With 12 weeks down in the 2023 NFL season, the playoffs suddenly aren't so far away. A lot can happen between now and the end of the regular season, of course, but already the postseason picture is beginning to take shape.
As we approach Week 13, how do the teams fighting for one of the conference's three wild-card spots stack up? Here's how we'd rank all 12 of them behind the current division leaders.
(To see our ranking of the AFC's 12 wild-card contenders,.)
Wild card contenders
12. Panthers (1-10)
They literally just fired their coach and his top two assistants after 11 games on the job. It's safe to say Bryce Young and Co. are going to need some time to rebuild confidence, let alone become playoff-relevant.
11. Cardinals (2-10)
The shine of Kyler Murray's return sure wore off quickly, didn't it? Worse yet, defense and discipline have both been big issues under the defensive-minded head coaching of Jonathan Gannon.
10. Commanders (4-8)
Someone had to pay after their hapless Thanksgiving loss to the Cowboys, and sure enough, Jack Del Rio did. But Ron Rivera is still in charge, and everyone and their brother anticipates his exit at year's end.
9. Bears (4-8)
They just upset the Vikings on the road while becoming the first team to win a game without scoring a touchdown this season. That's encouraging for Matt Eberflus' defense, but it doesn't particularly register as sustainable.
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8. Giants (4-8)
Left for dead when both Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor were lost behind a shoddy O-line, they've suddenly got spirit with undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito, who's playing freely. They also barely beat the crumbling Patriots.
7. Buccaneers (4-7)
Todd Bowles' oversight has become predictable in a not-so-good way. At the very least, they're a tough out, just like the scrappy Baker Mayfield. Only two of their six losses since October have been by multiple scores.
6. Seahawks (6-5)
Pete Carroll has the track record to believe in a late-year push, but Geno Smith's been pressing behind a battered line, other key starters like Kenneth Walker III are banged up, and Carroll's "D" in particular has been iffy in critical spots.
5. Saints (5-6)
The Derek Carr-led offense moves the ball; it just really struggles to score. But in such a weak division, with Dennis Allen still overseeing a borderline top-five pass "D," they're poised to hang around in ugly fashion.
4. Packers (5-6)
After a long stretch in which he looked ill-prepared (or supported) for the basics of full-time quarterbacking, Jordan Love has rediscovered his downfield touch while Matt LaFleur puts the Packers' young speed to use. They may be a year or two away from actually returning to legit postseason form, but Love's progression along with the rest of the lineup bodes well for playing spoiler.
3. Rams (5-6)
It's really hard to trust their makeshift O-line, which has seen Matthew Stafford both suffer injuries and rely too much on his arm this year. But when things are clicking, especially with a healthy Kyren Williams in the backfield, Sean McVay's squad looks capable of sneaking out of the NFC West, where they're 4-1 against divisional opponents to date.
2. Vikings (6-6)
They just fell 12-10 to the Bears at home, which should be all the proof you need that this wild-card race isn't exactly overflowing with star power. Certainly there's reason to be concerned that Josh Dobbs' magic is running out as Kevin O'Connell's emergency QB, now that he's totaled six turnovers in his last two starts. But Justin Jefferson is expected back soon and Brian Flores' "D" keeps overachieving with aggression and opportunism, so they should remain competitive.
1. Cowboys (8-3)
The only real concern here is their big-game track record; Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott are a combined 3-6 in playoff games since 2016. But there's so much else to like here, from Prescott's MVP-caliber run spreading the ball around to a defense that gets after QBs better than most. Yes, they've played plenty of inferior squads, but they've cruised past all of them, scoring more points per game (31.5) than any team in the NFL, including the Dolphins.