The 100th NFL regular season is now in the books. After a thrilling week 17 which gave us many memorable moments, we now say goodbye to 20 teams. With those 20 teams planning for 2020, our attention can be turned to the 12 playoff teams. Last night, the NFL announced the schedule for the playoffs which can be found here. In this piece, the 12 playoff teams will be ranked to determine who the best teams are, regardless of seed. For these NFL playoff teams, injuries and recent games will have as much weight as the overall body of work.
Ranking the NFL Playoff Teams
True Contending Playoff Teams
1. Baltimore Ravens (14-2)
We begin with arguably one of the best regular-season teams ever. Simply put, the Baltimore Ravens are more talented than anyone else in the league. In fact, the Ravens had 12 players selected for the Pro Bowl this year. Led by the likely MVP Lamar Jackson, and likely coach of the year, John Harbaugh, the Ravens will be hard to stop in January.
Currently, they are as hot as ever, and in week 17, broke the NFL record for most team rushing yards in one season. The only question mark you can find on this roster is the health of running back Mark Ingram. Luckily for them, Ingram believes he will be good to go.
2. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Finishing as the third seed in the NFC, the New Orleans Saints are currently playing better than anyone else in the conference. Look no further, in their last four games, the Saints are averaging 40.5 PPG. Since their stunning Week 10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints scored above 30 points in six of their final seven games. On defense, despite losing Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins for the year, this unit is still talented enough to win games. Led by Cameron Jordan with 15.5 sacks, the biggest concern the Saints have is having to potentially play on the road should they advance instead of at home.
3. San Fransisco 49ers (13-3)
Despite beating the Saints in week 14, the San Fransisco 49ers finish one spot below them in these power rankings. As the number one seed in the NFC, they have a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the playoffs. On offense, they’ve been a transformed unit since acquiring Emmanuel Sanders at the trade deadline. They also remain one of the most lethal rushing attacks in the NFL, having finished second in rushing yards per game in 2019. Defensively they remain above average talent-wise but slowed down statistically over the last month. Kyle Shanahan will have his team ready to play nonetheless, and the 49ers should be considered a favorite.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
Thanks to the Miami Dolphins upsetting the New England Patriots in week 17, the Kansas City Chiefs find themselves in the two seed in the AFC. The Chiefs are the biggest threat to the Ravens, thanks to their stout pass defense, and a QB that can hang with Lamar Jackson in Patrick Mahomes. Last year, their pass defense is what caused them a chance at the Super Bowl. They’ve completely turned that around in 2019, allowing the seventh-fewest points in the NFL, and eighth-fewest passing yards. Unfortunately, they will have to go into the playoffs without rookie safety Juan Thornhill who tore his ACL in week 17.
Just Short Of Contending
5. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
The Green Bay Packers are the third team to finish 13-3, and the team that finished second in the NFC. Yet the Packers don’t have the same level of flashiness as the 49ers and Saints. In Sunday’s game against the ghastly Detroit Lions, the Packers didn’t lead until they won the game off a Mason Crosby field goal. In both games against the Lions this year, the Packers led for a total of zero seconds before winning both games. But the Packers are 13-3 and that deserves respect. Playing in Lambo in January weather is arguably the biggest home-field advantage there is in the league. Led by Za’Darius Smith (13 sacks) and Preston Smith (12 sacks), the defense has come alive as of late and will put up a fight against whoever they face.
6. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
The Seattle Seahawks will be playing on wild card weekend on the road. On Sunday night, they just barely missed a chance to beat the 49ers, and play at home instead. In spite of that, the Seahawks have a chance to cause some chaos in the NFC. Russell Wilson played at an MVP level for most of the season and should keep it up in the postseason. Marshawn Lynch can provide the power run game Seattle desperately needs with injuries to Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise. What is holding them back is a subpar defense that failed to hold their opponent below 24 points in the last five games, and a habit of playing every game close.
