So after today's results, this is how the NFC playoff picture would look if the season ended today instead of 4 weeks from now:
1. NY Giants (11-1, homefield advantage throughout playoffs)
2. Tampa Bay (9-3, wins tiebreaker with Carolina due to head-to-head victory)
3. Minnesota (7-5, has better conference record than Arizona)
4. Arizona (7-5, plays Minnesota Dec.14 in game that may determine some seeding)
5. Carolina (9-3, would have no home playoff games in this scenario)
6. Atlanta (8-4, edges Dallas -- also 8-4 -- with better NFC winning pct. at moment for the second wild-card spot -- .625 to .600)
First-round matchups: Carolina at Arizona (the Panthers edged the Cardinals at home this season); Atlanta at Minnesota. The Giants and Tampa Bay would have a first-round bye.
This makes me realize even more how important the Monday night, Dec.8 game in Charlotte is for Tampa Bay and Carolina. If the Panthers win on MNF, they suddenly vault into that No.2 spot -- at least temporarily.
If they lose to Tampa again, though, that's basically like being 2 games down with 3 to play -- Tampa Bay's going to win the NFC South at that point barring a total collapse, and Carolina will be mostly playing for a wild card.