NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Consensus Rank for Playoff Teams After Wild Card Round
It's been a good long while since the Wild Card Round had any relevance in the NFL playoffs. A team that played on the first weekend of the postseason hasn't made it to the Super Bowl since the 2012 Baltimore Ravens went from the AFC's No. 4 seed to champions of Super Bowl XLVII.
If the first two days of the 2018 postseason are any indication, it's time to ratchet up the upset meter. It's a thing. Ronco sells it. It's on the shelf between the spray-on hair and chicken spinner.
Three of the four road teams on Wild Card Weekend prevailed, including the reigning champ. Both No. 3 seeds are going to have a lot more time to work on their collective golf games than they thought they would.
It was turmoil. It was mayhem.
It was the NFL playoffs.
As they have every week during this roller-coaster season, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Brad Gagnon, Gary Davenport and Brent Sobleski sifted through the ashes of Wild Card Weekend to slot the 12 teams that advanced to the league's postseason tournament.
Here's how they ranked that dozen—including a No. 6 seed that checked in above a No. 1.
12. Houston Texans (11-6, AFC No. 3 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Lost vs. Indianapolis 21-7
It didn't take long for there to be an upset (of sorts) in the NFL playoffs—or for another promising season by the Houston Texans to end with an early playoff exit.
After rebounding from an 0-3 start to capture the AFC South title, the Texans were rolled at home by the Colts in the Wild Card Round. The game was all but over by intermission with the Texans in a 21-0 hole.
The Texans just couldn't get going on offense and had no answer for the Colts offense. In the first half, Houston surrendered 276 total yards and 20 first downs. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck completed 16 of 22 attempts for 192 yards and two touchdowns. And tailback Marlon Mack peeled off 62 of his 148 yards on the ground.
By game's end, the Texans had allowed 422 total yards, and head coach Bill O' Brien was left taking the blame for another ugly playoff loss.
"I think that this organization has a very bright future," O'Brien said, via Nick Shook of NFL.com. "We have a great young quarterback. We've got a lot of really great guys in the locker room. I stood up there and said, 'Look, I just didn't do a good enough job of getting you guys ready to play and it didn't change my feelings about this team.'"
Gagnon's postmortem was less rosy.
"Houston was probably a bit overrated all season," he said. "With a horrendous offensive line and top-heavy roster, you're usually not going deep. And many of us only bought into the Texans as they loaded up on a soft schedule. This team isn't far from being a contender, but it has work to do in the offseason."
11. Baltimore Ravens (10-7, AFC No. 4 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles Chargers 23-17
The honeymoon is over for Lamar Jackson in Baltimore.
Over the second half of the regular season, the rookie quarterback out of Louisville electrified the Ravens fan base with his athleticism and scrambling ability.
Against the Los Angeles Chargers, Jackson's youth and limitations as a passer were exposed—and by the second half fans at M&T Bank Stadium were calling for Joe Flacco.
Jackson's numbers were buoyed by Baltimore's failed fourth-quarter comeback, but make no mistake—for most of the game the youngster looked in over his head. The Chargers did an excellent job taking away the ground game, daring Jackson to beat them with his arm.
He couldn't. Not even close. Jackson was sacked seven times and committed two turnovers—including the fumble that sealed the deal.
Through three-and-a-half quarters, the Ravens notched minus-two net passing yards. That's minus-two. As in less than none.
This was a team that lived and died by the run. Given that Baltimore managed just 90 yards on 23 carries against Los Angeles, it's not hard to see why its season is over.
To their credit, the Ravens made a game of it late with a pair of touchdowns, and in not succumbing to the notion of sitting Jackson, John Harbaugh sent a clear message that Jackson's the guy—assuming, of course, that Harbaugh's the guy.
But Baltimore's run-heavy, zone-read offense appeared to hit its expiration date against L.A.
If the Ravens are going to make it back to the playoffs in 2019, Jackson has to improve as a passer.
"Jackson was never going to lift the Lombardi Trophy as a starting quarterback this year," Gagnon said. "The Ravens had a ceiling as soon as they installed Jackson as their starter, so they would have just been delaying the inevitable with a win. Now they have a higher draft pick and a learning experience in their back pocket, and it's nice that Jackson at least finished strong in the fourth quarter."
10. Seattle Seahawks (10-7, NFC No. 5 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Lost at Dallas 24-22
Given that most thought this would be a rebuilding year—especially after the Seattle Seahawks started 0-2—the fact that Seattle made the playoffs at all was an achievement.
But the Hawks were bounced in a game that wasn't as close as the final score.
