NFC playoff picture: San Francisco 49ers clinch, only 1 slot left to be determined

The Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints vie for the final slot.

The San Francisco 49ers, with their 34-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday, clinched a playoff spot, leaving only one spot left in the NFC postseason to be determined.

The Arizona Cardinals hope to get into the postseason, but their destiny is to be determined by their play and also the play of other teams. The Cards must win on Sunday in the regular season finale over the 49ers at home to secure an 11-5, but then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to beat the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans as well.

Technically, a Cardinals tie combined with a New Orleans loss or a Cardinals win and Saints tie would also do the job, but those are even more unlikely than the already unlikely possibility of the Saints losing at home to a Tampa team that sits at 4-11.

As of right now, the only two games that matter for Arizona's postseason dreams will be played simultaneously. The Cards game and the Saints game will both start at 2:25 PM Arizona times (4:25 PM Eastern). Neither game can now be moved to Sunday night, as the Dallas/Philly game was flexed to the night game.

This is a positive thing for the Cardinals. Without being able to know what the outcome of the Saints game, there will be no possibility for an emotional letdown following elimination. Fans will also likely be even more intense at the game with the final playoff berth uncertain until after both games are over.

New Orleans also is playing for more than just a playoff berth. With a win over Tampa and a loss by the Carolina Panthers, the Saints would lock up the NFC South title, giving them a first round bye. Carolina has already clinched a spot in the postseason.

New Orleans played Tampa in Week 2 this season and defeated them 16-14 in Tampa. However, the last time the two teams met in New Orleans, the Saints shut out Tampa 41-0 in Week 15.

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