With 13 weeks of the 2022 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn at least one eye toward the playoffs. Not a single team has been mathematically eliminated from contention, but a few can clinch postseason spots starting in Week 13, and several division leaders are far enough in front to begin making plans for January action.
With that in mind, here's how we'd rank the 12 teams competing for three open wild card spots in the NFC:
- Bears (NFC North, 3-10)
Wild card contenders
11. Rams (3-9)
Half their starters have been taken out on stretchers, or at least it feels like it. Bobby Wagner and Jalen Ramsey are still fighting on defense, but they resemble a preseason lineup on the other side. No one is more in need of an offseason to rest and rehab.
10. Saints (4-9)
Andy Dalton has been surprisingly money when hot, with Chris Olave at his disposal. On "D," Cameron Jordan and Demario Davis can still create. But under Dennis Allen's watch, they've been ludicrously sloppy, overly conservative and iffy in crunch time, never more clear than in their Monday night collapse against a desperate and out-of-sync Buccaneers squad.
9. Cardinals (4-8)
The real tragedy in Arizona isn't that Kyler Murray's athleticism hasn't translated to reliable/sustainable production. It's that a reset is -- or should be -- coming, with few long-term building blocks or strategies surrounding the mercurial QB. Sure, they can make splash plays, with DeAndre Hopkins out wide, but they also surrender more points than all but one team in the NFL.
8. Falcons (5-8)
Arthur Smith is finally entertaining a potential QB change, which is proof Atlanta, while competitive in every game this year, is not ready to take on the big boys. They're always a threat to do damage on the ground, but the passing attack is supremely limited. That won't necessarily change even if Desmond Ridder takes over for Marcus Mariota.
7. Panthers (4-8)
Watch out for them as spoilers. Steve Wilks has kept them feisty as the interim, Brian Burns and the defensive front is legit, and Sam Darnold revived D.J. Moore in his first start back. Is it possible Baker Mayfield's release will enhance their spark?
6. Giants (7-4-1)
Calling them frauds seems harsh, because going into 2022, seven wins would've been an admirable achievement for Brian Daboll. Daniel Jones has certainly improved while using his legs. But situational play-calling has been suspect of late, they're leaky against the run, and they've yet to prove they can win a game through the air. They do keep things close.
5. Commanders (7-5-1)
They are an embodiment of their current QB, Taylor Heinicke: scrappy but streaky. Ron Rivera's squad is buoyed by a penetrating D-line and powerful rushing duo headlined by Brian Robinson Jr. Every week is also an opportunity for Terry McLaurin to go off downfield. But Heinicke, like Carson Wentz before him, is often a little too frenetic to trust.
4. Packers (5-8)
Half the time, they seem closer to packing it in than making a run, mostly because the Aaron Rodgers-led offense remains a streaky unit of moving parts, and Joe Barry's run "D" remains a sieve up the middle. But Rodgers has developed real chemistry with the explosive Christian Watson out wide, and they enter the bye with a chance to not only heal up but build on real progress, having scored at least 28 points in three of their last four games.
3. Lions (5-7)
Yes, actually. They may be a year away from making real noise, but the Dan Campbell Effect is finally translating to victory. Jared Goff has quietly posted borderline top-10 numbers in a balanced attack starring Amon-Ra St. Brown, the "D" flies around and has been markedly improved since midyear staffing changes, and they've gone to the wire with far superior rosters.
2. Seahawks (7-5)
Anyone can score on them, and everyone can run against them, which could pose big problems in January. Play-making rookie Kenneth Walker III is also battling an ankle injury now. And yet few offenses have been as capable of instant fireworks. Geno Smith has gotten quiet MVP buzz dishing the ball to the red-hot duo of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. And Pete Carroll has the track record of guiding late-year journeys to the postseason.
1. Cowboys (9-3)
Since Dak Prescott's return, Dallas is averaging 37 points per game, and four of its five wins during that 5-1 stretch have come by at least two touchdowns. With the 49ers losing Jimmy Garoppolo for the year, they may well be the NFC's most dangerous contender this side of their NFC East rival Eagles. The biggest question mark, with Micah Parsons also headlining their energetic "D," is probably just whether they can meet their own rapidly ascending expectations. For all their hype and talent, neither Prescott nor the Cowboys have delivered many big-game results.