NFC West: NFC playoffs

49ers' divisional game set for Jan. 14

January, 1, 2012
The San Francisco 49ers know they'll play the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys or New York Giants in the NFC divisional round at Candlestick Park.

They also know their first playoff game in nearly a decade will kick off at 4:30 p.m. ET on Fox, followed at 8 p.m. ET by an AFC divisional game featuring New England against Denver, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.

Barring a comeback from a 21-7 deficit Sunday night, the Cowboys will miss the playoffs. That means the 49ers, seeded second in the NFC and therefore excused from the wild-card round, can most likely focus on the Saints, Falcons and Giants.

New Orleans will be a favorite at home in the wild-card round against Detroit. If the Saints beat the Lions, they'll visit San Francisco in the divisional round. If the Saints lose, San Francisco would play the winner between Atlanta and the NFC East champion.

I'll be visiting the 49ers in the days leading up to their game, then covering the game from Candlestick. If the 49ers win, they will play the NFC championship game at Green Bay or San Francisco on Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. ET, also on Fox.
Steven Glasser of ESPN Stats & Information passes along this note: Seattle is the fifth team since 1978 to enter the playoffs with a point differential of minus-50 or worse, and the previous four won in the wild-card round.

Three of the previous four wild-card winners currently play in the NFC West.

The chart puts Seattle and the four others into perspective by showing their point differentials, records and wild-card results. The final column shows records and point differentials for the wild-card opponents, based on information from Pro Football Reference.

Also from Glasser: "Since 1990, when the NFL expanded the playoffs from 10 teams to 12 to include an extra wild-card team, the six teams that made the playoffs with a point differential of minus-20 or worse all won their opening-round playoff games."


Playoff teams' records vs. one another

January, 4, 2011
The chart shows how the 12 playoff teams fared against one another during the 2010 regular season.

Three playoff teams -- New England, New Orleans and Atlanta -- have winning records against the field.

NFC West champion Seattle beat Chicago and lost to New Orleans, Atlanta and Kansas City.

The New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who missed the playoffs despite 10-6 records, went a combined 4-9 against playoff teams. Each defeated Seattle. The Bucs also defeated New Orleans in Week 17 after the Saints, trailing 20-13 in the fourth quarter, removed Drew Brees from the game for the final 9:15.

Definitive NFC West playoff scenarios

December, 20, 2010
The chart shows every possible NFC West outcome as long as none of the remaining games end in a tie.

A few thoughts:
  • Seven scenarios have Seattle emerging has champion.
  • Six scenarios have St. Louis emerging as champion.
  • Three scenarios have San Francisco emerging as champion.
  • Eight scenarios have the NFC West champion finishing 8-8.
  • Eight scenarios have the NFC West champion finishing 7-9.
  • While only three of 16 scenarios favor the 49ers, San Francisco very nearly controls its destiny. The 49ers will be NFC West champs if they win their final two games under three of four such scenarios. The one exception: if Seattle also wins its final two.

And now, on to the chart. The first four column headings show remaining games and the accompanying rows show winners.

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Vikings and Cardinals have 8-5 records, but Minnesota holds an advantage in tiebreakers heading into their matchup in Week 15 at University of Phoenix Stadium. That makes Arizona the fourth seed in the six-team race heading into Week 15.

Minnesota has a 6-3 record in NFC games. Arizona's conference record is 5-4. That is the tiebreaker. I'll list the NFC order with the Monday night game pending:

  1. Giants
  2. Panthers-Bucs winner Monday night
  3. Vikings
  4. Cardinals
  5. Panthers-Bucs loser
  6. Cowboys

The Giants remain the first seed with an 11-2 record. The Bucs and Panthers take 9-3 records into their game Monday night. The winner of that game takes the lead in the race for the second seed with three games remaining. The loser becomes the fifth seed because the top four spots go to division leaders.

The Cowboys lead the Falcons for the sixth seed heading into Week 15. Both teams are 8-5, but the Cowboys have a slightly higher winning percentage in conference games.