Entering the final week of the regular season, six NFC teams have secured a postseason berth: the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles. One playoff spot is still up for grabs and there are two remaining teams in the NFC fighting for the chance to play in the postseason. The San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints will put their playoff hopes on the line in Week 18. Let’s take a closer look at the NFL Week 18 NFC playoff picture.
RELATED: NFL Week 18 AFC Playoff Picture: What is the path to the postseason for the Ravens, Chargers, Raiders, Colts and Steelers?
How can the 49ers make the playoffs?
After getting off to a 2-4 start to the season, the 49ers find themselves in a crucial game on Sunday afternoon against the NFC-West leading Los Angeles Rams. In the second half of the season through Weeks 8-17, San Francisco posted a 7-3 record, but only two of those victories have come against playoff-caliber teams. The 49ers have defeated the Rams in their last five meetings, including a 31-10 victory in Week 10, and will look to secure their spot in the playoffs with a Week 18 win.
If the 49ers lose though, they still have a chance to clinch a playoff spot if the Saints lose or tie the Falcons. Both games are scheduled to start at 4:25.
It is still unclear who will start under center for San Francisco as Jimmy Garoppolo is dealing with a thumb injury and missed the team’s last game against the Houston Texans. Coach Kyle Shanahan said that Garoppolo will get the start if he is healthy. If not, the team will start 2021 first-round selection Trey Lance at quarterback. While playing against the 4-12 Texans last week, Lance was 16 of 23 for 249 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. It remains to be seen if the 49ers will start the QB who is not fully healthy or the one who has only two career starts.
San Francisco 49ers (9-7) (at 12-4 Los Angeles Rams)
San Francisco clinches playoff berth with:
SF win or tie OR
NO loss or tie
RELATED: When do the 2022 NFL playoffs start: Dates, schedule, TV channels, live streams, format
How can the Saints make the playoffs?
The Saints lost five straight from Weeks 9-13 but have won 3 of their last 4, and at 8-8 they still have a shot at the postseason (albeit a slim one). In the team’s first season without Drew Brees since 2005, New Orleans has a chance to advance to its fifth straight postseason. In order to do so, the Saints need to defeat the 7-9 Falcons and they need the 49ers to lose to the Rams.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched the NFC South last week. New Orleans defeated the Carolina Panthers in Week 17 to keep their playoff hopes alive while the Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention following a loss to the Bills. QB Taysom Hill passed for 22 yards and a touchdown in the win and led the Saints with 45 rushing yards. New Orleans has fielded four different quarterbacks under center this season, but it will be Hill that gets the start in the team’s crucial matchup on Sunday.
In the last meeting between the two teams on Week 9, the Falcons won 27-25. Atlanta will be looking for its first series sweep since 2016.
New Orleans Saints (8-8) (at 7-9 Atlanta Falcons)
New Orleans clinches playoff berth with:
NO win + SF loss
RELATED: NFL playoff clinching scenarios for Week 18
Week 18 NFL Picks and Power Rankings
Mike Florio and the team at ProFootballTalk have broken down their picks and power rankings for Week 18. They have Aaron Rodgers and the 13-3 Green Bay Packers at the top of the list. Click here to see where the rest of the league falls as we enter the final week of the regular season.
Current 2021 NFL Playoff picture
2021 AFC Standings
Tennessee Titans (11-5) – clinched division title
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) – clinched division title
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) – clinched division title
Buffalo Bills (10-6) – clinched playoff berth
New England Patriots (10-6) – clinched playoff berth
Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)
On the bubble:
Las Vegas Raiders (9-7)
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1)
Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
2021 NFC Standings
Green Bay Packers (13-3) – secured No. seed
Los Angeles Rams (12-4) – clinched playoff berth
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4) – clinched division title
Dallas Cowboys (11-5) – clinched division title
Arizona Cardinals (11-5) – clinched playoff berth
San Francisco 49ers (9-7)
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) – clinched playoff berth
On the bubble:
New Orleans Saints (8-8)
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NFL Week 18 NFC playoff picture: How can the 49ers and Saints make the postseason? originally appeared on NBCSports.com