B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Playoff Teams After Wild Card Weekend
And then there were eight.
The second season is underway in the National Football League. And just as was the case in 2018, Wild Card Weekend was…wild.
For the second consecutive season, three of the four Wild Card Round games were won by the road team. For the second year in a row, the third-seeded teams in both the AFC and NFC were sent packing.
On the AFC side, we may have witnessed the end of an era when the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots were shown the door by the visiting Tennessee Titans. New England's struggling offense faltered yet again, and the defense had no answer for Titans running back Derrick Henry.
The upsets kept coming on Sunday. Both road teams won that day, including an overtime thriller in New Orleans that saw Drew Brees and the Saints get bounced by the Minnesota Vikings.
Now the big dogs in each bracket prepare to enter the fray, as the top seeds in each conference will see their first action of the postseason this weekend. On Saturday, those upstart Vikings get an even stiffer test in San Francisco against the No. 1-seeded 49ers, and the Titans head to Baltimore to face the Super Bowl favorite Ravens.
Sunday is all about the No. 2 seeds—the Houston Texans will meet the Chiefs in Kansas City, and the Seattle Seahawks will head to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field to battle the Green Bay Packers.
It promises to be another exciting weekend of NFL action, but before we can get into what's going to happen, we first need to address what already has. That's just what Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski are here to do by ranking the league's 12 playoff teams—including the ones whose seasons just ended.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8, NFC No. 4 Seed)
Regular Season: 11
Wild Card Round Result: Lost vs. Seattle 17-9
The story of the 2019 Philadelphia Eagles can be summed up in one 1970's TV show.
It's an understatement to say the Eagles were beset by injuries on offense in 2019. That quarterback Carson Wentz was able to drag a team of practice-squaders and cast-offs to an NFC East title with four straight wins to close the regular season was a testament to how good the fourth-year quarterback is.
So of course in this year of carnage, Wentz left with a concussion in the first quarter of his postseason debut—after ACL and back injuries ended his last two seasons.
To his credit, Josh McCown came in and played about as well as you can reasonably expect a 40-year-old quarterback to play in his postseason debut. And the Eagles, as they have so many times this season, kept the game close.
It's a testament to both the players and the coaching staff.
But the loss opened the door (again) for the narrative that Wentz can't be trusted long-term—that he's "injury-prone." That Philadelphia would be well advised to consider alternatives under center.
Davenport isn't having it even a little.
"To say that Philadelphia's playoff loss is somehow Wentz's 'fault,'" he said, "is to ignore the fact that the Eagles never would have sniffed the playoffs without him. Philly made it into the postseason despite losing just about every big-name skill-position player it had and stayed close in a playoff game with a 40-year-old backup quarterback who came out of retirement in August. Rather than pointing fingers, celebrate what Wentz and the Philly coaching staff did in a snakebitten year. A third straight playoff trip is no small feat given everything that happened to the team in 2019."
11. Buffalo Bills (10-7, AFC No. 5 Seed)
Regular Season: 10
Wild Card Round Result: Lost at Houston 22-19 (OT)
The Buffalo Bills are no stranger to playoff heartbreak. This is, after all, the team that was on the wrong end of the "Music City Miracle."
Saturday's choke job against the Houston Texans wasn't as dramatic as that game—but it was no less gut-wrenching.
The Bills scored a touchdown on their opening drive, dominated for the better part of three quarters and led 16-0 with six minutes to go in the third.
The problem is that NFL games have four quarters (it's why they are called quarters). And that touchdown was Buffalo's only one of the game. And that Josh Allen lost his mind in the second half.
After playing well over the first 30 minutes, Buffalo's second-year signal-caller made a number of decisions so terrible they had to be seen to be believed. As Nick Shook reported for NFL.com, Bills head coach Sean McDermott told reporters after the game that his young quarterback just got caught up in the moment.
"Just tried to do too much," McDermott said, "trying to do too much and getting a little bit maybe extreme with what he felt like we needed at the time, the one lateral on their sideline and whatever it was there. Overall we just didn't make enough plays."
Allen's poor decision-making was the story for Sobleski.
