Handicapping NFC's wild-card race

Why Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears should make the postseason

Originally Published: December 10, 2012
By Vince Verhei | Football Outsiders
Russell WilsonKevin Casey/Getty ImagesRussell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks look to have a grasp on an NFC wild-card spot.

Week 14 in the NFL saw upsets, shootouts and a beatdown of truly historic proportions. When the smoke cleared, the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears were left alone atop the NFC's wild-card leaderboard. The Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins were just one game out, and the St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints were still alive. It seems like a giant mess and a wide-open race, but in reality it would be an upset if the Seahawks or Bears missed the postseason.

Although the five teams at the top of the wild-card race have very similar win-loss records, some of them have clearly outplayed their rivals. That's reflected in Football Outsiders' DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) rankings. DVOA analyzes every play of the NFL season, adjusting for down, distance, score, field position, quality of opponent and other factors. We also use a weighted version of the formula (wDVOA) that more accurately indicates which teams are playing best right now. (More information on DVOA is available here.)

The following table shows the eight NFC wild-card contenders, along with their overall and conference win-loss records and their weighted DVOA. It also shows the remaining games on each team's schedule, the average weighted DVOA of those teams and a ranking of the strength of that schedule among the league's 32 clubs. (Several of these squads still have realistic hopes of winning division titles, but, for simplicity's sake, let's assume that the San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants and Green Bay Packers maintain their leads in those races.) As you can see, the gap in wDVOA between the wild-card leaders and their rivals is substantial:


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