NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Playoffs

NFL StaffContributor IDecember 31, 2018

NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Playoffs

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    All the way back on September 6, the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles kicked off the first of 256 games in the 2018 regular season. Both were considered Super Bowl contenders.

    255 games later, just one made the playoffs—and that was by the skin of their teeth.

    Three days prior to that game, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski released their first regular-season edition of the B/R consensus power rankings.

    Half of that Week 1 top 10 will be watching the playoffs on TV, including the No. 1 team.

    It's been a long, wild season. And the final Sunday of the regular season was no different. The NFC's No. 1 seed was blown out in a game that didn't matter. The Minnesota Vikings were throttled in a game that surely did. And the Pittsburgh Steelers had to sit and watch as their dreams of a Super Bowl run hung on the outcome of a game hundreds of miles away.

    As they have every week, the fellas are back to rank the NFL's teams from worst to first as we close the book on the 2018 regular season.

    Everything went according to plan—except for the million things that didn't.

              

    Note: "High" and "Low" rankings refer to the highest and lowest individual ranking that week.

32. Arizona Cardinals (3-13)

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    High: 32

    Low: 32

    Last Week: 32

    Week 17 Result: Lost 27-24 at Seattle

    The Arizona Cardinals almost ruined everything. Almost squandered an entire season's worth of hard work. Almost flushed 16 games of effort and sweat.

    You see, in Week 17, the Cardinals almost won.

    For much of this season, the Redbirds have been in the mix to procure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft. To actually achieve something in this mess of a season. And yet the Cardinals nearly couldn't even do that right, hanging with the Seahawks on the road for most of Sunday's game.

    Luckily, sanity (and suckiness) prevailed, and Arizona lost. Sobleski thinks that being so bad may actually be good for Arizona in the long run:

    "No team wants to be considered the worst. It can be a blessing in disguise, though. Franchises stuck with middling rosters while locked into bad contracts and situations are far worse off. The Cardinals can jump-start their rebuild by cleaning house and utilizing the No. 1 overall draft pick to secure a defensive game-changer or auctioning the top selection to obtain a massive war chest."

    It looks like in addition to that No. 1 pick the Redbirds will be in the market for a new head coach, as Steve Wilks is reportedly out after one horrific year at the helm.

31. Oakland Raiders (4-12)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    High: 30

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 31

    Week 17 Result: Lost 35-3 at Kansas City

    On the final Sunday of the 2018 regular season, the Oakland Raiders sent a clear message to anyone and everyone who may have forgotten what this franchise is all about in 2018.

    By that, we mean the Raiders went out and got smoked like a Christmas ham.

    There wasn't a facet of the game in Week 17 in which the Raiders weren't god-awful. Against one of the worst defenses in football, the Raiders tallied just three points and less than 300 yards. Defensively, the Raiders allowed over 7.5 yards a play and 35 points.

    Oh, and the Raiders turned the ball over four times, because they are nothing if not thorough.

    To be fair, the Raiders have played better of late than they did earlier in the season, but this is still not close to being a good team. Or an average team.

    It's a team that needs every draft pick it can get.

30. New York Jets (4-12)

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    High: 29

    Low: 30

    Last Week: 29

    Week 17 Result: Lost 38-3 at New England Patriots

    There were quite a few blowouts among the early slate in Week 17. But the Jets' beatdown at the hands of the longtime bullies of the AFC East was different in one very depressing regard.

    The Jets weren't resting starters. They just got flattened.

    The game was a microcosm of another miserable season in New York. Offensively, the Jets were equal parts inconsistent and mistake-prone. The defense had no answer whatsoever for the Patriots on the ground and in the air.

    There were some glimmers of hope for New York's future this year. Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold had his moments, although Sunday's loss surely wasn't one of them.

    But the Jets still have holes aplenty on both sides of the ball, and there were already reports circulating before this game that head coach Todd Bowles was going to be fired.

    A 35-point loss was the final nail in that coffin, and Bowles was let go Sunday night.

29. Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    High: 29

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 30

    Week 17 Result: Lost 16-13 at Pittsburgh

    After a promising 4-1 start, the Cincinnati Bengals completely fell apart this season. Sunday's loss in Pittsburgh was Cincy's ninth in its last 11 games.