The Cowboys were successful in preventing the Seahawks from doing what they did best in 2108: running the football. After averaging a whopping 160 yards per game on the ground in the regular season, Seattle was held to less than half that amount in Dallas—73 yards on 24 carries.
Seattle's dedication to the run may well have been its undoing—especially in the first half. There were far too many runs that just didn't get the Seahawks anywhere. Far too many 3rd-and-longs against an excellent defense.
For the game, Seattle converted just twice in 13 attempts on third down.
Davenport was left less than impressed by the game plan of Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
"Leave it to a Scottenheimer to stubbornly stick to a plan that isn't working in a playoff game," he said. "I know the Seattle running game was a big part of the team's getting to the postseason, but it wasn't working at all in Dallas. By the time the Seahawks finally put the game in the hands of their superstar quarterback, it was too late."
Or maybe it was the loss of kicker Sebastian Janikowski to a likely pulled hamstring.
How can any team be expected to win without Sea Bass?
9. Chicago Bears (12-5, NFC No. 3 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Lost vs. Philadelphia 16-15
If there's one moment from the Wild Card Round that will live in NFL infamy, it happened in Chicago on Sunday evening.
The "double doink."
In a season in which Bears kicker Cody Parkey became the zen master of hitting the uprights on field-goal attempts, he saved the best (or worst) for last—a 43-yarder that would have defeated the Philadelphia Eagles but hit the left upright and the crossbar before falling to the turf.
It was not a good weekend for No. 3 seeds.
To be fair, it's hardly Parkey's fault the Bears are cleaning out their lockers after another postseason disappointment. The offense piled up 356 yards but went 5-of-16 on third down and was a woeful 0-of-3 when in came to touchdowns from the red zone. Chicago's vaunted defense allowed six third-down conversions on 13 attempts and just couldn't close the deal despite two takeaways.
"This was Chicago's nightmare scenario come to life," Davenport said. "Another early playoff exit borne of inexperience in big games and a wildly inconsistent offense. The Bears didn't play especially poorly—at least not significantly worse than Philly did in an ugly game. But in every close game, there are a handful of plays that will swing it. Great teams make those plays. Maybe it was last year's Super Bowl run. Maybe it's that the Bears aren't quite as good (or ready) as we thought. But Sunday at Soldier Field, the Eagles made those plays. The Bears doinked them."
Gagnon, on the other hand, tried to be a bit more introspective.
"This team was always probably a year away, just like the 2017 Rams," he said. "Those two teams had so much in common all year, right up to how they lost as home favorites to experienced reigning conference champs on Wild Card Weekend. The silver lining is Mitchell Trubisky took another big step against Philly. The Bears will grow as a result of this, but they'll probably do so without the services of Parkey."
Small solace to a stunned fanbase.
8. Philadelphia Eagles (10-7, NFC No. 6 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Won at Chicago 16-15
After one of the wackiest endings to a playoff game in recent memory, it's time to play "Three Questions!"
The first question: At what point in Philadelphia's increasingly improbable run does the idea of keeping Nick Foles over Carson Wentz become an actual thing? Foles wasn't great against the Chicago Bears—a 266/2/2 stat line that equated to a passer rating of 77.7.
But yet again, the Eagles won. On the road against a team some had pegged for the Super Bowl.
The second question: Does this team have a snowball's chance in Phoenix of winning in New Orleans next weekend after it got obliterated 48-7 there in Week 11?
Sobleski thinks so.
"Forget Fitz-magic," he said. "Foles-magic is real and spectacular. Foles is the real deal in crunch time, and he continues to prove it. He was unflappable in leading the Eagles to yet another playoff victory with a game-winning touchdown pass to Golden Tate with less than a minute to play. It's impossible to bet against the reigning Super Bowl MVP and champions."
He has a point. The Saints have regressed since that thrashing, and while the Eagles aren't blowing anyone out, they keep winning—this weekend over a Bears squad that laid waste to the Los Angeles Rams not that long ago.
The third (and final) question: How much does Cody Parkey hate the noise a football makes when it hits a goal post?
7. Dallas Cowboys (11-6, NFC No. 4 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Won vs. Seattle 24-22
The Dallas Cowboys surged to the NFC East title in the second half of the season thanks to a punishing defense and the league's leading rusher.
On Saturday, the Cowboys used that same recipe to notch their first win in the playoffs since 2014.
Ezekiel Elliott did what Ezekiel Elliott does—chew up yardage and seemingly get better with every successive touch. The third-year pro, who won his second rushing title this year, piled up 137 yards and a score on 26 carries and added another 32 yards on four catches.
Dallas also got midseason addition Amari Cooper involved heavily for the first time in a handful of weeks, with Cooper's 106 yards on seven receptions providing some much needed offensive balance.
