The NFC playoff picture is beginning to take shape after the 49ers defeated the Saints 48-46 on Sunday afternoon at the Superdome, a game that could wind up deciding the No. 1 seed.
It was a thrilling game, one of the best of the regular season, with the Saints going ahead on Drew Brees’ 18-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith with 53 seconds remaining, Brees’ fifth touchdown pass of the game. But a 39-yard pass to George Kittle on fourth-and-2 combined with a face-mask penalty by Saints safety Marcus Williams put the 49ers in position for Robbie Gould to win the game with a 30-yard field goal as time expired.
The Chicago Bears’ faint playoff hopes remain alive, but they didn’t get a big upset that would have helped them as the NFC North-leading Packers defeated the Redskins 20-15 at Lambeau Field and the Vikings beat the Lions 20-7 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Here are how the NFC seeds stand (entering Sunday night):
1. 49ers (11-2), won at Saints, 48-46
2. Saints (10-3), lost to 49ers, 48-46
3. Packers (10-3), defeated Redskins, 20-15
4. Cowboys (6-7), lost at Bears, 31-24
5. Seahawks (10-2) at Rams, Sunday night
6. Vikings (9-4), defeated Lions, 20-7
7. Rams (7-5) vs. Seahawks, Sunday night
8. Bears (7-6), defeated Cowboys, 31-24
9. Eagles (5-7) vs. Giants, Monday night
Here are the remaining schedules of the NFC North contenders:
Sunday vs. Bears; Dec. 23 at Vikings; Dec. 29 at Lions
With a season-ending game in Detroit, the Packers are in a good position to get to at least 11 wins. The Lions have lost six straight after being crushed Sunday by the Vikings and are starting their third quarterback of the season, undrafted rookie David Blough. The Packers have lost their last two games at Ford Field and are 2-4 there over the last six seasons, but that was against Matthew Stafford. However, the Packers haven’t been clicking. After getting blown out by the 49ers in Week 12, they pulled away from the Giants in the fourth quarter last week and staved off the Redskins on Sunday by recovering an onside kick with 1:17 remaining.
Sunday at Chargers; Dec. 23 vs. Packers; Dec. 29 vs. Bears
Half of the Chargers’ four wins have come against the NFC North as they have beaten the Packers and Bears, so there’s hope they hang a loss on the Vikings. If the Bears can win at Lambeau Field on Sunday, a Chargers victory over the Vikings would provide a major boost. It’s worth noting the Vikings are 1-7 playing in the Pacific time zone since 2008. The Vikings will be on a short week for the season finale against the Bears as they host the Packers on “Monday Night Football” in Week 16. Minnesota is 6-0 at home this season.
Sunday at Green Bay; Dec. 22 vs. Chiefs; Dec. 29 at Vikings
Matt Nagy’s team has won four of its last five games, so it will head to Green Bay with some momentum and confidence. The Bears nearly won the season opener there last season and created problems for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense in the opener this season, losing 10-3 at Soldier Field. If it comes down to the Bears and Vikings in Week 17, the Bears can win a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Vikings (assuming the tie doesn’t involve a third team) with a victory by virtue of sweeping the two games this season.
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune