I intend to publish the Wildcard Watch as a weekly series for as long as Washington has a reasonable chance of earning a playoff spot.
A total of 9 losses on the season by Washington at any point will bring the series to an abrupt end.
Until then, I’ll keep my eye on the playoff prize and ignore the 2022 draft for as long as there’s a chance at the postseason.
If you aren’t interested in this kind of article, now would be a good time to return to the front page and look for some discussion of mock drafts and rookie quarterbacks.
The thoughts in this article are my own, and do not represent the views of Hogs Haven, its other writers or its managing editor.
No redwolves were harmed in the creation of this post.
Who's in right now?
Let’s start with the “If the season ended today” game. The current NFC playoff seedings — based on records and results through the end of Week 12 — are:
- 1 Seed (West) Arizona 9-2
- 2 Seed (North) Green Bay 9-3
- 3 Seed (South) Tampa Bay 8-3
- 4 Seed (East) Dallas 7-4
- 5 Seed (Wildcard) LA Rams 7-4
- 6 Seed (Wildcard) San Francisco 6-5
- 7 Seed (Wildcard) Washington 5-6
This arrangement of playoff teams will not last. With six weeks remaining in the season, teams will move up and down the rankings.
This is the weekly caveat that the season doesn’t end today, and all that matters is the rankings at the end of Week 18.
That said, Washington has helped itself immensely with its 3-game winning streak.
Week 12 results for Wildcard contenders
Let’s look at what happened to the teams in wildcard contention this week:
The LA Rams, who not so long ago were 7-1, did not win a game in November, going 0-3 with a bye week.
In Week 12, they fell to the Packers in Green Bay, where their star-studded defense gave up 36 points to the Aaron Rodgers’ offense.
With games remaining against the Cardinals, Vikings, Ravens and Niners, Sean McVay’s team is vulnerable. While it would have sounded unthinkable at Halloween, they could actually be knocked out of the playoffs if they don’t turn things around quickly.
49ers and Vikings
A week ago, both teams were 5-5 and occupying the 6th & 7th seeds. Since they played each other, the outcome was certain; one team would move up and the other down.
The 49ers prevailed at home in Week 12 by a score of 34-26, but the highlight had to be Kirk Cousins lining up behind his right guard to take the snap.
The Vikings play the Lions and Bears (twice), as well as the Steelers, Rams and Packers. Given that they are currently in the 8th seed, the Vikings look to be in with a chance as well.
In Week 12, Atlanta beat the 2-8 (now 2-9) Jaguars in Jacksonville. The only surprise was that the Jags were in this game until the final minutes.
Atlanta has the same 5-6 record as Washington, but they play the Bucs, Panthers, Niners, Bills, and Saints between now and the end of the season. They seem like a long shot to win 4+ games, with the only easy game left on the schedule coming against the Lions.
New Orleans took a beating in Week 12 at the hands of the Buffalo Bills, who were hungry for a victory.
With the season-ending injury to Jameis Winston, the Saints lost a lot. They have been relying on Trevor Simian, and fans are now praying for Taysom Hill to come back from injury and lead them to the promised land.
The Saints appear to be circling the drain, and they have to play Dallas, Tampa Bay, Miami, and Carolina down the stretch. I just don’t see 4+ wins in their future.
Eagles and Giants
Wasn’t it fun to watch the Eagles lose to the Giants in New York in a game where neither team looked very good?
Philly plays Washington twice in the coming weeks, so it doesn’t really matter who else they play. If Washington can sweep them, then it’s unlikely that Philly can finish ahead of the Football Team in the standings. That’s the old “controlling your own destiny” concept. I’m sure fans at BGN are saying the same thing about those two games (“If we can sweep Washington and beat Dallas....”)
The Giants, at 4-7, are just one game back of Washington, but I reviewed in last week’s Wildcard Watch why the Football Team doesn’t need to concern itself with NY (aside from beating them in Week 18).
The Panthers went to Miami in Week 12 and got killed. Cam Newton was benched. Final score 33-10.
The Panthers are already 5-7, and with the loss to Washington in Week 11, are effectively 2 games behind the Football Team. Carolina still has to play Tampa Bay twice, along with the Bills and Saints. Oh, by the way, Christian McCaffrey was put on season-ending IR.
Stick a fork in ‘em...they’re done.
Week 13 key games and rooting guide
Jaguars at Rams - Root for Jacksonville (though that’s likely to be futile)
49ers at Seahawks - We should be rooting for the Seahawks to win every game for the rest of the season since the Football Team has the tiebreaking advantage. Let’s hope Wilson can lead his team to their first home win this Sunday against one of their division opponents.
Vikings at Lions - While division matchups are always hard to predict, backing the Lions to win at home against Minnesota seems a doomed enterprise. Still, if you have the energy for it, pick up your pale blue and silver pom poms and cheer for the Lions to get the upset victory.