Facing the NFL's No. 1 ground game, the Dallas defense answered the call. Seattle was consistently stuffed, managing just 73 yards on 24 totes. The Cowboys outgained the Seahawks by 81 yards.
"The Cowboys sealed an opening-round playoff victory over the Seahawks with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns," Sobleski said. "However, the defense is what's really driving this team. Seattle entered the postseason as the league's best rushing attack. The Cowboys held the Seahawks to 3.0 yards per carry and will go as far as their D will carry them."
The win was a continuation of a great season for the Cowboys at home. Dallas has lost just once in nine games at Jerruh World this season—in Week 9 to the Tennessee Titans.
The Cowboys have lost just once since, but the team is only 3-5 on the road this year—which doesn't bode well for the divisional round trip to L.A. to battle the Rams.
6. Los Angeles Chargers (13-4, AFC No. 5 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Won at Baltimore 23-17
The Los Angeles Chargers aren't exactly known for having a history of postseason success. Just twice in the last nine seasons have the Bolts even made the playoffs, and the team hasn't made it past the divisional round since it lost the AFC Championship Game to the New England Patriots in 2007.
The Chargers will get an opportunity to make it back to the conference title game against those same Patriots next weekend after becoming the second road team to win on the AFC side of the bracket on Wild Card Weekend.
Baltimore pounded L.A. 22-10 in Week 16, but the Chargers turned the tables Sunday. A couple of weeks ago, the Ravens had a massive edge in total yards. On Sunday, Los Angeles held a big edge in that category for most of the afternoon. The Chargers did a fantastic job of defending Lamar Jackson—taking away running lanes and forcing him to try to beat them with his arm.
The result was a nightmarish two-turnover performance in which Jackson was sacked seven times.
The Chargers have been quite the road warriors this year. They are 8-1 away from Dignity Health Sports Park and haven't lost on the road since Week 3.
But beating the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium is going to take an even better performance than what L.A. showed Sunday.
"The Chargers avoided the dreaded West-to-East Coast hangover by beating the Ravens after losing to them two weeks earlier," Sobleski said. "Adjustments were a key part of the 23-17 victory. Specifically, the Chargers used three defensive backs in place of linebackers to limit the Ravens' impressive ground game. Speed counteracted Baltimore's power. While that defensive look probably won't be used much beyond this point, the coaching staff showed an ability to think outside the box and adjust against exotic looks. It says a lot about the team's approach."
5. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4, AFC No. 1 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Bye
The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off a wildly successful regular season—they won the AFC West and led the NFL in yards and points per game. After becoming just the second player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in the same season, second-year signal-caller Patrick Mahomes is the runaway favorite to be named Most Valuable Player.
However, there's an unease surrounding the Chiefs. A fear that 2018 will go the way of so many seasons that came before it.
The Chiefs also won the AFC West in 2016 and 2017, only to lose a divisional round game and a Wild Card Round game at Arrowhead Stadium in each season. They won the division and lost a Wild Card Round home game in 2010. And in 2003, when the Chiefs went 13-3 and were the AFC's No. 2 seed, they lost a divisional round home game. And in 1997, when the 13-3 Chiefs were the AFC's top seed, they lost another divisional round home game. And in 1995, when the Chiefs went 13-3 and were the AFC's top seed, they lost...you guessed it, a divisional round home game.
The Chiefs have mastered the early postseason exit. Kansas City hasn't won a playoff game in Arrowhead since Joe Montana led the Chiefs to an overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1993 postseason.
At least one of our analysts is more than a little concerned history will repeat itself.
"The Kansas City offense is amazing when it's firing on all cylinders," Davenport said. "But for most of the season, KC's 31st-ranked defense has been as bad as the offense is good. The Chiefs may have dominated the pitiful Raiders in Week 17, but their two games before that were both losses to teams that made the tournament this year. I want to believe in the Chiefs, but it's hard when they have a flaw that glaring and a red-hot Colts team coming to town."
4. Indianapolis Colts (11-6, AFC No. 6 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Won at Houston 21-7
The Indianapolis Colts recorded arguably the most impressive performance by any team in the Wild Card Round.
It's not just that the Colts went into Reliant Stadium and knocked off the AFC's No. 3 seed to set up a trip to Kansas City to face the Chiefs.
The Colts kicked the cabbage out of the Texans in every facet of the game.
Offensively, the Colts were next to unstoppable in the first half on the way to a 21-0 lead at intermission. By game's end, tailback Marlon Mack had piled up 148 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown. And the O-line that allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL prevented J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney from getting to Andrew Luck.
