NFC playoff picture: Eagles still No. 1, but don’t rule out a 49ers ascension to top seed

There’s that whole pesky Thanksgiving night game in Seattle to deal with first, but it’s almost here.

The 49ers at the Eagles on Dec. 3. The rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game, which ended for all intents and purposes the moment quarterback Brock Purdy had his right elbow structure rearranged on a sack by Haason Reddick with 7:03 left in the first quarter and Philadelphia leading 7-0.

The Eagles have what could be a difficult game themselves before the 49ers come to town, as they host a talented but underachieving Buffalo team that had its sights on a Super Bowl as well.

Philadelphia rallied from 10 points down to beat Kansas City 21-17 Monday night, with Jalen Hurts hitting a 41-yard sideline streak to DeVonta Smith to set up the winning score and the Chiefs’ Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropping a rainbow by Patrick Mahomes with 1:50 left that could have won the game.

Yet neither Hurts nor the Eagles are operating at the same level they did a year ago in getting the top seed with a 14-3 record. They are still sorting through issues with two new coordinators, with both Shane Steichen (offense) and Jonathan Gannon (defense) leaving for head coaching jobs in Indianapolis and Arizona.

“It wasn’t pretty. There was a lot of ugly moments in it, but they just kept fighting and staying together,” Philadelphia coach Nick Sirianni said. “Everyone just stayed together. The defense kept making plays, waiting for the offense to make one, and we did in a critical situation.”

And despite being a game behind Detroit and two behind Philadelphia, the 49ers are playing at something closer to their potential. Don’t rule out the possibility of the 49ers eventually drawing even in terms of record which will make their Philadelphia matchup what they hoped for all along — a chance to stay at home for the postseason.

Here’s how the NFC is aligned heading into Week 12:

In playoff position

1. Philadelphia (9-1): On the plus side, the Eagles have won nine of 10 games and aren’t anywhere near firing on all cylinders. That means if they get better in the last seven games, they could wind up exactly where they were a year ago — hosting the NFC Championship Game and the favorite to return to the Super Bowl.

Next three weeks: vs. Buffalo (6-5), at 49ers (7-3), at Dallas (7-3).

2. Detroit (8-2): The Lions have had back-to-back games they could have lost, beating the L.A. Chargers 41-38 and then escaping with a 31-26 win over the lowly Bears despite turning the ball over four times. It’s clear sailing to the division title however and their first playoff appearance since 2016.

Next three weeks: vs. Green Bay (4-6), at New Orleans (5-5), at Chicago (3-8)

3: 49ers (7-3): When Deebo Samuel is your sixth most important offensive player (after Purdy, Christian McCaffrey, Trent Williams, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk), being fourth in the NFL in scoring (27.9 points per game) is actually kind of a disappointment.

Next three weeks: at Seattle (6-4), at Philadelphia (9-1), vs. Seattle (6-4)

4. New Orleans (5-5): The inconsistent Saints and Derek Carr had a week off to ponder what they want to be when they grow up. They’re a game up in a division that could be won with a 9-8 record.

Next three weeks: at Atlanta (4-6), vs. Detroit (8-2), vs. Carolina (1-9)

5. Dallas (7-3): It’s almost under the radar because of the Week 5 faceplant against the 49ers, but Dak Prescott’s passing numbers are nearly as good as those of Brock Purdy. Micah Parsons is on track for a 17-sack season and Defensive Player of the Year consideration.

Next three weeks: vs. Washington (4-6), vs. Seattle (6-4), vs. Philadelphia (9-1)

6. Seattle (6-4): Last year’s playoff surprise could be out of the mix based on the next three games. Geno Smith’s elbow is a concern and he hasn’t been the same operator he was a year ago.

Next three weeks: vs. 49ers (7-3) at Dallas (7-3), at 49ers (7-3)

Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

Seattle quarterback Geno Smith (7) hasn’t been as effective as last season and now he’s got a sore throwing elbow. 

7. Minnesota (6-5): I’ve heard quarterback Joshua Dobbs mentioned as a possibility for Comeback Player of the Year. Remarkable story, but what has he come back from exactly? Thought the same thing about Geno Smith last year though and he won it.

Next three weeks: vs. Chicago (3-8), bye, at Las Vegas (5-6)

Still in the hunt

8. Green Bay (4-6): The Packers are still searching for a No. 1 receiver since trading Davante Adams to the Raiders. It’s one of the things holding back quarterback Jordan Love, who may or may not get another year as the starter depending on the last seven games.

Next three weeks: at Detroit (8-2), vs. Kansas City (7-3), at N.Y. Giants (3-8)

9. L.A. Rams (4-6): Sean McVay and Co. are 2-0 against Seattle and 2-6 against everyone else. Cooper Kupp is dealing with an ankle sprain and has just 24 receptions for 375 yards and a touchdown after six games.

Next three weeks: at Arizona (2-9), vs. Cleveland (7-3), at Baltimore (8-3)

10. Atlanta (4-6): The flip-flopping Arthur Smith goes back to Desmond Ridder. The Falcons will use the rest of the season to determine if their next quarterback will be a free agent or out of the 2024 draft.

Next three weeks: vs. New Orleans (5-5), at N.Y. Jets (4-6), vs. Tampa Bay (4-6)

11. Tampa Bay (4-6): After getting a first-hand look at the Bucs against the 49ers, they’re a legitimate threat in a poor division and have already beaten the Saints handily in New Orleans in Week 4.

Next three weeks: at Indianapolis (5-5), vs. Carolina (1-9), at Atlanta (4-6)


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The Chiefs’ schedule is favorable enough to regain the top seed, but there was a major flaw in how they built their team.

The belief that Mahomes could make any rag-tag group of receivers a productive unit has been an issue all year and was never more evident than when Valdes-Scantling dropped a potential game-winning 51-yard touchdown pass in the final minute.

Per ESPN’s count, Valdes-Scantling has six drops on throws of 30 yards for more and 26 drops overall.

Current seeding for the postseason

1. Baltimore (8-3), 2. Kansas City (7-3), 3. Jacksonville (7-3), 4. Miami (7-3), 5. Cleveland (7-3), 6. Houston (6-4), 7. Pittsburgh (6-4).

Outside looking in

8. Buffalo (6-5), 9. Indianapolis (5-5), 10. Denver (5-5), 11. Las Vegas (5-6)

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