NFL Power Rankings, Divisional Round: Packers and Chiefs Enter the Fray
See where each of the eight remaining playoff teams stand in our NFL Power Rankings at the end of wildcard weekend, as we head into the divisional round of the NFL playoffs!
By Mark Ross
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Well, the Super Wild Card Weekend turned out to be pretty super. Close games, blowouts, strong offensive performances and dominant defensive displays. All in all, it was a weekend to remember for NFL fans around the world, even if your team was on the losing end. Now we get to add the two top seeds from the regular season into the mix and see if anyone can topple them.
The matchups for the divisional round are as follows:
(6) Los Angeles Rams at (1) Green Bay Packers
(5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers at (2) New Orleans Saints
(5) Baltimore Ravens at (2) Buffalo Bills
(6) Cleveland Browns at (1) Kansas City Chiefs
Let’s have a look at how the Wild Card round affected the Power Rankings.
8. Cleveland Browns
Despite storming out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter the Cleveland Browns almost allowed Pittsburgh to get back into this. A botched snap on the very opening play from Maurkice Pouncey allowed Cleveland to smother the ball in the end zone and get seven points on the board. Then on their very next possession, Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception and the Browns capped it off with another touchdown. 14-0 and the game has barely started. Another two interceptions from Ben Roethlisberger had the Steelers in a deep hole by half time. A 35-10 hole to be precise.
In the third quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers finally came to play. After forcing a punt on the Browns first drive, Big Ben marched down the field and found Eric Ebron on a 17-yard touchdown pass. Another quick three and out followed by a 5-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster had the Steelers back in the game at 35-23. The Pittsburgh Steelers forced another quick three and out and had a chance to get the ball down the field and bring the game to within one score. Surely the Browns wouldn’t blow this?
Pittsburgh faced a fourth and one at midfield and for some strange reason, Mike Tomlin decided to punt. His offense had been having their way with Cleveland and they had a chance to pile the pressure on. Instead, they punted the ball away and Cleveland came out and took all the momentum back on a 40-yard screen pass to Nick Chubb. From this point, Cleveland was able to see the game out and hold on for a 48-37 win.
Their first win in the playoffs since 1994 and the Browns will be hoping for another one this coming weekend.
7. Los Angeles Rams
A battle of two teams that have been struggling on offense but have excelled on defense lived up to that storyline. The game started punt, punt, field goal for L.A., punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal for Seattle and then the game erupted into action.
Los Angeles marched down the field and added another field goal to the score. Then on the next drive, Russell Wilson tried to find DK Metcalf on a wide receiver screen but instead threw the ball straight at Darious Williams who ran in a touchdown. Then on the very next drive, Seattle managed to put a drive together and found the end zone on a deep ball from Russell Wilson to Metcalf. A game that started as a defensive battle finally had a bit of action on offense.
Despite losing their starting quarterback, John Wolford, to a nasty neck injury, the Rams used Jared Goff and added another touchdown before the half. At the half, the Rams found themselves up 20-10 and cruising. The second half started much the same as the first with a plethora of punts. Four each to be exact, Robert Woods then caught a pass in the endzone, and the Rams found themselves up 30-13 and had one foot in the divisional round.
Seattle managed another touchdown late on in the fourth, but it was too little too late as the Rams held on for a big win. Next up is the Green Bay Packers and the Rams will be checking on the fitness of both Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp. Donald struggled with a rib injury late on and Kupp limped off the field. The fitness of these two will be vital if the Rams have any hope of upsetting the high-flying Packers.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Let’s go back to Week 11 and the infamous game between the Ravens and the Tennessee Titans where we nearly saw the head coaches throwing punches. A whole drama over the Titans players stomping and dancing on the Ravens logo. Surely that wouldn’t come back to bite the Titans in the Wild Card matchup?
A game that was predicted to be a shootout turned out to be a defensive masterclass from both teams. Tennessee managed to hold the Ravens offense to a measly ten points in the first half and forced an interception from Lamar Jackson. Unfortunately, the Titans couldn’t get their offense going as Derrick Henry finished the game with just forty yards from eighteen attempts. On the other side of the ball, Jackson came out in the second half and put the Titans to the sword finishing with 136 rushing yards to go with his 179 through the air.
Baltimore has peaked at the right time and Lamar Jackson finally got the playoff victory that has plagued his short career. A tough match awaits going to Buffalo but if the Ravens defense continues to play football at this level then they could find themselves back in an AFC Championship game.
Ravens get their revenge for week 11 by dancing on the Titans logo towards the end of the game.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady is just something special. He is 43 and still out here playing better than the majority of quarterbacks in the league. All of which are younger than him. Having to play in a wildcard game is not what he is used to but was more than happy to get out there and give his Tampa team the best chance to win.
