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

NFL StaffContributor IJanuary 5, 2021

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

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The NFL's second season has begun.

    After the dust settled on Week 17, 14 teams were left to play on into the postseason. For quite a few of those teams, it came right down to the wire.

    The Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams, Tennessee Titans and Washington Football Team all needed victories to get into the playoffs. The Chicago Bears backed into the playoffs, too, thanks to the Rams taking down the Arizona Cardinals.

    For those 14 teams, there is now one mission. Peel off a few wins in a row and earn a trip to Tampa, Florida, and Super Bowl LV. That's a more realistic goal for some teams than for others.

    The NFL analysts here at Bleacher Report have a new goal as well. After spending the regular season ranking all 32 teams from worst to first, it now falls to Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski to rank the 14 teams still alive in the Super Bowl hunt.

    It's time for NFL power rankings, playoffs style.

14. Washington Football Team (7-9, NFC No. 4 Seed)

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    High: 14

    Low: 14

    There will be plenty said this week about the Washington Football Team being underserving of a playoff spot at 7-9. But that record was good enough to win the NFC East and earn a postseason berth.

    After clinching that spot with a 20-14 road victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Washington head coach Ron Rivera said he intends to make it clear to his team that the journey isn't close to over yet:

    "The biggest thing I want them to understand is that they have an opportunity, they have a chance to do something legitimate. They can be successful. And I believe in them. And I'm going to hold everybody accountable, treat everybody the same. I'm going to do what I believe is right for the team, and I try to make sure they know everything I do, no matter what I decide, is right for us."

    Spearheaded by a line loaded with first-round picks, Washington fielded the NFL's second-ranked defense and finished sixth in sacks with 47. But the Washington offense amassed the third-fewest yards per game this season and scored the eighth-fewest points per game.

    In Davenport's opinion, that's a big problem to overcome.

    "The last two teams to make the playoffs with a sub-.500 record won a postseason game, including a 2014 Panthers team coached by Ron Rivera," he said. "But those Panthers had a young Cam Newton. The 2010 Seahawks had a young Marshawn Lynch. This Washington team just doesn't have the horses on offense to start peeling off upsets. The season likely ends this weekend against Tampa."

13. Chicago Bears (8-8, NFC No. 7 Seed)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    High: 13

    Low: 13

    The Chicago Bears enter the postseason in an unenviable position among this year's participants.

    Of the 14 teams in the playoffs, the Bears were the only team who backed in. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs lost in Week 17, but they each had numerous healthy starters on the sideline.

    The Bears gave it everything they had against the Packers in Chicago, and they still got beaten handily.

    But after the loss to Green Bay, head coach Matt Nagy told reporters that he isn't interested in people casting aspersions on Chicago's legitimacy as a playoff team.

    "No one's going to take away what these players did to work back these last three weeks, to put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs," Nagy said. "And they did that. And there's no one that's going to take that from those players and the coaches."

    The 2020 Bears have been all over the place. After a 5-1 start, they lost six straight before reeling off a three-game win streak to get back into playoff contention. They made a pair of in-season changes at quarterback, and their Week 17 loss sends them pitching and lurching toward a matchup with the Saints in New Orleans.

    It's too much of a roller coaster for Gagnon to take the Bears seriously as anything more than a team headed toward a Big Easy beatdown.

    "In any other season, the Bears would clearly be the worst team in the playoff field," he said. "This year, they're bailed out by the NFC Least. There's no way I'm getting behind Mitchell Trubisky and Matt Nagy in January, even if they made progress late and the defense is strong."

12. Los Angeles Rams (10-6, NFC No. 6 Seed)

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 12

    The good news for the Los Angeles Rams is that one of the Seattle Seahawks' four losses this year came against them.

    The bad news is that the last time these teams met, the Seahawks won with relative ease. And that was when the Rams had their starting quarterback.

    The Rams were able to beat the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 without Jared Goff, and backup John Wolford told reporters after that game that he's ready to answer the call in the Wild Card Round as well if needed.

    "I'm here to do a job, and I have no idea where [Goff's] at," he said. "I'm just trying to enjoy this win, and then I'll put my head down and work on Seattle."

