After 17 weeks of regular season action, the NFL has progressed its way into the playoff stage. The Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers have secured bye weeks among their respective conferences, while the Washington Football Team and Los Angeles Rams snuck their way into playoffs by the skin of their teeth.
Here, we go through the strengths, weaknesses, and overall odds that each team can come out on top come February:
14. Washington Football Team
Strengths: Holding onto the NFC East title, the Washington Football Team will come into the playoffs as severe underdogs as the hosts to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the Wild Card round. Still, their largest strength leans on their defensive presence. Washington finished the regular season 2nd in yards allowed per game (304.6) and against the pass (191.8), while also finishing 4th in points allowed per contest (20.6). In order to get by the first round and make some noise, the defense will need to create opportunities.
Weaknesses: While the defense looks to create opportunities, the offense will need to limit their mistakes. This was a roster that surrendered the fourth-most giveaways (27) during the regular season. It resulted in finishing with 20.9 points per game; 25th in the league. Their rushing game has been lackluster for parts of the season, while Alex Smith is only averaging 197.8 passing yards per game; his lowest total since 2012. Without placing pressure on Tampa Bay this weekend, it could be a short-lived playoff experience for the Football Team.
13. Chicago Bears
Strengths: Much like Washington, the Chicago Bears will be faced with a difficult circumstance as they travel to play New Orleans during the Wild Card round. Their largest strength is also centered around their defense, which finished 11th in yards allowed per game (344.9). Since the start of December, Mitchell Trubisky has thrown seven touchdowns to just three interceptions. If the offense can match the play of the Saints, this could be a competitive contest.
Weaknesses: The Bears have shown spots of bright play this season, but it hasn’t come against many playoff teams. The team finished 1-6 in the regular season against teams currently scheduled to compete for a Super Bowl. Their weaknesses has come primarily from their offense at the worst of times, finishing the season 25th in rushing (102.9) and 22nd in passing (228.4). Their turnover differential of -4 was the 9th-worst in the NFL this season, which makes us wonder whether they can pull off an early upset on the road.
12. Cleveland Browns
Strengths: In their first playoff game since the 2002 campaign, the Cleveland Browns will see an immediate rematch against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the Wild Card. Oddly enough, the Browns reached this point based on efficient offensive play. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt lead the offense to finishing 3rd in rushing yards per game (148.4), while Baker Mayfield and company posted the 4th-least amount of giveaways (16). On defense, the Browns were 9th against the run (110.8), which only capitalizes their advantage on the Steelers, who have struggled to run the ball this season.
Weaknesses: While the Browns were limited on their giveaways, they often played too conservative. Mayfield finished with 3,563 passing yards; 18th in the NFL. Against a Pittsburgh defense that has limited Mayfield to under 200 passing yards in five career matchups, it will be difficult to find room to work with. On defense, while the Browns are efficient against the run, their biggest concern is stopping Ben Roethlisberger from picking them apart. The team finished 22nd against the pass (247.6) this season, which raises a red flag.
11. Los Angeles Rams
Strengths: The Los Angeles Rams will be tasked with facing the Seattle Seahawks on the road during the Wild Card round. Believe it or not, this was a defense that finished 1st in yards allowed per game (281.9), passing yards per game (190.7), and points allowed per game (18.5). While some may believe an efficient run game may work against the Rams, they finished 3rd against the rush (91.3) this season as well. If the defense can limit Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, this will turn into an interesting affair.
Weaknesses: In order to beat Seattle, the Rams need to put up points, which they failed to do at times this season (22nd in points per game). The play of Jared Goff wasn’t up to standards, as his 263.5 passing yards per game was a 26.4-yard decline from the previous season. He finished 23rd among quarterbacks in QBR, as the entire roster ended the season 21st in turnover differential (-3). Needless to say, Goff and company have work to do, assuming he will be at full health this weekend.
