The NFL postseason is finally among us, and I’m not sure anyone expected the playoff picture to look the way it does. While the Patriots and Steelers find themselves as the heavy favorites in the AFC, how do they compare to their colleagues in the NFC? Here are the power rankings heading into the postseason:
1. New England Patriots
Was there ever any doubt that the Patriots wouldn’t be the Super Bowl favorites? The franchise has only been forced to play three total wild card games since 2001, and regardless of Brady’s increasing age, New England contains the most lethal roster in the NFL.
In a route that has the Patriots likely matched up to play the Buffalo Bills or the Tennessee Titans/Kansas City Chiefs (winner between that game), and then the Steelers, Bill Belichick and company definitely have their work cut out for them. The AFC playoff picture is full of upset scenarios, but the Patriots should be confident in their chances moving forward during January.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Regardless of my lack in confidence in Case Keenum, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching this Minnesota defense develop. Although they sit as the #2 seed in the NFC, the Vikings still viewed as the underdogs for the upcoming postseason. Can the roster avoid games against veteran quarterbacks Drew Brees and Matt Ryan during their potential route to the Super Bowl?
If Minnesota somehow found their way into the Super Bowl this year, they would become the first franchise to ever play out of their own stadium. The pieces are in place, but I’m anxious to see whether the Vikings call checkmate on the rest of the conference.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers, who are often regarded as the only franchise in the AFC capable of defeating the New England Patriots, finally have the roster they need to make a championship run. Although wideout Antionio Brown isn’t at full health, this is most likely one of the most well-balanced Pittsburgh rosters we’ve witnessed in the twenty first century.
If the Steelers encounter the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, I fear that their Super Bowl run may end early. In fact, the last time New England lost a playoff game on their own turf was back in 2013, where the Baltimore Ravens pulled off an upset by a score of 28-13.
4. New Orleans Saints
Heading into the postseason with Sean Payton and Drew Brees at command, Saints fans should be cautiously optimistic about their team’s chances this year. Brees, 38, is on track to once again prove why he is one of the most elite passers in the history of the game. Although New Orleans is up against the Carolina Panthers within the Divisional round, I can claim that the Saints are going to be difficult to eliminate from the NFC playoff picture.
The bout against Carolina may be one of New Orleans’ tougher games, as both are currently viewed as soft favorites to represent in NFC in 2018. If Brees maintains his regular season form, and translates that into this particular postseason, watch out.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles with Carson Wentz could very well have made the top spot in this piece, but without him, I’m not sure the franchise can rely on Nick Foles to win two playoff games, plus a Super Bowl debut. His performance against the New York Giants showed promise, but his underwhelming game against the Oakland Raiders the following week is what causes worry.
The defense for Philadelphia will truly need to carry this franchise at certain points in the postseason, because this offense is so much different without Wentz under center. Could Philadelphia surprise the entire NFL and make their first Super Bowl appearance since 2004? Sure, but it seems more far-fetched as time goes on.
6. Carolina Panthers
While the Panthers offense can be inconsistent at times, the defense has stepped up as of late this season. Ranked third against the rush in 2017, Carolina will need that defensive front to show up and put a stop to Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara during the Wild Card round.
The only question I have involves which Panthers squad will show up in the postseason. Having gone 0-2 against the Saints in the regular season, and containing a point differential of -31 in those games, is this a franchise we expect to win four straight games and secure a Super Bowl title? If Carolina surpasses New Orleans this weekend, their journey only gets easier in my eyes.
OVER THEIR HEADS
7. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams were a team that many didn’t take seriously coming into 2017. Quarterback Jared Goff was on the verge of being labeled a bust, and running back Todd Gurley was one of the more inconsistent backs in the league. Fast forward to the present, and Los Angeles has one of the healthier and younger rosters in the NFL, and are the highest-scoring offense in the league.
Why #7? While Goff has turned the heads of critics, I can’t say I’m all in for the Rams defeating seasoned veterans in the postseason. Los Angeles has a very solid roster from top to bottom, but the postseason mentality of Goff and inexperience of McVay is what causes worrisome.
8. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were on the verge of missing the postseason at one point in time, but the franchise cleaned up their act and secures a spot in the AFC playoff picture. Within the Wild Card, the Chiefs will be pinned up against a somewhat medicore roster in the Tennessee Titans. With one of the most complete and well-balanced offenses in the league, my only skepticism of the Chiefs involves their defense.
Once seen as one of the elite defenses in the league, the Chiefs have let themselves go, and it could come back to haunt them. I don’t believe the Titans will throw up a ton of points on the board, but when it comes time to play either the Patriots or the Steelers, the Chiefs will need to pull a rabbit out of their hats.
9. Atlanta Falcons
It should be a shock to see the Falcons this low, considering they made it to the Super Bowl last year, but they’re down here for good reasoning. The Falcons may contain a record of 10-6, but Atlanta also contains a record of 2-5 against current playoff teams. The offense went from the highest-scoring offense to 15th, and the defense has been a few marks above average.
I worry that the Falcons are in for an early exit from the postseason, but playing against the Rams must be a dream scenario for them. Two teams the Falcons didn’t want to see in the postseason are the Saints and Panthers, and one of those two are about to be knocked out this weekend.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars, statistically speaking, contain the best defense in the NFL from this past season. Within the first round against the Buffalo Bills, as long as LeSean McCoy is stuffed at the line of scrimmage, the Jaguars could very well see themselves in Pittsburgh during the Divisional round of the postseason.
Something about Blake Bortles and an injury prone Leonard Fournette scream bust to me in the postseason, but expect Jacksonville to viewed as a pure underdog, regardless of their seeding. I favor the Jaguars this upcoming weekend, but the chances they advance past the Steelers are slim.
11. Tennessee Titans
The Titans got into the AFC playoff picture by the skin of their teeth, but are extremely mediocre on both sides of the ball. On top of that, Mariota has more interceptions than touchdowns, DeMarco Murray was out-rushed by Derrick Henry, and the Titans didn’t have a single receiver over 900 yards.
This Titans roster is going to have it rough against the Chiefs this weekend, and if they somehow get past the Wild Card round, the games are only going to look sloppier for this franchise. Expect an early exit from Tennessee, as they continue to build upon their roster in the 2018 off-season.
12. Buffalo Bills
After a last-minute loss by the Baltimore Ravens this past weekend, the Buffalo Bills somehow ended their playoff brought and wound up in the postseason. Outside of McCoy, what do the Bills contain that defenses can’t stop? Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was benched at one point in the season for his poor play, and you could very well see the Bills get blown out within the Wild Card round.
If Buffalo somehow pulls out a miracle and gets by Jacksonville, they would then visit the New England Patriot in a road game. Defeating the Patriots during the regular season was more than a struggle for Bills Mafia, as the offense threw up 19 points in two games.