B/R NFL Power Rankings: Where Do Playoff Teams Stand Entering Wild Card Weekend?
Back on September 8, the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams began the journey that was the 2022 NFL season. Two hundred and seventy-two games later on January 8, the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions completed that journey.
Only one of those four teams will be playing next week.
It's been a season as filled with surprises as it was with excitement. After winning the Super Bowl last year, the Rams fell apart. After losing the Super Bowl last year, the Cincinnati Bengals continued to thrive. The New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings exceeded expectations. The Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers failed to meet them.
Now, it's time for the second season, as 14 teams begin the monthlong march toward Glendale, Arizona, and Super Bowl XLVII. And just as they have done throughout the regular season, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton and Brent Sobleski have come together to offer their takes on how the 14 playoff teams stack up against one another.
14. Miami Dolphins (9-8, AFC No. 7 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2016 (Lost Wild Card Round at Pittsburgh 30-12)
The good news for the Miami Dolphins is that Sunday's squeaker over the New York Jets combined with New England's loss in Buffalo boosted the team into the postseason for the first time since 2016.
The bad news is that unless the Dolphins get quarterback Tua Tagovailoa back for next week's trip to Buffalo, the playoff trip is going to be a short one.
With both Tagovailoa (concussion) and backup Teddy Bridgewater (hand) sidelined, the Dolphins were forced to turn to rookie Skylar Thompson under center against the Jets. The results were...not good—Thompson barely cracked 150 passing yards, Miami was 4-for-13 on third down and the Dolphins didn't sniff the end zone.
Dolphins wideout Tyreek Hill told reporters he was hopeful Tagovailoa would be available next week.
"We definitely love Tua. The last time we played against the Bills, Tua put up a real good showing," Hill said. "So, just to have him out there—another captain, another leader—would be great."
However, head coach Mike McDaniel had a very different tune regarding the third-year signal-caller.
"We'll continue to take it day by day, and I will not even think about any sort of game, whether that's this year or next year, until he's fully ready to do so. And that comes with medical clearance," McDaniel said.
"With a healthy Tagovailoa out there," Davenport said, "we have already seen the Dolphins beat the Bills this season. Miami's offense can be as explosive as any in the NFL when firing on all cylinders. But the Dolphins aren't good enough defensively to limit good teams in games where the offense isn't playing well. Unless Tagovailoa is somehow cleared for the game with Buffalo, Miami is a hurtling toward a quick exit from the postseason tournament."
13. Seattle Seahawks (9-8, NFC No. 7 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2020 (Lost Wild Card Round vs. Los Angeles Rams 30-20)
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Seattle. The team traded Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos and released veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner during the offseason. The final vestiges of the team's Super Bowl heyday were gone.
The Seahawks were going to use Geno Smith as a bridge starter, stockpile draft picks and look toward the future.
Instead, Smith now holds the single-season franchise record for passing yards. And after the Seahawks survived the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the Seahawks are the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Seahawks are no doubt glad to be in the postseason. But while speaking to reporters after the win over the Rams, head coach Pete Carroll said he was disappointed the team put themselves in the position to need help making the tournament.
"Where you all thought we did all these cool things and all these things, I didn't feel like that. I feel like we missed our chance," Carroll said. "We had five, six games there that could have gone one way or another and then we wouldn't be here talking about what's going on with Detroit right now."
Seattle got that help from the Lions. But Davenport sees this team as one likely to make a quick exit from the playoffs.
"Smith has been light-years better than most expected in 2022," he said. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf are a formidable duo at wide receiver. Rookie running back Kenneth Walker and first-year cornerback Tariq Woolen have both been excellent. And by just about any reasonable measurement, the Seahawks have smashed expectations this season. But the Seahawks are 26th in the NFL in total defense, 25th in scoring defense and lost both meetings this year against the 49ers by a combined score of 48-20. Geno Smith also has a passer rating under 75 in two of the past three games. There's just too much working against Seattle here."
