NFL Playoff Picture 2012: Most Dangerous Teams Still in Wild Card Hunt

Stephen Sheehan@@StephenPSheehanCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2012

Eli Manning has shown the ability to step up in big games.
Eli Manning has shown the ability to step up in big games.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Six of the eight playoff spots have been locked up, but there are a handful of dangerous teams still vying for a Wild-Card spot. 

The battle for one of the final playoff spots will come down to the wire, especially in the NFC East where the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants all sit at 8-6. 

Thanks to Washington's head-to-head record, Mike Shanahan's squad currently sits atop the division, but with the way all three teams are playing, it can't afford to feel safe. 

In the AFC, Houston, Denver and New England have all wrapped up their respective divisions, and Baltimore clinched a playoff spot despite a 34-17 loss against the Broncos Sunday. 

As we've seen with the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, all it takes is a playoff berth to make magic happen in the postseason. 

Let's take a look at which teams are the most dangerous as the playoff hunt continues. 


New York Giants (8-6) No. 9 in NFC

Time and time again people have doubted the Giants, and every time they seem to rise to the occasion. 

However, after getting shut out by the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, it's going to be tough for the Giants to even earn a playoff berth. 

Many people expected the Giants to put up a good fight against the No. 1 team in the NFC, but it was the Falcons who soared to new heights in their 34-0 stomping of the defending Super Bowl champions. 

Despite the rough loss, the Giants are still the sleeping beast that no one wants to awaken. 

Sure, Eli Manning hasn't played like an elite quarterback this year. 

And that supposedly unblockable defensive line? It's been subpar. 

What is clear is that the Giants are still one of the most talented and complete teams in the league.

New York's offense features two No. 1 receivers in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, a top-10 quarterback in Manning and plenty of options in the backfield. 

Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul still comprise one of the league's most feared defensive fronts and are capable of making an opposing quarterback's night a living hell. 

If they're clicking on all cylinders, the Giants still have to be favorites to go deep in the playoffs. 


Seattle Seahawks (9-5) No. 5 in NFC

Good teams beat up on bad ones, and Pete Carroll's team has done just that during the past two weeks. 

After a thrilling 23-17 overtime win against the Chicago Bears, the Seahawks have absolutely throttled the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills by a combined score of 108-17. 

Seattle currently holds the top Wild-Card spot in the NFC and it's easy to see why. 

Despite having a rookie quarterback at the helm, the Seahawks have already achieved nine wins because of two critical factors: running the ball and playing defense. 

Marshawn Lynch has rushed for 1,379 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games, proving that last season was no fluke. 

With Lynch and Russell Wilson making enough plays on offense, Seattle's defense—led by its giant secondary—has been one of the league's best in 2012. 

Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are a formidable duo, and pass-rushers Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin give offensive linemen nightmares. 

Assuming Seattle holds on to its Wild-Card spot, they have the two components that would make them a dangerous team to face in the playoffs. 


Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7) No. 7 in AFC

In very un-Steeler-like fashion, Pittsburgh has dropped four games by three points in 2012. 

None were as back-breaking as Sunday's overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys, who picked off Ben Roethlisberger in the extra period en route to a 27-24 victory. 

While the Steelers usually take care of business and know how to close games, it's been a bit of a different story this season. 

However, it's easy to forget that Big Ben missed three games, including losses against Baltimore and Cleveland. 

Injuries have kept many of the Steelers' stars out of the lineup this year, but with Maurkice Pouncey, Troy Polamalu, Mike Wallace and Roethlisberger getting close or at 100 percent, the Steelers lurk in the shadows as a playoff sleeper. 

Getting into the playoffs will be tough for Pittsburgh, who has to beat Cincinnati next week and get some help in Week 17, but you can never count out Big Ben and the Steelers.