NFL Playoff Power Rankings

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Nov 19, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General overall view as Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Ramsat the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Rams defeated the Chiefs 54-51 in the highest scoring Monday Night Football game ever. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NFL fans rejoice, the playoffs are here! It feels like just yesterday NFL teams were beginning training camp. We aren’t getting a Jaguars Packers Super Bowl like many ‘experts’ predicted but the playoffs should be thrilling. Let’s break down each playoff team and rank them 1-6, based on conference. And at the end, just for fun, I’ll give my official playoff prediction.

AFC

6. Houston Texans

After starting 0-3, the Houston Texans won 11 of their last 13 games to win their division. That, in itself, is a remarkable achievement. There is a lot to like about this Houston team. They feature a young, exciting, star quarterback in Deshaun Watson and arguably the best receiver in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins. Their defensive line is filled with devil-beasts lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on opposing quarterbacks. On their A-game, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus are unblockable.

However, that star-studded roster is filled with holes. Their offensive line is remarkably poor and has Watson running for his life on a weekly basis. Their defense as a whole is very good but has noticeable holes in the secondary.

When going through the Texans’ win streak, not a lot stands out. They beat the Colts on a failed fourth down call in overtime. They beat the Cowboys in overtime by a hair. It took a late-game rally to down the Bills. Brandon McManus missed a game-winning field goal in the Broncos game. They almost lost to the Jets and likely would have lost to the Redskins if Alex Smith was healthy. All in all, this Texans team is very good and it wouldn’t surprise me if they went far. However, their unimpressive resume, young quarterback, and roster holes place them at the bottom of the AFC for me.

5. Baltimore Ravens

Winners of six of their last seven games, the Baltimore Ravens enter the playoffs as the four seed and one of the hottest teams in the NFL. When the team handed the reigns over to Lamar Jackson, many were rightfully skeptical. However, their run scheme has been the most dominant force in the NFL over the last few weeks and no team has cracked their code yet. They don’t necessarily win with physical dominance but schematic perfection and the blazing utilitarianism of Jackson himself.

On the other side of the ball lies one of the most dominant defensive units in the NFL, a tough, nasty, and fierce unit that has held some of the NFL’s best offenses to meager scoring outputs. The Chargers scored 10, the Falcons scored 16, and the Steelers scored 14 against this vaunted Baltimore defense.

Playing in the modern NFL, it is difficult to win without an effective passing offense. Despite his running prowess, Lamar Jackson has plenty of strides to make as a passer, from technical flaws decision making. If they run into a team who can pick apart their defense, can the Ravens keep up? Their tricky run scheme is effective but I question its sustainability. Some defensive coordinator will eventually figure them out. It could be the Chargers in the wild card or some team in the Super Bowl but it is likely to happen eventually. Ultimately, the inexperience and deficiencies limit the ceiling of the Ravens in the playoffs.

4. New England Patriots

You don’t have to tell me. I know that every year, it feels like the Patriots are falling off. “This year is going to be different!” we all say, until Tom and Bill inevitably rip the hearts of the collective AFC out and remind us of the futility of playing this game. Despite saying this, I’m going to say it. This year could be different.

It is clear to most that the Patriots haven’t been the same this season. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have taken a step back and their roster isn’t as talented as many of the others in the AFC. They’ve faced a handful of bad losses, from the Jaguars to the Titans to the Steelers that have exposed many of their weaknesses. I could go on and on providing claims for this argument but the reality of the fact is Brady and Belichick will probably make me look like a moron when they’re hoisting another Lombardi. But if there is any year for the proverbial dynasty to end, this would be the one.

3. Indianapolis Colts

Call me a homer. Whatever. Whichever way you slice it, the Colts have been arguably the best team in football over the last 10 weeks. After a 1-5 start that was marred with close losses and decimating injuries, the Colts have ripped off nine wins over their last 10 games. Their schedule was admittedly easy but they have signature wins, unlike a team like Houston. They beat the Titans, the number one scoring at the defense at the time, 38-10. They beat the hottest team in the NFL, the Houston Texans, on the road. The Colts shut out the hottest team in the NFL one week later in the Dallas Cowboys.