    Some blamed injuries. Others still blamed head coach Marvin Lewis for another ho-hum season on his watch.

    On Monday, what some thought what never happen actually did.

    After 16 seasons, seven postseason appearances and zero playoff wins, the Bengals finally fired Marvin Lewis.

    It was a move that came about three years too late. Yes, the Bengals had a nice run under Lewis a few years back, but since going 12-4 and winning the AFC North in 2015 the Bengals had steadily gotten worse in each of the past three seasons.

    Never mind that whole "winless in seven playoff trips" thing.

    The Bengals will now start a search for a new head man, assuming that Mike Brown can resist the urge to go full Bungles and promote Hue Jackson.

    Shudder.

28. San Francisco 49ers (4-12)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    High: 24

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 27

    Week 17 Result: Lost 48-32 at Los Angeles Rams

    For some teams, the end of the 2018 season is almost a blessing.

    The San Francisco 49ers are right at the top of the list.

    Sunday's loss to the Rams put an end to an injury-ravaged campaign that began with playoff aspirations and ended with third-string quarterback Nick Mullens tossing three interceptions.

    It wasn't all miserable this year; Mullens was a find as an undrafted rookie (Week 17 notwithstanding), and tight end George Kittle has emerged as one of the best players in the league at his position.

    But this was supposed to be the year the Niners make a run in the West, and those hopes were dashed after injuries chewed a hole in the team on both sides of the ball.

    If there's a silver lining to the dumpster fire that was 2018, it's that it will bring with it a high pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

    Provided the 49ers can get healthy, just that should make the team significantly better next year.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    High: 25

    Low: 27

    Last Week: 26

    Week 17 Result: Lost 34-32 vs. Atlanta

    Given that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blew a 17-point lead at home to the Falcons on Sunday in Dirk Koetter's last hurrah as head coach, it might seem weird to say there was a positive to be found.

    That positive was the play of quarterback Jameis Winston.

    The dominant storyline in Tampa's offseason isn't going to be the new head coach. It's going to be what that coach is going to do with Winston after a wildly uneven 2018 campaign that included a suspension and benching.

    Against the Falcons, Winston blew up for 345 passing yards and four scores, posting a passer rating north of 120. It was a reminder that Winston's capable of playing with the best of them—he just hasn't done so consistently.

    It's a safe assumption that a new coach's ability to work with the No. 1 pick of the 2015 draft will be one of the Buccaneers' big requirements in a search.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    High: 22

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 24

    Week 17 Result: Lost 20-3 at Houston

    That we ever looked at this Jaguars team as a legitimate Super Bowl contender is embarrassing.

    The Jaguars put the finishing touches on the most disappointing season by any team in the league after getting waxed by the Texans in a game that handed Houston a division title most pundits expected Jacksonville to win this season.

    Since beating the New York Jets on the final day of September, the Jaguars are a miserable 2-10. Sunday's loss was the fifth time over those 12 games that the Jaguars failed to hit the 10-point mark.

    In today's offense-heavy NFL, there's just no way to win like that.

    Against the Texans, quarterback Blake Bortles (who replaced Cody Kessler, who replaced Bortles…it's a circle of suck) posted this stat line: 28 attempts, 15 completions, 107 yards and an interception.

    Right at the top of the list of teams that will try to convince themselves signing Joe Flacco in the offseason is a good idea, you'll find the Jags.

25. Buffalo Bills (6-10)

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    High: 23

    Low: 26

    Last Week: 28

    Week 17 Result: Won 42-17 vs. Miami

    The Buffalo Bills might not be a good football teanm. But they aren't an especially bad one, either.

    By virtue of their blowout win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the Bills close out the 2018 campaign with six wins. That might not seem like a lot, but it's actually pretty impressive when you consider how bad the team was offensively for much of the year.

    That offense found its footing a bit by letting rookie quarterback Josh Allen be…Josh Allen. As he has so many times of late, Allen gashed the Dolphins with regularity on the ground, piling up 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns on nine carries.

    "I'm far from sold on Allen as a passer," Davenport said, "and that running around all day stuff isn't really sustainable in the long term. But the Bills quietly went 4-3 over their last seven games. Both Allen and head coach Sean McDermott deserve some props for finishing the year strong after a terrible start."

