NFC WILD CARD 1
Judy Battista: Chicago Bears. They certainly would have been a playoff team last season if the defense had been even marginally better.
Brian Billick: Green Bay Packers. Even with a steady rushing attack, the Packers aren’t anything without Aaron Rodgers — keeping him healthy has to be priority No. 1. Green Bay gave up 45 sacks last season; only the Cardinals have given up more since 2009. If Rodgers plays all 16 games, the Packers make the playoffs.
Gil Brandt: San Francisco 49ers. I think San Francisco has a chance to have as good a defense as any in the NFL, even with the uncertain availability of NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. That should carry the Niners, though Frank Gore and the running game will slow down.
Gregg Rosenthal: Arizona Cardinals. In Bruce Arians we trust. (And Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Ellington, Michael Floyd and John Brown.)
Chris Wesseling: 49ers. Jim Harbaugh has a lot working against him this year, but the other wild-card contenders just aren’t strong enough to overtake his team.
NFC Wildcard Game 2
Judy Battista: San Francisco 49ers. The expected extended absences of Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman are the difference between winning the division and getting a wild-card spot.
Brian Billick: 49ers. The 49ers are the second-best team in the NFC, but unfortunately for them, they are also the second-best team in their division. San Francisco will make the playoffs for the fourth time in four seasons under Jim Harbaugh.
Gil Brandt: Carolina Panthers. I think everybody’s kind of writing off the Panthers, given how much receiving talent they lost, but the pass catchers they ended up with — including first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin — are as good as last year’s guys. Plus, their defense is still excellent.
Gregg Rosenthal: Bears. The defense has to get better, but the passing game should be among the league’s best.
Chris Wesseling: Lions. Defenses can’t find a way to double-team Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, Golden Tate and Eric Ebron.