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9, NFC No. 4 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2021 (Lost Divisional Round vs. Los Angeles Rams 30-27)
That the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back in the playoffs as NFC South champions isn't surprising. However, the fact that their Week 17, division-clinching win over the Carolina Panthers put them at 8-8 is another matter altogether.
Most of the struggles that have befallen the Buccaneers this season stem from inconsistencies on offense. However, while the Buccaneers are scoring over 10 fewer points per game this season than in 2021, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich told reporters he believes the concerns about Tampa's offense are overblown.
"I think there's been moments where we really haven't been that bad," Leftwich said. "I think you guys overexaggerated because we look different. The numbers say that we're not that far off. We're off on third down and red zone. It's disappointing, those two things for us as a team with who we have. But when you really listen to people talk about us, that's emotions talking. That's not really people watching us, watching us get better every week. For some reason, everybody want to throw dirt on the Bucs. But we're not ready for people to throw dirt on us."
Leftwich may believe that the Buccaneers can flip a switch. But Moton believes the folks holding shovels might not be that far off.
"On one hand, you have to respect Tom Brady's resume and legacy," he said. "He's a seven-time Super Bowl champion who's played in more postseason games (47) than anyone in NFL history. However, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't pass the eye test as a Super Bowl contender. The Buccaneers won a watered-down NFC South division without a double-digit win total. While they have a top-10 defense, the club ranks 24th in scoring, racking up more than 24 points in a game just twice this season."
"If anyone other than Brady took snaps under center for the Buccaneers," Moton continued, "most of us would agree Tampa Bay will make a quick playoff exit, but TB12 gets the benefit of the doubt even though he's 45 years old."
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8, AFC No. 4 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2017 (Lost AFC Championship Game at New England 24-20)
Not that long ago, the idea that the Jacksonville Jaguars would win the AFC South seemed laughable. When the Jaguars lost to the Denver Broncos in London on October 30, they were a 2-6 team mired in a five-game skid. It was the same old Jaguars. The same old futility.
But where other Jacksonville teams might have folded, these Jaguars rallied. After coming from behind to down the rival Titans for their fifth straight win and sixth in the last seven weeks, the Jaguars are champions of their division in Doug Pederson's first year as head coach.
After the win, Pederson lauded the resiliency his team showed late in the season while speaking to reporters.
"This game tonight kind of symbolizes our season," Pederson said. "There were some struggles, there were some highs and lows, but in the end, we had the victory. I'm so proud of the guys for the way they have—just all season long—just hung together through the face of adversity."
Edge-rusher Josh Allen, who had the game-winning fumble return, said that the recent success has been a matter of just finding ways to win, which is something the Jaguars didn't do early in the season.
"We knew that five-game stretch that we had, we had to find a way to win," Allen said. "And I think we weren't finding those ways to win in that moment. When you lose, you find opportunities; and when we were put back in that situation again, we capitalized. We won in overtime, 17 down, 10 down, kept a lead. You've got to find a way to win, and right now, we're finding multiple ways to win."
"What the Jaguars have accomplished in Pederson's first year is admirable," Davenport said. "Going from the worst record in the NFL to the playoffs is no small feat. The Jaguars also blew out the Los Angeles Chargers (next week's opponent) in L.A. back in Week 3. The Jags have a legitimate shot at winning a playoff game this year, and that has to put Pederson in the Coach of the Year conversation. Jacksonville probably won't get past the Divisional Round, but the future in Duval County is looking pretty bright."
10. New York Giants (9-7-1, NFC No. 6 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2016 (Lost Wild Card Round at Green Bay 38-13)
Among the 14 teams in the postseason this year, there probably isn't a bigger surprise than the New York Giants. Not many expected the Giants to vie for a playoff spot at all in Brian Daboll's first season as the team's head coach. No one expected that heading into the Week 18 finale against the Eagles, the Giants would already have a wild-card spot sewn up.
