoffs -- the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys don't play until 4:25 p.m. ET in their huge matchup against the Buffalo Bills. But they clinched their spot all thanks to the Atlanta Falcons.

Atlanta was in the huge group of teams sitting in the Wild Card picture with 6-7 records. They had a favorable matchup against the 1-12 Carolina Panthers. However, the Falcons were unable to do much in rainy Charlotte, N.C., and watched a late interception thrown by quarterback Desmond Ridder play a role in the Panthers kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired to secure the 9-7 victory.

Pair the Falcons' loss and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beating the Packers 34-20, the Cowboys are in the playoffs.

Updated NFC playoff picture after Falcons lose in early Week 15 slate

Here is what the NFC playoff picture looks like after the 1:00 p.m. ET slate.

1. San Francisco 49ers (10-3) -- x
2. Dallas Cowboys (10-3) -- x
3. Detroit Lions (10-4)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7)
5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-3)
6. Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
7. New Orleans Saints (7-7)

x denotes playoff spot secured

IN THE HUNT:
8. Los Angeles Rams (6-7)
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-7)
10. Atlanta Falcons (6-8)
11. Green Bay Packers (6-8)

One new team that climbed up the NFC playoff standings is the New Orleans Saints, who beat the New York Giants 24-6. It was a relatively easy game for the Saints, as the defense held the Giants offense to just 193 yards on 61 plays. Not only do the Saints sit in a playoff spot, but they keep pace with the Buccaneers for first place in the NFC South.

Here is what the playoff matchups would look like if these standings were to hold at the end of the season.

  • (7) New Orleans Saints at (2) Dallas Cowboys
  • (6) Minnesota Vikings at (3) Detroit Lions
  • (5) Philadelphia Eagles at (4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC playoff clinching scenarios after early Week 15 slate

There are two potential playoff-clinching scenarios in the NFC.

The Eagles can clinch a spot in the playoff berth if they are to beat the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night or if the Los Angeles Rams lose or tie with the Washington Commanders on Sunday afternoon.

As for the Lions, they can clinch a playoff berth if the Eagles beat the Seahawks on Monday night.

Updated NFC Wild Card standings after Falcons lose in early Week 15 slate

Here is what the Wild Card standings look like in the NFC after the early slate of Sunday games.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-3)
6. Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
7. New Orleans Saints (7-7)

IN THE HUNT:
8. Los Angeles Rams (6-7)
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-7)
10. Atlanta Falcons (6-8)
11. Green Bay Packers (6-8)

The Falcons and Packers will wait to see if the Rams and Seahawks get wins in Week 15. If Los Angeles beats Washington and Seattle beats Philadelphia, both Atlanta and Green Bay see a one-game gap between four teams for the final two Wild Card spots.

As for the Giants, they are now 5-9 on the season after their loss to the Saints.

Meanwhile, the Bears almost picked up an upset win over the Cleveland Browns but watched Darnell Mooney bobble a would-be game-winning touchdown on a Hail Mary pass, leading to an interception.

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