The NFL postseason begins this weekend. Which teams should feel the best about their chances to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February? And where do teams that missed the playoffs stack up heading into their offseasons?
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) | Last week: 1
As mentioned last week, the concern now with the Chiefs after they rested in Week 17 is that there could be a rust factor for Patrick Mahomes and the starters when they return for the Divisional Round. It will have been three weeks since game action for many of the key players when they hit the field in a couple of weekends, and the AFC is no cakewalk.
2. Buffalo Bills (13-3) | Last week: 2
There was some thought that Josh Allen and the Bills starters wouldn’t get much playing time in a similar situation to last season, but Allen and Buffalo poured it on the Dolphins in the first half before resting and coasting to victory. Over the past four weeks, the Bills have scored 142 points—and they were facing the defenses of Vic Fangio, Bill Belichick, and Brian Flores. That’s insane. If I were another team in the AFC, the last team I would want to play is the Bills, and that includes the Chiefs.
3. Green Bay Packers (13-3) | Last week: 3
Aaron Rodgers again made it look easy for much of the afternoon in Green Bay’s win over Chicago, with the Packers clinching the top seed in the NFC playoffs. Matt LaFleur’s squad should be very confident heading into the postseason, but they haven’t been tested a bunch this season—and the shellacking at the hands of the Bucs stands out among their more challenging matchups during the regular season. Still, the bye gets the Packers in the top three of the power rankings.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) | Last week: 6 (+2)
They haven’t done it against as tough of competition and haven’t done it on quite the same level, but the Bucs feel similar to the Bills in that they’re clicking at the right time. After a bit of a rough stretch in middle of the season, the partnership between Tom Brady and Bruce Arians is riding high heading into the win-or-go-home games which Brady has excelled in throughout his career. As we expected from the G.O.A.T. with his new team, Brady lit it up in his first season with Tampa Bay, throwing for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns at 43 years old.
5. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) | Last week: 4 (-1)
The Seahawks haven’t been racking up pretty wins as of late, but that’s the style of football that may get it done in January and potentially February. Russell Wilson is obviously battle tested, and the Seahawks do have the formula to run the ball with Chris Carson, Carlos Hyde, and Rashaad Penny. The division rival Rams will immediately present a very difficult challenge to kick off the NFC playoffs on Saturday afternoon.
6. New Orleans Saints (12-4) | Last week: 5 (-1)
The Saints were hit with a COVID situation centering around superstar running back Alvin Kamara, who tested positive for the virus while also knocking out the rest of the running back room due to “close contact” procedures. However, New Orleans has a shot to get Kamara back for the Wild Card Round because the game takes place on Sunday instead of Saturday, and it was a good sign that the team looked sharp and didn’t have much trouble taking care of a competitive Panthers team in Week 17.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) | Last week: 7
The big takeaways from the Steelers’ final game of the regular season are that they played hard despite resting Ben Roethlisberger and others, and that Mason Rudolph played well—especially with his accurate deep ball. Roethlisberger should be fresh, and watching last week from a different perspective might help him as he looks to attack the Browns defense on Sunday night.
8. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) | Last week: 8
I think the Titans, playing at home as AFC South champions, will win this week in part because of Derrick Henry being nearly unstoppable; but the Ravens are another squad that appears to be playing its best football at the right time. After it failed them in the postseason in each of the past two years, all eyes will be on the passing attack led by Lamar Jackson—particularly if this turns into a shootout with Baltimore needing to keep up with Henry and an explosive Titans offense.
9. Tennessee Titans (11-5) | Last week: 11 (+2)
Derrick Henry became the eighth player in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards in a season, and he’s the first person ever to run for 2,000 yards at all three levels (high school, which he laughably did all four years; college; and the NFL). It’s pretty funny that Henry was 223 yards away from 2,000 entering Week 17 and that most of us felt that he would definitely get it—sure enough, he did with relative comfort. The Titans go as Henry goes, but the defense needs to pick up its game to make a run all the way into February.
10. Los Angeles Rams (9-7) | Last week: 10
Sean McVay sounded confident in John Wolford despite the quarterback not having thrown a pass entering last week, and Wolford settled down after a quick interception to start the game, making plays with his legs and doing what it took to move the chains and win the game. Hopefully Jared Goff will be able to recover in time from thumb surgery and be out there for the Wild Card Round, but Wolford’s playing style should complement a top defense in a potential low-scoring game at Seattle—either way, the Seahawks will be favored to win and advance.
11. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) | Last week: 12 (+1)
Even King Henry gave major props to Colts running back Jonathan Taylor after the rookie rumbled for 253 yards and two touchdowns to help Indy clinch a playoff berth in Week 17. Over the final six games of the year, Taylor ran for 741 yards and seven touchdowns, and he’s a potential weapon similar to Henry in that defenses are not going to have fun tackling him in inclement weather. A strong run game and defense should give the Colts a chance against anyone, and Philip Rivers has a lot to play for as he attempts to win a championship.