There have been a number of reasons for New York's surprising success, whether it's the running of Saquon Barkley or the play of Leonard Williams and Julian Love on defense. But the biggest catalyst for New York's playoff run is the play of quarterback Daniel Jones, who has had by far the best season of his career on the final year of his rookie deal. Jones' future in the Big Apple might not be certain, but as former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress told Adam Zagoria of NJ.com, right now the team's focus is 100 percent on the here and now.
"I think (Jones) has a chip on his shoulder," Burress said. "He's going to come out and perform to the point where he can say that he's a starter in this league, whether it's with the Giants or anybody else, we don't know that. But moving forward, I think they're in a great position. Going into the Wild Card, all you really want to do is get into the tournament and roll the balls out to play."
However, while the Giants are a great story, Davenport has his doubts as to whether New York can do damage in the playoffs.
"Daboll deserves a ton of credit," he said. "He's done a fantastic job of working around what Jones does best and getting the best from Jones. The Giants are much better than anyone expected and can't be dismissed. But the Giants are just 17th in total offense and 24th in total defense. There's just isn't anything that New York does at an elite level."
"The Giants also haven't shown they can beat the NFC's best," he continued. "New York went 0-4 this year against the Eagles and Cowboys and also lost to the Vikings back in Week 14. This has the look of a one-and-done playoff appearance."
9. Baltimore Ravens (10-7, AFC No. 6 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2020 (Lost Divisional Round at Buffalo 17-3)
They say familiarity breeds contempt. If that's the case, then the hatred level for the Ravens and Bengals will be high when the two teams meet for the third time next week in Cincinnati.
Sunday's meeting in Cincinnati was never really in doubt, especially with Baltimore deciding to rest several starters. Some saw that as an attempt by the Ravens to avoid tipping their hand, but head coach John Harbaugh told reporters that he isn't approaching next week's third meeting any differently than he did the first.
"I don't gauge that," he said. "What matters is how we come out and prepare for the playoff wild-card round. Our guys have earned that opportunity, and we're looking forward to it."
Star quarterback Lamar Jackson missed his fifth straight game Sunday, but ESPN's Adam Schefter reported over the weekend that there's a "strong chance" he'll be back there out there against the Bengals next week.
That's good, because in Sobleski's opinion, the Ravens have no chance without Jackson.
"Baltimore will go as far as Lamar Jackson's injured knee can carry the team," Sobleski said. "Without the former league MVP in the lineup, the Ravens offense is severely limited. Defenses can load up against the running game without any real threat of being hurt by Baltimore's passing attack. Even with Jackson in the lineup, his mobility could be limited because of the injury, and the team's wide receivers aren't striking fear into the heart of any defensive coordinator. Jackson and head coach John Harbaugh have something to prove this year after the team's 1-3 record in playoff appearances since the start of the 2018 campaign. This doesn't look to be the year anything changes, though."
Given that the Ravens enter the playoffs losers of three of their last four games and haven't scored 20 points in a game since Week 12, it's hard to argue with him.
8. Los Angeles Chargers (10-7, AFC No. 5 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2018 (Lost Divisional Round at New England 41-28)
The Los Angeles Chargers came into the 2022 season with lofty expectations. With a loaded offense and a defense that added some big-name pieces in the offseason, some saw the Bolts as a legitimate threat to the Chiefs in the AFC West.
But L.A's annually terrible injury luck continued, and the Chargers' play was inconsistent. Ten games into the season, the Chargers were 5-5 and in danger of missing the postseason for the fourth consecutive season.
However, as Moton pointed out, it has been a different story since then.
"In the middle of the season," he said, "we had questions about the Los Angeles Chargers. They didn't beat a team with a winning record until Week 14, but the club has gone on a roll since that victory. Furthermore, Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have recovered from injuries, and the Chargers defense has played exceptionally well after Thanksgiving. Los Angeles has allowed fewer than 27 points in five of the past seven weeks. By the way, four-time Pro Bowl edge-rusher Joey Bosa returned from groin surgery in Week 17."
