NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Wild-Card Playoffs?
Fans might not realize just how much work goes into an NFL season.
It's much more than a four-month process. For players, life outside football ends in March. The season then runs through training camp and finally through regular-season Sundays. During that span, almost every hour of every day is dedicated to the game.
The season is even more consuming for NFL coaches, let me tell you. I spent more than a year in that role. There isn't a waking moment that doesn't involve football.
Some players and coaches are now moving on to some well-deserved rest, while the lucky ones are headed toward the NFL's second season.
Now, it's easy to dismiss the concept of a "second season" as cliche, but the playoffs really do bring a new beginning for the teams involved. The past 17 weeks no longer matter because one loss will end things for even the best of teams.
Coaches will bring new looks to their schemes to keep opponents off guard, and players will ramp up the intensity like never before. Tell grown men who don't have guaranteed contracts they can earn more money by winning, and they'll be motivated to keep winning.
As the veterans on my playoff teams used to say, "the postseason is a whole different animal."
Roughly a third of the league is headed to the playoffs, while the rest is looking ahead toward the future. Here's how I view every team.
32. Cleveland Browns
Last Week's Ranking: 32
I feel bad for the Cleveland Browns. They played hard against the Pittsburgh Steelers and had chances to win. In typical Browns fashion, though, they found ways to blow it in the most important moments.
I have hurt for Hue Jackson. I have a lot of respect for him because he's a good, hard-nosed coach who has been put in a tough situation. I won't be surprised if the Browns make a coaching change, even though owner Jimmy Haslam has voiced his support for Jackson.
The good news is that general manager John Dorsey is the right guy to help turn the franchise around through the draft. Dorsey was a Green Bay Packers guy, and building through the draft is what Green Bay has done for years.
31. New York Giants
Last Week's Ranking: 31
The New York Giants made a great move by hiring Dave Gettleman. He'll make this a Giants team like the ones we remember from 2007 and 2011: big and physical on both sides of the ball.
The question is what happens with Eli Manning? If I'm the general manager and thinking from a business standpoint, I'm moving on from Manning and looking toward the future.
The Giants are entering rebuilding mode, and this is going to be a new era for New York. It's going to take some getting used to. However, there is a solid foundation in place, and the right man is in place to lead the Giants in their new direction.
30. Houston Texans
Last Week's Ranking: 29
It's going to be interesting to see if coach Bill O'Brien stays with the Houston Texans. My understanding is that before this year, he didn't want to be there. Now that the Texans have Deshaun Watson, though, I bet he's changed his mind.
The rift behind the scenes between O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith is real, based on what I've heard. That will need to be addressed. However, I still feel O'Brien will return.
O'Brien delivered three winning seasons and two playoff appearances without a franchise quarterback on the roster. Now he has one in Watson. Expect the Texans to be back in the playoff mix next season and to be a dangerous team to deal with.
29. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week's Ranking: 30
I have a lot of respect for Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, and I think he's getting a raw deal in getting fired.
I get it. Pagano is a face of a franchise that has had two seasons of subpar play. A change needs to be made to shift the culture in the building. Pagano is a solid coach, though, who didn't have a great general manager in Ryan Grigson and who spent the better part of the past two years without Andrew Luck.
The future of the Colts rests largely on the health of Luck. However, the roster is in good hands with Chris Ballard, who should bring in better talent than Grigson did.
28. Denver Broncos
Last Week's Ranking: 28
The Denver Broncos are going to have one of the most interesting early offseasons in the NFL coming up.
The Broncos have to figure out if they've seen enough from Paxton Lynch at quarterback. That's going to be a tough decision for John Elway. First, though, he's going to have to figure out if he wants to keep Vance Joseph as his head coach. In my head, I would say no.
There were some discouraging reoccurring issues in 2017 that can be blamed on the head coaching job. Having one of the best general managers in the league in Elway will be a big plus in figuring this out.
27. Chicago Bears
Last Week's Ranking: 26
I expect the Chicago Bears to make a head coaching change, but I'll be more interested to see what happens with offensive and defensive coordinators Dowell Loggains and Vic Fangio. Both have excelled.
The Bears have accomplished the three hardest things needed for a good football team. They have a franchise quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky, and they have built up their offensive and defensive lines.
Now, it's just about getting speed and talent on the edges. With a few top-tier receivers and defensive backs on the roster, Chicago should be back in the playoff hunt.
26. New York Jets
Last Week's Ranking: 24
It was a great move by the New York Jets to keep coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan. This is a team on the right track.
New York needs to find a franchise quarterback moving forward; that's certainly an issue. The Jets also need to decide if they want to start their new franchise quarterback next season or if they want to bring back Josh McCown to bridge the gap.
