Our article last week shook things up a bit, patting Jacksonville on the back for positioning themselves well in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. Another Jaguars loss (and another Jets win) has solidified the Jags as the first pick in the draft. Now that that’s out of the way, we can focus entirely on the playoff picture.
Eight teams in the AFC have either clinched a postseason berth or can do so this weekend. The NFC boasts 10, thanks in large part to the unpredictable NFC East. We won’t waste any more time ranking teams eliminated from the chase (sorry, fans of those 14 franchises). From now on (until after the Super Bowl), we will only be ranking those teams eligible to move forward. Buckle up!
18. New York Giants (5-10, Last week: 26)
In any other year, the Giants would have been eliminated from playoff contention long ago. But because this is the NFC East in 2020, they still have a shot at 5-10. Don’t bet on it.
Next week: vs. Dallas (6-9)
17. Washington Football Team (6-9, Last week: 17)
Washington is still in the driver’s seat to win their division and host a playoff game. They have lost two in a row, though, and the momentum from their four-game winning streak is all dried up. How distracting will Dwayne Haskins’ release be to the rest of the team?
Next week: at Philadelphia (4-10-1)
16. Los Angeles Rams (9-6, Last week: 12)
If the Rams were healthy, they would be much higher on this list. They aren’t. Injuries have ravaged the Los Angeles roster, to the point that their top-ranked defense will now be asked to win a game despite not having their starting quarterback or either of their top two running backs.
Next week: vs. Arizona (8-7)
15. Arizona Cardinals (8-7, Last week: 15)
Arizona dropped a key game to San Francisco on Saturday, and it may be the reason they’re at home on Wild Card weekend. The Cardinals can right the ship, however, by knocking off banged-up Los Angeles and getting a loss from the Bears. It still feels like this group might be one more year away.
Next week: at Los Angeles Rams (9-6)
14. Dallas Cowboys (6-9, Last week: 20)
The Cowboys are averaging 36 points per game during their three-game winning streak, and they are playing the best football in their lowly division at the moment. Washington swept the season series, so Dallas needs to win and have Philadelphia drop Washington to secure the East title. Of course, the Giants’ defense is stingy enough to spoil those plans altogether.
Next week: at New York Giants (5-10)
13. Indianapolis Colts (10-5, Last week: 7)
Indianapolis steamrolled Pittsburgh in the first half on Sunday, only to shoot themselves in the foot over the entire second half and blow the game. As a result, the Colts now need to win and hope for losses by other contenders to get into the playoffs. They do not own tiebreakers over Tennessee, Cleveland, or Baltimore, so a lot is out of their hands.
Next week: vs. Jacksonville (1-14)
12. Tennessee Titans (10-5, Last week: 6)
For Tennessee, the formula is simple: win, and you’re in. The Titans were caught in an avalanche in Green Bay Sunday night, but they still have tiebreakers over Indianapolis to stay in front in the AFC South. Beating Houston Sunday puts them squarely into the playoffs. Losing would open a whole new can of worms.
Next week: at Houston (4-11)
11. Cleveland Browns (10-5, Last week: 8)
Cleveland could not overcome the Jets after a spike in COVID-19 cases and contact tracing late last week. The Browns’ receiving corps and offensive line were affected in a big way, and it proved to be too much. They’re still in the seventh-seed after the loss, so beating Pittsburgh will keep them in it.
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh (12-3)
10. Miami Dolphins (10-5, Last week: 9)
Tiebreakers are the Dolphins’ best friend right now. Miami is the current five-seed thanks to tiebreakers over Baltimore, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. Winning in Buffalo will be difficult, yet the bigger question may be the lingering situation between Tua Tagovailoa and Ryan Fitzpatrick after the latter replaced the former to beat Las Vegas.
Next week: at Buffalo (12-3)
9. Baltimore Ravens (10-5, Last week: 13)
Baltimore has won four straight and leads the league in point differential through 15 games (+130). Is that a result of blowing out bad teams (like the Cowboys, Jaguars, and Giants), or are the Ravens back to legitimacy? They need only beat one more bad team (Cincinnati) to get into the tournament.
Next week: at Cincinnati (4-10-1)
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3, Last week: 10)
The Steelers locked up the AFC North with their comeback win over the Colts Sunday. The two-seed doesn’t come with a bye like it used to, but Pittsburgh is in play for that as well. Ben Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick make this team a contender, regardless of résumé deficiencies.
Next week: at Cleveland (10-5)
7. Chicago Bears (8-7, Last week: 16)
Our highest climbers this week are the Monsters of the Midway. The Bears have won three straight and have scored at least 33 in each. Those wins came against poor defenses (Houston, Minnesota, and Jacksonville), and the real test comes against rival Green Bay on Sunday.
Next week: vs. Green Bay (12-3)
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5, Last week: 14)
Tampa Bay destroyed Detroit to claim its first playoff berth since 2007 on Saturday. New Orleans captured the division already, but the Bucs will likely be the NFC’s highest-seeded Wild Card, which comes with a trip to the NFC East champion. Who would you trust: a sub-.500 division winner, or a six-time Super Bowl winner?
Next week: vs. Atlanta (4-11)
5. Seattle Seahawks (11-4, Last week: 5)
Seattle–and the NFC West in general–has been streaky this year. Still, they’ve won 11 games and can sneak in to the top seed by the end of the weekend. If the Seahawks win and both Green Bay and New Orleans lose, the 12th Man is back in play for the duration of the playoffs.
Next week: at San Francisco (6-9)
4. New Orleans Saints (11-4, Last week: 11)
Alvin Kamara tied a decades-old NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a game with six. Truthfully, he could have had seven if Taysom Hill wasn’t given the green light to run for one of his own. All told, the Saints have clinched the NFC South and can still nab the top seed.
Next week: at Carolina (5-10)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (14-1, Last week: 2)
Despite being the unquestioned top seed in the AFC (and defending Super Bowl champs), Kansas City looks like it has been sleepwalking for the entire second half of the season. The Chiefs have shown that they can “flip the switch” on both offense and defense, so someone will still have to outplay them to take their crown. However, Andy Reid will surely breathe easier if his team plays well in the first half of their eventual playoff game.
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers (6-9)
2. Buffalo Bills (12-3, Last week: 4)
This is easily the best Bills team in 30 years, since Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith went to four straight Super Bowls. Josh Allen’s transformation from talented-but-raw first-round quarterback to explosive MVP candidate is nearly unprecedented. Buffalo’s monster season could cost them offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who will surely be in line for a head coaching job in the offseason.
Next week: vs. Miami (10-5)
1. Green Bay Packers (12-3, Last week: 3)
Last year’s Packers went 13-3 and held the NFC’s top seed. This year’s version looks to be even better. Based on Sunday night’s result, Aaron Rodgers and Co. will be incredibly hard to beat in Lambeau, so a win against rival Chicago could pave the way to another Super Bowl run.
Next week: at Chicago (8-7)