"Even though Los Angeles' postseason journey starts on the road," he continued, "it's a wild-card team that can win multiple playoff games with a balanced roster. The Chargers need Herbert to kick into a higher gear in his first taste of playoff action, because they struggle to run the ball (30th in yards)."
Among the AFC's wild-card teams, the Chargers appear to be the best-equipped to make a run in the postseason tournament. And so long as the defense can continue to keep pace with Herbert, Austin Ekeler and Los Angeles' ninth-ranked offense entering Week 18, the Chargers are going to be the team no one wants to face in a must-win game.
7. Minnesota Vikings (13-4, NFC No. 3 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2019 (Lost Divisional Round at San Francisco 27-10)
There isn't a harder team to figure out in this year's playoffs than the Minnesota Vikings.
On one hand, the Vikings are a 13-win division champion. Those 13 wins tied for the franchise's most since their magical 15-1 campaign in 1998. Minnesota set an NFL record this year with 11 one-score victories and fields the league's seventh-ranked offense in yards and eighth-ranked offense in points.
On the other hand, the Vikings were blasted in blowout losses to the Packers, Cowboys and Eagles. Only the Detroit Lions were worse defensively in terms of yards allowed entering Week 18, and only three teams allowed more points.
Sobleski acknowledged he's not quite sure what to make of these Vikings, though his confidence in the team's ability to pull off a deep postseason run is shaky at best.
"How good are the Vikings really? It's a legitimate question despite Minnesota being the NFC North champions, because it's a team that's gotten away with plenty this year," he said. "In fact, the Vikings are 11-0 in one-score games this season. Yes, a team must possess a certain amount of poise and fortitude to perform so well in tense situations. Yet, the same squad required an NFL-record 33-point comeback against the lowly Indianapolis Colts and just had their hats handed to them by the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. A 5-3 record down the stretch might be a better indicator of Minnesota's status than its 8-1 start."
In some respects, the playoff draw was a blessing to the Vikings. For next week's Wild Card Round, Minnesota drew a Giants team they just beat in Week 16.
But Minnesota's defensive deficiencies aren't going to make it easy to get past the 49ers or Eagles in the Divisional Round.
6. Dallas Cowboys (12-5, NFC No. 5 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2021 (Lost Wild Card Round vs. San Francisco 23-17)
In Sobleski's opinion, the Dallas Cowboys are one of the most dangerous teams in the 2022 postseason. Maybe the most dangerous.
"The Cowboys are the most dangerous team on the NFC side of the ledger," he said. "No, they're not as good overall as the rival Philadelphia Eagles when Jalen Hurts is on the field. But Dallas features too many difference-makers not to worry about them as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Dak Prescott is an underappreciated yet reliable quarterback. Running backs Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott provide a wonderful dynamic duo. CeeDee Lamb is one of the league's best route-runners. On the other side of the ball, Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence are game-wreckers. When the pressure doesn't get to opposing quarterbacks, Trevon Diggs is in the defensive backfield waiting to snag an interception. The Cowboys aren't perfect by any means, but they have the individuals to completely change games."
The problem with these Cowboys is that a one-and-done playoff trip is just as likely as a deep run, depending on which Cowboys team shows up. Dallas has shown the ability to hang a big number on a good team. But they also have struggled with turnovers and looked mostly awful in a Week 18 loss to the Commanders.
Prescott told reporters after the loss that the Cowboys simply cannot play that way next week in Tampa.
"We've got the right guys in this locker room [that] understand nobody played their best ball, simple as that," Prescott said. "It starts with myself—being accountable for what you put out there, what you did. From that, it's about understanding that's not who we are and then moving on and knowing what we've got ahead of us: one play at a time, one game at a time."
If Dallas plays to its potential, it could make it all the way to Glendale and Super Bowl LVII. But if they show up against the Buccaneers as the error-prone mess we saw in Week 18, the 2022 season will end in the same disappointing manner last season did.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (14-3, NFC No. 1 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2021 (Lost Wild Card Round at Tampa Bay 31-15)
As Moton pointed out, something has become plainly evident with the Philadelphia Eagles—this team will go exactly as far as quarterback Jalen Hurts takes it.
