The 2020 NFL playoff field is narrowed down to its elite eight, headlined by many of the usual suspects in recent years. Where do the teams stack up entering one of the most exciting weekends of the year, the Divisional Round?
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) | Last week: 1
After resting Week 17, Patrick Mahomes and company have to be sharp and on their game from the jump to avoid falling behind in a similar predicament that the Steelers found themselves in for last week’s Wild Card Round. However, erasing leads with ease would be nothing new for the Chiefs after their Super Bowl run last season—but they’re potentially playing with fire if they try to pull that off again, as the AFC and the league looks much deeper this year. Hopefully Kansas City has Sammy Watkins (calf) healthy after the superb secondary option was huge during the title run last postseason.
2. Buffalo Bills (14-3) | Last week: 2
Imagine the outcry if the Bills ended up losing to the Colts after the Buffalo defense forced what was a clear fumble and recovery on what should’ve ended the game. Still, the Bills held strong to advance, and Josh Allen was calm throughout the game, erasing any concerns people might have had about him trying too hard in the playoffs (trying to do too much has not been an issue for him really since the middle of 2019 aside from the second half of the playoff loss). Despite lighting it up and blowing teams out all year, the Bills should have an underdog mindset during the playoffs—they hadn’t won a playoff game in 25 years, and they can adopt a small-market us-against-the-world mentality in a postseason field stacked with other teams and players the networks love to promote.
3. Green Bay Packers (13-3) | Last week: 3
Unlike the Chiefs, the Packers played to win in Week 17 and looked about as good as they’ve looked all season, particularly on offense. However, as stated before, Green Bay has not been tested a ton this season—that should change against a top Rams defense that might be underrated. The biggest key and difference for the Packers both this weekend and for the rest of the playoffs may be the play of its own defense; getting run all over killed the Packers against the Niners last season, and you can bet the Rams will try to do the same this Saturday.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5) | Last week: 4
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians was honest in his assessment when he said the team probably won’t go where they need to go if the defense doesn’t play better than they did against Washington. However, Taylor Heinicke deserves a ton of credit for the way to played in his first playoff start, and Tampa Bay will get star linebacker Devin White back from the reserve/COVID-19 list for the Divisional Round. The Buccaneers offense is clicking, and I don’t anticipate they will have a third subpar performance against the Saints this season when the NFC South foes match up with a conference title game trip on the line.
5. New Orleans Saints (13-4) | Last week: 6 (+1)
The Saints weren’t great offensively last week, but they were facing a tough Bears defense and probably had to get into a bit of a rhythm after the trio of Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas barely played together during the regular season. On defense, it was a promising sign that New Orleans took care of business against an undermatched offense, and the group must be on its game facing a Bucs team that’s clearly in a much better spot than they were in the first two matchups in the fall.
6. Baltimore Ravens (12-5) | Last week: 8 (+2)
I thought the Titans were going to win in the Wild Card Round versus the Ravens, but there’s no doubt Baltimore was clicking and confident heading into the postseason. Getting over the playoff hump will likely be huge for former league MVP Lamar Jackson’s psyche moving forward in January, and he seems to have accepted that it’s OK to run around and do damage on the ground if that’s what it takes to survive and advance. I didn’t agree with the Titans breaking it down on the Ravens logo during the regular season, but I also did not agree with the Ravens then dancing on the Titans logo after a big defensive stop late in the playoff win—as Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed said on Twitter, win with some class.
7. Los Angeles Rams (10-7) | Last week: 10 (+3)
The Rams are in a good spot and appear to have strong team chemistry; Jared Goff was hurting to not be the starter at less than 100% last weekend, but he handled it well and played did his job when he stepped in following John Wolford’s unfortunate stinger. Also, the Los Angeles defense didn’t really miss a beat when All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald left with a rib injury. There was inconsistency during the regular season, but the Rams are an extremely dangerous and well-coached team. We’ll see, but I think Sean McVay may have a bit of a master-versus-apprentice advantage facing former assistant and close friend Matt LaFleur.
8. Cleveland Browns (12-5) | Last week: 12 (+4)
While it looked like the case might be the opposite after the Browns continued to deal with COVID-19 issues including the forced absence of head coach Kevin Stefanski, everything went Cleveland’s way on Sunday night starting from the first snap leading to a defensive touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The Browns arguably have the best offensive line in football, so they should have a chance against anyone—but the defense is again going to have to force some turnovers against the Chiefs to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
9. Seattle Seahawks (12-5) | Last week: 5 (-4)
Pete Carroll took Seattle’s playoff loss hard, mainly because he felt that the team he had gave the franchise a very good shot to win another championship. The defense turned it on down the stretch, and Carroll seemed to like the formula the team had going despite the offensive struggles in the second half of the year. This offseason, Seattle might need to find an identity and stick to it, with Russell Wilson likely preferring a high-octane passing attack and Carroll likely preferring a powerful run game and elite defense.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5) | Last week: 7 (-3)
As stated earlier, Pittsburgh came out a little rusty in the playoff loss to the Browns, with the resting of a few starters in the season finale potentially factoring in on Sunday night. It was a crushing loss for the Steelers, especially for veteran guys that two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger badly wanted to win a title for. The good news is the team has one of the best coaches in the league in Mike Tomlin, and the roster is also superb. I’m a fan of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool (who said the Browns beating them really didn’t matter because the Chiefs will beat Cleveland anyway) as players and people, but in my humble opinion they need to scale back the social media a bit—it’s not a fit for Tomlin and the Steelers.
11. Tennessee Titans (11-6) | Last week: 9 (-2)
Give the Ravens credit for making adjustments and doing a nice job on Derrick Henry all afternoon, but the Titans appeared to have one of their worst games offensively in the playoff loss. A.J. Brown was uncoverable on the first drive, but the team did not make an effort to feed him the ball for most of the game after that. Also, the decision by Mike Vrabel to punt late was pretty surprising—I understood what he was doing in the field position battle, but Tennessee could have taken control of the game that drive. The Titans must have a strong offseason after 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Wilson had a trying first season in the league.
12. Indianapolis Colts (11-6) | Last week: 11 (-1)
They came up just short in the end, but I thought Philip Rivers played well in a tough environment for his first playoff start with the Colts, and the team could be better next season if Rivers returns for a second year in Frank Reich’s offense. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired from the NFL after ten seasons, playing his entire career in Indianapolis, so the Colts have some work to do as they look to shore up the blind side for Rivers or whoever is under center next season and beyond. But fans should be confident in general manager Chris Ballard getting it done.
13. Washington Football Team (7-10) | Last week: 14 (+1)
Taylor Heinicke earned universal praise for the way he led Washington with Alex Smith (calf) sadly unable to play after helping the team get to the postseason. Heinicke looked like nothing fazed him, and he showed tremendous toughness returning from a left shoulder injury. You don’t want to go too crazy based off one game, but Heinicke looks like he should be a fantastic backup quarterback option at the very least. Now the attention will turn to Smith’s decision on his future, as he might opt for retirement following a legendary comeback.
14. Chicago Bears (8-9) | Last week: 13 (-1)
The quarterback situation for the Bears is also a question mark entering the postseason, with Mitchell Trubisky making a case this season that he can lead the team moving forward. Regardless of the quarterback, Chicago needs reinforcements on the offensive line to get the most out of the skill players they have—a skill group that may no longer include receiver Allen Robinson II, who is set to hit free agency barring a franchise tag. The Bears might look much different in 2021.