The playoff picture in the NFC took a surprising turn this past weekend. The New Orleans Saints had beaten the Carolina Panthers, but they then lost to the St. Louis Rams. They’re in trouble.
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers
Sunday, 1:00 PM ET
Odds: Panthers -3
For all the ways in which the Saints might seem to have a clear matchup advantage in this game, it has to be said that the Panthers can point to one fundamental advantage, something that will tip the balance of power to their side in this contest. That advantage is not complicated at all: The Panthers are playing this game at home. New Orleans didn’t have to win this game heading into week 15, because the Saints – with a head-to-head split against the Panthers – would have won the NFC South tiebreaker in the event of a two-way tie at 12-4. However, the Saints needed to win at St. Louis in week 15 in order to keep their goals intact, and that’s what New Orleans failed to do in the Gateway City. Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints were horrible on the road, dropping them into a tie with Carolina at 10-4. Now, if the Saints lose to Carolina, they are likely to finish one game behind the Panthers in the standings. This is now a must-win game for New Orleans in every real sense. The Saints have to win this game if they want to get a first-round bye and host a second-round playoff game. If they lose, they will not only miss out on the first-round bye (assuming that Carolina then wins its week 17 game against Atlanta), but they will have to win three road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. That’s not a scenario in which New Orleans is likely to thrive. The Saints’ season comes down to this game, but since the competition is not being held in New Orleans, Carolina has to be the bet here.
Chicago Bears @ Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, 8:30 PM ET
Odds: Eagles -3
A big reason to think Philadelphia will win this game is that the Eagles are at home. Yet, this game will probably mean more to the Bears. Chicago is involved in a three-team race in the NFC North. The Bears cannot afford to surrender a game to the Detroit Lions at this point. (They can afford to drop a game to the Green Bay Packers, since they play them in week 17, but that’s a separate matter.) Detroit owns the head-to-head tiebreaker between the two teams, so Chicago must beat Detroit outright in the standings in order to rise above the Lions in the NFC pecking order. This game will mean a lot to Philadelphia only if Washington upsets Dallas earlier on Sunday. A Washington win would enable the Eagles to clinch the NFC East in this game, but if Dallas wins, Philadelphia’s result against the Bears would have no effect on the NFC East champion. Pick the Bears here…unless Washington beats Dallas.
Pick: Chicago +3
Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, 4:05 PM ET
Odds: Seattle -10
The health status of Arizona superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald is in question after Fitzgerald suffered a concussion this past Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. The Cardinals are going to have a hard time beating the Seahawks to begin with, especially in Seattle, where the Seahawks have not lost since 2011. Moreover, Arizona is trying to beat the Seahawks at a time when Seattle is one win away from getting home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs. If Fitzgerald can’t take the field under the NFL’s concussion protocol, the Cardinals would lose the weapon they can’t afford to go without in this game. This is why you’re seeing the betting line rise on this game at the start of the week.
Pick: Seattle -10