NFC No. 7 Seed: Ranking Candidates for Final Wild Card Spot, Including Vikings, Falcons, and Rams

Six NFC playoff spots may already be sewn up, but who will grab the conference's No. 7 seed? We rank the most likely candidates, including MIN, ATL, and LAR.

We’re only heading into Week 10 of the 2023 NFL campaign, but the NFC playoff picture has already begun to take shape. While we still have nine weeks remaining this season, six NFC teams already have at least a 70% chance of making the postseason, per the NY Times’ projection model.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys are virtually assured of making the dance, with Jalen Hurts and Co. as the NFC East favorites. The Detroit Lions are trending toward their first playoff appearance since 2016, while the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks look like they’ll enter the postseason from the NFC West.

Someone has to win the NFC South. While the Times’ model gives the New Orleans Saints a 76% chance to claim the division title, every NFC South club except for the 1-8 Carolina Panthers is still in the running.

But what about the NFC’s No. 7 seed? Which team will grab the conference’s final available playoff slot? Let’s run through the realistic contenders.

Ranking Candidates For NFC’s No. 7 Seed

1) Minnesota Vikings (5-4)

The Minnesota Vikings have already rebounded from the brink of disaster twice this season. It looked like Kevin O’Connell’s club had succumbed to inevitable regression after five weeks, when the Vikings’ 1-4 record threatened to remove them from contention.

Kirk Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury looked like another turning point for Minnesota. But the Vikings held on to win after losing Cousins in Week 8, then watched veteran backup QB Josh Dobbs turn in a performance to remember in a Week 9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

Minnesota has already dealt with plenty of injury concerns in 2023, but All-Pro wideout Justin Jefferson (hamstring) appears to be on his way back. The Vikings designated him to return from injured reserve this week; while he’s unlikely to play on Sunday, Jefferson could suit up sooner than later.

MORE: Will Vikings TE T.J. Hockenson Play in Week 10?

Dobbs has already shown he put up points inside Minnesota’s offense, and Jefferson’s pending return will only improve the club’s scoring ability. Meanwhile, Brian Flores’ defense has shown steady improvement, ranking sixth in EPA per play over the past month after finishing 21st from Weeks 1-5.

The Vikings can win their fifth straight game on Sunday and put themselves in the driver’s seat for the NFC’s seventh seed. Their opponent? The Saints — one of three teams still alive in the NFC South.

2) The NFC South Losers

New Orleans (5-4) is still the odds-on favorite to claim the NFC South, but they’re only one game ahead of the Falcons and 1.5 games up on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints have already lost to the Bucs once and have to play Atlanta twice, so this division is still up for grabs.

If Dennis Allen’s team can’t hold on to the NFC South lead, they’ll become an intriguing contender for the No. 7 seed. New Orleans ranks 15th in DVOA, tops among any of the teams listed here, and one spot ahead of the Seahawks. Derek Carr and Co. have done a lot of their damage against poor competition, but a Saints defense that ranks sixth in points per drive could make noise in the playoffs.

More: Week 10 NFL Power Rankings

The second-place Falcons (4-5) seem like the NFL’s most disorganized team. Taylor Heinicke will make his second start under center in Week 10 before Arthur Smith decides between him and Desmond Ridder. Atlanta is using Tyler Allegier and Jonnu Smith near the goal line instead of No. 8 overall pick Bijan Robinson. And they lost to Dobbs and the Vikings five days after the journeyman QB arrived in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, the Buccaneers (3-6) lost a heartbreaker to the Houston Texans on Sunday and have now suffered four straight defeats. Baker Mayfield’s new club is hanging on by a thread. They’ll need to go at least 4-2 over their next six games — including must-wins over the Falcons and Green Bay Packers — to have any hope of remaining in contention.

3) Green Bay Packers (3-5)

The Packers picked up a crucial win over the Matthew Stafford-less Los Angeles Rams in Week 10, but that was their first victory since the end of September. If Green Bay narrowly misses out on the postseason, it will look back on close losses to the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos and wince.

If the Packers have one saving grace, it’s their schedule. While back-to-back matchups against the Lions (Week 11) and Kansas City Chiefs (Week 12) will be tough, Green Bay should be in every other game. Jordan Love and Co. have the NFL’s sixth-easiest remaining slate, per PFN’s strength-of-schedule rankings.

4) Los Angeles Rams (3-6)

Call us crazy, but we still think the Rams have a chance to grab the seventh seed despite losing three straight games heading into their Week 10 bye. Since-released backup QB Brett Rypien gave the Rams no chance against the Packers on Sunday, but if Stafford (thumb) can return as expected in Week 12, LA can put up points.

MORE: Why Did the Rams Sign Carson Wentz?

Sean McVay’s squad probably needs to finish 6-2 over the second half of the season to enter the playoff picture, which would include at least one win over the Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, or 49ers.

5) Washington Commanders (4-5)

The Washington Commanders may have a better record than the Bucs, Packers, and Rams, but there are countless reasons not to believe Ron Rivera will bring his club back to the postseason.

Washington faced the NFL’s easiest schedule over the first nine weeks of the season; they’ll have the league’s ninth-hardest slate to close the year. With games against the Seahawks, Cowboys (twice), and Dolphins remaining, the Commanders could realistically finish 1-7 over their final eight games.

Meanwhile, Washington had to outplay its underlying metrics just to get to four wins. They rank just 26th in DVOA, 28th in point differential (-54), and 30th in Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System.

The Commanders already turned the page to 2024 by trading pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat ahead of the deadline. We’re doing the same by ranking them last among the NFC’s contenders for the seventh seed.

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