    But if Wolford does have to start in place of Goff (thumb) next week—which is looking increasingly likely, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport—it won't be against an eight-win Cardinals team that was without its starting quarterback for most of the game as well. It will be on the road against Russell Wilson, DK Metcalf and the Seahawks.

    "Given how inconsistent the Rams have been on offense, I didn't love their chances in the postseason with Goff under center," Davenport wrote. "Without him, they're cooked. Aaron Donald and the defense may keep things from getting embarrassing, but there's no way this team can keep up with the big dogs in the NFC. One. And. Done."

11. Indianapolis Colts (11-5, AFC No. 7 Seed)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    High: 10

    Low: 11

    The Indianapolis Colts are back in the playoffs in Philip Rivers' first season with the team. But if the Colts make a deep run, it may have more to do with a player who is finishing up his first NFL season.

    Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor had himself a day in the win over Jacksonville Jaguars that got Indy into the playoffs, setting a franchise record with 253 yards on 30 carries. Rivers told reporters it may have been the best day he's seen from a running back, which is a notable compliment from a quarterback who played with LaDainian Tomlinson:

    "I don't know that I've been around that. I know LT had some big days over the years. I don't want to say he didn't have one of those, but man, that was unbelievable. Unbelievable day by him and the guys up front. And yeah, had a great view of those runs. A lot of them were well-blocked and the ones where maybe they had another guy, he made some unbelievable cuts and runs."

    The Colts have a fantastic young running back in Taylor, a capable veteran quarterback in Rivers and a high-end defense. In theory, that's a recipe for playoff success. But the Colts weren't done any favors by the schedule, as now they have to travel to face a ridiculously hot Buffalo Bills team.

    "The Colts are good enough to beat any team in the playoff field if they're hot, but they're extremely unlikely to get and stay hot for an extended period against stiff competition like that," Gagnon said. "Nobody should trust Rivers in critical spots, and we just haven't seen enough of Taylor. They're also likely to eventually miss left tackle Anthony Castonzo."

10. Cleveland Browns (11-5, AFC No. 6 Seed)

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    High: 9

    Low: 11

    The NFL's longest playoff drought is finally, mercifully over.

    Since rejoining the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns only made the playoffs in 2002. That is, until they snuck past the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-22 to cap an 11-win season and earn the sixth seed in the AFC.

    Veteran guard Joel Bitonio has seen the opposite end of the spectrum—a winless season in 2017. But as he told Albert Breer of The MMQB, the arrival of quarterback Baker Mayfield the following year marked a turning point for the franchise:

    "That (2017 season) was depressing, but there was never a time where I was like, 'I need to get out of here.' I always thought we were kinda on the verge, and getting Baker, I think, re-energized me a little bit. I saw what he could do, and the type of player he was, and I was like, 'I know this is a quarterback league, and once you have a quarterback that's pretty good, that gives you a heck of a lot more chances to win games than when you don't have one.'"

    That these Browns are better under head coach Kevin Stefanski is undeniable. But as Sobleski wrote, Cleveland's deficiencies on defense will more likely than not mean a quick exit from the postseason.

    "The Browns finally found a way to put an end to the league's longest playoff drought, and they did so through the continued improvement of Mayfield coupled with two outstanding running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt," he said. "Cleveland has enough firepower to stay in any game. Its downfall comes on the other side of the ball, where its defense is suspect at best (and that's being nice). However, the potential returns of cornerback Denzel Ward and linebacker B.J. Goodson from the COVID-19 list could provide help."

9. Tennessee Titans (11-5, AFC No. 4 Seed)

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    High: 9

    Low: 10

    If not for running back Derrick Henry, the Tennessee Titans would not be the champions of the AFC South.

    After piling up a ridiculous 250 yards and two scores on 34 carries in the division-clinching win in Houston, Henry ended the 2020 campaign with a league-leading 2,027 rushing yards. In doing so, he became the eighth member of the 2,000-yard club, and he led the NFL in carries, rushing yards and rushing scores for the second straight season.

