With 11 weeks of NFL football in the books, the 2021 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 12 approaching, which teams look the most formidable in the race? We're taking stock of the entire pool of them.
Below, find current NFC division leaders, 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, they're locked in:
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 (7-3)
If the NFL awarded an honorary division title, it would probably go to them. There are still questions to be answered in terms of their big-game readiness (Matthew Stafford, in particular, has shrunk in some key spots), but they still own one of the game's most explosive passing offenses -- maybe the most important thing you could have in today's NFL -- and possess enough game-changers on defense to dictate opposing scripts. Put it simply, their abundance of talent makes them a tough out no matter where they finish.
2. Vikings (5-5)
Did you know the Vikings are averaging more yards per game than the Cardinals, Chargers, Packers, Titans and literally 21 other teams this year? Mike Zimmer's defense hasn't exactly been dominant this year, letting opponents go up and down the field, but it hasn't wrecked their chances because Kirk Cousins and Co. have been rolling most of the season, with Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson giving them two of the game's best players at their positions. They're a threat strictly because they've got firepower.
3. Eagles (5-6)
A month after Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts looked like a bad forced marriage, the two have combined to guide the NFL's steadiest run-based attack as of late. More importantly, Hurts has stepped up on key throws without sacrificing his ball-protection skills. Their defense is still too dependent on the trenches to dominate superior teams, but that unit has had a nasty knack for getting the ball, too. With a cakewalk schedule down the stretch, they have a real chance to build momentum.
4. 49ers (5-5)
Kyle Shanahan has successfully navigated backfield injuries to rework the 49ers' ground game, and as a result, Jimmy Garoppolo has been able to play point guard in the background of two big wins. There will, of course, inevitably come a time when Garoppolo is tasked with stepping up, which may or may not be problematic. And their run defense remains vulnerable. But their biggest names -- Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Nick Bosa -- offer so much when called upon that they'll hang around until the end.
5. Panthers (5-6)
Cam Newton's infectious energy couldn't give them a very winnable Week 11 showdown with Washington, and his ceiling as a pocket passer is still somewhat limited. It's also concerning that their vaunted defense -- ranked No. 2 in the league behind only the Bills -- folded against the run during their fall below .500. But Cam's legs, coupled with their "D" at its best, makes for a physical late-season bunch. They should be in every game the rest of the way.
6. Saints (5-5)
It's one thing to give them credit for their stingy run defense, but that same run defense just got gashed left and right in a blowout loss to the Eagles. Worse yet: Trevor Siemian has finally been exposed as the backup-caliber quarterback he is. Their best bet for a late run, in all honesty, might lie with the newly paid Taysom Hill, who at least offers gadget-play ability under center. Getting Alvin Kamara healthy would go a long way to restoring their chances. So, too, would possibly getting Philip Rivers on the line.
7. Washington (4-6)
No one should be betting anything on a team quarterbacked by Taylor Heinicke, who is a fun watch for his feisty mobility but has proven even more mercurial than Ryan Fitzpatrick, the man he replaced. It also remains to be seen whether their defense has what it takes to consistently stick with better teams. But Ron Rivera's gotten a lot of fight from them lately, and they've got big-play ability on both sides of the ball. At the very least, look out for them to play spoiler.
8. Falcons (4-6)
Typically, in these exercises, the teams with the more experienced QBs get a nod in close calls, and we'd much rather bet on Matt Ryan than Taylor Heinicke. But Ryan has struggled mightily after going on a tear against a string of lowly opponents, their offense desperately needs Cordarrelle Patterson to thrive, Calvin Ridley's return is nowhere in sight, and their "D" is porous.
Not quite good enough
These teams aren't technically out of the mix, but they have an awfully uphill climb to the postseason picture:
Just what it says. These guys are already looking ahead to 2022:
- Lions (0-9-1)