10. Indianapolis Colts
Strengths: The Indianapolis Colts will be forced to compete with the Buffalo Bills during the Wild Card round. This season has been above expectations for multiple reasons for Indianapolis, as the defense has been the second-best unit against the run this season. Meanwhile, Philip Rivers has led the offense to the second-best turnover differential (+10) while finishing 9th in points per game (28.2). This isn’t a team that makes many mistakes, and have been a borderline top 10 team when it comes to rushing (124.8 yards per game) and passing (253.3).
Weaknesses: There haven’t been many weaknesses for Indianapolis this season, but can Rivers fend off the elite competition during the playoffs? He is 5-6 in his career in January, and has thrown 14 touchdowns to 10 interceptions during that time span. The likes of Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Ben Roethlisberger have compiled impressive seasons, but the Colts need to understand their Super Bowl hopes are centered around the 39-year old signal caller.
9. Seattle Seahawks
Strengths: Hosting the Los Angeles Rams, the Seattle Seahawks are hopeful to secure their first Super Bowl appearance since 2014. As easy as it is to blame Seattle’s defense for their early season woes, this is a defensive unit that finished 5th against the run. Still, their strong suit involves their ability to put up 28.7 points per game; 8th in the NFL. Russell Wilson has totaled 12 touchdown to seven interceptions in his last seven starts, leaving fans hopeful his success will continue in January.
Weaknesses: The Seahawks pass defense has gotten slightly better, but they still have allowed the 11th-most yards per game (380.6). As the second-worst team against the pass, even the impact of Jamal Adams hasn’t been enough to halt opposing offenses. The NFC is filled with rosters that can move the ball down the field, leaving pressure on Seattle to put up a lot of points.
8. Tennessee Titans
Strengths: In a competitive matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, the Tennessee Titans won three of their final four games to reach the playoffs. Their success was largely thanks to Derrick Henry, who became the 8th player in NFL history to surpass 2,000 rushing yards. Ryan Tannehill lead the offense to the fourth-most points per game (30.7) and QBR (78.7). They lead the NFL in turnover differential (+11) this season, proving they don’t make a lot of mistakes.
Weaknesses: Against the pass, the Titans have been below-average, finishing 29th (277.4) in that category. While the Ravens aren’t a pass-first offense, teams such as the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs raise red flags. Their defense allowed 27.4 points per game, which can be detrimental l when facing a top 10 offense such as Baltimore. In their last two games against the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans, the Titans surrendered a combined 78 points.
7. Baltimore Ravens
Strengths: The matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans will be close, but their odds at a Super Bowl this season are almost identical. They lead the league with 191.8 rushing yards per game; 23.8 more than the Titans. As the seventh-highest scoring team in the league, the Ravens are considered favorites in the Wild Card based on their defensive play. They finished 6th against the pass and 8th against the rush. In addition, they are the second-best team in the NFL when it comes to points allowed per game (18.9). If they can remain balanced on both sides of the ball, they will be a difficult team to throw out of the playoffs.
Weaknesses: The single weak spot when it comes to the Ravens is their ability to pass the ball. Lamar Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000+ yards in back-to-back seasons, but the Ravens finished last in passing yards per game (171.2). If faced with the Indianapolis Colts (2nd against the run), Cleveland Browns (9th), or Pittsburgh Steelers (11th), how will the Ravens move the ball downfield?
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Strengths: After starting the season with 11 consecutive wins, the Pittsburgh Steelers will see an immediate rematch against the Cleveland Browns during the Wild Card round. Their success was centered by their defense, which finished 3rd in yards allowed (305.8) and points allowed (19.5) per game. Their 27 takeaways finished only behind the Miami Dolphins (29) this season, which sets up Ben Roethlisberger to find plenty of success on offense.
Weaknesses: Speaking of Roethlisberger, his play has resulted in a 94.1 QBR; 22nd in the NFL. The team was in the bottom half of the league when it came to yards per game (24th) and dead last in running the football. The last time James Conner ran the ball for 100+ yards in a single game was October 18th against the Browns, so the run game needs to find some life if the Steelers wish to advance into the further stages of the playoffs.