24. Detroit Lions (6-10)

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    High: 20

    Low: 27

    Last Week: 25

    Week 17 Result: Won 31-0 at Green Bay

    In most years, closing the season with a 31-0 thrashing of the Packers in Green Bay that completed a season sweep of their rivals would be reason for celebration for the Detroit Lions.

    But the Lions probably aren’t in a partying mood after another season of double-digit losses.

    There were bright spots for Detroit in Matt Patricia's first year as head coach: that season sweep of the Packers and a blowout win over the Patriots in Week 3.

    But thanks in large part to injuries, the Detroit offense fell apart in the season's second half. Quarterback Matthew Stafford failed to throw for 4,000 yards for the first time since 2010, and Detroit's 31 points Sunday marked the first time since Week 7 that the Lions scored 23-plus points.

    There's already been some talk that Stafford's future with the Lions is in question, but Davenport doesn't see ditching their quarterback as a step forward for the Lions.

    "Stafford isn't the best quarterback in the NFL," he said. "But he certainly isn't the worst, either. It would have to be an awfully sweet trade offer for me to consider hitting the reset button at the most important position in the game."

23. Washington Redskins (7-9)

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    Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

    High: 22

    Low: 26

    Last Week: 23

    Week 17 Result: Lost 24-0 vs. Philadelphia

    There is not a team in the NFL that was derailed by injuries to a greater extent than the Washington Redskins.

    After 10 weeks, the Redskins were 6-3 and in the driver's seat in the NFC East.

    Then, in a Week 11 loss to the Houston Texans, starting quarterback Alex Smith suffered a gruesome broken leg that effectively wrecked both Washington's season and quite possibly the veteran's career. Smith spent over a month in the hospital battling infections. The Redskins spent about two in a 1-6 free-fall that finally ended Sunday against the Eagles.

    Against Philadelphia, Washington had 89 yards of total offense. Not 289. Not 189. Eighty-nine.

    This was once a promising season in D.C. Now, it's a morass of mediocrity—just enough wins to royally mess up draft position and a quarterback whose chances of playing in 2019 are slim to none.

    Ain't a danged thing happy about the New Year for this team.

22. Miami Dolphins (7-9)

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    High: 22

    Low: 25

    Last Week: 21

    Week 17 Result: Lost 42-17 at Buffalo

    The Miami Dolphins might be the worst seven-win team in NFL history.

    A Miami team that entered Week 17 ranked in the NFL's bottom three in total offense and total defense was exposed Sunday for what it is—bad.

    The Dolphins gained 225 yards of total offense against the Bills. Allowed 381 yards of offense to one of the worst teams in the league in that regard. Turned it over four times. And went 3-of-12 on third down.

    Oh, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill was positively putrid, throwing two picks and posting a passer rating of 43.4.

    Other than that, the game went OK.

    Per Safid Deen of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, no one's job is safe in Miami. Not Tannehill. Or vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum. Or general manager Chris Grier.

    Head coach Adam Gase was already shown the door.

    That might well be for the best, given how badly this team underperformed at times this year.

21. New York Giants (5-11)

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    High: 20

    Low: 23

    Last Week: 22

    Week 17 Result: Lost 36-35 vs. Dallas

    It's been a miserable season for the New York Giants, who finished the year in the NFC East basement after losing in soul-crushing, last-second fashion at home to a shorthanded Dallas team Sunday.

    But what a year it's been for first-year tailback Saquon Barkley.

    The front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year had himself another day against the Cowboys, piling up 142 total yards on 21 touches. In doing so, Barkley broke Reggie Bush's record for receptions by a rookie running back and became just the third rookie runner in NFL history to amass 2,000 total yards, joining Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James.

    Pretty good company.

    Until the Giants obtain a quarterback of the future, the debate's going to rage on over whether taking Barkley at No. 2 overall (instead of a signal-caller) was the right move for New York.

    "New York's primary goal is the same today as it was a year ago: Find a franchise quarterback," Sobleski said. "Running back Saquon Barkley can only do so much. Eli Manning is fading. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the Giants are falling behind numerous other organizations. The sixth overall pick in Aprils' draft could help greatly, though."

