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Ranking NFC teams battling for wild card spots: Rams are clearly front-runners; 49ers, Vikings, Eagles in mix


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Ranking NFC teams battling for wild card spots: Rams are clearly front-runners; 49ers, Vikings, Eagles in mix

Let's assess the crowded competition for playoff spots

Cody Benjamin

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With 14 weeks of NFL games in the books, the 2021 NFL playoff picture is starting to take shape. 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 15 kicking off, 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. Packers (10-3)
  2. Buccaneers (10-3)
  3. Cardinals (10-3)
  4. Cowboys (9-4)

NFC wild card contenders, ranked

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

1. Rams (9-4)

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

So maybe they can win in big spots? Matthew Stafford looked back to MVP form in prime time against Arizona, and they could still stand to incorporate Sony Michel more. Defensively, they're vulnerable, but Jalen Ramsey's future return will be a bonus.

2. 49ers (7-6)

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

Kyle Shanahan's guys didn't quit after hitting the doldrums in October; they stuck together. They've now won five of their last seven, with three wins against legitimate playoff candidates. As long as they can keep running the ball, they're feisty.

3. Vikings (6-7)

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

They are addicted to heartbreak, nearly blowing a huge lead to Pittsburgh on a short week at home. Mike Zimmer's defense remains problematic. But as long as Kirk Cousins has Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson, they're too explosive to write off.

4. Eagles (6-7)

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

They'd be smart to keep Jalen Hurts married to the run game (or else let Gardner Minshew keep playing), but if they do just that, they've got the O-line to control the clock. Their defense has also sniffed out the ball in a lot of timely spots.

5. Washington (6-7)

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

They're a tough out with Ron Rivera on the sidelines and the never-say-die Taylor Heinicke under center, but COVID and injuries have increasingly sapped them of depth. They can win ugly, but the issue is they almost always have to.

6. Seahawks (5-8)

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

If Rashaad Penny can keep it up as the sudden star of their backfield, they have a real shot of surprising down the stretch, even if it's too little, too late. Better yet, Russell Wilson looks a lot closer to normal these last few weeks.

7. Saints (6-7)

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

Like the Eagles, they must commit their QB to the ground for any shot at playing spoiler; Taysom Hill can grind out yards working alongside Alvin Kamara and leaning on their defense. Sean Payton's team will surely finish strong.

8. Falcons (6-7)

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

Their Week 14 win is probably more representative of Carolina's plunge into darkness, but hey, feeding Cordarrelle Patterson has led to some surprising stretches before.

Not good enough

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

  • Panthers (5-8): Now 0-3 since Cam Newton's hyped return, they are in dire need of further offseason shakeup.
  • Giants (4-9): Daniel Jones doesn't appear to be coming back anytime soon, but even he can't right this ship.
  • Bears (4-9): Justin Fields showed pizzazz against the Packers in prime time, but they're still many pieces away.

No chance

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

  • Lions (1-11-1): Officially eliminated, they got back to doing what they do best in Week 14: losing.


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