NFL Power Rankings Playoff Edition: The Final 14
Updated: Jan 24, 2021
See where each NFL playoff team stands at the end of the regular 2020 NFL season, heading into a Super Wild Card weekend!
By Mark Ross.
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Well, here we are, the end of the regular season of the NFL. A bitter feeling knowing that we won’t have RedZone on Sunday nights anymore but what we will have is a Wild Card Weekend that we have never had before. With an extra team being added to each conference we now have three Wild Card games in each conference instead of two, making for a packed Saturday and Sunday. Over the course of the upcoming weekend, we get two inter divisional games and one rematch from last year that is sure to be a cracker. Let’s take a look at the games first of all.
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans
Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
And of course, as one seeds, the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers await in the next round. Let’s now dive into where each team ranks amongst their playoff colleagues.
14. Washington Football Team (7-9)
Entering the offseason with a losing record and coming from the worst division in football doesn’t sound like the best preparation for playoff football. However there seems to be something about this Washington Team that could pose problems. I can’t think of a team that has had as many good story moments in a season ever.
First the return of Alex Smith from a horrific injury and then Head Coach Ron Rivera successfully fights off cancer after having to go through IV drips at halftime in some of his matches. On top of that they had to deal with a name change and a petulant young quarterback who not only couldn’t throw the ball accurately but also couldn’t stick to the rules during a global pandemic.
On the back of their defense Washington fought against all odds and conquered the NFC East. It wasn’t the best division in football, by any stretch, but it was entertaining right up to the final day. Washington went into their Sunday Night matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles knowing that they needed to win in order to make it to the playoffs.
An earlier win for the New York Giants meant that they were currently sitting atop the NFC East. In a game that will be talked about for much of the offseason the Philadelphia Eagles and Jalen Hurts came out and looked to be playing well. Hurts had two rushing touchdowns and had done enough to keep his team in with a shot. Then late in the game finding themselves down by three the Eagles decided to go for it on a fourth and three where they were well within field goal range. They failed on the attempt and then things got really weird. New starting quarterback Hurts found himself benched and in came Nate Sudfield. Not because the Eagles were tanking but because they were trying to win.
Well, the Washington defense feasted and on two successive drives they intercepted Sudfield and forced a fumble that Chase Young almost returned to the house. Washington went on to take the division and the Eagles broke the hearts of Giants fans all over the world. Up next for Washington is Tom Brady and his terrific Buccaneers team. If Washington wants to make any advances in the playoffs, then they are going to need a huge game from Chase Young and the rest of that explosive defense.
13. Chicago Bears (8-8)
What a topsy turvy season it has been for the Chicago Bears. First, they get off to a great start and shoot out to a 5-1 start and look capable of challenging the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North division. Then disaster strikes the offense as they seem unable to conjure up anything and look completely unable to convert a first down let alone score any points. They go on to lose six in a row and look likely to miss out on the postseason after slipping to 5-7. Up steps Mitchell Trubisky as he finishes the regular season 3-1 and has somehow managed to get his team to the playoffs.
In Week 17 it came down to a showdown with division rivals the Green Bay Packers. Chicago needed a win to get in (or an Arizona loss) and Green Bay needed a win to make sure of the number one seed. In typical Bears fashion they got blown away by the Packers and Trubisky was back looking like a quarterback that Chicago may want to move on from. Luckily for Chicago however, the Cardinals couldn’t get the win they needed over the Los Angeles Rams and instead of being a “win and in” game it turned into a “lose and still sneak in via the backdoor” game.
Chicago travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints in the Wild Card round and the only real hope they would have had is if the NFL overlords scheduled the game for Saturday and Alvin Kamara misses out. Unfortunately, they are the NFC Sunday Night game and Kamara will be back. Nothing about the performance in Week 17 gives me much hope of a Bears win but if Trubisky can somehow find the form of Weeks 14 - 16 then who knows? Chicago will require their usually stingy defense to slow down Kamara and company and give Trubisky plenty of opportunities to put points on the board.
12. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The AFC is stacked. Every team headed to the playoffs finished with a record of 11-5 or better. No losing records sneaking their way into this one. Indianapolis Colts find themselves as the seventh seed as results both did go their way and also did not go their way in Week 17. Heading into Week 17 Indianapolis could both win their division and also miss out on the playoffs. In the early slate of games, they required one of the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns or Baltimore Ravens to lose to keep them in the hunt. This happened in emphatic fashion as the Miami Dolphins got blown away by the best team in football right now. This now meant that the Colts had control of their own destiny and could still win a division.
The late slate of games kicked off and the Colts had to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars to get in and hope that the Tennessee Titans slipped up against the Houston Texans. Indianapolis did what they needed as they rushed out to a 17-0 lead and then held on for a 28-14 win. A big game from Jonathan Taylor and the Colts defense helped secure the win that sent them to the playoffs. Up next was watching the ending of the Titans game and hoping that the Houston Texans could do the unthinkable. It went all the way down to the dying seconds and a field goal, but the Titans got the win leaving the Colts in the seventh seed.
Up next for the Colts is a trip to Buffalo to take on Josh Allen and his high-flying Bills. In what should be a sneakily good game in the cold conditions the focus will be on how the Colts defense handles this offense. Everyone knows the Colts offense is good enough to put points up against a Bills defense that has looked susceptible at times but I'm not sure if any defense can stop this juggernaut of an offense just now. Indianapolis will have to step their game up if they want to upset the Bills and force a game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
11. Los Angeles Rams (10-6)
Well, how the Los Angeles Rams have fallen since their visit to the Super Bowl in 2019. This time their progress into the playoffs came down to a Week 17 game where they would have to start former AAF standout John Wolford at quarterback. Luckily for the Rams they got to face the Arizona Cardinals who were missing Kyler Murray for the majority of the game. A win for L.A. would mean a playoff berth and they would get the delight of knocking a divisional rival out of playoff contention.
Los Angeles and their offense have struggled this year to be consistent. The run game has looked good at times and Cooper Kupp is a third down threat, but the real strength of this team is the defense. On Sunday their defense accounted for a safety and a pick six and gave the Rams a lead that they would never surrender. Like Pittsburgh the Rams have a Super Bowl calibre defense but the offense isn’t quite at that level.
Up next is another trip to Seattle and the Rams will be hoping to have Jared Goff back in the lineup. Even though the offense isn't great with him at the helm, if anyone is going to give them a shot at winning it is going to be him.
10. Cleveland Browns (11-5)
The Cleveland Browns are going to the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season. A team that is so used to losing and the heartbreak that comes with it finally have another chance at the big time. The road to get there was not as plain sailing as Browns fans would have liked it to be.
In Week 16 Cleveland faced the New York Jets with a chance to put pressure on the Pittsburgh Steelers and all but secure their trip to the postseason. Then in typical Cleveland fashion they lost. Then it all came down to Week 17. One small thing stood in the way, COVID.
The Browns got a few players back for their offense but were still missing some key players and coaches for their matchup against a weakened Steelers team. The game started as was expected with Cleveland running the ball and getting out to a lead. Then as we entered the fourth quarter the Browns allowed Pittsburgh to come back and get within a two-point conversion of tying the game. This attempt failed and the Browns thought it was over, but Pittsburgh went for the onside kick and came within a millimetre of recovering the ball. Cleveland managed to hold on and set up a game with…. You guessed it, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Part three of this matchup will take place at Heinz Field where there may be some home fans cheering them on and more importantly Pittsburgh will have their starters back. Cleveland now needs to face their divisional rival without star defensive end Olivier Vernon who has injured his achilles. A big loss in a huge game for Cleveland but nevertheless this is a team that can cause problems and could upset the team from the Steel City.
9. Tennessee Titans (11-5)
The second team from the AFC South to finish with a record of 11-5. Going into Week 17 the Titans found themselves in a similar position to the Indianapolis Colts. They could win the division, get a wildcard or be eliminated altogether. Games went their way in the early window with the Miami Dolphins losing to Buffalo and this result guaranteed that the Titans would, at the very least, have a wild card spot. Tennessee would now have to play Houston knowing that a win would secure them their first AFC South title since 2008.
