NFL Wild Card Predictions

Theo Jones

As Week 15 of the 2022 NFL season wraps up, we are just three weeks away from the opening round of the playoffs. Things are heating up, and there are a plethora of teams hoping to pull off a miracle to sneak into the playoffs. Some of them control their own destiny, while others are going to require help in order to make it to the dance. Among these playoff hopefuls, there are three teams who I believe will sneak their way into the playoffs this year. 

Starting in the AFC, the new-look Jacksonville Jaguars with Doug Pederson and surging quarterback Trevor Lawrence are sitting with a record of 6-8, just one game back of AFC South division leader Tennessee Titans. After winning four of their last six games, the Jaguars are hot at the right time. While they won’t be able to secure a wild card spot, it is between them and the Titans for the AFC fourth seed. The Jaguars play the Jets, Texans, and Titans in their last three, and the Titans play the Texans, Cowboys, and then Jaguars to finish off the regular season. All the Jaguars need to overtake the Titans is to stay within one game until Week 18, and beat the Titans at home. I believe that the Jaguars have greater probability to win the division than FiveThirtyEight gives them, a 43% chance. The Titans have lost their last four in a row, and show no signs of winning soon. My model gives the Jaguars a 61% chance to win the division and move onto the playoffs. 

Moving over to the NFC, there are two teams who aren’t currently in the picture that I believe will sneak in during the next three weeks. Starting with the 5-9 Panthers, riding on the back of Sam Darnold, they find themselves just one game back of the 6-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the NFC South division lead. Somehow, they have kept up in the NFC South after starting three different quarterbacks so far this season, and are in a similar position to the Jaguars, being one game back while still having a matchup with the first place team down the road. The Panthers play the Buccaneers in Week 17, and as long as they win the game and stay within one game of the Buccaneers in their other two games, they will secure the division and host the Cowboys in the wild card round. The Panthers play the Lions, Buccaneers, and Saints to round out their year. They could lose to both the Lions and the Saints, yet beat the Bucs and still have a chance to win their division. The Bucs play the Cardinals, Panthers, and Falcons, and as long as the Panthers and the Buccaneers have the same record in the two games they don’t play each other, their Week 17 matchup will decide the division. FiveThirtyEight gives the Buccaneers a 72% chance, and the Panthers have a 23% chance. Both of these teams are playing poorly, and could easily lose the rest of their games aside from the matchup between the two. I would move the percentage closer to a 50-50 split rather than 75-25. 

Finally, in the race for the final two NFC wild card spots, it is between the 8-5-1 Giants, 7-6-1 Commanders, 7-7 Seahawks, and 7-7 Lions; just two will get in. The team I believe will most definitely make it in, is the Detroit Lions. Winning six of their last seven games, they are on fire and still have the easiest schedule of the four qualifiers. They play the Panthers, Bears, and Packers, who all have losing records. The Giants and Commanders, on the other hand, play the Vikings, Colts, Eagles, and 49ers, Browns, and Cowboys, respectively. The Colts and Browns are the only two teams that aren’t locked into the playoffs of the six, and both aren’t at the bottom of the league either. It would be tough for either of them to win two of the three, while winning one of three would put the Lions over both, if they win two of three. The Seahawks are technically still in the race, however they play the Chiefs, Jets, and Rams, which means they would have to win against the Jets and Rams, because they aren’t going to beat the Chiefs. The Giants have an 87% chance to make the playoffs, Commanders have a 35% chance, Lions have a 41% chance, and the Seahawks have a 30% chance. I would up the Lions percentage clip to around 57%, especially if they continue playing as they have the past seven games. They should win at least their next two games, setting themselves up with a 71% chance to make the playoffs. 

This NFL season has been anything but predictable, with teams expected to be Super Bowl contenders, like the Broncos and Rams being eliminated from the playoffs weeks in advance; as well as, teams expected to be at the bottom, like the Seahawks and Giants being firmly in the playoff race with three weeks to go. Just as before the season, teams counted out will surprise, and this year the Jaguars, Panthers, and Lions will surprise the NFL world and sneak into the playoffs at the final minute.