"The Philadelphia Eagles need quarterback Jalen Hurts at his best," he said. "They struggled without him, losing back-to-back games with Gardner Minshew starting under center. Hurts' ability as a ball-carrier completes the Eagles' fifth-ranked rushing offense, and he's become an efficient passer, throwing for 22 touchdowns and five interceptions with a 67.3 percent completion rate entering Week 18."
"If Hurts isn't hampered by a shoulder sprain that sidelined him for a couple of games," he continued, "Philadelphia should look closer to the team that won 13 of its first 14 contests before stumbling down the stretch. In the event that he's limited, the Eagles' eighth-ranked scoring defense will have to do its best to limit opponents to a minimum on the scoreboard."
The Eagles are from a one-man band—the Philly defense is second in yards allowed, eighth in points allowed and led the league with a jaw-dropping 70 sacks. With 1,496 receiving yards, A.J. Brown set a new franchise record in his first year with the team.
But Hurts is the engine that drives the offense. And while Hurts' numbers weren't great in Week 18, he led the team to a win that clinched the NFC's No. 1 seed and a bye week. While talking to reporters, head coach Nick Sirianni commended Hurts for playing through a sore shoulder.
"For him to play through what he fought through to get back…there was no more risk, but he was hurting," Sirianni said. "He was hurting bad. But that's just the kind of competitor, that's just the kind of leader he is."
At least Hurts will have the extra week off to get right ahead of the Divisional Round.
4. San Francisco 49ers (13-4, NFC No. 2 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2021 (Lost NFC Championship Game at Los Angeles Rams 20-17)
The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2022 season as a franchise in transition. Despite making it within a game of the Super Bowl last year, the 49ers chose to make a switch at quarterback, handing the offensive reins over to second-year pro Trey Lance.
Lance made it all of two games into the season before fracturing his ankle. The 49ers then went back to Jimmy Garoppolo, who went 7-3 in 10 starts before he also suffered a serious foot injury. That forced the Niners to turn to Brock Purdy, who was the final pick of the 2022 draft.
Since then, "Mr. Irrelevant" has been anything but. Since taking over for Garoppolo, Purdy has thrown 13 touchdown passes against just four interceptions. He entered Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cardinals with a passer rating north of 100. And most importantly, San Francisco hasn't lost a game.
Third-string rookie quarterback or no, Moton sees these 49ers as a dangerous team—and a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
"The San Francisco 49ers lost their top two quarterbacks, but they haven't flinched with Purdy under center," he said. "According to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, the 49ers hold out hope that Garoppolo could return for the postseason, but the coaching staff may want to stick with their current signal-caller. As a starter, Purdy has a 6-0 record.
"Regardless of who starts under center," Moton continued, "the quarterback will have quality support on the other side of the ball. The 49ers defense has stifled most of its opponents this season, allowing only three teams to score more than 27 points. If Purdy or Garoppolo limit their mistakes while making timely plays in the passing game, the 49ers will have a good shot to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Glendale, Arizona."
3. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4, AFC No. 3 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2021 (Lost Super Bowl XLVI vs. Los Angeles Rams 23-20)
When the NFL decided to amend this year's postseason seeding procedures in light of last week's cancelled game between the Bills and Bengals, it created more than a little controversy. And per Steven Taranto of CBS Sports, nobody liked the modified rules less than Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor.
"As far as I'm concerned, we just want the rules to be followed, and when a game is cancelled that you just turn to winning percentage to clarify everything so we don't have to make up the rules," Taylor said. "There's several instances this season where the club is fined or people in our building are fined and we are being told to follow the rules. It's black and white in the rulebook.
"So now, when we point out the rules and you are told we are going to change that, I don't want to hear about fair and equitable when that is the case. ... Opportunities lost for us that we had a chance to control that now we don't, fine. But it seems like there are positives for a lot of teams and just negatives for us."
