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NFL Week 7 reaction: Could the NFC West have four playoff teams?

NFL Week 7 reaction: Could the NFC West have four playoff teams?

The 49ers looked more like the team that won the NFC Championship last year than they have in any other game this season in their 33-6 win over the Patriots on Sunday. That result took them to 4-3, but in the strongest division in football they’re still in last place for the moment as the Seahawks are 5-1, the Cardinals 5-2, and the Rams are 4-2 ahead of their game against the Bears on Sunday night.

This season, the NFL expanded the playoffs to seven teams from each conference–four division winners and three wild cards. The new format makes it mathematically possible for a division to send all four of its teams to the postseason, an extremely unlikely phenomenon but for the first time not impossible. If it were to occur in 2020 it would undoubtedly be the NFC West, whose four teams will all end Week 7 above .500. The question, then, is how possible is it?

Divisional matchups upcoming

Two things hold the West back from seizing complete control (or as much control as possible) of the NFC playoff picture. First, its teams haven’t played each other much yet. True, they’ve been beating up on the rest of the league, and no team wants to face any of the four of them in December or January, but they’ll combine to play 12 divisional matchups; there have been just four completed so far.

Tight races around the league

With more guaranteed losses coming for at least some of the teams, they’ll also have the rest of the conference to contend with. For the West to have a monopoly on the wild-card race, either the Buccaneers or Saints would have to miss the playoffs–which is hard to imagine. The Bears and Packers are both 5-1 in the North, and while Chicago hasn’t had the toughest schedule it could possibly need just three more wins for the No. 7 seed.

The one certainty is that the NFC West is the deepest, most talented, and most exciting division in football in 2020. All four teams have a legitimate shot to win each non-divisional game remaining on their schedules, and absolutely nothing is certain in terms of the playoff picture–be it for the division or the wild card. It remains unlikely that all four will be able to play past Week 17, but it’s certainly something to watch for the rest of the way.

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Last updated: Mon 26th October 2020

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