"What looked like a promising start came crashing down with each poor decision Allen made," Sobleski said. "Granted, the second-year quarterback made some outstanding plays, but some of his mind-numbingly dumb decisions only made life more difficult for Buffalo in a game it should have won. Instead, the Bills are going home, and next season will be defined by Allen's continued development. As of now, Buffalo will never be more than a low-level playoff squad based on what we've seen from the quarterback so far."
10. New England Patriots (12-5, AFC No. 3 Seed)
Regular Season: 6
Wild Card Round Result: Lost vs. Tennessee 20-13
We may have witnessed the end of an era Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. The finale of the greatest dynasty the NFL has ever known.
It came as quite the shock for many. But maybe it shouldn't have. Sure, the New England Patriots were the defending Super Bowl champions. The team won the AFC East for 11th year in a row. But these Patriots appeared vulnerable much of the year—especially on offense.
Sure enough, after scoring 10 points on their first two drives against the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots managed just a single field goal the rest of the way. New England's defense tried its best to keep the team in the game, but it couldn't stop Derrick Henry from grinding out over 180 rushing yards.
For the first time since the 2009-10 season, the Patriots were eliminated from the postseason short of the AFC Championship Game. And with Tom Brady about to hit free agency for the first time in his career, there's an unprecedented air of uncertainty in Foxborough.
While speaking with reporters at his year-end presser, Bill Belichick was his usual forthcoming self when discussing Brady's future.
"Any decision that's made, it's not an individual decision," Belichick said, via Justin Tasch of the New York Post. "There are other people involved, so there has to be some type of communication, understanding, agreement, whatever you want to call it, and that's not a one-way street. I hope you can understand that. One person just can't decide what everybody else is gonna do when players aren't under contract, and we have a lot of players that aren't under contract.”
Glad that's cleared up.
The thing is, Gagnon thinks the Patriots have bigger problems than just that undermanned offense.
"The offense is shot," he wrote. "But quite frankly, it turns out the defense is overrated too. Opposing offenses figured out how to avoid big mistakes against Bill Belichick's D down the stretch, and they were simply bullied in several late-season games. Saturday was another example. They had just 10 takeaways in their last eight games of the year. The entire roster needs to be addressed."
Gonna be an interesting offseason in Foxborough.
9. New Orleans Saints (13-4, NFC No. 3 Seed)
Regular Season: 4
Wild Card Round Result: Lost vs. Minnesota 26-20 (OT)
This year was going to be different.
There wasn't going to be any fluke play. Or blown call. A New Orleans Saints team that had a shot at the NFC's No. 1 seed heading into the final Sunday of the regular season was going to make a deep playoff run. Maybe even get Drew Brees a second Super Bowl ring.
Instead, the Saints wound up the third seed in the NFC, which meant playing on Wild Card Weekend. And now, after being stunned at home by the sixth-seeded Vikings, the Saints are once again bewildered, bruised…
Just like Tom Brady, Brees is set to become a free agent. And just like Brady, Brees didn't have the best of games in the loss—he was outplayed by Kirk Cousins, and after a regular season in which the Saints set a record with just eight giveaways, Brees was responsible for two by himself in the loss.
It sets up a storyline very similar to what's going to dominate the airwaves in Boston—the possibility (no matter how remote) that the best quarterback in franchise history has played his last game for the team.
Of course, there are also some major differences between the two situations. Whereas the Patriots struggled offensively in 2019, the Saints had no such issues, In fact, Brees posted a passer rating of 116.3—the highest of his 19-year career.
Still, it was an all-to-familiar letdown in a big game for Brees and the Saints.
"Such a shame that the Saints are prone to dud games and that one came on Wild Card Weekend," Gagnon said. "They're so much better than Minnesota, but the defense still gives up big plays in big moments, and it's fair to criticize the offense again too. Sean Payton and Drew Brees deserve heat for their many big-game failures."
8. Seattle Seahawks (12-5, NFC No. 5 Seed)
Regular Season: 7
Wild Card Round Result: Won at Philadelphia 17-9
The final game of Wild Card Weekend contained quite a few things we've seen before.
