The 2021 NFL season depicts contrasting playoff races from the two conferences.
The AFC is like the wild west, wherein it’s every team for themselves, and there’s no certainty on who will make it until the final week of regular-season action.
On the other hand, there’s more order in the NFC postseason picture.
NFC division leaders have a comfortable cushion against their rivals, and they may clinch playoff berths before the regular season ends.
Current NFC Playoff matchups 👀 pic.twitter.com/dYpPu8ip8A
— PFF (@PFF) December 7, 2021
Only a monumental collapse might cause them to lose their spot at the top.
However, the battle for the three NFC Wild Card spots is still intense because one game separates the sixth from the 12th-place team.
But out of those squads, two of them might find it challenging to enter the next round.
Their recent struggles and the strength of their upcoming schedule might be the death knell of their playoff hopes.
2. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers showed much promise when they won their first three games.
Their offense flowed while their defense limited their opponents to 10 points per game during their stretch.
But things quickly went south when Christian McCaffrey suffered a hamstring injury.
The Panthers lost their next four games without their focal point in both running and passing.
Raise your hand if you thought before the season Adrian Peterson would have as many rushing TDs (2) as Christian McCaffrey, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Miles Sanders… COMBINED??? pic.twitter.com/FYiBzZL7Fn
— Kyle Borgognoni (@kyle_borg) December 7, 2021
McCaffrey returned, but he wasn’t the same performer due to another injury that caused him to be out for the remainder of the season.
Cam Newton’s return re-energized the team for a while, but his impact slowed down with two consecutive losses.
Yet despite all the misery they’ve suffered, the Panthers can still claim a Wild Card spot at 5-7.
Unfortunately, extending their season beyond 17 games will be an uphill battle.
Jeff Nixon says he’s not going to put in a new system in 2-3 days. “This isn’t Jeff Nixon’s offense. This is the Carolina Panthers’.” pic.twitter.com/dQrVaU3moJ
— Joe Person (@josephperson) December 9, 2021
They will face the reeling but still dangerous Buffalo Bills in Week 15.
Then, they must defeat the streaking Tampa Bay Buccaneers in two of their last three games.
Their games against the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints are toss-ups.
However, Atlanta looks to have a more organized offense than Carolina.
The Carolina Panthers are 110% the most frustrating team to watch in the NFL
— 𓃵 (@Goaty_Szn) November 28, 2021
Meanwhile, the Saints might have Alvin Kamara back in Week 17 to boost their winning chances.
That challenging schedule may cause the Panthers to drop four of their last five games.
Matt Rhule might follow former offensive coordinator Joe Brady to unemployment if that happens.
1. New Orleans Saints
Sadly, the effect isn’t the same: the Saints lost five straight after defeating the Buccaneers in Week 8.
They allowed Hill to start in Week 13, but they still lost to the Dallas Cowboys.
So the Saints finally get Alvin Kamara back, and they lose Mark Ingram. Pretty much sums up their 2021 season.
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) December 8, 2021
What’s more frustrating is that two of their losses were by two points each during that stretch.
Instead of being 5-7, the Saints could be 7-5 if they found a way to close out those games.
But as it stands, New Orleans must win all their remaining games to have better chances of clinching a postseason berth.
However, that’s easier said than done because they have to go through Atlanta and Carolina, both playoff hopefuls.
Longest active losing streak
Titans 2 pic.twitter.com/Q1ZWANO8BD
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) December 8, 2021
The New York Jets might give the Saints a free pass in Week 14, but the Buccaneers and the Miami Dolphins are tough customers.
Losing more games will jeopardize their playoff streak, which stands at four seasons.