The playoffs are three weeks away and there are five teams in the NFC that look ready to duke it out for a trip to the Super Bowl. And then there will be a sixth team, but only because there has to be.
Barring a surprising and abrupt collapse, the Seattle Seahawks will probably own the first wild card berth in the NFC. But the second wild card spot is wide open; no team has come close to staking a claim.
Instead, every team that comes close has immediately stepped on a land mine.
One team has a quarterback with a broken back, another has one who’s only good at 1 p.m. on Sundays, and then there’s the squad that willingly started Mark Sanchez. In the year 2018!
There will be a second wild card team in the NFC, because the rules say there has to be. But none of the teams seems willing to grab it. So who will it end up with it — perhaps begrudgingly so?
Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1)
The Vikings are in the driver’s seat for the sixth seed in the NFC, but this doesn’t look like a team that’s ready to be a real contender. For the season, they’re 7-1-1 against teams that are currently at or under .500 and 0-5 against teams that currently over .500.
Kirk Cousins hasn’t played well in primetime games this season either. Cousins is just 5-13 during night games, and with him under center, his teams have never won on Monday Night Football. Just this past Monday night, he had one of his worst performances of the season against the Seattle Seahawks, best summed up by him throwing the ball backwards to Latavius Murray on a pass play.
Kirk Cousins. Deeply dedicated to establishing the run. pic.twitter.com/rGf4DALtuU— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 11, 2018
All of the Vikings’ frustration on the season led to them firing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo after their 21-7 loss against Seattle. This team had Super Bowl aspirations to start the season — they don’t even look like they belong in the playoffs right now. They still might get there, though, even by default.
Update: The Vikings still hold the sixth seed after destroying the Miami Dolphins by a score of 41-17 in Week 15, then rocking the Lions 27-9 in Week 16.
Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)
The Eagles haven’t captured the success that they had during their magical Super Bowl run in 2017, and now the rest of their 2018 season appears to be in doubt.
Quarterback Carson Wentz has a fractured vertebrae that might keep him out for the rest of the season. That means it’s time for Nick Foles, who didn’t exactly play well in the two games he started this year with a passer rating of 78.9 going into Week 15.
The Eagles defense also isn’t performing at the level they did a year ago. When they really needed a stop at the end of their 29-23 overtime loss against the Cowboys, they had absolutely no answer for Amari Cooper.
Philadelphia was eliminated from NFC East contention by virtue of Dallas’s victory over the Buccaneers. Now it’s Wild Card or bust for the defending champions.
Update: Foles was able to tap into some of that Super Bowl run magic, and the Eagles held off the Rams in Week 15. One week later, he’d set up the two-minute drill that pushed Philadelphia to a 32-30 win over the Texans to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Two teams were eliminated in Week 16:
Washington has suffered a barrage of injuries this year, especially at the most important position. They lost quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to season-ending injuries, forcing them to sign and play Mark Sanchez. Then they benched Sanchez and turned to Josh Johnson, who had last thrown a pass in 2011.
Johnson didn’t even know who was on Washington when he joined the team.
Josh Johnson said he was playing in a charity basketball game in Oakland last Sunday and legitimately had to play Madden this week just to learn teammates’ names. #Redskins— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) December 9, 2018
Washington was leading in the NFC East race just a few weeks ago, but since Smith’s injury they lost four straight games including a 40-16 loss at home to the Giants. Technically were still in the mix, but this is a team that looks like it’s ready for the offseason at this point.
Update: Washington was eliminated from the postseason thanks to a loss to the Titans and Philadelphia’s win against the Texans.
Carolina Panthers (6-9)
Things started off great for the 2018 Panthers. They were 6-2 and Cam Newton was playing the best football of career since his MVP season in 2015.
Then they hit a wall. Hard. The Panthers lost five straight games, including losses to the Lions, Buccaneers, and Browns. That was before they had to play two games against the NFC South champion Saints — a team that beat them twice in the regular season last year and one more time in the Wild Card Round. They also have a game against Atlanta sandwiched in between those two.
It’s a very real possibility for this team to finish the season with a losing record after starting off so promising — and it could cost Ron Rivera his job.
Update: Make it seven losses in a row. The Panthers lost 12-9 to the Saints in their first of two matchups, then dropped a game to fellow NFC South rival Atlanta with Cam Newton shut down for the season due to a bum shoulder.
And four teams were eliminated in Week 15:
Green Bay Packers (5-8-1)
The Packers underachieved in a big way this year, which led to them firing head coach Mike McCarthy after dropping a game to the Arizona Cardinals. With a bit of luck (and a Vikings implosion), Green Bay could find itself in the playoffs, but there’s little margin for error. The Packers can be eliminated this weekend with a loss to the NFC-leading Bears and a Vikings win over the Dolphins.
Update: The Packers were eliminated from the playoffs after losing 24-17 to the Bears and the Vikings’ win over the Dolphins.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10)
Jameis Winston has played pretty well since returning from his benching. In his past four games, Winston has thrown eight touchdowns to two interceptions and has a passer rating of 104.3, all above his career highs.
Still, the Buccaneers have had trouble putting together consistent performances as a team this season — especially on the defensive side of the ball. They can be eliminated this weekend too. If they lose to the Ravens on the road, coupled with either a win by the Vikings OR wins by Philadelphia and Washington, then the Bucs are officially out.
Update: Tampa Bay was eliminated from playoff contention due to its 20-12 loss to the Ravens and the Vikings’ beat down over the Dolphins.
New York Giants (5-10)
The Giants might actually be a respectable team. Six of their eight losses came by one score, which is more unlucky than a true portrait of the team. That luck flipped a bit recently. They’ve now won four of their last five games, and three of those wins were by one score.
Unfortunately for the Giants, it took them until they were 1-7 to really get this thing on track. It’s not completely impossible they make the playoffs, but if they lose this week to the Titans, it’ll just about be.
Update: The Giants got shut out by the Titans 17-0. That paired with the Vikings’ 41-17 blowout win over the Dolphins mathematically eliminated them.
Detroit Lions (5-10)
The Lions quietly had a pretty difficult schedule this season. They played the Rams, Seahawks, Cowboys, Patriots, and had two games against the Bears. They struggled on both sides of the ball this year. There’s not one thing they really do well:
Like the Giants, a loss wouldn’t completely take the Lions out of the playoff hunt, but it would make like incredibly difficult for them. The good news is that they play the Bills. The bad news is that just like the Lions, the Bills have shown they can beat (or lose to) just about any team.
Update: Welp. The Bills beat the Lions 14-13 and the Vikings beat the Dolphins 41-17. That ends the Lions’ playoff hopes.