We've seen the Seattle Seahawks beat the Eagles in Philadelphia by a score of 17-9. As a matter of fact, it happened in Week 12.
We've seen the road teams dominate the first weekend of the NFL playoffs. When the Seahawks bested the Eagles to close the week, it marked the second season in a row that the road teams went 3-1 in the Wild Card Round.
We saw Marshawn Lynch bull his way into the end zone for a short-yardage score—even if it's been a while since we saw him do that in a Seahawks uniform.
And we saw heroics from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. In addition to passing for 325 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 108.3, Wilson also paced Seattle with 45 yards on the ground. Time and again Wilson made big plays to extend drives for the Seahawks.
It sets up a meeting between familiar foes in the divisional round. Prior to Houston's win over Buffalo on Saturday, it was Wilson who last erased a 16-point home deficit in the postseason when the Seahawks staged a comeback in the 2014-15 NFC title game. Based on recent trends, the Packers have the edge—the last time the road team won a game between Green Bay and Seattle was in 2008.
Sobleski doesn't like Seattle's chances of making it past the divisional round.
"Yes, the Seahawks are still alive and that's all that matters," he said. "And, yes, Russell Wilson is oftentimes the great equalizer. But Seattle is so thin along the offensive line and running back that it's simply a rung or two below the other teams still playing. In fact, the Seahawks probably wouldn't have even made it this far if not for playing another squad, the Eagles, that was even worse off thanks to myriad injuries."
7. Tennessee Titans (10-7, AFC No. 6 Seed)
Regular Season: 12
Wild Card Round Result: Won at New England 20-13
The Tennessee Titans are the little guys of the AFC bracket—a 9-7 team that needed a Week 17 win to make the postseason at all.
They certainly didn't look like little guys Saturday in knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions at Gillette Stadium.
Bruising tailback Derrick Henry carried the Titans to the upset, rushing for 182 yards—the most an opposing back has ever gained against a Bill Belichick-coached Pats team in the postseason.
Per ESPN's Turron Davenport, Henry said that grinding out a victory in inclement conditions is just how he and the Titans wanted things.
"That's the way we like it. ... We don't want it easy, we want it greedy, we want it dirty. That's the mentality we've got to have," Henry said. "My main focus is finishing each and every drive on all three phases. Don't give up on each other, believe, communicate while we out there, what we're seeing so we can make adjustments as a team. ... Keep striving and finishing the game."
The Titans dictated tempo on both sides of the ball and made defensive adjustments after New England's second-quarter touchdown to hold the Patriots to just three points the rest of the way.
The student (Titans second-year head coach Mike Vrabel) outcoached the master (Belichick).
However, at least one of our analysts expects Tennessee's Cinderella run to end soon enough.
"Derrick Henry can be a game-changer," Gagnon said, "but the Titans aren't equipped for a deep run. I still don't believe in Ryan Tannehill, who completed just eight passes in Foxborough."
6. Houston Texans (11-6, AFC No. 4 Seed)
Regular Season: 9
Wild Card Round Result: Won vs. Buffalo 22-19 (OT)
The history of the NFL playoffs is littered with tales of quarterbacks who came up huge when it mattered most. And stories of quarterbacks who fell flat when the lights were brightest.
Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans did both in the same game Saturday.
After a miserable first half in which the Texans fell behind 13-0 and Watson failed to pass for 50 yards, Watson hopped in a phone booth, came out a superhero and saved Houston's season. There was a 20-yard scramble for Houston's first touchdown. A 41-yard bomb to DeAndre Hopkins that set up the second. And what might have been the play of the year to avoid a sack in overtime and set up the game-winning field goal.
In addition to being the first time a Bill O'Brien-led Texans team ever came back from a 16-point deficit, it was the first time since the 2014-15 NFC Championship Game that a team erased a deficit that big at home in the postseason, per ESPN Stats & Info. It was also the first time Houston won a postseason game it trailed at intermission.
That wildest of finishes sets up a rematch of a Week 6 meeting between the Texans and Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead—a game that Houston won 31-24.