Defensively, the Colts were even better. Indy amassed three sacks and accrued eight quarterback hits, and its harassment of Deshaun Watson prevented the young quarterback from ever finding a groove.
From the first drive of the game to the last, the game was never in doubt.
The job Frank Reich and Co. have done taking this team from 1-5 to the divisional playoffs is nothing short of remarkable. But the biggest test of the season still awaits: a journey to one of the hardest places for a visitor to play in the NFL to face the top seed in the conference.
Sobleski's a believer, though.
"Indianapolis is the AFC's best team," he wrote. "Now, it's been said. The Colts may not be as explosive as their next opponent or as experienced as the New England Patriots, but they're playing the best brand of football at this moment. Luck finished second in touchdown passes behind Patrick Mahomes. The offensive line is pile-driving people as Mack benefits. Plus, Matt Eberflus' defense flies to the football and forces quarterbacks to beat it by remaining patient."
3. New England Patriots (11-5, AFC No. 2 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Bye
The New England Patriots have won the AFC East and earned a Wild Card Round bye in nine of the past 10 seasons.
When New England did have to play in the first round, in 2009, it was waxed by the Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots are coming off one of their better performances of the season—a systematic dismantling of the New York Jets that earned the team this week off. But these Pats haven't been the juggernaut we've come to expect—the team's 11 wins are the Patriots' fewest in a season since...
That same 2009 season in which they were bounced early by the Ravens.
The LA Chargers may be a more formidable opponent, but it's fair to wonder if the Pats are glad their opponent won't be wearing black and purple next week.
"These Patriots are far from invulnerable," Davenport said. "The offense has been inconsistent at times, and the defense is a mediocre 21st in yards allowed. For once, the Pats aren't the prohibitive favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. But the defense is also seventh in the NFL in points allowed, the Patriots have the winningest quarterback in playoff history running the show, and the team is a ridiculous 18-3 at Gillette Stadium in the postseason...and hasn't lost a playoff game there since the 2012 season."
2. Los Angeles Rams (13-3, NFC No. 2 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Bye
For a good portion of the season, the Los Angeles Rams looked like the NFL's gold standard, peeling off eight victories in a row to open the year.
Late in the season, however, a few dents in L.A.'s armor appeared. In back-to-back losses to the Bears in Chicago and Philadelphia Eagles at home, the Rams' offensive juggernaut hit a major speed bump. Tailback Todd Gurley, the centerpiece of that high-octane attack, missed the last two games of the year with a knee injury.
Gurley hasn't practiced much in recent weeks, but he told reporters (via Cameron DaSilva of Rams Wire) that he's been both rehabbing and trying to stay in game shape.
"I've been able to do a lot more this week," Gurley said Thursday. "It's been reacting pretty good. But that's going to be the main thing, obviously, that cardio since I haven't been able to do much the last two or three weeks. Then, just seeing how my knee responds in the game."
The hope is Gurley will be back at practice ahead of the divisional round, and to his credit the recently signed C.J. Anderson has played well, posting back-to-back 100-yard games to end the regular season.
But the importance of getting Gurley back in action can't be overstated. The Rams won't be facing any more bottom-feeders like they did in Weeks 16 and 17. And in order to make it to Atlanta, the team needs its best offensive player on the field.
"The bye week brought promising news regarding Gurley's injured knee," Gagnon said, "and Philadelphia's win over Chicago means the Rams get to avoid a team that really seemed to have them figured out when the two met during the regular season. Instead, they'll host a squad that is just 3-5 on the road this year. "
1. New Orleans Saints (13-3, NFC No. 1 Seed)
Wild Card Round Result: Bye
There isn't a team in the NFL for which home-field advantage is more important than the New Orleans Saints. The Saints lost just two games in the Superdome in 2018—a shocking season-opening 48-40 setback at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the season finale against the Carolina Panthers.
The latter carries a ginormous asterisk—with the NFC's No. 1 seed already sewn up, the Saints rested a number of starters—including quarterback Drew Brees.
This marks the first time since 2009 the Saints have earned the NFC's top seed. The team made good use of it that year, rolling all the way to a victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV
Given that the Saints have occupied the top spot in these rankings every week but one since Halloween, it appears the NFL analysts here at Bleacher Report have pegged New Orleans as the favorite in the NFC.
Davenport's of the opinion that it's the bye-week team in position to meet expectations...or exceed them.
"The Saints are the toughest of outs in the Superdome," he said, "and this is a team without a glaring weakness that has a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback and a ton of talent at the offensive skill positions. It's going to take one of two things for New Orleans to get derailed: a near perfect performance by an opponent or a turnover-filled mess of an outing by Brees and Co."