Monday, January 24, 2022

2021 NFL playoff picture: Ranking NFC teams fighting for wild card spots as Trey Lance could energize 49ers

With 16 weeks of NFL games in the books, the 2021 NFL playoff picture is really starting to take shape. And the NFC, in particular, is playing host to a circus of a wild card race, with at least a half-dozen teams fighting over two postseason berths. With Week 17 fast approaching, which teams look the most formidable in the race? We’re taking stock of the entire pool of them.

Find current NFC division leaders below, as well as our rankings of the current wild card contenders:

Current NFC division leaders

Here are your top four seeds as the playoff picture currently stands:

  1. Packers (12-3)*
  2. Cowboys (11-4)*
  3. Rams (11-4)
  4. Buccaneers (11-4)*

Note: * = clinched division

NFC wild card contenders, ranked

This is how we’d sort the candidates, but keep in mind only three of these will actually make the playoffs (the Cardinals have already locked up a playoff berth):

1. 49ers (8-7)

Remaining schedule: vs. Texans, at Rams  

Jimmy Garoppolo is hurt again, but his expected absence may give Kyle Shanahan an excuse to keep Trey Lance under center, which could bode really well for them. The defense is still stingy, and Lance would help them lean deeper into the run.

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2. Cardinals (10-5)

Remaining schedule: at Cowboys, vs. Seahawks 

Talent-wise, they belong with the division leaders. But execution has been a real issue, as has been the case for literally every team coached by Kliff Kingsbury late in the season. Kyler Murray will keep them in any game, but they can’t be trusted.

3. Eagles (8-7)

Remaining schedule: at Washington, vs. Cowboys  

They start too slow, and Jalen Hurts has had some awful moments as a passer. But somehow, some way, they keep it together. A solid run game and reliable DeVonta Smith keep them fighting, and their veteran defense makes plays at the right time.

4. Vikings (7-8)

Remaining schedule: at Packers, vs. Bears  

The trip to Lambeau couldn’t come at a worse time. Getting Dalvin Cook back would be nice, and Justin Jefferson always gives them a chance. But their “D,” despite a strong start against L.A. in Week 16, is far too vulnerable.

5. Saints (7-8)

Remaining schedule: vs. Panthers, at Falcons

Dennis Allen’s defense is just fine, giving New Orleans the big shutout upset of Tom Brady and mostly holding Miami in check in prime time. But they’re just not moving the ball. Neither Taysom Hill nor Ian Book nor, heck, Blake Bortles is inspiring at QB.

6. Falcons (7-8)

Remaining schedule: at Bills, vs. Saints

Sneaking by the Lions is very representative of their season: the record isn’t horrendous, but they’re just not a good team. Matt Ryan may have delusions of a surprise run, but he’d be better off plotting to make a real run with another team in 2022.

Out of the mix

Sorry, fans of the following teams, but it’s time to look ahead to 2022:

  • Washington (6-9): They’re way too banged up to rebound. Time to start looking for QBs (again).
  • Panthers (5-10): Maybe Matt Rhule will rotate Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker next!
  • Bears (5-10): Nick Foles deserves so much better. Seriously.
  • Seahawks (5-10): Imagine telling Seahawks fans in August this would be the team’s record.
  • Giants (4-11): Good news, Giants fans: Joe Judge and Daniel Jones are coming back in 2022!
  • Lions (2-12-1): They might beat the Giants nine times out of 10, despite their record.

2021 NFL jerseys now available

The new NFL season is here! Win or lose, you can shop jerseys, shirts, hats, and much more to support your favorite team. Shop here and show your colors.

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