"There's no doubt that the Texans are decided underdogs on the road against a Chiefs team that is playing much better defensively than when these teams met in October," Davenport wrote. "But in Watson, Hopkins and the now-returned J.J. Watt, the Texans have a trio of elite players capable of elevating their game and becoming equalizers. This divisional round sets up as an entertaining matchup between two of the NFL's most dynamic young quarterbacks. If you can't get excited about that, see a doctor—you may be dead."
5. Minnesota Vikings (11-6, NFC No. 6 Seed)
Regular Season: 8
Wild Card Round Result: Won at New Orleans 26-20 (OT)
There's long been a narrative that has followed Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
He's a good quarterback who can occasionally be great. He'll pad the heck out of a stat sheet. But when the pressure is at its highest, Cousins will fold.
That narrative may need re-examining after the Vikings stunned the 13-3 Saints in overtime at the Superdome.
This isn't to say that Cousins deserves all the credit for Minnesota's upset. Tailback Davin Cook had a big game in his return to action. The Minnesota defense played quite possibly its best game of the season, holding a potent Saints offense to just 324 total yards.
But it was Cousins who outplayed Drew Brees on Sunday (yes, you read that right). It was Cousins who made two huge throws on the first drive of overtime—including the game-winning touchdown toss.
Per Ben Goessling of the Twin Cities Star-Tribune, Cousins said before the game he was keenly aware of the stakes involved with being an NFL quarterback in the postseason.
"The ball's in your hand, and the margin for error is so small," Cousins said. "You know that nobody else is going to have a chance to impact the game in the same way you will. You know that you're going to go back and watch the film the next day, win or lose, and point to two plays that made the difference. You don't know which two it's going to be; you're going to get anywhere from 60 to 80 cracks at it, and you know when you hold the football, you hold the hopes and dreams of a lot of people in your hands."
He was up to the task in the Wild Card Round, but now things get that much harder—a trip to Santa Clara to battle the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers.
"Get off Kirk Cousins' back," Sobleski said. "For those who disparaged the Vikings quarterback as incapable of showing up in big moments, he proved every detractor wrong in the Wild Card Round against the Saints in New Orleans. He made the big throw when it was absolutely necessary to help lead his team to victory. Now, can he do it again? It'll be far more difficult with the 49ers' ferocious front breathing down the quarterback's neck."
4. Green Bay Packers (13-3, NFC No. 2 Seed)
Regular Season: 5
Wild Card Round Result: Bye Week
The Green Bay Packers have to be the least impressive 13-win NFL team in recent history.
Green Bay ranks in the bottom half of the NFL in both total defense and total offense. Defensively, the team enters the postseason surrendering 352.6 yards per game. Offensively, the Packers also sit 18th, picking up 345.5 yards per game.
Things don't get a lot better in terms of scoring. Green Bay's 23.5 points per game barely ranks inside the top half of the NFL at 15th overall. The Packers are at least a top-10 scoring defense, checking in ninth in the league at 19.6 points allowed per game.
That last number is just about the only one you'd expect from a team that lost just three games in 2019. You wouldn't expect Aaron Rodgers to have barely cracked 4,000 passing yards with just 26 touchdown passes and a sub-100 passer rating.
Per ESPN's Rob Demovsky, Rodgers is well aware of Green Bay's offensive struggles in 2019—and tired of talking about them.
"I think you have a chance to start fresh, and you have a chance to carry on—however you enter the playoffs, you have to try and harness that energy," Rodgers said. "Because right now, we’re two wins from the Super Bowl, and we know for sure the first one’s going to be here. So that’s our focus, finding what works and what we like from the first 16 weeks, what we want to adjust here in the next 10 days here and go out and execute."
For Davenport, that home playoff game is big for the Packers—but so are all those troubling numbers.
"The Packers have been next to impossible to beat at Lambeau Field under Rodgers, but he's actually one game below .500 for his career on the road," he said. "We've already seen these Packers travel to Santa Clara once. It wasn't pretty."
3. San Francisco 49ers (13-3, NFC No. 1 Seed)
Regular Season: 3
Wild Card Round Result: Bye Week
The first two seasons of the Kyle Shanahan era in San Francisco weren't pretty. The first carried the pains of retooling an NFL franchise. The second was all about the agony of injuries that decimated the offense.