20. Carolina Panthers (7-9)

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    High: 19

    Low: 21

    Last Week: 20

    Week 17 Result: Won 33-14 at New Orleans

    The good news for the Carolina Panthers is the team ended the season with an emphatic thrashing of the NFC South champion Saints in New Orleans.

    The bad news is said win was completely meaningless given that it came against the Saints backups and had no effect whatsoever on the playoffs.

    It had no effect on the playoffs because the victory was Carolina's first of the season's second half.

    There's already been plenty written about Carolina's second-half collapse and seven-game losing streak. Plenty more will be penned as pundits attempt to determine where and why things went so horribly wrong.

    The Panthers might not be the most disappointing team in the NFL this season (looking at you, Jacksonville), but after a 6-2 start, a 7-9 finish just about sews up that title for the Panthers on the NFC side of the bracket.

19. Green Bay Packers (6-9-1)

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    High: 18

    Low: 21

    Last Week: 17

    Week 17 Result: Lost 31-0 vs. Detroit

    Getting drilled at home by the Detroit Lions just about sums up the Green Bay Packers in 2018.

    A season in which Aaron Rodgers spent much of the year nursing a bad knee ended with the star signal-caller in the NFL's concussion protocol. Once DeShone Kizer took the field for Green Bay, the wheels came completely off the bus.

    Given the team's talent on offense, the Packers job will no doubt be viewed as one of the prime destinations for aspiring head coaches in 2019. But a Lions offense that had been stuck in neutral for two months put up 31 points and over 400 yards of offense on a Green Bay defense that struggled again in 2018.

    As good as Rodgers is, he can't do it all by himself. This downer of a season was an object lesson in that reality.

    Green Bay faces an offseason filled with more uncertainty than any in recent memory, and Gagnon's not exactly brimming with confidence in the team's prospects.

    "The Packers lose extra points for Aaron Rodgers suffering a concussion," he said. "This team constantly makes bad decisions, and starting him in its final two games was an absolute joke. The guy is the largest personnel investment in NFL history. This team is a mess, and I don't trust it to find the right coach."

18. Denver Broncos (6-10)

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    High: 18

    Low: 19

    Last Week: 18

    Week 17 Result: Lost 23-9 vs. Los Angeles Chargers

    After losing 23-9 at home in a game where it looked like the Broncos were very much ready for stupid football season to be over, Denver is now 11-21 over the Vance Joseph era.

    Said era ended Monday.

    In fairness, Denver's struggles weren't completely Joseph's fault. It's not the coach's fault that Demaryius Thomas was traded. Or that Emmanuel Sanders and Phillip Lindsay got hurt. Or that John Elway fell for the mirage that was Case Keenum's 2017 season in Minnesota.

    As a matter of fact, Davenport thinks Denver's issues have more to do with the guy who won't be fired than the one who was.

    "Joseph isn't a great coach," he said. "He might not even be a good one, although his players seem to like and respect him. But it's also not Joseph's fault that Saint John of Elway has been an abject disaster at finding the team a quarterback. The best he's done so far is Peyton Manning's corpse, and Denver won Super Bowl 50 in spite of Manning, not because of him."

17. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    High: 17

    Low: 17

    Last Week: 19

    Week 17 Result: Won 34-32 at Tampa Bay

    The Atlanta Falcons probably don't want to hear about moral victories or building blocks or any of that sort of thing right now. Sunday's comeback win in Tampa was the finale of a season that began with aspirations of being the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

    That's not happening.

    But in closing the season on a three-game winning streak, the Falcons were at least able to find a few positives amid a negative year.

    With Calvin Ridley joining Julio Jones, the Falcons have one of the better one-two punches in the NFL at wide receiver. The defense improved markedly once injured linebacker Deion Jones returned. And Matt Ryan remains an excellent starting quarterback, as evidenced by his 378-yard day against the Buccaneers.

    The Falcons have a decision to make about Devonta Freeman and the ground game, and the pass rush was a significant disappointment in 2018.

    Gagnon also saw the silver lining:

    "There could be some fool's gold here, but the fact is the Falcons finished strong with three impressive victories in meaningless games. That doesn't make me feel any better about their mental fortitude, and it won't convince me they aren't choke artists. Still, it's a good sign that they kept playing hard for that coaching staff, and it's important to keep in mind how much talent they have on both sides of the ball. With only a few tweaks in the offseason, Atlanta could be back in contention in 2019."

