Sunday’s slate of NFC games will decide multiple division titles and finalize the wild card field for the playoffs. Only the NFC West and NFC North division winners have been decided ahead of the regular season finale. That leaves a group of eight teams to fill the three wild card spots.
Here’s a list of the potential NFC wild card teams, ranked most to least dangerous:
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Though the Cowboys would have to go on the road – where they have a 3-5 record through Week 17 – they’re still dangerous thanks to a longtime MVP candidate at quarterback in Dak Prescott and a fast, aggressive defense. Star power from the likes of Pro Bowlers Micah Parsons, DaRon Bland, and CeeDee Lamb make them a tough out for any team, home or away.
Los Angeles is locked in as a wild card team in the NFC playoffs. They could be either the no. 6 seed with a loss or the no. 7 seed with a loss and a Packers win.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has earned just his second career Pro Bowl honor this season. The Rams’ offense is one of the best in the league when looking at advanced metrics. It’s eighth in points per game (23.9), seventh in yards per game (365.6), and seventh in the NFL in DVOA (defense-adjusted over average), a metric adjusting each play based on the opposing defense’s average success in stopping that type of play over the course of a season. It’s ninth in expected points added (EPA) per play at 0.02 as well.
The Rams are red-hot with six wins in the last seven games. As a wild card team, having a top-10 unit can make a difference, and that offense makes them a dangerous opponent for division winners.
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This is in the scenario that Dallas beats Washington in Week 18.
Since their 37-34 overtime win over Buffalo in Week 12, Philadelphia’s 1-4 in their last five games, including a late loss last week against the Arizona Cardinals. But the Eagles’ offense is still top 10 in multiple metrics, including points per game (26.4, seventh), yards per game (357.8, eighth), DVOA (eighth), and EPA per play (0.06, sixth).
Despite the recent struggles, simply having an offense full of Pro Bowlers makes the Eagles a tough out. Philadelphia’s tied with San Francisco and Miami for the most Pro Bowl players on offense with wide receiver A.J. Brown, running back D’Andre Swift, tackle Lane Johnson, guard Landon Dickerson, and center Jason Kelce. That kind of talent, even with the 29th-ranked scoring defense, makes them a wild card contender.
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This is in the unlikely – but not impossible – scenario in which Tampa Bay ties with Carolina, Seattle loses, and Green Bay loses or ties their Week 18 game.
The Buccaneers aren’t as hot as the Rams lately but four wins in their last five games gives them plenty of momentum heading into the playoffs. Quarterback Baker Mayfield‘s had a quarterback rating of 90 or higher in each of the last three games. Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans‘ notched his 10th consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2023 with a league-leading 13 touchdown catches.
Tampa Bay’s offense is 10th in the league in passing EPA per play. The defense is top 10 in points (20.3, tied for ninth) and yards (353.3, eighth) allowed per game. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. has been a top-three defensive back in the league this season, according to Sports Info Solutions’ (SIS) points saved metric. If Mayfield’s on and the defense holds up, they can cause some trouble as a wild card team.
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The Packers have myriad ways to make the playoffs with Week 18 results even if they lose, win, or tie in their finale against the Chicago Bears.
They’ve been a confounding team in 2023 but since the Week 6 bye, Green Bay has marquee wins over Detroit, Kansas City, the Rams, and a big win over fellow playoff contender Minnesota last week on Sunday Night Football. The offense is good by advanced metrics – eighth in EPA per play overall and fifth in EPA per pass play – and the defense is top-half of the league in points and yards allowed per game.
But Green Bay also has losses to the New York Giants and Tampa Bay – plus a narrow win over league-worst Carolina – within the last month. They’re the only team on this list without a Pro Bowl player. Variance is high here and that could be the key to an upset or big loss as a wild card team.
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Seattle’s loss to Pittsburgh last week complicates things but the Seahawks have notched good wins in 2023. A prime time win over Philadelphia on Monday Night Football in Week 15 and a win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 8 stand out. Add in close road losses to the Rams and Cowboys and Seattle can play up to the competition.
But the defense’s been an issue down the back half of the season. The unit’s giving up nearly 400 yards and 27 points per game since that win over the Browns and ranks 28th in EPA. The offense’s in the bottom half of the league in points and yards per game. Seattle can get hot, though, and win a shootout if need be like they almost did against Dallas.
The Saints will be a wild card team in the case that they win or tie, Tampa Bay wins, Green Bay loses, and the Seahawks lose or tie.
New Orleans’ win over Tampa Bay last week was one of the better performances by the Saints’ defense this season. Four takeaways helped power a key win to stay in the playoff race. The defense has allowed just two 30-point performances since a Week 11 bye and ranks sixth in the league in points allowed (19.4) as well as ranks seventh in EPA per play.
The offense, by contrast, ranks near league-average in most metrics: 16th in EPA per play, 15th in points per game, and 16th in yards per game (333.3). Quarterback Derek Carr is 12th in SIS’ total points earned metric. New Orleans has scored more than 30 points just twice this season. The Saints will need to ride their solid defense to an upset as a wild card team.
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The Vikings need to win Sunday against the Lions and get a lot of help from other NFC teams to make the playoffs as the no. 7 seed in the NFC.
Minnesota made another change at quarterback ahead of Week 18 by opting to start Nick Mullens against the Lions. The danger in facing Minnesota in the playoffs comes against the Vikings’ defense. That unit leads the league in blitz rate (49.5%) and sits eighth in defensive DVOA.
The Vikings have quality wins this season but have struggled after losing quarterback Kirk Cousins for the season. One-score losses to Cincinnati and Detroit preceded a season-worst 211 yards on offense in that prime-time loss to the Packers. With Mullens under center, the Vikings are behind the Saints but their defense could similarly cause some trouble.
The Atlanta Falcons are not included in this ranking because their only avenue to the playoffs is as the NFC South champion, not a wild card team.