Despite the Carolina Panthers’ loss, the NFL Wild Card slate was decided in Week 16. So who would the Panthers prefer to see?
While the Carolina Panthers may have lost their first game on Sunday, they could not have lost their first round bye, which they had already clinched. They go into the final week of the regular season needing a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in order to clinch home field. The Arizona Cardinals would actually win a tiebreaker if the Panthers were to lose and the Cardinals to win against the Seattle Seahawks.
The playoff field was also set on Thursday Night when the Redskins defeated the Philadelphia Eagles to clinch the NFC East. That ended the Giants’ playoff hopes and they laid an egg against the Vikings allowing the Vikings to clinch a playoff spot. That rendered the Falcons’ win against the Panthers to be meaningless for Atlanta.
The first round of the NFC playoffs will star the following teams in some order. Washington will be the fourth seed. The other three teams are Seattle, Minnesota, and the Green Bay Packers. The Packers and the Vikings will play on the final weekend and the winner will become the three seed. The loser will likely become the five seed and play Washington.
The tricky part is Seattle. The Seahawks’ tiebreaker with the Packers-Vikings loser is head-to-head first. The Packers beat the Seahawks and the Vikings lost to the Seahawks. So if the Vikings win, the Seahawks would play them as the six seed. If the Packers win, the Seahawks play the Redskins as the five seed and Minnesota faces Green Bay in a rematch.
That pretty much means that Green Bay cannot lose no matter how this weekend plays out. If the Packers win, they get Minnesota at home. If they lose they avoid Seattle and play Washington instead.
For the Panthers, there is some favoritism in who they face in the second round. The preferred team would be the Redskins, and the Panthers could play Washington in the second round if both Washington and the three seed (Packers/Vikings) were to win. This does assume that the Panthers beat Tampa Bay.
The one seed in the NFL playoffs has to face the weakest seed. So if the six seed wins, they get the one seed in the next round. The potential six seed that the Panthers might want is the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings are the only team of the potential six seeds whose quarterback does not have a Super Bowl ring. Sure it might be a tight game, but the Panthers have had trouble with capable comeback quarterbacks not running backs.
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Given the choice between Green Bay and Seattle, the Panthers would probably rather play the Packers. Green Bay still has question marks on both lines. The Panthers would have to be aware of a three step drop strategy for Aaron Rodgers, but they offer a counterpoint of keeping Rodgers off the field.
Of all the wild-card weekend opponents, the one the Panthers least want to see is Seattle. The Seahawks are playing much better right now than they were when they played the Panthers. There was some talk for Russell Wilson as a dark horse MVP lately. The defensive screw up that allowed Greg Olsen to complete the best Panthers comeback win this season will likely not happen again.
The Seahawks feel that they are entering their real season, the playoffs. They remember that loss, and they will look to correct it.
Of course these scenarios all change if the Panthers do not beat Tampa Bay on Sunday at 4:25 PM.