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NFL playoff positions on the line in season finales

There’s no question the NFC has been the dominant conference this season, with the South being the top division.

The NFC won 41 of the 64 head-to-head matchups against the AFC; that .641 winning percentage is the best for the NFC since going 27-12-1 in 1970, the year of the merger.

New Orleans (11-4) and Carolina (11-4) already are in the playoffs and the division championship will be decided Sunday. Atlanta, which lost the Super Bowl with a colossal collapse in February, also could qualify.

All three are capable of going deep into January, or maybe even to the big game.

“Our situation is if we win, we’re in and if we don’t, you go home,” said Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. “It’s as clear as it gets.”

Well, not exactly. Should Seattle also lose, Atlanta (9-6) would advance.

You can be sure the Panthers would enjoy sending the Falcons home early, and they could take the division with a victory and a New Orleans defeat at Tampa Bay (4-11).

“We don’t want three teams from the NFC South in the playoffs,” Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “We want two. We got to go down there and spoil their parade.”

The Panthers are 5-2 on the road while Atlanta is only 4-3 in its new home. Carolina’s defense has really come on, including 15 sacks and 10 takeaways in the last three games.

No team has a more balanced offense than the Saints, who rank fifth in both passing, thanks to Drew Brees throwing to Michael Thomas, and in rushing behind Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. Ingram (1,486 yards from scrimmage, 12 TDs) and Kamara (1,426 yards, 12 TDs) are the only teammates in league history with at least 1,300 scrimmage yards and 10 TDs in the same season.

Slumping Tampa has dropped five in a row and QB Jameis Winston has lost eight…


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