NFL Playoff Picture: Power Ranking NFC Wild-Card Contenders

Austin GreenCorrespondent IDecember 19, 2012

The NFL regular season is coming to a close, but nine teams could still find themselves in one of the NFC's wild-card spots.

From the red-hot Washington Redskins to the reeling Chicago Bears, there are still a variety of teams looking to secure their spot in the playoffs. And with just two weeks left on the schedule, every game could potentially make or break someone's season.

Here is how the NFC playoff picture currently looks.

 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 (10-4) 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)

As you can see, the NFC East and NFC West titles are still up for grabs, and there's a cluster of teams competing for the final two playoff spots.

While it may not mean much in two weeks, here are the wild-card contenders who are playing the best football right now.


9. Chicago Bears (8-6)

Next Games: at Arizona, at Detroit

The Bears have been terrible recently, losing three straight games and five of their last six. It's been an incredibly disappointing turn of events for a team that looked Super Bowl-bound after their 7-1 start.

Luckily for the Bears, they have the easiest remaining schedule of the nine wild-card contenders. This Sunday they will face a Cardinals team that lost nine straight games before Week 15, and in the regular-season finale, Chicago will take on Detroit, which is currently on a six-game losing streak.

The Bears will be on the road in both games, but if they play anywhere close to their full potential, they should be able to secure a playoff berth.

8. St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)

Next Games: at Tampa Bay, at Seattle

After pulling themselves back into playoff contention with a nice three-game winning streak, the Rams essentially blew their chances last Sunday against Minnesota.

Adrian Peterson ran all over the Rams' defense, racking up 212 rushing yards and a touchdown. Steven Jackson responded with a strong game (146 total yards), but it wasn't enough to overcome Peterson's efforts.

The Rams are still mathematically alive, but their playoff hopes are beyond slim. I'd say there's a better chance of the world actually ending on Dec. 21.


7. New Orleans Saints (6-8)

Next Games: at Dallas, Vs. Carolina

The Saints torched Tampa Bay 41-0 in Week 15, but their explosive play may have come a little too late. Since they lost three straight entering last Sunday's game, the Saints now have to pray for a series of unlikely events.

First, they have to beat Dallas and Carolina to finish the season. That's certainly possible. But then they need the Bears, Giants, Vikings and Cowboys to lose out, and for the Rams to lose at least one of their remaining games.

That would mean they need five playoff contenders to finish the season with a combined record of 1-9. Don't get your hopes up, New Orleans.

6. New York Giants (8-6)

Next Games: at Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia

In Week 15, the Giants suffered the worst shutout defeat ever for a defending Super Bowl champion, losing 34-0 to the Atlanta Falcons.

It was an absolute beatdown from start to finish, and with their NFC East foes on the rise, the loss comes at an inopportune time for New York.

Fortunately for the G-men, they have a fairly easy remaining schedule. The Baltimore Ravens looked like a top-five team at the beginning of the season, but after three straight losses, they are certainly vulnerable.

And as for the Philadelphia Eagles, well, if the Giants can't beat them, then they just don't deserve to be in the playoffs.

5. Minnesota Vikings (8-6)

Next Games: at Houston, vs. Green Bay

The Vikings have played well recently, winning their last two games over fellow wild-card contenders Chicago and St. Louis. Their offense is completely one-dimensional, but with Adrian Peterson having the best season for a running back in almost three decades, it may not matter.

Unfortunately for the Vikings, they have the toughest remaining schedule of the NFC playoff hopefuls. The Texans (12-2) and Packers (10-4) are Super Bowl contenders, and it will be a major surprise if the Vikings can beat them both.


4. Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

Next Games: vs. New Orleans, at Washington

The Cowboys have won three straight games and five of their last six to put themselves in prime playoff position. They still have some work to do, but with winnable games against New Orleans and Washington on the schedule, Dallas should feel pretty good about their chances.

Of course, in both games they will face extremely dynamic quarterbacks. Drew Brees and Robert Griffin III are both capable of shredding the Cowboys defense, so Rob Ryan's unit will have to be on point for the rest of the season.


3. Washington Redskins (8-6)

Next Games: at Philadelphia, vs. Dallas

It's still unclear if Robert Griffin III will play against Philadelphia (h/t ESPN), but even if Kirk Cousins gets the start, Washington should roll right through the Eagles.

The tougher game will come the following week, when Tony Romo and the surging Dallas Cowboys come to town. The Cowboys are certainly capable of beating Washington, as they nearly completed an epic second-half comeback against the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day before ultimately falling 38-31.

If the Redskins want to beat Dallas again, they'll need RG3 to be at full strength.


2. Seattle Seahawks (9-5)

Next Games: vs. San Francisco, vs. St. Louis

Seattle has been destroying teams lately, dropping 50 or more points in consecutive weeks.

First, they crushed Arizona 58-0. Then they followed that up with a 50-17 beatdown of Buffalo. Before those two games, they had already won three of four, notching victories over the Vikings, Jets and Bears.

The Seahawks are playing some of the best football in the NFL, but they still haven't secured a playoff spot. And with their final games against the 49ers and the Rams—both of whom have beaten Seattle once this season—there's no guarantee that the Seahawks will join the postseason party.

With as well as Russell Wilson and Co. have been playing, I'm giving Seattle the benefit of the doubt. However, I wouldn't be shocked if they are on the outside looking in come playoff time.

1. San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1)

Next Games: at Seattle, vs. Arizona

With their status as a top-three team pretty much established, it's definitely odd to see San Francisco in the wild-card picture. It seems like they should have wrapped up the NFC West weeks ago. But with those pesky Seahawks hanging around, the 49ers may be forced to play on the first weekend of the playoffs.

Luckily for the Niners, they have already clinched a playoff berth and their last game of the season is against dismal Arizona. Despite the emergence of Seattle, look for San Fran to win the NFC West crown this season.


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