Though the conference is home to the last two Super Bowl champions and another perennial contender led by the two-time reigning league MVP, there aren’t actually many “good” teams in the NFC. This is a conference comprised, basically, of 3-4 teams (each with questions to answer) with real Super Bowl aspirations and teams either on the fringes of the playoffs or in full rebuilds.
That’s in stark contrast to the AFC, which features a comparable number of seemingly more complete contenders but also a collection of six to eight teams that are not only playoff-caliber but dangerous should they qualify.
If we squint, we can make out something of an NFC middle class, though not one poised to upend the playoff picture. Let's look ahead to January 2023 and consider what the NFC’s seven-team playoff field will look like, who’ll be back, and the best NFL playoff odds.
In exercises like this, before agonizing over the tossups, it's helpful to grab the low-hanging fruit. So, let’s get the “locks” out of the way first. No NFL team is without its risks, but there are a couple in the NFC (usual caveat: assuming QB health) that are awfully close to being playoff shoo-ins.
The Packers (-500), even without superstar wideout Davante Adams and with All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari struggling to come back from a knee injury that ended his 2020 season and limited him to one game in 2021, lead the way. That’s because the Pack still have two-time reigning MVP Aaron Rodges, a defense that could be downright devastating, and play in a division in which their stiffest competition is either the Vikings or the Lions.
From where I sit, the next safest bets to make the NFC playoffs are both from the West: the defending Super Bowl champion Rams (-270) and the San Francisco 49ers (-225).
The Rams, though favored to return to the playoffs, aren’t getting all of the respect due to a defending Super Bowl champion with a star quarterback, loads of skill position talent, and a stacked defense that features three future Hall of Famers in a division that’s likely a two-horse race. In a division and a conference not stacked with contenders, it’s hard to see how the Rams won’t earn one of the seven playoff spots.
And the Niners? There's obviously risk in transitioning from a veteran to an unproven youngster at QB. However, as everyone’s discussed to death, whatever safety and stability Jimmy Garoppolo provides is offset by his shortcomings. With excellent coaching and a Super Bowl-caliber roster around him, second-year man Trey Lance will have every opportunity to succeed.
NFC Playoff Odds - Recommended Bet:
The eagle-eyed among you will notice that despite their overwhelming odds (-750), the Buccaneers are not “locks.”
Now, I'm not advising anyone to bet against Tom Brady, especially in a division that’s half Panthers and Falcons. However…
The Buccaneers will go as Tom Brady goes. And keeping Brady upright is the priority. So, when news breaks that Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen has suffered a potentially season-ending knee injury, leaving a line that was already a lesser version of the one from the Super Bowl team of a couple of years ago with a gaping hole in the middle - to say nothing of Brady’s late-preseason break - a +450 flier on the Bucs missing the playoffs doesn’t feel completely insane.
Elsewhere, the Cowboys (-260) and Eagles (-178) are in a Rams-Niners-like spot. In a division rounded out by the Commanders and the Giants, one of these two is winning the NFC East. From our perspective, the best bet is the Eagles, who are as good as (or better than) the Cowboys at every position outside of QB and Micah Parsons, and better-coached. Plus, though the Cowboys have Dak Prescott, there are suddenly major questions about every other aspect of the offense. And, again, Mike McCarthy is their coach.
However, rather than laying -178 on the Eagles to make the playoffs or taking +205 on the Cowboys missing out on even a Wild Card spot (again, look at the rest of the NFC field; OOF), we’re recommending taking the Eagles’ Super Bowl-caliber roster, QB questions and all (Jalen Hurts simply has to be the same player he was last year) to win the NFC East.
NFC Playoff Odds - Recommended bets:
You'll notice at this point that we've discussed every 2021 NFC playoff team except for one and declared each (assuming quarterback health) a virtual lock to return to the playoffs. There is, however, one likely “odd team out” in the NFC.
After starting the 2021 season 7-0 and winning 10 of their first 12 games, the Arizona Cardinals, as they’ve tended to under Kliff Kingsbury, faded down the stretch, finishing 11-6, settled for a Wild Card, and turned in an appalling playoff performance against the Rams.
They then spent the offseason feuding with their franchise quarterback before finally giving him a mammoth contract extension (that itself wasn't without controversy). Unfortunately, outside of Kyler Murray (about whom the team obviously has questions), the remainder of the roster is either stagnant or regressing. Star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins will miss the season’s first six games due to a PED suspension. Their leading slot receiver from last year, Christian Kirk, now plays in Jacksonville. Half of the running back platoon is gone. And, on defense, they’re either aging (J.J. Watt) or inconsistent and unproven (basically everyone outside of free safety Budda Baker).
The Cardinals are seemingly in for a rough year in a division with the Rams and Niners with no clear-cut strengths.
The problem, of course, with picking anyone to fall out of the NFC playoffs is the shortage of viable candidates to replace them. Beyond the perpetually underwhelming and underachieving Minnesota Vikings (-110 either way) and the New Orleans Saints (+115 to get in), the pickings are pretty slim.
Between these two, the Saints, whose offense will remain a shell of the one to which we grew accustomed during the Drew Brees-Sean Payton era, behind a defense that could (should?) rank in the top 10, in a division with the Falcons and Panthers, look to have enough to reach the postseason.
NFC Playoff Odds: Recommended bets:
In the NFC North, the Packers remain heavy favorites, and the Bears have a lot of work to do. In between them, the Vikings and Lions will be battling for relevance in the NFC playoff picture.
There’s still an awful lot of work to be done in the Big Apple and Nation’s Capital, making our NFC East predictions a two-horse race between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.
With the 22/23 NFL season right around the corner, attention falls on NFL futures as daring bettors look to predict win totals. Can the Buccs reach the magic 12? Who should we avoid? We’ve got you covered as we show you how to capitalize on NFL win total bets.
Which teams are you backing from the NFC division to make the playoffs? Interested in more football content? Be sure to read our guide: How To Bet on American Football or check out our picks for the NFL Win Totals and NFC Win Totals and visit our odds comparison tool to compare the latest odds.