    He's also the first running back in over a decade to win the rushing title in consecutive seasons. But other than that, he's just OK.

    Next up for the Titans is rematch of last year's divisional-round stunner against the Baltimore Ravens, although the game will be in Nashville this time.

    Henry will undoubtedly be a big part of the Titans' game plan. He carried the ball 30 times for 195 yards in last year's upset win. But another issue has Davenport skeptical that the Titans can beat the Ravens in the playoffs two years in a row.

    "In technical terms: The Titans defense sucks," he said. "They have zero pass rush, so their so-so secondary is being exposed time and again. Tennessee allowed 457 yards of offense in Week 17, and teams that allow 450-plus yards typically don't have success in the postseason. I know the Titans beat the Ravens in overtime back in Week 11, but I don't have much confidence in their ability to repeat that feat."

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, AFC No. 3 Seed)

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 8

    Among the top seeds in each conference, the Pittsburgh Steelers may be the hardest team to get a bead on as the playoffs begin.

    The Steelers opened the season with a franchise-record 11 straight victories. But they won only one of their final five games, including a two-point loss in Cleveland on Sunday in which many of their starters rested.

    Gagnon didn't read too much into that Week 17 loss. But he does believe that Pittsburgh's injuries on defense and faltering offense are causes for legitimate concern.

    "We shouldn't read into what happened with the resting Steelers in Week 17, so the question is whether their second-half awakening in Week 16 against the Indianapolis Colts was a sign they're back or an aberration," he wrote. "What we do know is the defense is more vulnerable than usual without Devin Bush and Bud Dupree, and the offense has been extremely unreliable more often than not during the second half of the season. That doesn't bode well for potential playoff matchups against Patrick Mahomes, Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb and Josh Allen."

    The Steelers at least have history working on their side this week. Ben Roethlisberger has played in 27 career games against the Cleveland Browns, and he has gone 24-2-1 in those contests.

    But from there, the sledding is going to get a lot rougher. And the Pittsburgh team we've seen over the past few weeks doesn't appear to be in the same class as the Buffalo Bills or Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5, NFC No. 5 Seed)

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 8

    No team in the NFL entered the 2020 campaign with more hype than the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And while they took the first step toward fulfilling that hype by ending the NFC's longest postseason drought, they still have work to do, and they might be short-handed while they attempt to do it.

    Star wideout Mike Evans suffered a knee injury in the regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons. An MRI revealed no structural damage, but his availability for the Wild Card Round remains in doubt, according to ESPN's Jenna Laine.

    Brady admitted that losing Evans would be a major blow, but he said the Buccaneers will soldier on regardless of the circumstances:

    "Chris [Godwin] keeps making plays, Scotty [Miller] did a good job, Tyler [Johnson] made some plays, Gronk [Rob Gronkowski], Cam [Brate], everyone—A.B. [Antonio Brown], obviously, [as well]. Just got to keep it going. We've got a big one next week—it all comes down to one game. Now that the regular season's over, it's about one football game—who plays well [and] who executes when the pressure is on."

    The Buccaneers have no shortage of offensive talent, and their front seven on defense is as stout as any in the NFL. Sobleski believes that should be enough to get Tampa past Washington on the road this week.

    "It took a little time and few rough patches, but the Buccaneers hit their stride late in the season with four straight wins," he said. "Tom Brady is playing as well as he has all year. Evans' status may be the only potential hangup for Tampa Bay, although he appears to have avoided any major damage, according to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer (h/t Pewter Report's Taylor Jenkins). With Evans in the lineup and Brady dealing, Tampa Bay shouldn't have much trouble against the Washington Football Team, who brought a losing record to this year's postseason dance."

    However, advancing beyond that could be a different story, especially with linebacker Devin White also a question mark after he tested positive for COVID-19.

6. Seattle Seahawks (12-4, NFC No. 3 Seed)

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 7

    The Seattle Seahawks didn't back into the playoffs, per se. The NFC West champions defeated the San Francisco 49ers 26-23 in Week 17 to finish the regular season at 12-4, although their offense was stuck in neutral most of the afternoon.

