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NFC playoff standings* through Week 16

12/24/2012

To the chagrin of many, we've dutifully tracked how the NFC playoff standings might have played out if the Week 3 "Fail Mary" had been called the other way, giving the Green Bay Packers a 12-7 victory over the Seattle Seahawks instead of a 14-12 defeat.

The current standings as they would have looked, assuming the Butterfly Effect didn't exist and all my other geek stuff, are in the chart that accompanies this post. If you compare it to the actual standings on ESPN.com, you'll see there is no difference between the order and, well, the order*.

But there are two subtleties worth mentioning.

First, had the Packers won in Week 3, they would still be in competition for the No. 1 overall seed and thus home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In short, they would have been one game behind the Atlanta Falcons and in position to claim the tiebreaker (conference record) if both teams finished the season 13-3.

Second, as many of you have pointed out and the Playoff Machine confirms, the Seahawks' victory in Week 3 puts them in position -- however unlikely it might seem -- to leapfrog the Packers and secure the No. 2 overall seed in the NFC.

For that to occur, the following would need to happen Sunday:

  1. The Seahawks defeat the St. Louis Rams

  2. The Arizona Cardinals defeat the San Francisco 49ers

  3. The Packers lose to the Minnesota Vikings

That combination would lift the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and the NFC West title. (The 49ers would finish 10-5-1.) If the Packers lose to the Vikings and finish 11-5, the tiebreaker would be that Week 3 head-to-head matchup. In that instance, the Fail Mary would decide not only a division title but it would also determine one of the two teams that receive a first-round bye.

It's hard to imagine the Cardinals beating the 49ers, so I'm not sure anyone should lose sleep this week over this nightmare scenario. Let's hope we can put the "Fail Mary" aside once and for all by Sunday evening.