An NFC playoff picture that was starting to look clear a week ago now is in disarray following a wild weekend in which two of the top four seeds lost.
The No. 1 seed Eagles managed to escape with a 43-35 win against the Los Angeles Rams, but they now face serious questions about their future after quarterback (and MVP candidate) Carson Wentz left the game in the second half with a knee injury.
Should Wentz’s injury be season-ending, the Eagles could no longer be considered the favorite in the NFL. Philadelphia is the lone team in the conference to clinch a division, however, and the wild-card race could come down a complicated process of tiebreakers.
The Eagles managed to rally after Wentz’s injury and scored a defensive touchdown with no time on the clock after the Rams’ attempt at desperation lateral play failed. But it wasn’t even the wildest ending to a game that day.
The Seattle Seahawks fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-24 and lost their cool in the last minute of the game, when defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and defensive end Quinton Jefferson were ejected for fighting.
Jefferson tried to climb into the stands at EverBank Field after fans tossed drinks on him as he was heading to the Seahawks locker room through a tunnel behind the Jaguars bench. All of the drama came after the Jaguars’ offense went into victory formation to run out the clock.
To Jaguars players, it was a sign that a perennial playoff team was unraveling.
“They’re not used to losing,” Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson told USA TODAY Sports. “Their coach probably told them that we aren’t (expletive), told them we can’t beat them. We went out there smacked them in the mouth and they don’t know how to act.”
The Seahawks fell to 8-5 and remain a game back of the Rams in the NFC West heading into next week’s game between the two teams in Seattle, a clash the Seahawks may have to play without star linebacker Bobby Wagner, who left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury early in the third quarter and did not return.
The Seahawks have already lost defensive starters Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril this season, but losing Wagner – a defensive player of the year candidate and the Seahawks’ on-field leader – might be one injury they can’t survive.
Seattle may also be short-handed on the defensive line if Jefferson or Richardson is disciplined by the NFL for their antics in Jacksonville.
“It’s really important that we bounce back and get back on track and take this trip home tonight and see if we can rally,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We’ve got a huge championship game coming up next week, and we’ll see if we can get it done.”
The Seahawks’ loss to the Jaguars also knocked Seattle out of the second wild-card spot, replaced by the Atlanta Falcons, who kicked off the wild weekend with a win at home on Thursday night against the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints.
Then the Minnesota Vikings lost to the Carolina Panthers early Sunday, keeping the Panthers firmly in contention for both the NFC South and a wild card spot.
Even after the loss, the Vikings hold on to the No. 2 seed in their quest to win the NFC North. But that goal remains unsettled thanks to a comeback win by the Packers in Cleveland and the Detroit Lions’ narrow victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Green Bay also could get a boost from the potential return of Aaron Rodgers from a broken collarbone, but a wild-card berth seems more within reach.
Minnesota has to travel to Green Bay on Dec. 23.