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NFC playoff picture and scenarios: Cardinals loss leaves them without control of their own destiny

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They now sit eighth in the NFC race after a loss to the Eagles.

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

After their 24-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Arizona Cardinals took a hit in the NFC playoff race. At 7-5, they took a step back in the standings and fell from seventh to eighth, by way of the head-to-head tiebreak the Eagles now hold over Arizona.

What also happened with the loss was that the Cardinals do not control their own destiny. Even if they were to win out, they would need help to get into the postseason.

Let's see how that plays out.

First, a look at the playoff standings.

  1. Seattle Seahawks 10-1
  2. New Orleans Saints 9-2 (If the Saints win on Monday night, Seattle and New Orleans would swap spots. Even with a loss, the Saints will still hold the division lead over the Panthers because of a better conference record.)
  3. Detroit Lions 7-5
  4. Dallas Cowboys 7-5
  5. Carolina Panthers 9-3
  6. San Francisco 49ers 8-4
  7. Philadelphia Eagles 7-5
  8. Arizona Cardinals 7-5
  9. Chicago Bears 6-6

Now, this is in no way saying that the Cards are out of it. They are very much in the mix. They just need other teams to lose -- something that is very likely, but it is also likely that the Cards will lose at least once more.

Let's look at some scenarios, and these scenarios will be extreme because we are going to look at if they didn't lose.

Here are the remaining teams on the following teams' schedule:

Cardinals: Rams, at Titans, at Seahawks, 49ers

Saints (beginning Week 14): Panthers, at Rams, at Panthers, Bucs

49ers: Seahawks, at Bucs, Falcons, at Cardinals

Panthers: at Saints, Jets, Saints, at Falcons

Eagles: Lions, at Vikings, Bears, at Cowboys

Cowboys: at Bears, Packers, at Redskins, Eagles

Lions: at Eagles, Ravens, Giants, at Vikings

Bears: Cowboys, at Browns, at Eagles, Packers

If the Cardinals win out, they would be 11-5, 7-5 in the conference

In that scenario, San Francisco would also be 11-5, but 8-4 in the NFC.

Even if the Cardinals win out, include beating the Niners, they could not leapfrog San Fran because of the division record. To get past San Francisco, the Cardinals must beat the Niners AND San Fran would have to lose one other game.

If Philly won out, they would be 11-5, 10-2 in the NFC and 4-2 in the NFC East. Assuming Dallas does not lose other wise, they would be 10-6. Arizona would be ahead of Dallas.

If Dallas won out, they would remain the NFC East champs and Philly would be 10-6. Arizona would be ahead of them.

In other words, the Eagles and Cowboys would play the other one out of the playoffs in the most favorable of scenarios for Arizona.

If the Panthers win out, they would be 13-3 and that would mean the Saints would be, at best, 12-4. The Saints would be ahead of the Cardinals. If New Orleans also lost one other game, by way of their win over the Cardinals, they would be ahead of Arizona.

In other words, for Carolina to fall behind the Cardinals, they would have to have two more losses than Arizona in the final four games. They would have the same record, but Arizona holds the head-to-head tiebreak.

For New Orleans to fall behind the Cardinals, they would have to lose all four games and Arizona would have to win all four on their schedule.

Essentially, Cardinals fans need the Cardinals to win out and should want the Eagles to win their division, so that the Cowboys drop and the tiebreak doesn't come into play with Philly.

Arizona also needs the Niners to lose at least two games in the final four, including Week 17.

Cardinals fans should also root against the Panthers, especially against New Orleans. For Arizona to have a chance, Carolina cannot win that division.

The NFC North can cause problems, too. The Bears play both the Cowboys and Eagles, while Detroit has a game with the Eagles. If the Bears win their division, then the Cardinals could land ahead of the Lions, as they have a head-to-head won over Detroit. However, if the Bears keep Philly from winning the NFC East, that is bad news for the Cardinals.

The bottom line? Any more losses makes things really, really tough for the Cardinals. They really needed to beat the Eagles. The one loss they could have weathered was at Tennessee, as it is against an AFC team and a loss would not have affected any tiebreaks.

Are the Cardinals still contenders? Certainly, but they do not control their destiny anymore.

And while that may stink, it certainly is better than being out of it. It gives fans more of a reason to cheer extra hard and to pay attention to the rest of the league.