    However, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told reporters that he isn't worried about Russell Wilson and Co. headed into the postseason.

    "You guys (the media), you're wondering about it, but I'm not worried about it," Carroll said. "We are going to keep playing and try to play really good football, not give it to them and play championship ball and see how far that takes us."

    Wilson has no shortage of weapons at his disposal. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf set franchise records this season for catches and receiving yards, respectively. The defense has been light-years better as of late than it was earlier in the season.

    Still, Davenport believes there's a lot the Seahawks will have to tighten up to make a run in the playoffs.

    "If the Seahawks are firing on all cylinders offensively, they can absolutely hang with the Saints and Packers," he said. "And they probably have enough to get past the Jared Goff-less Rams even if they aren't. But we haven't seen Seattle's best in several weeks, and the margin for error is about to get much slimmer."

    "Seattle's defense improved at the right time," Sobleski countered. "After the unit surrendered a historically bad 30.4 per game through the first eight contests, it turned things around. The Seahawks got healthy, added a few pieces and allowed only 16 points per game over the second half of the campaign. Russell Wilson and Co. just needed a little help to make Seattle a difficult out. With both sides of the ball playing well, the Seahawks ride into the playoffs having won six of their last seven."

5. Baltimore Ravens (11-5, AFC No. 5 Seed)

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    High: 4

    Low: 7

    The Baltimore Ravens are the wild-card team no team in the AFC wants to face.

    After steamrolling the Cincinnati Bengals 38-3 Sunday, the Ravens head into the playoffs having won five straight. In each of the last three victories, the Ravens have outscored their opponent by at least two touchdowns.

    Baltimore had more than twice as many rushing yards (404) as the Bengals had in total (195). A team that looked to be in real danger of missing the playoffs a month-and-a-half ago now looks quite a bit like the steamroller that peeled off 12 straight wins last season.

    That team saw its season end in the divisional round against the Tennessee Titans, who Baltimore will face in the Wild Card Round. The same Titans that downed the Ravens back in Week 11.

    Dating back to last year, the Ravens blow out lesser teams but tend to come up short in big games. Will that change Sunday? 

    "The million-dollar question with the Ravens is simple," Davenport said. "Which Baltimore team will show up? If they come out hot offensively and can stop the run, the Ravens could win by 20. But if this one plays out like the last two meetings between these teams, we're going to see a whole bunch of Derrick Henry in a close game that could come down to Lamar Jackson's ability to make a play with his arm."

4. New Orleans Saints (12-4, NFC No. 2 Seed)

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    High: 4

    Low: 5

    The New Orleans Saints faced major adversity entering Week 17. Thanks to a positive COVID-19 test from Alvin Kamara and contact tracing, the team's entire running back room was unavailable Sunday in Carolina.

    It didn't matter. Saints wide receiver Ty Montgomery (who played running back in Green Bay) rushed for 105 yards on 18 carries in a blowout win over the Panthers.

    The question now is how many of those players will be back for Sunday's home date with the Chicago Bears in the Wild Card Round. That includes wide receiver Michael Thomas, who will be eligible to return from injured reserve.

    After the win, veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders—who played in Super Bowl LIV last year with the 49ers—said the Saints will be ready to rock even if they remain short-handed.

    "We're headed into the playoffs, and I'm looking forward to it," Sanders said. "I know that the intensity is going to be turned up more, the speed is going to be faster. And we've got to be ready for it; we've got to be prepared for it. But I'm looking forward to it."

    For Davenport, the edict for the Saints in their next game is clear: survive.

    "If the Saints are going to knock off the Seahawks or Packers, it's going to be an all-hands-on-deck situation," he said. "But next week against the Bears, the Saints can probably get by short a guy or two. Getting a win is the most important thing. But getting healthy ahead of the divisional round is vital, too. Because at full strength, the Saints may be the most balanced team in the NFC."

3. Buffalo Bills (13-3, AFC No. 2 Seed)

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    High: 3

    Low: 3

    On Saturday, the Buffalo Bills will do something they haven't done since 1996: host a postseason game.