7. New England Patriots (12-4)
Anything is possible in the NFL, but it certainly feels like this could be the year the Patriots fall early in the playoffs. After choking in week 17 against the Dolphins, the Patriots have to play in the wild card round for the first time in ten years. Despite the defense being talked about as historically great in the first half of the season, their offense has held them back. After the schedule became tougher halfway through the season, the Patriots finished with a 4-4 record. Outside of Julian Edelman and James White, Tom Brady has struggled to gain a rapport with his weapons. The defense led by Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) candidate Stephon Gilmore will keep New England competitive, and Bill Belichick should never be counted out.
Playoff Teams A Year Away
8. Tennessee Titans (9-7)
The Tennessee Titans are the surprise team on this list. Finishing with a 9-7 record for the fourth straight year, don’t let their record fool you. The Titans have been one of the best offenses in the NFL since Ryan Tannehill took over as the starting QB. They are the sixth-ranked most efficient offense in DVOA, have the league’s leading rusher Derrick Henry (1540 yards), and have a 1000 yard rookie receiver in A.J Brown. Since Tannehill took over in week 7, the Titans lead the league in yards per play at 6.94. Unfortunately for them, their defense leaves a lot to be desired, especially in pass defense. Traveling to New England will prove to be a challenge for this team, but they’re talented enough to keep it close at the very least.
9. Houston Texans (10-6)
Even though they won the AFC South over the Titans, the Houston Texans finish one spot lower than them. Their defense hasn’t been very good since J.J. Watt went out with injury, and it’s been apparent on film. They’re 22nd in defensive DVOA and have next to no pass rush (26th in sacks). Watt was activated off of IR for the Texans, but even if he does play, it is highly unlikely he’s the game wrecker we’ve come to know him as. That said, superstars Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins provide them a chance to win every game, and the running game along with their pass blocking has been better than expected. Unfortunately for Houston, their best football was played earlier in the season, which is why they’re this low in these power rankings.
10. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
At this point, talking about Kirk Cousins and his struggles in primetime feel redundant. But entering the playoffs, we’ve been given no reason not to talk about it. After losing the NFC to the Packers in week 16 in one of the most embarrassing offensive performances ever, the Minnesota Vikings rested their starters in week 17 and lost to the Chicago Bears. It should be noted that star running back Dalvin Cook has been nursing an injured shoulder in these two games. When Cook was healthy, the Vikings offense was as good as any. A big reason they get knocked lower in these power rankings is having to play on the road instead of at home. In my last article, the advantage the Vikings have at home compared to the road was highlighted with their big difference in their record.
11. Buffalo Bills (10-6)
Out of all the teams listed in these power rankings, the Buffalo Bills have the most suspect quarterback. Josh Allen has improved from last season, but still lacks putting consistent touch on his passes. The Bills finished the season with the seventh-fewest passing yards per game, but the eighth-best rushing game. Their defense overtook the Patriots as the best defense in the AFC East over the second half of 2019 and has no real weakness. The Bills have exceeded our expectations and could be contenders next season should the team remain together through the offseason. But after having failed to beat the Patriots twice, the Bills have shown they’re still a year away.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
Last but not least, the NFC East champions Philadelphia Eagles bring up the rear. The biggest positive you can say for the Eagles is that they’ve been hitting their stride on offense lately. Greg Ward has become a top option for Carson Wentz, Miles Sanders has broken out, and they still have a good tight end in Dallas Goedert. Now time for the bad news. Zach Ertz, their leading receiver, is dealing with a lacerated kidney among other injuries, and his status for the playoffs is in the air. The Eagles finished 4-6 outside of their division, and are the most injury-depleted of the playoff teams. A win over Seattle would be a major upset.
These Playoff Teams Are Capable Of Anything
Despite these playoff teams being ranked one through 12, anything can happen and we’ve seen it time and time again in history. It’s fitting that the 100th season of the NFL will conclude with a playoff field this stacked. There are three teams in the NFC who finished 13-3 and a legitimate case can be made for why half or more of these teams are legitimate threats to bring home the Lombardi trophy. Anything can happen, and in a year full of unpredictability, the postseason could very well continue that trend.
Embed from Getty Images