12. Cleveland Browns (11-5) | Last week: 13 (+1)
The Browns made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but unfortunately Kevin Stefanski will not be able to coach his team after a positive COVID-19 test. It’s really a shame, as you don’t get these opportunities often, and the first playoff appearance in nearly two decades is an event the head coach should be at. Hopefully Stefanski makes it clear the gameplan should be to feed Nick Chubb the ball, but we’ll see.
13. Chicago Bears (8-8) | Last week: 14 (+1)
The Bears couldn’t keep their hot streak going, but some help from the Rams helps get them into the postseason as the No. 7 seed facing a Saints team they played to overtime earlier this season. Look for Matt Nagy to ride David Montgomery despite facing a stingy run defense, but Chicago has the weapons on the outside to give the Saints some problems as they did in the first matchup. Coming off an 11-catch performance last week, let’s hope impressive rookie receiver Darnell Mooney is OK for the Wild Card Round.
14. Washington Football Team (7-9) | Last week: 16 (+2)
All things considered, this was a very good regular season for the NFL, which got through all 256 games during a global pandemic without many issues; there were many great stories. But the best story has to be Alex Smith coming back from a devastating leg injury in 2018 to lead Washington to a 5-1 record and a playoff berth. Whatever happens moving forward, Smith’s comeback story has been amazing.
15. Miami Dolphins (10-6) | Last week: 9 (-6)
Tough break for Brian Flores and the Dolphins, reaching the ten-win mark (typically the number of wins to make you a postseason lock) yet just missing the playoffs. Still, while they faced a juggernaut Bills squad, Miami laid a total egg facing a win-and-in situation. Obviously, Miami is on the rise under Flores, and they also have the No. 3 overall pick (via Houston) and more premium selections to work with in this year’s draft. Perhaps my opinion will change over time after diving more into things, but as of now the only quarterback I would definitely take in the top three is Trevor Lawrence; however, even after they committed to him yesterday, don’t be surprised if the Dolphins think about bringing in another high draft pick at quarterback if they aren’t completely thrilled with Tua Tagovailoa. Remember, the team hopes this is the only time they’ll have a top-five pick in years if they remain a perennial contender under Flores.
16. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) | Last week: 19 (+3)
Darren Waller’s enormous final stretch of the 2020 season ended with a game-winning two-point conversion catch on a dime from Derek Carr against the Broncos, and 8-8 isn’t a bad finish for the Raiders considering how poorly the defense played for much of the year. It was cool to hear the Raiders talk about Nelson Agholor—one of the most disrespected (by fans) and underrated players in the league—have an outstanding season, with Hunter Renfrow saying that he’s been lobbying Agholor to come back and Carr stating that the team needs to “pay that man.” The versatile and dynamic Agholor can be a foundational type of piece in Jon Gruden’s offense.
17. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) | Last week: 23 (+6)
I feel for Anthony Lynn, who got his team to play well and win four consecutive games to close out the season before getting fired. However, the Chargers probably know they have a prime opportunity to attract almost any available head coach they want given the talent on the roster headlined by quarterback Justin Herbert. If I were the Chargers, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll would be near the top of the list, as he seems like a fit given that Herbert can do some similar things to Josh Allen (standing tall and throwing from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage with accuracy and anticipation).
18. New England Patriots (7-9) | Last week: 25 (+7)
7-9 is not the season Bill Belichick and the Patriots expected coming into the year, but I’d argue they were impacted more by COVID than any other team in the league—starting with the opt-outs and all the way to implementing a new quarterback/revamped offense and Cam Newton then testing positive early in the season when the team was playing well. Ending the year with a win and getting to within one game of .500 just feels better than a 6-10 finish would have.
19. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) | Last week: 15 (-4)
Kliff Kingsbury came under a lot of fire toward the end of the season, and rightfully so; but, overall, he did a nice job of helping his team take another step forward in 2020 to get into the playoff hunt. The Cardinals are very talented on both sides of the ball, and they have the ability to take another step next season. Honestly, I felt the Kyler Murray injury situation was very odd. Murray didn’t even try to get in the game after tweaking his ankle, and then in the fourth quarter he suddenly went in and gave it a shot—very unfortunate in a must-win game.
20. New York Giants (6-10) | Last week: 18 (-2)
Football fans have a right to be upset about the end of the regular season in Game 256 between Washington and Philadelphia, and it’s easy to understand why Giants players were angry about the situation after doing what they needed to do by beating the Cowboys earlier in the day. But, while they improved as the season went on, this is a six-win team we’re talking about, so they did obviously have an opportunity to win more games and take care of business. The future appears bright under head coach Joe Judge, though:
Joe Judge talks about the sacrifice it took to make this season happen:
"To disrespect the game by going out there & not competing for 60 minutes to doing everything you can to help those players win – we will never do that as long as I'm the head coach of the New York Giants." pic.twitter.com/TXMZOumjZh
— Giants Videos (@SNYGiants) January 4, 2021
21. Dallas Cowboys (6-10) | Last week: 17 (-4)
Andy Dalton and the Cowboys offense were just a bit off for much of the critical Week 17 game against the Giants, but the team played with fight and energy, showing the considerable progress they made from early in the season when the defense gave up a mind-boggling number of points. The huge question for Dallas entering the offseason is where the negotiations go with quarterback Dak Prescott.