Going up against one of the best pass rushers in the league Brady wasn't scared as he dropped back to pass 40 times. Two passing touchdowns in the first half to Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown had the Buccaneers in an excellent position at the half.
In the third quarter however the Tampa defense allowed Washington to get back into the game. A field goal and a Taylor Heinicke rushing touchdown got Washington to within two points. In the fourth quarter, however, the Washington offense couldn’t quite keep up with Tom Brady and company. A touchdown and a field goal were enough for the Buccaneers as they held on for the win despite allowing Washington to get another touchdown on the board.
A 31-23 victory was a lot closer than many people predicted and not the thrashing that was expected from Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers now move on to play the Saints for the third time this year and fans are treated to the first postseason matchup between Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
Will Tom Brady get revenge, or will it be the usual outcome when the Buccaneers face off against the New Orleans Saints?
4. New Orleans Saints
In what was quite possibly the worst game of Super Wild Card weekend the New Orleans Saints did exactly what was expected of them. A dominating defensive display that held the Bears to 239 yards of total offense, 99 of which came on a garbage-time drive when the game was already over. Drew Brees and his offense did enough as they scored three touchdowns and put up 21 points and admired the excellence with which their defense was playing.
Finally, the Saints offense had both Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara on the field. The former was welcomed back into the fold with an eleven-yard touchdown in the first quarter. If you were lucky enough to see the game on Nickelodeon, then you will have enjoyed seeing the end zone filled with slime after the score.
The added effects were probably the most entertaining part of the game.
New Orleans then relied on their running backs for their final two scores of the day. Drew Brees found Latavius Murray for a six-yard touchdown before Kamara capped off the win with a three-yard rushing score.
New Orleans now welcomes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into their house for the second time this year. If the Saints defense can be as dominant as they were against the Bears, then we should be seeing New Orleans compete for another NFC Championship.
3. Buffalo Bills
Another team that has finally ended their playoff victory drought. In 1995 Jim Kelly led his Bills team past the Miami Dolphins and now in 2021 the Bills finally have another playoff win. Josh Allen and his offense have looked like the best unit in the league for the closing stages of the season and they managed to get over the hurdle of a playoff win. Welcoming the Indianapolis Colts into Orchard Park was never going to be easy and it certainly wasn’t.
In a tightly contested first half, the Bills managed to find the end zone twice thanks to some magic from Josh Allen. On a busted QB run play, Allen was stuffed at the line of scrimmage before bouncing off a tackle and then shovelling a pass to Dawson Knox in the end zone for the game's opening touchdown. Then right at the end of the first half, a QB run paid off as Allen marched into the end zone to give his Bills a 14-10 lead.
The second half continued to be a close affair until Allen finally hooked up with Stefon Diggs for a touchdown pass. A 35-yard score at the end of the third gave the Bills a 24-10 lead and had them with one foot in the divisional round. Indianapolis mounted a late comeback that ended with a failed Hail Mary attempt from Phillip Rivers.
Now that they have one playoff win under their belt, this Bills roster will be desperate to get a second this weekend.
2. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams have excelled since Matt LeFleur took over at Green Bay. Both have had career years with Rodgers the front runner for the MVP and Adams one of the favourites for the OPOY. Now they have had a week to rest up and they will be raring to go.
Having home field is already a big advantage, but when home is the freezing conditions of Lambeau Field the Packers have another advantage. Being used to playing in the harsh conditions will give Green Bay a huge advantage as they welcome the Rams into town. Playing in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly get you used to the cold temperatures of Wisconsin.
That being said Aaron Rodgers will be checking on the fitness of Aaron Donald. As no matter how used you are to playing in the cold, getting tackled hurts more on the solid turf and no one is better at tackling the QB than Donald. If Green Bay can stop the pass rush and give number 12 the time to operate then the offense of Green Bay should be too much for a Rams team that has struggled offensively.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Is there anything scarier than an offense that has Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill? Yes – the same offense but with two weeks rest. Kansas City rested their stars in their Week 17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers as they geared up for another playoff push to the Super Bowl.
After watching the divisional round, they will be ready to welcome the Cleveland Browns into Arrowhead. Cleveland got off to a great start in the first quarter but then stumbled and almost allowed Pittsburgh back into the game. Cleveland looked susceptible to strong offensive play and nobody does that better than the Kansas City Chiefs.
The push for the Super Bowl repeat begins now for Kansas and even though they get the lowest seed possible it won’t be easy. Cleveland looked beatable against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they are more than capable of getting points on the board through their dominant rushing attack. It could be a game where Kansas relies on the defense instead of their offense. Whatever happens, it’s bound to be another great game in this year's playoffs.