16. Tennessee Titans (9-7)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    High: 14

    Low: 16

    Last Week: 12

    Week 17 Result: Lost 33-17 vs. Indianapolis

    To be fair, despite the manner in which their season ended, the Tennessee Titans deserve credit for nine wins in Mike Vrabel's first season in charge given the revolving door at quarterback.

    But the latest setback in the health of Marcus Mariota was too much to overcome. Blaine Gabbert was very Gabbert-y against the Indianapolis Colts, passing for just 165 yards, averaging under six yards an attempt and throwing a pair of interceptions.

    It was a performance that amplified the Titans' biggest issue—even when Mariota is healthy. The Titans have a solid run game. The team plays good defense. Tennessee's skill-position talent and O-line are both decent. But the play at the most important position is uneven at best.

    The Titans aren't a bad team—Tennessee won a playoff game last year and narrowly lost out on the postseason in 2018.

    Whether they will ever be a good one without an upgrade under center is another matter.

15. Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1)

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    High: 14

    Low: 15

    Last Week: 13

    Week 17 Result: Lost 24-10 vs. Chicago

    There was no Minneapolis miracle in 2018.

    After an up-and-down season in which the Vikings looked great one week and awful the next, it all came down to Week 17 for Minnesota. Win, and it would be on to the playoffs. Lose, and if Philly won, the first year of the Kirk Cousins era would end with a thud.

    Well…thud.

    For the second time this year, Cousins and the Vikings had no answer for Chicago's stifling defense. Minnesota had fewer than 200 yards of offense, and its $28 million quarterback threw for all of 132 yards.

    The Vikings were supposed to be a Super Bowl favorite. A team loaded with talent on both sides of the ball that would roll through the NFC North.

    But Minnesota never put it together this year, and it will head into the offseason as one of the biggest underperformers of the year.

14. Cleveland Browns (7-8-1)

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    Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

    High: 13

    Low: 16

    Last Week: 15

    Week 17 Result: Lost 26-24 at Baltimore

    If it's possible to win in defeat, the Cleveland Browns did so in Week 17.

    Yes, the Browns came up short in their quest to finish the year with a winning record. But to even be in that position in Week 17 one year after going winless is a testament to Cleveland's turnaround in the second half of the season.

    Baker Mayfield threw three touchdown passes against the Ravens, setting a record for TD passes by a rookie. Tailback Nick Chubb came just four yards shy of 1,000 on the ground in his first season. And the Browns—long a laughingstock—gave a playoff team all it could handle on its home field.

    The Browns face some big offseason decisions—including the selection of a new head coach. But they are finally, undeniably heading in the right direction.

    And they're doing so at a pretty good clip.

    "Hard to believe I'm saying this, but the Browns were the best team not to make the playoffs this season," Gagnon said. "And of all the teams in the AFC North, they'd have the best chance to beat the Chargers in the Wild Card Round. They're talented, and they should have beaten the Steelers in Week 1, the Saints in Week 2, the Raiders in Week 4 and the Ravens in Week 17. That's right, they probably should have gone 11-5, and I wouldn't be surprised if they won a dozen games in 2019."

13. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1)

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    High: 13

    Low: 16

    Last Week: 14

    Week 17 Result: Won 16-13 vs. Cincinnati

    The Pittsburgh Steelers knew they faced an uphill battle in Week 17. Even if the Steelers beat the lowly Bengals at home, unless the Ravens lost to Cleveland or the Titans and Colts tied, there would be no playoff trip this year.

    Pittsburgh did its part, but the rest of those things did not happen, making the Steelers yet another preseason Super Bowl contender watching the postseason tournament from the outside.

    Frankly, that the Steelers needed a late field goal to scrape past the AFC North's worst team this year shows that these Steelers probably wouldn't have made much noise in the playoffs anyway. There have been too many turnovers. Too many missed kicks. Too many squandered opportunities.

    It will be interesting to see what potential changes there may be to the staff in Pittsburgh, as well as how the team will address free agency. The Steelers aren't a team that generally takes a chainsaw to things, but Pittsburgh also isn't a franchise accustomed to missing the postseason altogether.