22. Minnesota Vikings (7-9) | Last week: 21 (-1)
Kirk Cousins took home NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his final game of the season, and similar to the Patriots it probably feels a bit better to get a win and finish 7-9 instead of 6-10. Minnesota has the right people in place leading things in Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman, but there’s work to do for the defense to get back to the level it’s been at in recent years, and the offense might lose coordinator Gary Kubiak to retirement.
23. San Francisco 49ers (6-10) | Last week: 20 (-3)
The Niners nearly upset the Seahawks to conclude their season on a high note, but they gave up 20 fourth-quarter points and couldn’t quite hang on. Now, we’ll have to see if defensive coordinator Robert Saleh ends up getting a head coaching job elsewhere; but the bigger question is the quarterback position. I believe it will be Jimmy Garoppolo leading Kyle Shanahan’s offense moving forward, but perhaps someone in this year’s draft will intrigue San Francisco.
24. Carolina Panthers (5-11) | Last week: 22 (-2)
It was surprising that Matt Rhule’s team had one of its worst performances of the season in their final game of the year, but 2020 has to be seen as extremely promising for Panthers fans. Rhule knows how to build teams up, and there are great young pieces on the roster—especially on defense—to build around moving forward. Carolina should be squarely in the mix for a potential quarterback upgrade this spring.
25. Atlanta Falcons (4-12) | Last week: 24 (-1)
Falcons owner Arthur Blank admitted that the entire roster can be available and that it will come down to what the new general manager and coach want to do—and that includes Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Ideally, Atlanta will bring in a new regime that doesn’t think they are too far off. Building up a strong run game should take pressure off of everyone, including the defense, and it could make the Falcons dangerous quickly in 2021.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) | Last week: 26
The Eagles went into Week 17 preparing to get Nate Sudfeld (who was put in a very tough spot and should not be criticized for his play), but it did not feel right at all that Jalen Hurts was pulled in a three-point game that meant a lot to Washington and New York. The organization doesn’t even let Doug Pederson control his own coaching staff, so it’s pretty clear that this directive to get Sudfeld some time came from the top (owner Jeffrey Lurie and/or executive Howie Roseman), which running back Miles Sanders hinted at. It says a lot that the team apparently felt the need to tank because Roseman can’t make a good pick and needs all the help he can get to move up to No. 6. I won’t be shocked if Pederson resigns this week and targets another open job like the Chargers.
27. Denver Broncos (5-11) | Last week: 27
Broncos president John Elway is taking a step up (higher in the organization) and back (giving up personnel control and final say), as Denver will bring in a general manager. With the Broncos in the top ten of the draft, the new hire will have a tough decision on quarterback Drew Lock after an up-and-down second season. However, the team sounds optimistic that Lock would benefit from a full offseason for his second year in Pat Shurmur’s offense.
28. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) | Last week: 28
Zac Taylor earned a third year leading the Bengals, but there’s a bit of an ultimatum that it’s almost playoffs or bust—or at least taking a sizable step forward and being closer to the postseason mix—in 2021. Joe Burrow should not rush back from his knee injury, but the Bengals would do well to get him back healthy for Week 1 along with star running back Joe Mixon, who missed a chunk of the season with a mysterious foot issue.
29. Houston Texans (4-12) | Last week: 29
Former Patriots executive Nick Caserio was the preferred general manager target of the Texans in 2019 before getting blocked by New England, but Houston finally got its guy, and it seems Jack Easterby still has the ear of owner Cal McNair after many thought the former team chaplain may have been on the way out. There’s a lot of building to do with the Texans, and don’t be shocked if Caserio trades quarterback Deshaun Watson to restock the franchise’s assets.
30. Detroit Lions (5-11) | Last week: 30
The Lions are another team with an opening that can go in a few different directions, much of it centering around the decision at quarterback. Chris Spielman should be very involved in the hiring process at general manager and head coach, and I am really intrigued to see what type of hires he and Detroit make.
31. New York Jets (2-14) | Last week: 31
Jets second-year general manager Joe Douglas appears to be in a powerful spot, with the ability to lead the search and pick his own head coach in the coming weeks. The No. 2 pick can sometimes become a hotspot for trade action, so Douglas will likely be hoping that the consensus becomes that Justin Fields or another quarterback becomes a can’t-miss prospect that multiple teams want to trade up for.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) | Last week: 32
Some see the Jaguars as the most appealing head coach opening, but after a 1-15 season it’s not going to be easy to make the franchise competitive. Getting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence at No. 1 overall (as is widely expected) will certainly help, though, and the capital Jacksonville possesses can make the job a blank slate of sorts.