With 15 weeks of the 2022 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn a serious eye toward the playoffs. Several teams have been mathematically eliminated from contention, and a few more can clinch specific postseason seeds starting in Week 16. Several division leaders, meanwhile, have already begun 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:
- Eagles (NFC East, 13-1)
- Vikings (NFC North, 11-3)
- 49ers (NFC West, 10-4)
- Buccaneers (NFC South, 6-8)
Wild card contenders
9. Falcons (5-9)
They can run the ball. And with rookie Desmond Ridder now under center indefinitely, they'll probably run it even harder than before. They'll run it until Arthur Smith can't do it anymore. Until every healthy back is no longer healthy, and Marcus Mariota himself has to come off injured reserve just to take hand-offs. Until then, this team and its holey defense are just treading water, content to ride out a once-sneakily competitive season in hopes of a better restocking come 2023.
8. Panthers (5-9)
If they couldn't pull one out against Mitch Trubisky and the Steelers, their future as surprise NFC South contenders is probably bleak. Steve Wilks has certainly infused the locker room with more energy, Sam Darnold is at least avoiding interceptions and D.J. Moore is a treat. But Carolina just may not have the consistent offensive production -- or protection, as evidenced by Pittsburgh's domination in the trenches on Sunday -- to make noise when it matters most.
7. Saints (5-9)
Andy Dalton has quietly been pretty solid as the permanent successor to Jameis Winston, settling down after a rough patch during their early November slide. When healthy, they've got familiar faces to make plays -- Alvin Kamara, Demario Davis and Tyrann Mathieu among them. The issue is, Dennis Allen's had issues going overly conservative in key spots, they still struggle to get a lot of points on the board and they've flopped too often facing their own subpar divisional foes.
6. Commanders (7-6-1)
It's a shame they stand where they do, because they've got a lot of building blocks for something special: The Antonio Gibson-Brian Robinson Jr. pairing is solid, Terry McLaurin is always open and Ron Rivera's defensive front remains threatening. What they can't do, however, is finish drives, and Taylor Heinicke, everyone's favorite underdog QB, is a big reason why. For as much fight as he offers, Heinicke has never been that much of an upgrade on Carson Wentz, leaving Washington shaky as usual under center.
5. Packers (6-8)
There are still glaring hiccups in Matt LaFleur's offense, and particularly with Aaron Rodgers, who held the ball waiting for dead plays to develop early in Week 15's win over the Rams. But for the most part, that unit looks back on track, with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon working the red zone and both Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs creating over the middle. The real reason it's tough to trust them, even in the event Rodgers goes full MVP in shootout mode? Joe Barry's defense has proven suspect against teams with real playmakers.
4. Giants (7-5-1)
The offensive contingent of Brian Daboll, Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley has certainly passed the test in terms of adapting, gelling and producing together. They know how to win ugly, because that's frankly the only way their personnel allows them to win. And with Kayvon Thibodeaux flying off the edge, boy, does that defense look more competent, too. At the end of the day, though, even if they can play smashmouth a la sterling January football teams, you've gotta be able to put the ball in the air consistently, and that's just not something they're built to do.
3. Seahawks (7-7)
It's hard to tell if they're about to fully fall apart at the seams or make another surprise, splashy run now that two of the NFC West's four teams are mathematically dead. The bad news is the defense remains a problem, and without run-game rhythm, they're wrongly asking Geno Smith to be perfect on a weekly basis. Tyler Lockett's injury is another concern. The good news is that Smith, even with recent hiccups, hasn't lost his cool as the QB in command, Pete Carroll has weathered late-year runs before and big bodies like Kenneth Walker III, DK Metcalf and Noah Fant are capable of righting their offensive ship.
2. Lions (7-7)
They are legitimately a winning program right now, with seven wins in eight weeks and the lone loss coming in a one-score game with the Bills. Their top players are probably a touch too young to carry them to glory, and Jared Goff is still more good than great when push comes to shove. But the "D" is vastly improved since Dan Campbell threw a wrench in the staff, Goff's weapons out wide are deep and work every part of the field and their two-headed rushing attack is built to keep them fighting. Again, we might be one year too early on them making a real run, but few teams have more tangible spirit at this point in the season.
1. Cowboys (10-4)
There's a reason they're headlining the wild card contenders and not the Super Bowl contenders. Just as we say every year, for the last decade or two, all the talent is there on paper, but the crunch-time results are not. Balanced and explosive as they can be on both sides of the ball, Dak Prescott and Co. are still unproven when the spotlight is bright. Even so, we have no choice but to crown them the most dangerous here, because when they're on, with Dak leaning on Tony Pollard, feeding CeeDee Lamb and getting timely defensive support, they're capable of going toe-to-toe with superiors.