    Sobleski believes Pittsburgh has itself to blame for an underwhelming season:

    "The Steelers didn't control their fate and had to wait on the Baltimore-Cleveland outcome only to miss the playoffs once the Browns lost. Of course, Cleveland will receive plenty of blame in its rival city, but Pittsburgh should have never been in a position to have to rely on another squad. The Steelers, who were considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders, are now lumped in with the league's most disappointing. Some type of change is needed, particularly on the defensive side of the ball."

12. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 12

    Last Week: 16

    Week 17 Result: Won 24-0 at Washington

    Well, the Eagles did it.

    Despite a roller-coaster season of wildly inconsistent play, Philadelphia's blowout win over the Redskins (coupled with Minnesota's splatfest against the Bears) means the Eagles won't become the first defending champion since the 2012 Ravens to miss the postseason the following year.

    The question now is whether the Eagles will be in any kind of shape to make noise in the postseason.

    The Eagles have peeled off five wins in six games and three victories in a row—the latter with Nick Foles in at quarterback. But in Sunday's win, Foles spent part of the second half watching the game after taking a shot to the ribs.

    The injury didn't just give fans of the team heartburn ahead of next week's trip to Chicago. As NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported, Foles would have received a $1 million bonus had he played in 361 snaps for the Eagles this season.

    Thanks to that injury, he finished with 357.

    Oof.

11. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    High: 9

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 11

    Week 17 Result: Won 33-17 at Tennessee

    In the history of the NFL, there had been two teams to make the playoffs after a 1-5 (or worse) start. The 1970 Cincinnati Bengals started 1-6, and the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs peeled off 10 straight wins after starting the year 1-5.

    Now there are three.

    After losing five of their first six games, the Indianapolis Colts rolled off eight wins in nine weeks to get back in the playoff hunt in the AFC. The only thing standing between the Colts and a trip to Houston to face the Texans for a third time was a road matchup with the Titans.

    Indy sealed the deal, nearly doubling up the Titans in a game that wasn't as close as the final score.

    "Of all the games in the Wild Card Round," Davenport said, "Colts/Texans may be the hardest to get a read on: Two teams that split two meetings this year that are intimately familiar with one another. However, regardless of what happens, Frank Reich and the Colts deserve applause for not packing it in after a disastrous start to the season."

10. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 10

    Week 17 Result: Won 36-35 at New York Giants

    With the NFC East and No. 4 playoff seed all sewn up, the Cowboys had nothing to play for in Week 17 but pride.

    But if Dallas makes a run in the postseason, we may well look back on Jason Garrett's move to play quarterback Dak Prescott against the Giants as a pivotal (and brilliant) decision.

    Prescott heads into the postseason riding a big wave of momentum after a 387-yard, four-touchdown outing against the G-Men that included a ridiculous fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Cole Beasley and a game-winning two-point conversion.

    With Dallas welcoming the Seattle Seahawks to town next week, we're going to see an old-school, smashmouth affair in the Wild Card Round. The Seahawks are the NFL's most run-heavy team, and there's no question Ezekiel Elliott is the focal point of the Cowboys offense.

    But Sunday in New York, Prescott reminded everyone that he's quite capable of picking up yardage and moving the chains through the air as well.

9. Houston Texans (11-5)

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    High: 8

    Low: 10

    Last Week: 9

    Week 17 Result: Won 20-3 vs. Jacksonville

    After a last-second loss to the Eagles in Week 16, the Texans faced a do-or-die moment of sorts Sunday against the Jaguars. Yes, the team was already in the playoffs, but a loss could mean frittering away an AFC South title that appeared all but in the bag not too long ago.

    There was no frittering.

    The Texans controlled their regular-season finale throughout, winning the division and locking up the No. 3 seed. That sets up a wild-card meeting with a familiar foe at Reliant Stadium, but Davenport thinks this team is capable of making a run in the postseason—maybe.

    "When the Texans are firing on all cylinders, they have the talent and balance to beat any team in the AFC," he said. "But it's going to take Houston's 'A' game to avenge a Week 14 loss at home to the Colts and then erase years of futility at Gillette Stadium against the Patriots."

8. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    High: 5

    Low: 10

    Last Week: 7

    Week 17 Result: Won 27-24 vs. Arizona

    The Seattle Seahawks had two goals in Week 17. Get a win and secure the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs, and establish some positive momentum by wailing on the NFL's worst team.

    Seattle achieved one of those goals.

    The Seahawks got a three-point win that means going to Dallas instead of Chicago. But Seattle didn't look especially good doing it. The team did pile up 182 more yards on the ground (at over five yards a pop) against Arizona's porous run defense, but Seattle's passing game allowed six sacks and its defense didn't play especially well.

    If there's one number the defense can hang its hat on with a measure of pride, it's the 85 yards on 24 carries the Seahawks allowed on the ground while limiting David Johnson to 3.6 yards per carry. Stopping the Cowboys starts with getting after Ezekiel Elliott, and that will be of paramount importance if the Seahawks are to pull off an "upset" in the Wild Card Round.

7. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 9

    Last Week: 8

    Week 17 Result: Won 26-24 vs. Cleveland

    By virtue of five wins in six games, the Baltimore Ravens entered Week 17 with a clear task—beat the Cleveland Browns, and the team would win its first AFC North title since 2012.

    It wasn't easy, but thanks to a jaw-dropping 296 rushing yards and a late takeaway from Baltimore's stout defense, the Ravens will play next week at home against the Chargers—a rematch of a Week 16 tilt in L.A. won by the Ravens.

    It's fair to question how far the Ravens can get with their throwback game plan and scrambling rookie quarterback. But Davenport wouldn't want any part of this team in the tournament.

    "The Ravens are winning by making teams play their style of game," he said. "Baltimore is controlling tempo and the clock by running the ball, which is keeping the defense fresh and ready to pin its ears back when it is on the field. It's not the kind of matchup most 21st-century NFL teams are used to seeing—or ready for. This is the team no one in the AFC wants to play."

    Sobleski was a bit more skeptical.

    "The Ravens are now the NFL's version of a service academy," he wrote. "Like Air Force, Army and Navy, opponents have a hard time preparing for Lamar Jackson and Co. The mobile quarterback's mere presence creates massive running lanes for the offense. Just because they'll be a tough out doesn't mean they should be considered a favorite in the AFC. Baltimore's defense can and has given up yards, while its run-first offense can be slowed down."

6. Los Angeles Chargers (12-4)

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 7

    Last Week: 5

    Week 17 Result: Won 23-9 at Denver

    The Los Angeles Chargers knew before their Week 17 game even started that odds were excellent they would wind up the No. 5 seed in the AFC, because the odds of the Raiders upsetting the Chiefs in Arrowhead were—not excellent.

    The Chargers played their starters anyway and were able to down the Denver Broncos by two touchdowns. But a momentum-builder it wasn't. Philip Rivers was a so-so 14-of-24 for 176 yards and a score with two interceptions. The Chargers averaged under four yards per carry as a team.

    And lead tailback Melvin Gordon was injured in the fourth quarter of a game there was no point in him being involved in—which is a very Chargers statement.

    The Chargers now have to get ready to travel East to face a Ravens team that beat the Bolts handily in L.A. in Week 16. The upside is that at least the Chargers have seen Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' unconditional offense before.

5. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 7

    Last Week: 6

    Week 17 Result: Won 35-3 vs. Oakland

    If there was any doubt that the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through Arrowhead Stadium, it was put to rest early in the season finale against the Oakland Raiders.

    And with it went any real doubt that second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes would be named league MVP at the NFL Honors ceremony in a few weeks.

    Thanks to 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the hapless Raiders, Mahomes went over the 5,000-yard mark for the season and became the third quarterback in NFL history to throw 50 touchdown passes in a season.

    Even more importantly for the Chiefs than another (yawn) offensive explosion, Kansas City's beleaguered defense played well, holding the Raiders under 300 yards and forcing four turnovers.

    "As great as K.C. is on offense," Davenport said, "it's the defense (or lack thereof) that's going to determine whether the Chiefs make it to Atlanta. It doesn't have to be great, mind you. But at some point, the Chiefs are going to have to make a big play or get a big stop. I still have doubts as to whether they can."