    No team is entering the postseason with more momentum than Buffalo, either. Sunday's blowout win over the Miami Dolphins put a cap on a season from Josh Allen that was the best ever by a Bills quarterback.

    In fact, Allen is the first quarterback in league history to pass for more than 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns with five rushing scores, according to the Buffalo News.

    Per Sobleski, Allen's presence might just make the Bills the toughest out in all of the AFC.

    "Allen may not be named the 2020 NFL MVP—that nod will eventually go to Aaron Rodgers—but no quarterback is more difficult to defend today," he said. "Everything came together for the 24-year-old, who finished among the top five this season in completion percentage (69.2), passing yardage (4,544), touchdown passes (37) and quarterback rating (107.2) while adding 421 yards and eight scores on the ground. Trying to stop Allen and Stefon Diggs has been nearly impossible this season, which makes the Bills arguably the AFC's scariest postseason opponent."

    While the Bills are rolling, safety Micah Hyde told reporters after the Dolphins game that the real work now begins.

    "We've played some pretty good ball lately, we understand that," Hyde said. "But we've got to keep it going. I think it starts in practice this week. We're coming off some big wins, so we gained a little momentum, we'll assume that. ... At the end of the day, we got some momentum, so we'll keep it going."

    If the Bills continue to play the way they did against Miami in Week 17, they have the best chance of preventing the Chiefs from making it back to the Super Bowl for a second consecutive year.

2. Green Bay Packers (13-3, NFC No. 1 Seed)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    High: 2

    Low: 2

    After pummeling the Chicago Bears in Week 17, the Green Bay Packers will be taking the Wild Card Round off. That extra week will give Aaron Rodgers a chance to clear off space on his mantle for another MVP trophy.

    After piling up 240 yards and four touchdown passes against Chicago, Rodgers ended the regular season with 4,299 passing yards and a league-leading 48 scores. Star wideout Davante Adams told reporters that those numbers should be more than enough to get Rodgers his third MVP award:

    "The MVP should be locked up. There's nothing else to really talk about. You look at what we've done and what he's been able to do, and they've hit him with everything. (They) said he didn't have any weapons, and we go out there and go 13-3 regular season, which isn't our main goal, obviously, but it's a hell of an accomplishment, especially when you're in your second year with a new staff."

    Gagnon agrees, but that may not be good for the Packers as a team.

    "Rodgers likely locked up MVP with a strong performance to wrap up the NFC's top seed Sunday, but the Packers didn't regularly hammer stiff competition in 2020," Gagnon said. "The last 20 MVPs failed to win the Super Bowl that season, and Rodgers could eventually run into problems if quality playoff opponents can take Davante Adams or Aaron Jones from games or exploit the late-season loss of left tackle David Bakhtiari. The gap separating Green Bay from New Orleans in the NFC is rather tiny."

    That gap may not be wide, but as the postseason begins, Green Bay is looking down at the rest of the conference.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2, AFC No. 1 Seed)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 1

    The Kansas City Chiefs entered Week 17 in the most enviable of positions. At 14-1, what happened Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers didn't matter. Regardless of the outcome, the defending Super Bowl champions were the AFC's No. 1 seed and would be watching the Wild Card Round from home.

    With nothing to play for, the Chiefs made the decision to rest a number of starters, including quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Doing so was hardly unprecedented.

    Per Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star, three teams since 2010 have locked up the No. 1 seed ahead of Week 17 and rested starters, including the Baltimore Ravens a year ago. Those teams went 1-3 in the postseason, and only one made the conference championship game.

    There's also the matter of Kansas City's level of play of late. Yes, the Chiefs haven't lost a game that mattered since Week 5. But they also haven't been blowing off many doors. In fact, they haven't won a game by double digits since blasting the Jets back in Week 8.

    Although they aren't blowing teams out, the Chiefs are still winning. As a result, Davenport views them as the team to beat in the AFC.

    "Maybe the extra rest will come back and bite them in the butt," he said. "Maybe all the close calls as of late are a harbinger of doom. Or maybe the Chiefs will play up to their potential in two weeks and cruise into the AFC Championship Game. I'm not betting against a team led by Patrick Mahomes."

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