5. New Orleans Saints
Strengths: The New Orleans Saints will face the Chicago Bears in the Wild Card, and will hope to find success in Drew Brees’ final season. This was a team that managed to remain elite on defense, finishing 4th against the run and 5th against the pass. They only allowed 310.9 yards per game; 4th in the NFL. On offense, the Saints were the fifth-highest scoring team (30.1), and have averaged 35.8 points per game in Brees’ last five starts.
Weaknesses: It sounds crazy, but can we depend on Drew Brees in the playoffs this year? During the regular season, he was 3-2 against teams currently in the playoffs; one of those wins being in overtime against the Chicago Bears. The Saints finished 19th in passing yards per game, but that was largely due to Taysom Hill being thrown into the starting role. The offense seems to be more of a concern than the defense at this time.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Strengths: Visiting the Washington Football team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem to be clicking at the right time. They finished the regular season as the best run defense roster, while also finishing 8th in points allowed per game (22.2). On offense, they finished in the top three in passing (289.1 yards per game) and scoring (30.8). With Mike Evans at full health, Tampa Bay should be considered among the elite Super Bowl contenders.
Weaknesses: Tampa Bay has the greatest quarterback of all-time and a handful of elite receivers. However, what happened to their run game. Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette led the backfield to the fourth-least amount of rushing yards per game (94.9). Jones finished with 100+ rushing yards on three occasions from Weeks 1-6, but only surpassed that total once from Weeks 7-17. In a competitive NFC, relying on a 43-year old quarterback arm in hopes of securing a Super Bowl is worrisome.
3. Buffalo Bills
Strengths: Against a tough opponent in the Indianapolis Colts, the Buffalo Bills will hope to secure their first playoff victory since 1995. Josh Allen has emerged as a superstar during the 2020 season, finishing 3rd in QBR (81.7) and 6th in passing yards per game (284). The Bills as a roster were 2nd in points per game (31.3), and have scored 26+ points in each of their last seven games. They have the ability to run up the score on opposing defenses, and could be a powerhouse in the AFC.
Weaknesses: While the Bills have been great on offense, they have been reckless at times. They finished with the 11th-most giveaways this past seasons (22), which could be dangerous when facing elite defenses such as the Colts in the AFC. In addition, their run game led by Devin Singletary has resulted in finishing 20th in rushing yards per game (107.7). It’s not a perfect roster, but it will be interesting to see Buffalo take on the elite competition the NFL has to offer.
2. Green Bay Packers
Strengths: As the top seed in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers will be well rested heading into the playoffs. The Packers finished 1st in scoring (31.8) and offered the least amount of giveaways (11). Aaron Rodgers finished with an MVP caliber year, ending with a league-high 84.4 QBR. On defense, Green Bay was 7th against the rush and offered the ninth-least amount of yards per game (334). Overall, it’s very difficult to pinpoint why the Packers should not be considered the NFC favorites.
Weaknesses: If there is a weaknesses in Green Bay’s roster, it will come from the loss of All-Pro offensive lineman David Bakhtiari. He finished the season ranked 3rd among offensive lineman, per PFF. After a torn Achilles, his pass-blocking will certainly be missed. Green Bay only allowed 1.3 sacks per game in the regular season, but injury concerns moving forward could be troubling.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Strengths: Have the Kansas City Chiefs given us any reason not to consider them Super Bowl favorites? They finished at the top of the league in passing (303.4 yards per game) and 6th in scoring (29.6 points per game). They limit their mistakes on offense, and were above the league average when it came to points allowed per contest (22.6). With a bye week on their hands, it will be an uphill battle for any team looking to overthrow the Chiefs.
Weaknesses: The single soft spot for Kansas City involves their run defense. Despite the additions made, they finished 21st in rushing yards allowed per game (122.1). In fact, they have (statistically) the worst run defense among all playoff teams. Surely they will be able to make up for this disadvantage on the scoreboard, but facing a run-first team such as the Baltimore Ravens or Tennessee Titans could be a worry.
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