A couple of weeks ago, the top six spots in the NFC playoff field seemed to be set. Now? Not.
With the Rams and Saints each losing two in a row, the No. 5 and No. 6 spots (more No. 6 than No. 5) have moved into the “undecided” column. Meanwhile, with the Saints currently holding the sixth spot despite a 5-4 record, everyone except the Lions remains alive for a seat at the table. (Yes, the Lions aren’t mathematically eliminated, yet. But, c’mon.)
While clear separation exists in the NFC East (where the Cowboys lead by 3.5 games) and the NFC North (where the Packers also are up by 3.5), the current NFC South and NFC West leaders (the Bucs and Cardinals, respectively) could end up slipping into the wild-card race, since they currently hold leads of just one game.
Ultimately, seven will get in, eight won’t, and the Lions will be the Lions. But all 15 teams — and their fan bases — can ponder as Thanksgiving approaches the not-entirely-implausible possibility of getting hot in December and carrying it into January.
It’s former Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s vision for the NFL finally come to fruition. In the ’70s, he hated the fact that a small handful of teams ran the league. This year, there’s no dominant team in either conference. No team of density.
That makes every week important. Every game counts. While it surely won’t come down to 30 teams being alive entering Week 18, if the vast majority of teams remain relevant after Thanksgiving, that’s good for the game, for the league, and the media that covers the teams, for the fans, for everyone. And if in, say, more than two thirds of NFL cities the cry of “wait ’til next year!” can literally be delayed into the next year, that’s even better.