Watch out for the Los Angeles Rams and a few others come playoff time this year in the NFC.

Through 11 weeks of the 2020-21 NFL season, the NFC standings and playoff picture are starting to take shape. But the last couple of weeks have shown the true colors of the elite teams in the NFC. 

Among the AFC, everyone seems to know they will have to go through the Kansas City Chiefs, but in the NFC the door seems wide open and there has yet to be a team that is separating themselves from the pack. Here are some of my predictions for how it could play out come playoff time!

“Dangerous” playoff teams

Los Angeles Rams (7-3, T-1st in NFC West): The Rams are atop this list for multiple reasons, but this team has found their identity in recent weeks. That identity just happens to be the most crucial element in playoff football. It’s no secret that defense wins championships, and that’s why the Los Angeles Rams are a darkhorse to make it out of the NFC. 

The Rams defense has been especially impressive in the last two weeks. Putting up back-to-back dominant showings against MVP candidate Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks along with the G.O.A.T. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday night. They have built one of the best defenses in the game with two huge centerpieces in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. And with the recent performances from breakout cover corner Darius Williams among others, this defense has proven their worth against the best of the NFC. 

On top of that, this is now a veteran Rams team that has already run the table in the NFC once before. Head coach Sean McVay and that inexperienced 2018 Los Angeles roster fell short to Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl VIII. They’ve been to the Super Bowl before though – who says they can’t do it again?

New Orleans Saints (8-2, 1st NFC South): The Saints have been a contender in the NFC for the past three years but have been unable to come through in the playoffs. Whether it was tough calls down the stretch or the “Minneapolis Miracle,” the Saints have dealt with plenty of heartbreak in recent playoff history. Despite currently being the number-one seed in the NFC, this Saints team is far from perfect. 

With franchise quarterback Drew Brees sidelined for at least the next two weeks with 11 rib fractures, the Saints could be taking a long look at their future with Taysom Hill as their starting quarterback. He looked good in his first start this Sunday, but it did come against the Atlanta Falcons. Regardless, this is Brees’ team when he comes back and New Orleans might be better off for it.

The key with this team, however, lies within their defense. Brees is no longer as dominant as he once was, and the Saints have known that for some time now. That’s why they’ve made such a big effort to bolster up their defense in recent years. The defense has been inconsistent so far this year, but some of that has to do with injuries in their secondary. When healthy, this defense certainly has the talent, and it showed this past Sunday when they sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan eight times. That’s certainly a step in the right direction for their defense and the team as a whole. If they can manage to build upon this week’s performance and continue to get healthy, the Saints might have the most talented all-around roster in the NFC.

Teams that need to “check themselves”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4, 2nd in NFC South): If Tom Brady plays like he did against the Rams on Monday Night Football in the postseason, the Buccaneers could be heading for an early exit. This team, which has more weapons than I can count, needs to figure out quite a bit on offense. Brady hasn’t made good decisions with the ball when under pressure this season and that could cost them in the long run. Tampa’s defense certainly has potential, but it’s not nearly as scary as the Saints or Rams. And if they want consistent success, they will need to improve in their run game as well. There must be improvements in every facet of their game for Tampa to contend in the conference.

Green Bay Packers (7-3, 1st in NFC North): It’s soul-searching time for the Packers after an extremely disappointing overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts this past Sunday. In four of their last six games, the Packers haven’t looked good and their inconsistencies, particularly on defense, have been brutal. After they failed to address their needs at the wide receiver and defensive tackle positions at the trade deadline, this team still has the same problems as before. Can Aaron Rodgers carry them to the NFC Championship again this year? It’s possible, but he’s going to need some help to get back to the Super Bowl.

The “Wild Card“ teams

Seattle Seahawks (7-3, T-1st in NFC West): This Seattle Seahawks team couldn’t be more different than the team that won Super Bowl XLVII and came close to winning Super Bowl XLVIII. It’s a team that completely trusts MVP candidate Russell Wilson to lead them to victory each and every week. And he’s done it seven times already this year, which is impressive. Wilson might be the best player in the NFL this season, but will that be enough to overcome the issues on the defensive side of the ball? That is the question, and I’m excited to find out just how far Wilson can take this offense full of awe-inspiring talent such as receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

Arizona Cardinals (6-4, 3rd in NFC West): Kyler Murray has had to produce big time for this Arizona offense all season long. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins really helped this offense tremendously as a whole and, ultimately, they have quickly become one of the more exciting young teams in the entire NFL. Murray is playing like an MVP candidate himself, and the Cardinals defense has flashed promise and potential all year long as well. Their secondary is no joke with Patrick Peterson and Buddha Baker. I’m excited to see where this team ends up in the postseason picture. They have the potential to upset someone in the first round of the playoffs, depending on the matchup of course.

Prediction: I want to pick the Los Angeles Rams to make it back to the Super Bowl so badly, but I’m going to go with the New Orleans Saints. I think at the end of the day the Saints are the most complete all-around team in the NFC. Hopefully, they can catch a break this year, for both their franchise’s and fans’ sakes.