Cincinnati's Week 18 win over the Ravens eliminated the possibility of a coin flip for home-field advantage in next week's third matchup of the season between the two teams. Moton believes the defending AFC champions have what it takes to get back to the Super Bowl—provided that they can get Joe Mixon and the run game untracked.
"As one of the top AFC teams," he said, "the Cincinnati Bengals have a good chance to make it back to the big stage for consecutive Super Bowl appearances. They haven't lost a game since Halloween with a star-studded offense and an underrated defense that doesn't feature a bunch of household names."
"Because of its top-seven scoring offense and defense, Cincinnati can win in high-scoring battles or physical contests in which points come at a premium," Moton continued. "The Bengals must work on one aspect of their offense, and that's the ground attack, which ranks 29th in yards. They may have to go on the road to Buffalo or host opponents in inclement weather. Running back Joe Mixon could become the difference between a win or loss for the Bengals deep in the playoffs."
2. Buffalo Bills (13-3, AFC No. 2 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2021 (Lost Divisional Round at Kansas City 42-36 (OT))
It was an unprecedented and difficult week for the Buffalo Bills—Damar Hamlin's life-threatening injury and the cancellation of the team's Week 17 game with the Bengals both loomed large over Buffalo as the Bills played the New England Patriots.
But the jolt that running back Nyheim Hines sent through the team and stadium by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown helped propel the Bills to a win in Week 18, and after the NFL ruled that a Bills/Chiefs AFC Championship Game would take place at a neutral site, the Bills won't have to play a true road game in the postseason.
After the victory, quarterback Josh Allen told reporters that Hines' return was arguably the most exciting play he has ever seen.
"You want the truth, it was spiritual, it really was. Bone-chilling. It was special," Allen said. "I can't remember a play that touched me like that, I don't think in my life. So, it's probably No. 1 [football memory]. It was just spiritual. And I was going around with my teammates and saying, 'God's real.' You can't draw that one up any better."
Davenport thinks these Bills could ride that wave of emotion all the way to the Super Bowl.
"The Bills were already going to be a tough out," he said. "The offense is explosive. The defense can be stifling. The Bills might be the most balanced team in the league. And now the entire team—and entire city of Buffalo—is rallying around their fallen teammate. The atmosphere at Highmark Stadium is going to be off the chain. The team is going to be that much more motivated. The Dolphins are about to walk into a buzzsaw."
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-3, AFC No. 1 Seed)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2021 (Lost AFC Championship Game vs. Cincinnati 27-24 (OT))
The Kansas City Chiefs are rolling as they head back into the postseason as the top seed in the AFC. After dispatching the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday, the Chiefs have won five straight and nine of 10 since their bye week.
The Chiefs enter the playoffs with the NFL's No. 1 offense in terms of both yards per game (413.6) and points per game (29.2). They have the NFL's leading passer in Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 5,250 yards this season. And the Chiefs possess all kinds of playoff experience, having advanced at least as far as the AFC Championship Game in each of the past four seasons.
Head coach Andy Reid told reporters after the win that the Chiefs will welcome a week of rest before their postseason quest begins, but the team knows what the ultimate goal is.
"Just take a step back and get yourself where you feel stronger and healthier,'' Reid said. "You still gotta take care of business. Our guys understand that.''
Sobleski believes the Chiefs may well realize that goal, because in his opinion, Kansas City is the team to beat in the AFC.
"What the Chiefs accomplished in 2022 is simply staggering," he said. "Yes, they already had the best quarterback in the game. Yes, Andy Reid is also the game's best offensive play-caller. Yes, they already represented the AFC in two of the past three Super Bowls. The organization made the daring choice to trade away football's biggest threat at wide receiver this past offseason and got better in doing so. Patrick Mahomes deserves so much more than the league MVP, because he's so far and beyond any other quarterback. The offense is more balanced. The defense is holding up its end of the bargain, for the most part. Kansas City is the team to beat as the postseason begins."