When you have an elite quarterback like Andrew Luck, anything is possible. People seem to forget the Andrew Luck who dragged a bottom four roster with no competent coaching, run game, or defense to the AFC Championship game. Now, Andrew Luck has all four of those things! The play calling is modern, the run game has been feasting, the defense hasn’t allowed a 100 yard rusher all season and the overall roster is incomparably more talented to that in 2014.

An elite quarterback, a great play caller and a dominant offensive line get you far in the playoffs. Not often does a six seed make a deep run in the playoffs. But given how this Colts team has been playing as of late and the state of their roster, I believe they could make a magical run deep into the playoffs.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

Move over Aaron Rodgers, move over Tom Brady, move over Drew Brees. There’s a new crown jewel of the NFL and his name is Patrick Lavon Mahomes II. Nobody could have predicted this gunslinger from Bryan, Texas, would light the NFL on fire. He’s eclipsed 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, something only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have done. Combine Mahomes with a legendary play caller in Andy Reid and a loaded offense and you have a recipe for an offense whose lowest point total all season was 27.

Their defense is fueled by their defensive line, featuring two dominant edge rushers in Justin Houston and Dee Ford and the engine of the defense Chris Jones. However, the defense isn’t the scariest as real holes exist in the secondary and linebacking corps. It is also yet to be seen how the loss of star running back Kareem Hunt will hurt the offense in the playoffs.

The AFC runs through Arrowhead Stadium, arguably the most difficult place to play in the NFL. With the NFL’s most explosive offense on tap, the Chiefs are a safe bet to win the AFC.

1.Los Angeles Chargers

There is a lot to dislike about this Chargers team. They effectively have no home field advantage playing in a soccer stadium, they can’t find a kicker to save their lives, and they might be the least disciplined of all time. However, all of those factors are ancillary to the fact they have the most complete roster in the NFL.

Despite his age, Phillip Rivers has played like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen are both elite at their positions and LA’s offensive line is much improved. They feature a menacing two headed monster on the defensive line in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Their secondary features many of the best at their position in the NFL, from Casey Hayward to Desmond King to Derwin James.

The Chargers are the fifth seed due to the NFL’s wonderful playoff structure and will not see a home playoff game unless they face the Colts in the AFC Championship (hint hint). They play better on the road, with a chip on their shoulder, feeding on the souls of devastated fans. Don’t sleep on the Chargers because they will come out of nowhere and win this whole thing if the NFL isn’t careful.

NFC

6. Philadelphia Eagles

Haven’t we been here before? Ladies and gentlemen, they’ve done it again. Dead in the water five weeks ago, Nick Foles has led his Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs. Unfortunately for Nick and the city of Brotherly Hate, the magic looks like it is about to run out.

This Philly team is a far cry from the team that won the Super Bowl last season. Carson Wentz is not the problem. He is no MVP this season but played well. The two main culprits for this regression were the offensive line imploding and the Eagles’ secondary morphing into a battlefield infirmary. They were playing your local plumber at cornerback at points in this season. How do you expect Roger, who just fixed your toilet, to cover Amari Cooper?

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I’m sorry Philly but another run to the Super Bowl is not coming. Without Carson Wentz, any chance they had evaporated, despite what history has to say.

5. Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys are one of the best stories of the NFL season. They came back from 3-5 to make the playoffs, finishing the season as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Their only real roadblock in the latter half of the season was a 23-0 shutout by the Indianapolis Colts.

Dealing with offensive line injuries aplenty, Ezekiel Elliot still put the Dallas offense on his back, inconsequentially cementing his status as an elite NFL running back. The midseason acquisition of Amari Cooper gave the offensive a massive vertical spark. The Cowboys’ defense has been one of the best units in the NFL with studs at all three levels. DeMarcus Lawrence puts fear in the hearts of right tackles, Leighton Vander Esch is the second best rookie linebacker, and Byron Jones had a career renaissance at cornerback.

Despite all of their aforementioned strengths, I simply do not trust Dak Prescott. He’s a glorified Andy Dalton, a game manager who cannot carry his team to wins. Maybe he proves me wrong and takes Dallas far but he should be the player holding them back from being a real contender.

4. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are the Colts of the NFC. They have an elite quarterback, an incredible coach, and a tough defense. Just like Indianapolis, many predicted Seattle to be the cellar dweller of the NFC. As if we all needed it, the Seahawks gave all of the NFL word another lesson that with a great coach and quarterback, anything is possible.

