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NFC playoff picture, Week 14: Giants sweep Cowboys, help playoff chances

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Giants hang on to top wild-card seed with comeback win

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Just when you assumed you had the New York Giants figured out, they surprised you yet again. They went into Sunday Night Football without Jason Pierre-Paul, they lost Shane Vereen as suddenly as he’d returned from IR, the offense was atrocious for the vast majority of the night and they still managed to defeat the Dallas Cowboys. The same Cowboys with the two rookie MVP candidates, the best offensive line in the business and an 11-game winning streak. Dallas has only lost two games all season, both to the Giants. Somehow.

The Giants’ defense absolutely deserved both games, but Big Blue’s offense is illogically bad compared to where they were a year ago. What they do have, however, is a superstar in Odell Beckham Jr. who’s always one play away from breaking a game open. OBJ was having his worst game of the season (two bad drops and a muffed punt) before he took a simple slant pattern and hit turbo speed on the Cowboys defense, going 61 yards to pay dirt to put the Giants up 10-7. He energized MetLife Stadium and, more importantly, the defense which preserved that lead the rest of the way.

From one half to the next, the Giants went from playoff pretender to something more. A loss would’ve dropped them to the sixth seed behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on paper, but out of contention to impartial observers who saw an offense in shambles.

To be clear, Big Blue isn’t out of the woods just yet. They can still fall from the top six and out of the playoffs, but their defense looked special on Sunday night. They gave the offense countless opportunities (which they have all season) that the unit just couldn’t take advantage of (like they haven’t ... all season). You’d figured there was no way they’d be able to continually stop Dallas while Eli Manning and company got it together, but that’s exactly what they did.

Based solely on the strength of the defense and the Manning to Beckham big-play threat, the Giants have earned the benefit of the doubt for at least another week. Let’s take a look at the latest NFC playoff picture after Week 14.

1. Dallas Cowboys (11-2)

Remaining Opponents: 22-17 (.564)

The Cowboys dropped a tough one to the Giants, but they’re still likely to take the NFC East. Things are a bit more interesting than they were last week, though. If Dallas loses two of their last three and the Giants can win out, the Giants would win the East. Plus, you know the pro-Romo crowd is sure to make its voices heard this week after Dak Prescott struggled against Big Blue. How the Cowboys respond to their first loss in three months will be critical.

2. Detroit Lions (9-4)

Remaining Opponents: 27-12 (.692)

Detroit is still rolling and, like the Giants, they win ugly. Outside appearance is only skin deep (or something like that), winning is all that matters. They came back to beat the Chicago Bears Sunday and have overtaken the Seahawks for the number two seed in the NFC. The Lions have a huge game against the Giants at MetLife next Sunday.

3. Seattle Seahawks (8-4-1)

Remaining Opponents: 10-28-1 (.269)

Russell Wilson had the worst day of his career (five interceptions) Sunday as the Seahawks lost to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau. Seattle’s a perennial playoff lock, but something’s missing this season. Even so, with games against the Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers on deck, they’re a safe bet to lock up the number two or three seed. Unless they play down to their competition, which they’ve consistently done this season.

4. Atlanta Falcons (8-5)

Remaining Opponents: 11-28 (.282)

The Julio Jones-less Falcons demolished the Rams Sunday to keep pace with the Bucs atop the NFC South. Atlanta owns the tiebreaker and has the second-easiest remaining schedule among projected playoff teams.

5. New York Giants (9-4)

Remaining Opponents: 21-17-1 (.551)

The win over Dallas gave the Giants slightly more room for error, but they’ll need to win at least one, possibly two more games before they’re ‘safe.’ They’ll host the Lions next week in a battle of teams who win ugly. The Giants and Lions have a combined 2.92-point average margin of victory.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5)

Remaining Opponents: 21-18 (.538)

With wins over the Chiefs in Kansas City, Chargers in San Diego and Seahawks at home, the Bucs don’t mind doing things the hard way. If they’re going to win the NFC South, that’s exactly how they’ll have it. The Falcons have a much easier road the rest of the way, but Tampa is arguably the hottest team in the league. They get the Cowboys in Dallas next week.

Outside Looking In

The Washington Redskins (7-5-1), Minnesota Vikings (7-6) and Packers (7-6) are still clinging to life in the wild-card race. The ‘Skins almost certainly won’t win the East but they’re only a half-game out of the second wild-card and 1.5 games behind the Giants with one more meeting between the two teams on the horizon.

The Vikings and Packers trail the Lions by two games for the NFC North lead with three games left. Don’t count either out — the Lions have the toughest remaining schedule of all projected playoff teams by far, which includes road games against the Giants and Cowboys. Aaron Rodgers and the Pack seem to be getting things sorted out at the right time and could threaten for the division or either of the wild-cards, with some luck. Green Bay and Minnesota will match up once more on Christmas Eve and the loser is likely eliminated from postseason contention.