4. New England Patriots (11-5)

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    High: 4

    Low: 4

    Last Week: 5

    Week 17 Result: Won 38-3 vs. New York Jets

    The New England Patriots had already wrapped up an NFL-record 10th consecutive AFC East title, but in recent weeks, the Patriots hadn't looked like themselves. The Pats looked...mortal. Average.

    In Sunday's season finale against the New York Jets, the Patriots looked more like what we've come to expect from New England in December and January, completely dominating an outmatched Jets team in every facet of the contest.

    Tom Brady was ruthlessly efficient, throwing for 250 yards and four scores. The Patriots ground out 131 rushing yards. And New England racked up four sacks and forced three turnovers.

    "The Patriots needed a win to avoid playing next week," Davenport said, "and they got that win and then some. Maybe this was Darth Hoodie and the Golden Boy's way of reminding all of us doubting Thomases that the Pats remain the kings of the AFC until someone takes the crown from them—a task that won't be especially easy."

3. Los Angeles Rams (13-3)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    High: 3

    Low: 3

    Last Week: 3

    Week 17 Result: Won 48-32 vs. San Francisco

    The No. 1 seed in the NFC was already off the table in Week 17, but with a win, the Rams could secure the second seed and a week off.

    That's just what the Rams did, although things got a little sloppy at the end of Sunday's win over the 49ers.

    For the second straight week, reserve tailback C.J. Anderson did his best Todd Gurley impression, gashing the Niners for 132 yards and a touchdown. Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff only threw for 199 yards, but four of those tosses went for scores.

    With a pair of losses over the past month, a bit of the shine has tarnished. The team isn't as invincible as it appeared earlier in the season, and the offense hasn't been what it was in September and October.

    As Gagnon pointed out, the Rams' dominance was deceptive:

    "Sure, they won by a double-digit margin to close out the season Sunday against San Francisco, but I want to caution those who are fired up about the rebounding Rams headed into January. Los Angeles loaded up on weak opponents this season, with an average margin of victory of 19.7 points against teams that finished 6-10 or worse but just 0.5 points against the rest of its opponents. Those are the types of teams they'll be taking on in the playoffs."

2. Chicago Bears (12-4)

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    High: 2

    Low: 2

    Last Week: 2

    Week 17 Result: Won 24-10 at Minnesota

    Heading into Week 17, it was fair to wonder if the Chicago Bears would go all-in on beating the Vikings in a game that meant nothing unless the Rams lost to San Francisco.

    As it turns out, apparently crushing the hopes and dreams of a division rival is a powerful motivator.

    For the second time this season, the Bears dominated the Vikings defensively, holding Minnesota to 164 yards and 10 points in a victory that knocked the Vikings from the postseason while locking in the Bears as the No. 3 seed in the NFC.

    However, odd though it may seem, Davenport thinks the Bears may regret winning.

    "Rather than play a Vikings team they both know and have dominated this year for a third time, the Bears now get the defending Super Bowl champions. If Nick Foles is healthy a week from now, those Iggles are going to be a tough out."

1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    High: 1

    Low: 1

    Last Week: 1

    Week 17 Result: Lost 33-14 vs. Carolina

    This is a first for the Bleacher Report NFL Power Rankings in 2018: the top-ranked team was blown out at home and didn't drop like a stone.

    Of course, the Saints team that got walloped at the Superdome wasn't exactly the Saints. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees took the afternoon off. So did tailback Alvin Kamara.

    About the only player for the Saints with anything on the line was backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who drew the start in Week 17. With Bridgewater about to hit free agency, Sunday's matchup was an opportunity to show teams looking for help under center that he is capable of recapturing the pre-injury form he had in Minnesota.

    In fairness. Bridgewater didn't have a full complement of weapons at his disposal, but his moribund effort against the Panthers isn't going to send any teams scrambling to call his agent.

    It wasn't the end to the season the Saints necessarily wanted, but New Orleans heads into a week off with 13 wins for the year and the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

    "Yes, the Saints fell 33-14 to the Carolina Panthers on the final day of the regular season," Sobleski said. "Who cares? The Saints held back some of their starters, including quarterback Drew Brees, and still feature the game's best roster. They're the league's best team, and a meaningless late-season loss doesn't change that fact."