NFL Playoff Picture: Wild-Card Teams That Top Contenders Must Fear

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 16:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts avoids the tackle by J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans in the second half at Reliant Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Houston, Texas. Texans win 29-17 to clinch the AFC South. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Six of the NFL's eight divisions are locked up with two weeks remaining in the regular season, but that doesn't mean that the playoff picture is any less murky.

The division crown in the NFC East and AFC North is still up for grabs, plus wild-card teams must be determined. The latter is never simple, and that's what makes it fun.

Just because a team qualifies as a wild-card squad doesn't mean that they are not dangerous. A few teams have what it takes to push top contenders to their limits as they vie for a shocking postseason upset.

Let's take a look at three teams that the NFL's elite must fear if they find their way into the playoffs.


Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have scored 50-plus points in their last two games and are winners of five of their last six games.

Needless to say, the San Francisco 49ers' trip to CenturyLink Field should make them nervous in Week 16, and it doesn't stop there.

Seattle is just dangerous. If they force you to play their game, the Seahawks are almost unbeatable because of their staunch defense and powerful run game.

But Russell Wilson's development is even changing that notion. He's making the team's attack more versatile as he develops a rapport with his wide receivers. He's a very smart player who is consistently improving as each week passes.

Seattle can pull even with the 49ers in the NFC West with a win on Sunday. From there, all bets are off.

If the Seahawks find their way into the postseason, they should be feared by every team that crosses their path.


Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh tends to play its best football when it matters, even if recent games don't tell you so.

As losers of four of their last five games, the Steelers look like shells of themselves, but make no mistake about it. If Pittsburgh is on anyone's playoff docket, that team will be paying close attention at that week's practice.

Ben Roethlisberger is reason enough to be on your guard. He's struggled in his first two games back from injury, but you never know when he's going to put a dagger in your at a crucial point in the game.

The Steelers' season all comes down to their Week 16 game versus the Cincinnati Bengals. If they win, their postseason hopes are still alive. A loss would take them in the complete opposite direction.

Pittsburgh has the experience and ability to do some damage in the postseason. Now, the Steelers must get out of their own way and hope to get healthy in time to make a run.


Indianapolis Colts

It's impossible to deny the energy surrounding this team. From Andrew Luck's dynamic rookie season to Chuck Pagano's continuing inspiration, the Colts are a force to be reckoned with.

Sure, they're easy to write off because Luck is a rookie, but that wouldn't be a smart perspective to take. Luck has shocked teams all season long with his ability to lead late-game drives and make big throws, and there's no reason to think that he couldn't do the same thing in the playoffs.

Don't discount Pagano's presence either. This team is playing for him, and that has given this group an undefinable energy in big moments.

Look for the Colts to scare some people in the playoffs. Luck carries himself like a 10-year veteran, and he has the skill players around him to do some damage. If the defense can carry its share of the load, look out.

No one should want to play this team. They have nothing to lose, and that's dangerous in itself.


Here's a more complete look at the NFL's current playoff picture:



 No. 1 Seed Atlanta Falcons (12-2) Clinched NFC South
 No. 2 Seed San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) Lead NFC West; Clinched Playoff Berth
 No. 3 Seed Green Bay Packers (9-4) Clinched NFC North
 No. 4 Seed Washington Redskins (8-6) Lead NFC East


 No. 5 Seed Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
 No. 6 Seed Minnesota Vikings (8-6)


 Chicago Bears (8-6)
 Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
 New York Giants (8-6)
 St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)
 New Orleans Saints (6-8)



 No. 1 Seed Houston Texans (12-2) Clinched AFC South
 No. 2 Seed Denver Broncos (11-3) Clinched AFC West
 No. 3 Seed New England Patriots (10-4) Clinched AFC East
 No. 4 Seed Baltimore Ravens (9-5) Lead AFC North; Clinched Playoff Berth


 No. 5 Seed Indianapolis Colts (9-5)
 No. 6 Seed Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)


 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
 Miami Dolphins (6-8)




Atlanta: vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago

San Francisco: at Seattle, vs. Arizona

Green Bay: vs. Tennessee, at Minnesota

Washington: at Philadelphia, vs. Dallas

Seattle: vs. San Francisco, vs. St. Louis

Minnesota: at Houston, vs. Green Bay

Chicago: at Arizona, vs. Detroit

Dallas: vs. New Orleans, at Washington

New York: at Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia

St. Louis: at Tampa Bay, at Seattle

New Orleans: at Dallas, vs. Carolina



Houston: vs. Minnesota, at Indianapolis

Denver: vs. Cleveland, vs. Kansas City

New England: at Jacksonville, vs. Miami

Baltimore: vs. New York Giants, at Cincinnati

Indianapolis: at Kansas City, vs. Houston

Cincinnati: at Pittsburgh, vs. Baltimore

Pittsburgh: vs. Cincinnati, vs. Cleveland

Miami: vs. Buffalo, at New England


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