The 49ers were 10-22 over that span.
However, 2019 has demonstrated that Shanahan and general manager John Lynch did indeed have a plan. The offense is innovative and loaded with skill-position talent. The defense is terrifying up front and as stout overall as any in the league.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who joined the 49ers via a midseason trade, is one of the few players on San Francisco's roster with significant postseason experience. He told Josh Dubow of the Associated Press (via SF Gate) that he believes the 49ers have everything it takes to make it all the way to Miami and win Super Bowl LIV.
"They were already 7-0 before I got here, so I knew it was a good team," Sanders said. "When I got here, and being part of two Super Bowl teams, one loss and one win, I know what the DNA looks like, I know what the chemistry looks like, and I knew that they had it over here from the head coach and the GM to the quarterback to the players, the special teams players, the role players, and everything. I was excited, but I knew that we had a lot of big games. On paper it looks good, but we still have to put it together."
As Sobleski pointed out, the NFC's top seed could be about to get even better ahead of its divisional round tilt with the Minnesota Vikings.
"As if the 49ers needed any more help," Sobleski said, "they're about to receive some. San Francisco is already the NFC's best team. The defense is about to get a little bit better since linebacker Kwon Alexander is expected to return from a torn pectoral muscle he suffered in October, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Alexander's return is key for the 49ers' upcoming matchup against the Minnesota Vikings because he's an athletic sideline-to-sideline defender who will significantly help against the Vikings' zone running attack."
2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4, AFC No. 2 Seed)
Regular Season: 2
Wild Card Round Result: Bye Week
One year ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But despite an explosive offense led by 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs came up short in overtime of the AFC Championship Game—compliments of a leaky defense that just could not get a stop when it mattered most.
This year, the Chiefs are the AFC's No. 2 seed. The offense isn't quite as explosive as last year's iteration, averaging 7.1 fewer points per game.
But Kansas City may be a better football team in 2019...because the defense has improved by leaps and bounds.
In 2018, the Chiefs were 31st in the league in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed. This year under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Kansas City has improved markedly in both categories—17th in yards allowed and seventh in scoring defense.
Per James Palmer of NFL.com, safety Tyrann Mathieu gave Spagnuolo much of the credit for the turnaround.
"The coaches have done a really good job of taking their time with us and hit every detail," Mathieu said. "That's why I think a lot of dudes like playing for Spags, because they can see that in him. He didn't just jump into it. He really took his time with us and really taught us his defense."
Not only is this year's Chiefs team improved defensively, but the team that ended Kansas City's 2018 season is gonesville. Per Gagnon, that matters.
"Kansas City has to love that Belichick and Brady are out of the way, even if the Texans and Titans are better teams on paper," he said. "Andy Reid is now the elder statesman among AFC playoff head coaches, and he's due."
1. Baltimore Ravens (14-2, AFC No. 1 Seed)
Regular Season: 1
Wild Card Round Result: Bye Week
The Baltimore Ravens enter 2020 as Super Bowl favorites. They haven't lost a game since September 29. They boast an even dozen Pro Bowlers and a franchise-record five first-team All-Pros. Second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson will all but certainly be named the league's MVP at the NFL Honors.
It's been a pretty good year.
Yet, as Jamison Hensley wrote for ESPN, all those accolades don't motivate Jackson nearly as much as getting rolled at home by the Los Angeles Chargers last year in the Wild Card Round.
"That game still motivates me," Jackson said. "I still haven't played my second playoff game yet. ... That game is over with. We've been having a great year this year. We just got to keep it going. I want a Super Bowl. I'm not worried about that. That was my rookie season."
With the Tennessee Titans preparing to head to M&T Bank Stadium next week in the role of David to Baltimore's Goliath, keeping it going is just what Davenport expects the Ravens to do.
"There's been plenty written and said about Jackson and the NFL's highest-scoring offense," Davenport said. "And with good reason. But what often gets overlooked is that the Ravens are also fourth in the NFL in total defense and third in scoring defense. This is a team that just doesn't have a weakness—and that means the Titans will need a nearly perfect effort to even have a shot at an upset."