The NFC playoff picture is looking messier the turf at Soldier Field.
With several teams still in contention heading into the final six weeks of the season, every game becomes especially pivotal. And while roster composition and health will go a long way in deciding who gets in and who doesn't, the biggest deciding factor could be strength of schedule - particularly where dark-horse teams are concerned.
Here are three teams on the periphery of the playoff race that could rally late in the season (Super Bowl odds courtesy TopBet.eu):
New York Giants (+2,500)
Giants' odds to win it all have dropped dramatically since Eli Manning
and Co. opened the campaign with six consecutive losses. A four-game
winning streak hasn't exactly made New York a Super Bowl favorite, but
with the NFC East in shambles and the Giants just a game and a half back
of division-leading Philadelphia, hope remains alive. Winning
back-to-back division games against Dallas and Washington, and
surviving a visit from Seattle, are critical, but with Manning playing
better and the defense looking strong, the Giants have a shot.
Green Bay Packers (+4,000)
The Packers have gone into a tailspin, losing three consecutive games as they've struggled to make do without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay was the top team in the NFC North before he broke his collarbone and there's no reason to think they can't be when he returns. Green Bay has several winnable games remaining - Minnesota, Atlanta and Pittsburgh among them - and a healthy Rogers should have little trouble generating plenty of offense against weak pass defenses in Detroit and Dallas.
Arizona Cardinals (+10,000)
Few suspected the Cardinals would find themselves in position to challenge for a wildcard berth this late into the season. But here they are, tied with San Francisco for second spot in the NFC West. With the Seattle Seahawks a good bet to win the division title, the Cardinals and 49ers will likely duke it out for the chance to secure one of two wildcard spots. Arizona has a difficult closing stretch, finishing up with games against the Seahawks and Niners. But with four winnable games leading into that (vs. Indianapolis, at Philadelphia, vs. St. Louis, at Tennessee), the Cardinals could surprise.