If the Jets want to immediately move on to a new starter, they may put their efforts into the free-agent and trade markets rather than looking to the draft.
Either way, watch out for the Jets in 2018. They aren't far off.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week's Ranking: 27
Sunday's win was the perfect example of why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should keep Dirk Koetter as head coach and should be excited about Jameis Winston at quarterback. When things go right, these two are capable of producing a dangerous and explosive offense that will win games.
I understand that Winston makes some boneheaded plays at times, but the Buccaneers don't beat the New Orleans Saints in Week 17 if he isn't under center. The amount of pressure he puts on defenses with his aggressive mindset is a weapon.
Winston needs to rein it in a little bit and be more careful with the ball, but he and Koetter are a perfect match. The question now is what to do with defensive coordinator Mike Smith. I'm not a fan of his scheme in general.
The Buccaneers also need to add more talent. They need offensive line help, a legit running back and support along the defensive line and in the secondary.
24. Miami Dolphins
Last Week's Ranking: 22
The future is bright for the Miami Dolphins.
Adam Gase has the Dolphins on the right track, and there are a lot of strong pieces in place. Miami will have a healthy Ryan Tannehill at quarterback next season, and he'll be a huge upgrade over Jay Cutler.
Miami's offense could use some help on the offensive line, and the defense could use a top-tier player or two—especially in the secondary. However, Miami is not far from being a playoff team in 2018.
23. Oakland Raiders
Last Week's Ranking: 21
The Oakland Raiders were one of the most disappointing teams in football in 2017; there's no other way to put it.
I would have been inclined to keep the status quo with Jack Del Rio. Let's not forget about the season he put together a year ago. However, it looks like the Raiders are dumping him in favor of Jon Gruden—at least according to his current employer, ESPN—and I totally understand the move.
Gruden is the epitome of a Raider, and he understands what Raiders players are all about. Expect him to bring some swagger and energy to the franchise that it can carry into Las Vegas down the road.
Oakland might have been able to win the Super Bowl if Derek Carr hadn't gotten hurt last season. The Raiders aren't far off from being that team again.
22. Green Bay Packers
Last Week's Ranking: 20
It's a positive that the Packers are going to move on from Dom Capers as defensive coordinator. He's had a good run, but it has run its course. Head coach Mike McCarthy needs to find a new offensive coordinator as well.
My big issue with the Packers has been there's too much pressure on Aaron Rogers. The offensive system is too dependent on him. I like McCarthy as a head coach, but I don't like him as a play-caller.
Green Bay needs to find a marquee running back to help Rodgers, and it needs to find a few more difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball.
21. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week's Ranking: 23
How can you not be excited about what the future looks like for the San Francisco 49ers? Jimmy Garoppolo has completely changed the outlook of this organization. Kyle Shanahan is as creative an offensive game-planner as there is in football.
I have a lot of confidence in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as well.
The 49ers have some key pieces in place, and they have a lot of cap room to spend in the offseason. Of course, they also have the two biggest pieces for the franchise in place in Garoppolo and Shanahan. Don't be surprised if San Francisco does a complete 180 in 2018 and vies for the NFC West crown.
20. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week's Ranking: 19
From everything I've heard in football circles, this was Bruce Arians' last game as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. I believe he's going to step away and retire because of health reasons. If this is the case, at least Arizona made sure he went out with a win.
Arizona is caught in the middle. There is some exciting talent at key positions, but there are also older players who need to be changed out. Of course, quarterback needs to be addressed in the offseason. Don't expect Carson Palmer to ride back in and save Arizona in 2018.
I'm excited about some of the young talent on this roster, but I'll be interested to see how Arizona attacks the offseason because of some of the major holes that do exist.
19. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week's Ranking: 25
You can see the talent the Cincinnati Bengals have. I think Marvin Lewis is on his way out, and I think that whoever takes over this team is striking a gold mine.
All the new regime will have to figure out is whether to keep Andy Dalton at quarterback. Either way, there is a ton of talent on both sides of the ball.
Don't be surprised if Cincinnati is back in the playoff race in 2018.
18. Washington Redskins
Last Week's Ranking: 16
It sounds like the Washington Redskins are going to keep their coaching staff together, and I hope they do. This team is close. Washington was ravaged by injuries in 2017, it isn't a team that needs to make a coaching change.
The big question will be Kirk Cousins. I believe Cousins wants to leave town, but the Redskins cannot afford to let him. I expect Washington to try franchising him one more time while trying to reach a long-term extension.
If the Redskins don't franchise Cousins, teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Broncos will try to outbid Washington for his services.
17. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week's Ranking: 13
Hopefully this season will make head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider realize that it's time to start turning over the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks roster has gotten a year too old, and Seattle has given a large percentage of its salary cap to a few key players. It's hard to sustain success in this league with that kind of formula. It's time to start spending some money on fresh new talent.
The Seahawks need to get Russell Wilson some help along the offensive line and in the ground game. They also need to get younger on defense. I expect Seattle to be back in the playoff mix next season, but this is a team entering a semi-rebuilding mode.
16. Detroit Lions
Last Week's Ranking: 17
The Lions finished the season on a strong note, and they've continued to stay in the playoff conversation the last few years. These are positives for the franchise, but it's been the same old story at the same time.
Detroit isn't going to be a contender if it doesn't find more help for Matthew Stafford in all other phases of the game.
The defense needs a few more pieces, and the offense needs a true workhorse back. Stafford cannot continue doing everything himself every week.
I'll be interested to see what the Lions do at head coach after firing Jim Caldwell. If I had to bet money, I'd pick general manager Bob Quinn—who came from New England—to go after one of the Patriots' coordinators.
15. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week's Ranking: 10
This was a heartbreaking loss for the Baltimore Ravens. It highlighted the problems we've seen from the team all season. The offense was nonexistent in the first half, and the defense was unable to close the game out with a fourth-quarter lead.
This team misses the pass-rushers of the Baltimore teams of old. In the past, the Ravens had guys who could forget about schemes and make plays on the quarterback on their own. It's been more of a struggle to create pressure this season.
Even though this season ended in disappointment, I expect a rebound in 2018. The Ravens are well-coached. They just need to get healthy and add a few more pieces. Another capable receiver and a little more defensive speed, and the Ravens could be right back in the Super Bowl hunt.
14. Buffalo Bills
Last Week's Ranking: 18
I can't say enough about the Buffalo Bills and what they've been able to accomplish this season. Even if they can't move past Wild Card Weekend, getting to the playoffs is a huge accomplishment. This is a credit to Sean McDermott and how he's changed the culture of this organization.
The Bills have been a more detailed and sound football team this year. They aren't super talented, but if they can play disciplined defense and run the ball well, they can be a pain in the ass for the Jacksonville Jaguars next week.
Unfortunately, it's going to be harder to run effectively if LeSean McCoy cannot go. He was carted off in Sunday's game with an ankle sprain. Buffalo needs him to be healthy.
13. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week's Ranking: 14
If I were in charge, I'd keep head coach Jason Garrett, but I'd seriously consider changing the coordinators. The offense lacks imagination, and the same can be said about the defense.
The Dallas Cowboys are close, though. With just a few additions here and there, this is a team that can be back in the playoff conversation next year.
There is a lot of young talent on Dallas' roster and some tremendous building blocks in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
12. Tennessee Titans
Last Week's Ranking: 15
The Tennessee Titans did what they had to do to get into the postseason. They weren't awesome against the Jaguars, but they made enough tough, gritty plays to get the win.
Marcus Mariota was especially impressive with some of the big runs he made to put the game away.
The Titans and their run game match up well with Kansas City, and they should be able to move the ball. The Titans aren't one of the more dangerous teams in the postseason, but their schemes and their physicality will give them a decent chance of knocking off the Chiefs.
11. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week's Ranking: 12
They might not be headed to the postseason, but for my money, the Los Angeles Chargers are still one of the best teams in the AFC.
The fact L.A. isn't in the postseason just goes to show how close this league is. You can't afford to blow games at any point in the season, and the Chargers blew way too many of them early in the year.
Still, the future is bright for Los Angeles. I have a lot of respect for and faith in head coach Anthony Lynn. The Chargers have a lot of talent on their roster too. There isn't much this team needs to add. The Chargers found their groove late in the season, and there's a lot in place to build upon in 2018.
10. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week's Ranking: 11
The Atlanta Falcons are a dangerous football team. We're still seeing some of the same inconsistencies we've seen from them all year, though. They dominated the first half Sunday but still went into halftime tied.
However, you cannot deny the team speed the Falcons have on defense or the playmakers they have on offense. Of course, this is also a team that has a lot of playoff experience after falling just short of winning the Super Bowl last year.
I expect the Falcons to give the Rams everything they can handle next week in L.A.
9. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week's Ranking: 9
It was awesome to see Patrick Mahomes playing quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs. The kid's a natural playmaker. I don't think anyone can deny that after watching him. Mahomes has starter ability, and I'm excited about that.
I'm also excited to see the Chiefs in the postseason. Kansas City has been terrific over the past few weeks, and the offensive resurgence under coordinator Matt Nagy has been impressive. The defense has been playing better, and the run game is back on track.
