With 11 weeks down in the 2023 NFL season, the playoffs suddenly don't seem so far away. A lot can happen between now and the end of the regular season, of course, but already the postseason picture is beginning to take shape.
As we approach Week 12, how do those teams fighting for one of the conference's three (3) wild card spots stack up? Here's how we'd rank all 12 of them behind the current division leaders:
Wild card contenders
12. Panthers (1-9)
Forget the playoffs. Frank Reich might be coaching for his job. Carolina doesn't seem to have much of an offensive identity other than, "Let's hope Bryce Young can get the ball out at NFL speed this week."
11. Giants (3-8)
Tommy DeVito is living the undrafted dream, fresh off a big win over the rival Commanders. But the Giants don't get to play Ron Rivera's team every week. The offensive line also remains a liability, as DeVito was sacked nine times in his Washington win. Nothing about that kind of protection (or lack thereof) is sustainable, which is why they're on their third-string quarterback.
10. Cardinals (2-9)
Kyler Murray's brought some big-play potential back to Arizona's offense, but he remains erratic through the air. Jonathan Gannon's defense, meanwhile, continues to get gouged on the ground, which doesn't bode well for the home stretch.
9. Bears (3-8)
It's clear the Bears' general dysfunction hasn't completely erased Justin Fields' potential as a play-maker; he's laced some beautiful throws when healthy, including in a near-upset of Detroit in Week 11. But Matt Eberflus' squad is better at briefly playing spoiler than actually finishing the job, and only three teams surrender more points per game.
8. Falcons (4-6)
Arthur Smith is now playing seesaw at QB, with Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke taking turns under center. It doesn't quite matter which guy is at the helm. Even with an improved defense, they've yet to move the ball reliably through the air. Could they beat the Saints to win the South? Sure, but that's an indictment of the division more than an indication of their power.
7. Commanders (4-7)
Ron Rivera's track record should've already told you this team wasn't bound for a real playoff run. But as a boom-or-bust spoiler, you could do worse. It all comes back to rookie gunslinger Sam Howell, who's been turnover-prone thanks in part to a ridiculous passing workload but has also flashed as a downfield thrower.
6. Buccaneers (4-6)
In-game coaching has seemingly put a cap on this team for the last two years; Todd Bowles has his way, and adjustments rarely seem to follow. But his solid run "D," coupled with the continued, surprising resilience of QB Baker Mayfield, could make Tampa Bay a tough out in lower-scoring games down the stretch.
5. Packers (4-6)
For much of 2023, Jordan Love hasn't looked quite ready to fill Aaron Rodgers' shoes, missing too often on routine throws while working with a younger supporting cast. But he's regained some confidence and downfield touch as of late, with Matt LaFleur creatively incorporating the speed of those younger weapons. A Thanksgiving win would really catapult their chances.
4. Rams (4-6)
It's hard to watch Los Angeles this year and not come away thinking this team is physically broken, or about to be. Matthew Stafford can hardly make it 60 minutes without taking a bad hit or forcing a ball into traffic to avoid one. And yet, when he's upright, with Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua at his disposal, they've hung around. Raheem Morris' pass "D" has been better than expected, and Kyren Williams' return from injury could boost the running backfield for Sean McVay as well.
3. Seahawks (6-4)
A frustrating evaluation each week, Seattle has the requisite talent on both sides of the ball -- DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Tariq Woolen, Devon Witherspoon, etc. But some curious coaching and a steadily shuffling line has contributed to Geno Smith's reversion to turnover-prone and now-injury-riddled football. Even so, the QB's shown to be particularly gutsy in the clutch, and Pete Carroll's been here before, guiding Seattle to the playoffs in 2022 despite dropping three of four last December.
2. Vikings (6-5)
The Broncos proved Sunday night that the Josh Dobbs magic has a limit, outlasting Minnesota for a close prime-time win. Certainly the Vikings need their run game to keep it up if they want to stay alive. But Brian Flores' aggression has enabled their "D" to overachieve all year, Kevin O'Connell could soon have Justin Jefferson back in the lineup, and Dobbs really has been improbably poised considering his abrupt takeover for the injured Kirk Cousins. While he hasn't been quite as efficient as his predecessor, "The Passtronaut" has been a real threat as a scrambler, giving life to the offense even when it appears to stall.
1. Cowboys (7-3)
This might be the one team that doesn't "feel" like a wild-card contender. Yes, Dallas has dropped important matchups with the Eagles and 49ers, but that +127 point differential isn't an accident. They can score on both sides of the ball, and while Dak Prescott and Co. clearly have big-game hurdles to clear, there's no denying the talent across the board. With Prescott currently dishing it out at an MVP level and Micah Parsons headlining their stingy "D," they aren't to be taken lightly.