2022 NFL playoffs: Ranking all 12 NFC wild card contenders, from surging Cowboys to sinking Panthers
With 11 weeks of the 2022 NFL season in the books, it’s not too early to look ahead to the playoffs. The postseason picture is already beginning to take shape. Not a single team has been mathematically eliminated from contention, but several division leaders are far enough in front to warrant expectations of football in January.
The NFC in particular is wide open, with eight different teams leaving Week 11 no worse than two games below .
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500. But which of them deserve serious attention as wild card contenders? Excluding the current division leaders in the East (Eagles, 9-1), West (49ers, 6-4), North (Vikings, 8-2) and South (Buccaneers, 5-5), here’s how we’d rank the playoff candidates in the conference:
They remain feisty off the edge, but no amount of Steve Wilks passion can make up for the fact they still have one of the NFL’s worst quarterback situations. Sam Darnold will inevitably get his shot (again) in the wake of Baker Mayfield’s latest flop filling in for P.J. Walker, but all of them are turnovers waiting to happen.
They’ve been more thrilling than competent, which is mostly a testament to Justin Fields’ emergence as the chief — and often sole — playmaker on offense. But now he’s severely banged up, and even if he weren’t, he doesn’t yet have the crunch-time touch or supporting cast to elevate a roster in transition. Stay tuned in 2023.
10. Rams (3-7)
Typically, Sean McVay would get the benefit of the doubt. But Matthew Stafford is back in concussion protocol for the second time in as many weeks, his line was already in shambles, and Cooper Kupp probably won’t suit up again this year. The “D” will always be scrappy, but where are the Rams’ points gonna come from down the stretch? They bought their title; now they’re paying the price.
No one should be betting on a team spearheaded by Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury, two of the most chaotic men in the game — Murray being the inefficient scramble artist coming off injury, Kingsbury his streaky strategist. But at least with Kyler slinging it to DeAndre Hopkins and/or Marquise Brown, there’s a possibility for fireworks, which is more than some teams can claim.
Andy Dalton has sandwiched some impressive games between some awful ones, which perfectly describes the Saints. Dennis Allen’s defense has underwhelmed more often than not, and Dalton is far too prone to turnovers to trust in big games. But if they stay healthy, feeding Alvin Kamara and Chris Olave, they’ve got the speed to play spoiler.
Much like the 2021 Falcons, they don’t register as particularly sustainable, strongly preferring to run rather than let their QB put the ball in the air, even though they never quite die. Arthur Smith can certainly design a ground attack; Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Mariota give it their all. But their “D” is also one of the worst in the NFL.
Too often this year, Aaron Rodgers has been dragged down by his team’s shoddy depth rather than syncing and elevating the moving parts. Matt LaFleur’s offense feels stuck in mud overall. Still, if Aaron Jones can stay busy and Quay Walker can help Green Bay’s run “D” keep growing, it’s tough to count out a squad with A-Rod down the stretch.
Why not? The “D” is a concern, as always, and Jared Goff has a definite ceiling when things aren’t going in his favor. But Dan Campbell’s never lost buy-in, his guys have won three straight after upsetting the Giants, and they’ve taken contenders in the Dolphins, Eagles, Seahawks and Vikings to the wire with an offense capable of surprising through the air and on the ground.
4. Giants (7-3)
If anyone’s positioned to plummet this ranking, it’s probably the G-Men, who are so undermanned out wide it’ll be a mild shock if teams don’t stack the box on every play against them moving forward. Daniel Jones has given his all as the figurehead of Brian Daboll’s renewed ground game, but when you can’t push the ball downfield with any amount of confidence, you can’t expect to win big games. Daboll has generally gotten the best of so-so personnel, but like the Vikings, who’ve been exposed in matchups with the Eagles and Cowboys this year, their slim point differential probably says more than their record does.
No matter how much energy he brings, Taylor Heinicke isn’t all that safer than his predecessor, Carson Wentz; he’s always been prone to putting the ball in harm’s way in the name of playing hero. But he’s also proven he can win on the margins, and more importantly, he’s got a legit supporting cast headlined by Terry McLaurin. Ron Rivera’s stingy defense, meanwhile, has quietly climbed the charts over the last month-plus. They may not be title-worthy, but they’re scrappy enough to make noise.
2. Seahawks (6-4)
Geno Smith has never played a postseason game, but his surprise growth into an authoritative leader for Seattle’s borderline top-10 offense suggests he’s ready. If they can get Kenneth Walker III rolling again, they’ve got the hard-nosed pieces — and a quietly improved “D” — to win cold-weather matchups. The real deciding factor is probably Pete Carroll, who’s been there, done that when it comes to sealing playoff berths down the stretch.
1. Cowboys (7-3)
It’s been a long time since Dallas lived up to its potential when the lights get brightest, but healthier on both sides of the ball, they teased against the Vikings the kind of powerhouse they can be. The offensive trio of Dak Prescott, Tony Pollard and CeeDee Lamb is lethal when firing on all cylinders, and Micah Parsons coming off the edge is even scarier for opposing teams. You still worry about a January letdown, but until then, Mike McCarthy’s got a well-rounded team gaining steam at the right time.