With 14 weeks of NFL games on the books, the image of the 2021 NFL playoffs is starting to take shape. And the NFC, in particular, is expected to host a circus of a wild card race, with nearly a dozen teams potentially battling for three playoff spots. With the kick off of week 15, which teams look the most formidable in the race? We take stock of the entire pool of them.
Find the current leaders of the NFC division below, along with our rankings of current wild card contenders:
Current leaders of the NFC division
These can obviously change by the end of the season, but for now these favorites are stuck:
- Packers (10-3)
- Buccaneers (10-3)
- Cardinals (10-3)
- cowboys (9-4)
NFC Wildcard Candidates, Ranked
This is how we would sort the candidates, but just keep in mind Three of them can actually make the playoffs:
1. Rams (9-4)
Remaining time: vs. Seahawks, vs. Vikings, vs. Ravens, vs. 49ers
So maybe they can win in the big spots? Matthew Stafford returned to his prime-time MVP form against Arizona, and they could always afford to incorporate more Sony Michel. Defensively they’re vulnerable, but Jalen Ramsey’s future return will be a bonus.
Remaining time: Against the Falcons, against the Titans, against the Texans, against the Rams
Kyle Shanahan’s guys didn’t quit after hitting the doldrums in October; they stayed together. They have now won five of their last seven, with three wins over legitimate playoff contenders. As long as they can keep running the ball, they’re fiery.
3. Vikings (6-7)
Remaining time: at Bears, against Rams, at Packers, against Bears
They’re addicted to heartbreak, nearly blowing up a huge lead in Pittsburgh during a short week at home. Mike Zimmer’s defense remains problematic. But as long as Kirk Cousins ââhas Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson, they’re too explosive to be written off.
4. Eagles (6-7)
Remaining time: against Washington, against the Giants, at Washington, against the Cowboys
They’d be smart to keep Jalen Hurts married to the racing game (or else let Gardner Minshew keep playing), but if they do exactly that, they have the O line to control the clock. Their defense also sniffed the ball in plenty of convenient spots.
5. Washington (6-7)
Remaining time: at Eagles, at Cowboys, against Eagles, at Giants
They’re tough with Ron Rivera on the sidelines and Taylor Heinicke never saying die under cross, but COVID and injuries have increasingly undermined them. They can win lousy, but the problem is, they almost always have to.
6. Seahawks (5-8)
Remaining time: among rams, against bears, against lions, among cardinals
If Rashaad Penny can continue as the sudden star of their backfield, they have a real chance to surprise down the home stretch, even if it’s too little, too late. Best of all, Russell Wilson has looked a lot closer to normal in recent weeks.
7. Saints (6-7)
Remaining time: at Buccaneers, against Dolphins, against Panthers, at Falcons
Like the Eagles, they must engage their QB on the ground for any spoiler; Taysom Hill can work alongside Alvin Kamara and rely on his defense. Sean Payton’s team will surely end up strong.
8. Falcons (6-7)
Remaining time: at 49ers, against Lions, at Bills, against Saints
Their Week 14 win is probably more representative of Carolina’s plunge into the dark, but hey, feeding Cordarrelle Patterson has already led to some surprising stretches.
Not good enough
These teams aren’t technically out of the pack, but they have a terribly difficult climb like the playoffs:
- Panthers (5-8): Now 0-3 since Cam Newton’s frenzied comeback, they are in desperate need of another offseason reshuffle.
- giants (4-9): Daniel Jones doesn’t appear to be back anytime soon, but even he can’t right this ship.
- Bear (4-9): Justin Fields showed some strength against the Packers in prime time, but they’re still a long way off.
Just what he says. These guys are already looking towards 2022:
- the Lions (1-11-1): Officially eliminated, they got back to doing what they do best in week 14: losing.
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