Buccaneers at Falcons - I think Tom Brady will be able to handle the Falcons again. He did it in a super bowl, and the Bucs won the first meeting in Week 2 by the score of 48-25. Unless you plan on the Buccaneers having a total collapse over the final six weeks, cheer for Tampa Bay to win this divisional matchup in Week 13.
Cowboys at Saints - This is kind of a “no lose” situation for Washington fans. If Dallas wins, the Saints fall back in the wildcard race. If Dallas loses then... well, Dallas loses, and that’s always a good thing!
A continuing Cowboys collapse holds the door open for Washington to sneak in and win the NFC East championship, so feel free to root for the Saints this week, even though it would normally be against WFT interests. It’s hard to tell whether the COVID-ravaged Cowboys or the QB-poor Saints should be the underdog in this one.
Eagles at Jets - Easy. Root for the 3-8 Jets to get an unlikely win.
Giants at Dolphins - Go ‘Phins!!
Washington’s Week 13 matchup
The Football Team is traveling to Las Vegas to play the 6-5 Raiders, who had lost 3 straight (including a loss to the Giants) before getting a big win on the road against Dallas on Thanksgiving.
I expect to print a full article previewing the game before Sunday, but I have some concerns here. The Raiders are feeling pretty good about themselves following the victory over the Cowboys, and they’ve got a good roster. That would make this a tough matchup in any event, but three factors seem to be in the Raiders favor:
- They will have had 10 days of rest since Thanksgiving.
- Washington is playing on a short week and traveling.
- WFT injuries coming out of MNF are troubling (Joey Slye, JD McKissic, 1st/2nd/3rd string Centers).
The Raiders star TE, Darren Waller is hurt and may not play, but this game looks like it could be a very tough one for Washington. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the winning streak stopped at 3 games. A loss to the Raiders wouldn’t spell the end of the playoff hopes for Washington, however.
In last week’s Wildcard Watch article, I mentioned that it is unlikely that Washington will “win out” to finish the season 11-6, and that a loss in Las Vegas would be the least damaging of the Football Team’s final 4 opponents because it would come against an AFC team.
The other remaining games on the Football Team’s schedule are all against NFC East divisional rivals, which are all dramatically more critical to the team’s playoff hopes.
I certainly want Washington to win every remaining game, and I’ll be rooting for the win this Sunday, but I am not as confident about it as I have been ahead of the last 4 games, and, as I mentioned, a loss this week would be the least damaging to Washington’s playoff chances.
Just remember that, while we’re all aiming for that 11-6 finish, a loss or two between now and Week 18 doesn’t spell the end of Washington’s postseason hopes.
Current NFC Standings
The four teams in blue are currently at the top of their respective division standings.
The three teams circled in green currently hold the wildcard seedings in the NFC.
The four teams circled in red have identical records.
I have removed the Panthers, Giants and Bears from the Wildcard Watch list, as I don’t believe any of those three teams can make the playoffs ahead of Washington this season.
Philly plays the Jets this week and then has a bye week ahead of the NFC “round robin” tournament that begins this month.
ESPN playoff machine:
Last week I put up a mini-spreadsheet on which I projected wins and losses to the end of the season for 9 teams. My purpose was not to say that the predicted outcomes would eventuate, but to show that a reasonable path to the playoffs exists for Washington.
Following Monday night’s game, I think it’s clearly established that the playoffs are possible. for Washington; heck, now everyone is talking about the possibilities (by the way, I correctly predicted the outcome of 5 out of 6 games for Week 12 on my mini spreadsheet). But there’s a better way for you to look at the playoff possibilities without having to concern yourself with my suspect game predictions — you can do it yourself with ESPN’s Playoff Machine.
Click here to access ESPN’s Playoff Machine and you can explore the possibilities on your own.
NFC East race
While this is an article about the Wildcard race, game results from recent weeks have resurrected the possibility that the Cowboys could lose the stranglehold they appeared to have on the division championship a month ago. Games played without Tyron Smith and Amari Cooper seemed to really hurt the Cowboys in recent weeks. This Thursday, they will play the Saints with a bunch of coaches and at least one player missing due to COVID protocols, which may affect the game.
As Ron Rivera put it in his post-game press conference on Monday night, there will be a “round robin” tournament in the division over the final 5 weeks of the season. With just 3 games separating the 4 teams, anything can happen, and we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Washington currently controls its own destiny.
If the Football Team wins its final 6 games, as unlikely as that might be, they would win the division championship with an 11-6 record.
- Philly already has 7 losses; if Washington beats them twice, they can’t finish any better than 8-9.
- If Washington beats Dallas twice in that hypothetical undefeated stretch of 6 games, then the Cowboys can’t finish any better than 11-6, and Washington would hold the tiebreaker (head-to-head).
The more likely outcome is that all 4 teams will have a blend of wins and losses that may well take us to Week 18 to decide the division champion.
This is a division picture that is likely to stay muddy for anther three or four weeks at least.
Will Washington make the playoffs at the end of this season?
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Who will win the NFC East this season?
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