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Ranking NFC teams fighting for wild card spots: Rams, Washington among toughest contenders entering Week 14


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Ranking NFC teams fighting for wild card spots: Rams, Washington among toughest contenders entering Week 14

Let's assess the crowded competition for playoff spots

Cody Benjamin

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2021 NFL playoff picture is starting to take shape with 13 weeks of NFL games in the books. And the NFC, in particular, is set to play host to a circus of a wild card race, with nearly a dozen teams potentially fighting over three postseason berths. With Week 14 approaching, which teams look the most formidable in the race? We're taking stock of the entire pool of them.

Find current NFC division leaders below, as well as our rankings of the current wild card contenders:

Current NFC division leaders

These can obviously change from now until the end of the season, but at the moment, these front-runners are locked in:

  1. Cardinals (10-2)
  2. Packers (9-3)
  3. Buccaneers (9-3)
  4. Cowboys (8-4)

NFC wild card contenders, ranked

This is how we'd sort the obvious candidates, but keep in mind only three of these can actually make the playoffs:

1. Rams (8-4)

Remaining schedule: at Cardinals, vs. Seahawks, at Vikings, at Ravens, vs. 49ers  

They're finally back on track after rolling over the Jaguars. While there's certainly cause for concern with Matthew Stafford and Co. in big spots (they've got a true test of a schedule down the stretch), they're too talented on the roster and sidelines to overlook.

2. 49ers (6-6)

Remaining schedule: at Bengals, vs. Falcons, at Titans, vs. Texans, at Rams  

They kind of are what they are: mediocre when Jimmy Garoppolo has to throw his way to victory, and scrappy when he doesn't. It'll help when Deebo Samuel returns, but their lack of secondary depth isn't going away anytime soon. Kyle Shanahan gets the nod over some other teams here solely because he's got a deep playoff run under his belt.

3. Washington (6-6)

Remaining schedule: vs. Cowboys, at Eagles, at Cowboys, vs. Eagles, at Giants

Taylor Heinicke is at his best spreading it around and controlling the clock, but their offense still has a low ceiling. And yet, coupled with Ron Rivera's increasingly stingy defense, they've won four straight for a reason. They can win ugly, and that should scare their competition.

4. Eagles (6-7)

Remaining schedule: Bye, vs. Washington, vs. Giants, at Washington, vs. Cowboys  

Next to Washington, they by far have the most feasible path to a wild card spot, purely in terms of schedule. Can Jalen Hurts step up as a passer in key divisional games, though? He's a far more dynamic ground threat than Gardner Minshew, but he needs Nick Sirianni to lean on the run (and get a few big plays from the defense) to surprise out of the NFC East.

5. Vikings (5-7)

Remaining schedule: vs. Steelers, at Bears, vs. Rams, at Packers, vs. Bears  

Heartbreak and humiliation hasn't been hard to come by for these Vikings, whose defense has been an occasional sieve and who now have a short-week game against the tough Steelers after falling to Detroit. But if/when their playmakers get healthy, they still have the firepower to go head to head with anyone. Can they survive their final schedule?

6. Seahawks (4-8)

Remaining schedule: at Texans, at Rams, vs. Bears, vs. Lions, at Cardinals

It all comes down to this: is Russell Wilson comfortable? He looked much more at ease in Seattle's do-or-die win against the 49ers in Week 13. And if he's even close to himself, they have a shot, even though their try-hard ground game and vulnerable defense put way too much on the quarterback's shoulders.

7. Saints (5-7)

Remaining schedule: at Jets, at Buccaneers, vs. Dolphins, vs. Panthers, at Falcons

Taysom Hill brought the boom and the bust to the Saints' offense stepping in for Trevor Siemian, and now he's gonna have to play through a finger injury. Their defense still gives them a chance, as does Sean Payton, but they really need to control the ball if they wanna make noise over their final five games.

8. Falcons (5-7)

Remaining schedule: at Panthers, at 49ers, vs. Lions, at Bills, vs. Saints

They've surprised against more lowly teams and played catch-up against better ones. Fortunately for them, the stumbling Panthers are on deck this week, right on cue for a Matt Ryan rebound.

9. Panthers (5-7)

Remaining schedule: vs. Falcons, at Bills, vs. Buccaneers, at Saints, at Buccaneers

Maybe changing offensive coordinators will unlock Cam Newton, but we kind of doubt it. They've been a bit of an "all bark, no bite" team this year, teasing with their defense early on and then boasting of Cam's energetic return later, only to enter the final five-game stretch staring at a likely losing record.

Not quite good enough

These teams aren't technically out of the mix, but they have an awfully uphill climb to the postseason picture:

  • Giants (4-8): Now both Daniel Jones and Mike Glennon are banged up. What's Freddie Kitchens got up his sleeve?
  • Bears (4-8): What could Matt Nagy possibly show over this final stretch to convince ownership he deserves to stick?

No chance

Just what it says. These guys are already looking ahead to 2022:

  • Lions (1-10-1): But at least they can finally celebrate that first victory.


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