All of this leads me to believe the Chiefs are ready to make some noise in the playoffs. They might not be the best team in the AFC, but they're capable of beating any team in the conference when things go according to plan.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week's Ranking: 8
Oof. This was a discouraging game if you're a Philadelphia Eagles fan. It was good from the defensive standpoint, but I'm not worried about the Philadelphia defense in the playoffs.
What I'm worried about is the offense without Carson Wentz. He was the best playmaker in football this season; there's no other way to say it. Philadelphia had one of the best third-down conversion percentages because of Wentz. They also had the most 3rd-and-long scenarios. That just shows the holes Wentz was covering in the offense.
The way things look with Nick Foles under center, I believe the Eagles are a one-and-done team in the postseason. The defense will keep them in the game, but I don't see Foles delivering a victory.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week's Ranking: 7
The Jaguars defense is still special, but Jacksonville has to find more creative ways to get the run game going. When the offense has to rely on Blake Bortles throwing the ball, it's hard for them to beat a quality opponent.
The best thing for the Jaguars is that the Tennessee Titans aren't coming to town next weekend. Jacksonville matches up much better with the Buffalo Bills, especially now that McCoy is dealing with an ankle injury.
I still believe in the talent the Jaguars have on their roster, but Jacksonville is going to have to play within a certain formula to beat some of these better teams in the playoffs—specifically, the Jags cannot rely heavily on Bortles.
6. Carolina Panthers
Last Week's Ranking: 6
The Carolina Panthers are big, they're physical and their defense is going to be a handful for anyone it comes across in the postseason. The problem is there isn't anyone on offense to be scared of other than Cam Newton.
Having to go to New Orleans is a postseason problem because the Saints handled the Panthers both times they've faced them this season.
Can Carolina find ways to consistently move the ball and make explosive plays against the Saints defense? If not, the Panthers better dial up some creative runs for Newton, because their fate will rest on him.
5. New Orleans Saints
Last Week's Ranking: 5
This was a disappointing loss for the Saints, but the Buccaneers match up well with them. The Saints want to be aggressive on defense, and Tampa has the passing attack to take advantage of that. New Orleans matches up a lot better with Carolina, so having the Panthers come to town in the postseason is a blessing.
I still think the Saints are a team to watch in the NFC playoffs. They have playmakers on defense, and they can run the ball hard with both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Of course, we all know what Drew Brees is capable of doing when the game is on his shoulders.
I won't be shocked if the Saints make it to the Super Bowl. The construction of their roster and the mind of coach Sean Payton will allow New Orleans to go on the road and win a game in a place like Philadelphia.
4. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week's Ranking: 4
I put zero stock in the Rams' loss in Week 17. Los Angeles was resting up to ensure it put its best foot forward on Wild Card Weekend. I agree with that decision.
The Rams are a super-talented team with some special players at key positions. They have offensive and defensive play-callers in Sean McVay and Wade Phillips who are as good as it gets. They also have a special teams unit that was one of the league's best before the injury to kicker Greg Zuerlein.
I will say this: Atlanta coming to town is an issue for the Rams. The speed of the Falcons defense and the explosive weapons on offense make for one of the worst matchups L.A. could have drawn. Still, the Rams are one of the best teams in football, and I expect them to come out of the weekend with a win.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week's Ranking: 3
Let's be serious: Did we need one more good performance from Case Keenum to be sure he's a playoff-worthy quarterback? That's what we got from him in an efficient effort against the Bears on Sunday.
Minnesota is for real. It has talent on all levels of the offense, and the defense is special. The Vikings match up well with every team they might face in the postseason.
The Vikings can win the Super Bowl, and that's the easiest way to explain how I view them moving forward.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week's Ranking: 2
The Steelers are one of the best teams in football; we all know that.
The defensive front is solid, and the secondary has shown improvement since the return of cornerback Joe Haden. Even if Antonio Brown doesn't return at 100 percent, the Steelers have enough weapons to match points with anyone in the league.
I expect Pittsburgh to be in the AFC Championship Game with the Patriots and for that game to come down to the wire like it did a couple of weeks ago.
I'd be shocked if the Steelers don't notch at least one playoff victory this year.
1. New England Patriots
Last Week's Ranking: 1
The New England Patriots haven't been playing their best football in recent weeks, and Tom Brady has been off. That's concerning. However, I do expect some of the issues to be fixed during the bye week.
An extra week off will allow New England to get healthy, and it should help refresh Brady—let's not forget he's 40 year's old. Brady isn't some deity; he's just a quarterback, and he's going to wear down.
The Patriots are still my favorites to win the Super Bowl, but I do have concerns with them heading into the postseason. We'll find out in a couple of weeks just how warranted those concerns are.