1st Seed: Carolina Panthers (15-1)
Superlative: Best Team
Winning your first 14 games is a clear sign that you’re the best team in the NFL and that is the case with the Carolina Panthers. The defense is strong on every level and the offense, though undermanned, is the highest scoring (500 points) in the NFL. A lot of credit goes to quarterback and MVP candidate Cam Newton (35 passing touchdowns, 10 rushing touchdowns). Running back Jonathan Stewart’s return is needed to win the NFC. Right now, Carolina is the best team in football.
2nd Seed: Arizona Cardinals (13-3)
Superlative: Best Coached
Carolina may be the best now, but this Cardinals team could be the best in February. The Cardinals have beaten top teams and boast a top 5 offense and defense. The health of quarterback Carson Palmer, another MVP candidate, is vital to the Super Bowl hopes. Arizona’s coaching staff, led by head coach Bruce Arians, sets them apart and could be the difference in a top-heavy NFC.
3rd Seed: Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
Superlative: Most Ready for Next Year
The Vikings are ahead of schedule, but this year isn’t their time to win the title. The roster has a talented but young supporting cast built around MVP running back Adrian Peterson. Right now, Minnesota isn’t strong enough to compete with the top teams, but next year the Vikings will be older, more experienced, and a serious Super Bowl contender.
4th Seed: Washington Redskins (9-7)
Superlative: Least to Prove
The feat of just getting to the playoffs is phenomenal for the Redskins. Thanks to new general manager Scot McCloughan and second-year head coach Jay Gruden, the Redskins have risen to the top of the terrible NFC East with a 9-7 record. Best of all, Washington has found a franchise quarterback in Kirk Cousins. That alone makes Washington’s season, regardless of playoff results, a success.
5th Seed: Green Bay Packers (10-6)
In more ways than one, it is bitter cold in Green Bay. The Packers reached the playoffs with ease, but they’ve been in a slump since the season began and don’t look at all like Super Bowl contenders. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still elite, but his receivers don’t get open and the rushing attack is largely non-existent. The Packers could win against Washington, but they don’t match up well against the NFC powers in Seattle, Carolina, and Arizona.
6th Seed: Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
Superlative: Most Likely to Become a Dynasty
Seattle shook off a 2-4 start and ended the season better than any team in the NFL. Quarterback Russell Wilson is red-hot, having thrown 24 touchdowns and only one interception in the last seven games. Seattle’s defense has maintained its grip on the NFL, ranking in the top 3 in yards allowed for the third straight year. Add a healthy Marshawn Lynch to the mix and the Seahawks could earn their third straight trip to the Super Bowl and establish themselves as a dynasty. The road to the Super Bowl is almost impossible, going through Minnesota, Carolina, and Arizona.