Despite the absence of Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, and Earl Thomas, this team isn’t too different from the Legion of Boom Seahawks. They play tough, hard-nosed defense, run the ball down opponents’ throats, take advantage of their roaring home field advantage, and let Russell Wilson run around and make magic happen when things hit the fan.

The Seahawks are my dark horse team to win the Super Bowl in both conference. I trust Russell Wilson over any other quarterback in the NFC and the camaraderie he has with Pete Carroll and his receivers could take Seattle far.

3. Chicago Bears

The Monsters of the Midway are back. Forget 1985, this is the year of our lord 2018 where defense reigns supreme in the Windy City. There isn’t a defense in the last decade or so that I would fear more than the 2018 Chicago Bears playing in the cold Soldier Field. Winter has come and the goons in orange lurk in the snow.

On any given day, the Bears defense can break a game. When Jon Gruden gave them the early Christmas present of Khalil Mack, this defense went to the next level. Mack is the most dominant pure pass rusher in the NFL. Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos are Pro Bowlers and Eddie Jackson is the best safety in the NFL. Not even the most electric offenses can muster a solution for the Bears in Winter, see the LA Rams. On the other side of the ball, a masterful play caller in Matt Nagy helps the fledgling Mitch Trubisky succeed with his bevy of weapons, from Tarik Cohen to Jordan Howard to Taylor Gabriel.

If the Bears had home field advantage, they would make a strong case to be the number one team in this power ranking. There isn’t an offense in the NFL bar maybe the Chiefs that can hang with this defense in Soldier. However, this defense takes a baby step back on the road. More than that is my lack of faith in Mitch Trubisky to outduel the likes of Drew Brees and Jared Goff on the road. The growth of Mitch Trubisky is paramount for a Chicago Super Bowl run. Will he remain a cub, cowering in his mother’s shadow, or grow into a fierce grizzly and maul anything in his way.

2. Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams are a buzzsaw. When their offense is clicking, there isn‘t a defense in the NFL that can put a dent in their game plan. Sean McVay’s play calling is one of the best in the NFL. When given the right play calls, Jared Goff can execute at the highest level. Todd Gurley is unstoppable in their zone run scheme, operating behind one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. Even without Cooper Kupp, the Ram receiving corps can beat you in a myriad of ways.

However, there is plenty to be concerned with regarding this LA team. When the offense isn’t firing on all cylinders, Jared Goff can struggle mightily. See the games against Chicago and Detroit: when the offense is off schedule, he struggles to improvise. Outside of all-world defensive god Aaron Donald and Aqub Talib, the Rams’ defense is filled with holes. The pass rush is unspectacular and the linebacking corps and much of the secondary is inconsistent.

If the Rams can keep everything the way they like it, they will have a strong chance of winning the Super Bowl, as nobody can really stop them. But if they run into a defense that happens to wall them off and make them adjust on the fly, the Rams could exit the playoffs earlier than they’d hope.

1.New Orleans Saints

The Saints are a machine. They aren’t going to burn teams over the top for one play scores like the Chiefs. They aren’t going to suffocate teams on defense like the Bears. What they will do is punch teams in the mouth over and over and over again until they win by judges’ decision.

Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and he isn’t going to try and eat the whole cookie in one bite. He’s going to nibble away at it for four straight quarters until there is no cookie left. They’re going to pound the rock inside with Mark Ingram, get Alvin Kamara the ball in space, and feed Michael Thomas the ball as many times as they need to in order to win the game. Their defense has been disappointing but with a superstar corner in Marshon Lattimore and a star pass rusher in Cameron Jordan, big plays can happen.

With an elite quarterback, coach, running back, and receiver, the Saints are a safe bet to make it all the way to the Super Bowl and to win the whole thing.

My consummate playoff power rankings look like this:

12. Philadelphia Eagles

11. Houston Texans

10. Dallas Cowboys

9. Baltimore Ravens

8. New England Patriots

7. Seattle Seahawks

6. Chicago Bears

5. Indianapolis Colts

4. Los Angeles Rams

3. Kansas City Chiefs

2. Los Angeles Chargers

1.New Orleans Saints

Here is my prediction. Feel free to come at me on Twitter for any of these opinions. I’m always open to debate!

Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.

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