Current record: 8-3 | Weighted DVOA: 27.0 percent
Projected wins: 11.2
Total playoff odds: 94.8 percent | Weekly change: +3.9 percent
For the past three weeks, Carolina's division-winning probability has hovered right around 40 percent, and that's unlikely to change until after the Panthers' upcoming home-and-home series with the Saints. However, if you're a Panthers fan, don't sleep on their Week 14 opponent, Tampa Bay. After starting the season 0-8, the Buccaneers have rattled off three straight victories, and their 2.0 percent weighted DVOA means our metrics view them to be a slightly above-average team right now. Carolina is the hottest team in the NFL, and won its earlier matchup with Tampa Bay in convincing fashion, but Sunday's game figures to be closer than many people expect. "Looking ahead" to New Orleans would be disastrous for Carolina's continued ascension up the NFC seeding ladder.
No. 6 - San Francisco 49ers
Current record: 7-4 | Weighted DVOA: 18.4 percent
Projected wins: 9.9
Total playoff odds: 63.6 percent | Weekly change: +11.6 percent
When your playoff odds are in free fall and you're hungry for a win three days before Thanksgiving, there's nothing like getting served up the hulking carcass that is Washington. San Francisco's feast on Monday night put its wild-card probability back above 60 percent and kept hope alive for the No. 5 seed. Of course, the 49ers have higher hopes. Browner's suspension might very well put the NFC West division crown back in play, especially considering San Francisco hosts Seattle in Week 14. Our simulations give the 49ers only a 1.6 percent chance of stealing the division, and only an 0.8 percent chance of pulling even by Week 15, but those simulations are ignorant to both the suspension and the impending return of Michael Crabtree.
You might be wondering, "How are the Cardinals' total playoff odds so much lower than two teams with worse records?" The answer is that, unlike Dallas and Detroit, Arizona has virtually zero chance of winning its division, and it projects to 0.6 fewer wins than San Francisco over the final five weeks, when it currently needs to win one more game than the 49ers. As long as the two teams remained tied, you won't see Arizona's chances change in a meaningful way. To wit, they increased by only 2.1 percent this week despite beating Indianapolis.