With the playoffs around the corner, I am pulling together my power rankings. This is 100% my feeling on where I think the power lies between the AFC and NFC teams. It factors in some stats, some experience, and some gut feelings on which teams will and won’t succeed in the playoffs. The playoffs are a captivating time of year where upsets can happen and carry a team—remember the Titans from a few years ago?
1.) LA Rams: The most complete team in my opinion. They have the defense, the QB, the elite WR, and they have kept a disciplined nature on offense (limiting their penalties). They have a strong third down conversion rate, and a strong kicking game which might come in handy under pressure. The handicap with LA will be if Sony Michel can come through as he has done through the latter half of the season (when some of the teams who were eliminated might have let up on defense a small amount).
2.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The prevailing Super Bowl champs are back in the mix again, and how can you bet against Tom Brady? I do fear a bit for their WR situation with injuries and releases, but it seems like their running game is going as strong as ever. They have a strong offensive line, when they get to the red zone they score, and they have an excellent rush defense. However, they don’t have the strongest special teams, their defense is penalized a lot, and their path of Green Bay after Philadelphia could be rough.
3.) Green Bay Packers: Discipline is the name of the game with The Packers, who are ELITE at creating turnovers while also limiting penalties AND turnovers on their side of the ball. They are top six in interceptions and top half in fumbles, while sitting in the bottom five in both categories. That is a powerful part of their winning formula. Their defense is very much bend-don’t-break, allowing short area passes but not too many long ones. The biggest strength will be Aaron Rodgers, who is having yet another unbelievable season. Their kicking game could be a severe hinderance, as their lack of risk-taking has actually limited their TD conversion rate in the red zone.
4.) Dallas Cowboys. Easily one of the most lethal offenses in the playoffs, the Cowboys come in with many of their weapons intact and ready to roll. Dak Prescott has a 1-2 record in the playoffs and he continues to have a strong rushing game to complement his wide receivers. The rush defense for Dallas is somewhat of a bend-don’t-break, as they have limited the rush TDs this season but allowed plenty of yardage. Meanwhile, the Cowboys pass defense is aggressive, which has yielded incompletions AND interceptions—but it has also created quite a few lengthy completions. I see this akin to live by the three in March Madness. It will work great…until it doesn’t.
5.) San Francisco 49ers. A week ago I would have had the 49ers up a spot as they seemed like a sneaky play vs. the Cowboys. If you watched the 49ers late they have really pulled together a strong and complete unit. A healthy Eli Mitchell gave them a strong rush presence, Jimmy G was in sync with Deebo Samuel, and their defense was giving opposing teams fits as they finished the last half with a 7-2 record. The undisciplined play and penalties will hurt them as will turnovers. There is still a dark horse component with them that I like.
6.) Arizona Cardinals: There will be something special in watching Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray navigate their first playoff game. Both seem to really revel in the spotlight and I think they will be eager to show their skill sets. Kyler has the second-best completion rate in the NFL (69.2%) and can scramble when needed—and Arizona has an equivalent rushing game that can complement those skills. Penalties and special teams play have me concerned about this team, however.
7.) Philadelphia Eagles: There are two sides to this...the first that I think Jalen Hurts could surprise people and turn some heads. This team has enough individual talent to really surprise people. The other and more difficult side is their path to the Super Bowl being with Tampa Bay and Green Bay, and it does not get much tougher than that for any team. The average nature of most of their play will be tough to make a deep run.
1.) Buffalo Bills. The team that was ousted by the Chiefs in the AFC Championship looks to have experience on their back as they enter the playoffs this year. Their offense is among the top in the league in points for per game while being among the top in limiting points against (Madden would love that analysis). While they didn’t use their rushing game as much, it has proven to be competent and strong, likely complemented by a pass game that spreads the defense out. Offensive penalties could bite them and will be something to watch out for.
2.) Kansas City Chiefs: Experience speaks volumes, and the team who has been to the last two Super Bowls has entered the chat here. At the end of the day Mahomes is likely the most talented QB in the playoffs, and he has repeatedly shown what he can do in the playoffs. Defense is a major issue, especially in allowing yards—where they are bottom five in rush and reception yards. The average line across their last five games was over 56 points.
3.) New England Patriots: The Patriots have a great kicking game and one of the best rushing games in the league (even if you aren’t 100% sure which RB will succeed on a given day). Their offensive line is very solid, giving Mac Jones time and their running backs pockets to exploit. I know this sounds crazy, but I think there is something to be said for the first year experience from Mac on this. Keeping in mind, I have them third I think it will be intriguing to see if Bill can set Jones up for success this quickly this early. No questions on the defense, who have been great against opposing passing games but below average vs. opposing running games.
4.) Cincinnati Bengals: I think the Bengals are one of the teams I have the toughest time predicting. This is a team that lost to Chicago and the New York Jets and then turned around and beat Kansas City after being down 28 – 17 at halftime. They went 4-2 vs. playoff teams this year and have one of the best combos in Burrows to Chase—but even when that fails they will throw 4 wide and use Tee Higgins (1,091 yards), Tyler Boyd (828 yards), and Joe Mixon (314 yards). Their defense is elite vs. the rush but quite porous vs. the pass, which doesn’t bode well against Las Vegas which utilizes Derek Carr heavily.
5.) Tennessee Titans: One of the best rushing teams in the NFL has done so going through a handful of RBs in the process. It’s clear that the Titans will excel on both rushing and stopping the other team’s rush. This means the deciding factor may come down to receiving. The Titans have a great completion percentage, but they don’t pass much and when they do there is a fair number of turnovers. Closing out their season with Jacksonville, Miami, and Houston being three of their final five games makes it a bit tough to see how they will fare vs. the winner of Pittsburgh and Kansas City. The Titans did lose to the Steelers 19-13 in Week 15.
6.) Las Vegas Raiders: The Raiders will air out the ball quite a bit in lieu of rushing the ball and with that their offense will be one-sided. Their defense is fairly average across both rushing and passing the ball but turnovers is where they could suffer. They ended the season -9 which was the sixth-worst turnover differential in the league. While their interceptions thrown was fairly average, they only intercepted six passes, the fewest in the league. This, plus their offensive penalties (highest in league in yards per game and penalties per game) is problematic for a team looking to assert their passing game. They could eek out a win or two with either their momentum (a crazy situation to make the playoffs) or their kicking game, which is one of the best in the league.
7.) Pittsburgh Steelers: There is something to be said of them surprising the competition; however, that novelty can usually only carry a team for 1-2 rounds before teams really wake up and give them their due credence. Pittsburgh can get to opposing QBs with TJ Watt and they have a solid RB and WR but my fear at the end of the day is how much Big Ben can carry them.