With Derrick Henry on the offense, you always have a better chance than many other offenses in the league. Henry went into this game with a chance to become only the eighth man to surpass the 2,000-rushing mark in a single season. Despite Derrick Henry running all over the Texans, Houston stayed in this game right until the end. This can be accredited to the magic of Deshaun Watson, who despite his team's failings put together a quite fantastic season. In the end it came down to a last second 37-yard field goal from backup kicker Sam Sloman to send the Titans to the dizzy heights of the AFC South Championship.
Tennessee now has to welcome the Baltimore Ravens into Nashville in a repeat of last year's divisional playoff game. The Titans will be hoping to use Derrick Henry to pummel the Ravens and when that doesn’t work use Ryan Tannehill on play action and let him find his big wide receiver A.J. Brown.
The important thing for the Titans this week is to come up with a plan to stop the Ravens rush game. Baltimore is coming off a 404-yard rushing game and Tennessee has to find a way to stop that if they have any hope of advancing to the divisional round once again.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
Tom Brady is 43 years old and in the last few weeks has looked like he is playing his best football. Granted he has played some of the league’s poorer defenses in Atlanta, Detroit, Atlanta again and Minnesota but you can only beat the team that is put in front of you. Tampa had already secured a playoff berth before their Week 17 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons began but seeding was still up for grabs.
Early on Brady found Chris Godwin in the end zone and from that moment on the Buccaneers offense never relented. Finishing with a convincing 44-27 win this Buccaneers offense looks ready for the playoffs.
One storyline to follow however is the availability of star wide receiver Mike Evans. After just reaching the 1,000-yard receiving yard mark, for the seventh time in his first seven seasons, he hyperextended his knee trying to make a touchdown grab and was forced to leave the game. He was carted off to the locker room and would not return. His availability next Saturday could be vital as this team's chances depend heavily on the offense.
Speaking of next Saturday, the Buccaneers will face off against the Washington Football Team. Both teams have very different offenses but the Washington defense and that front seven are more than capable of getting pressure and forcing Tom Brady into making some mistakes. Brady has looked at his weakest when he is pressured and with Chase Young gunning for him, he better get ready for pressure. Everything I have read seems to have the Buccaneers winning with ease but if Tampa doesn't prepare and takes the foot off at all then Washington could cause an upset.
7. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Despite finishing last season as the number one seed the Baltimore Ravens struggled to bring that momentum into the 2020 season. Going into Week 17 the Ravens found themselves still needing to win to secure a playoff spot. Luckily for them they were up against the Cincinnati Bengals who have struggled since the loss of Joe Burrow. Baltimore ran for a franchise record 404 rushing yards in the game and the defense held the Bengals to a measly three points.
Baltimore is cooking at just the right time and now they get to travel to Nashville and attempt to exact revenge on the Tennessee Titans. A huge game against two teams that love to run the ball will be one of the most exciting games of Wild Card Weekend.
Baltimore will have to come up with a way to stop Derrick Henry and co. The Ravens have looked their best when they get out to an early lead and can just run opponents into submission. If the Ravens are to go into Nashville and leave with the win, they will need to slow down Henry and Ryan Tannehill and stop them getting out to a head start.
With Baltimore's run game, defense and Lamar Jackson’s ability to extend the play there is no doubt that Baltimore can be dangerous, it will all come down to whether or not Lamar can win the big game.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Despite having a chance at the number two seed Mike Tomlin decided to rest his starters in a Week 17 matchup with the Cleveland Browns. A wise decision given that they haven’t had a bye week since Week 4 (and even that wasn’t a proper bye) and in the last few weeks they have looked far from their best. So, without Ben Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and others the Steelers went into Cleveland and tried to pull off the incredible. Surprisingly, they actually came pretty close.
Mason Rudolph finished with 315 yards and two scores and one dodgy interception. Despite the interception he actually looked good. The deep ball was accurate, and he found the best option more often than not. Pocket presence wasn’t great but on the whole the Steelers can be pretty happy with his performance. The defense still got pressure and kept their sack streak alive. In the end the Steelers were a two-point conversion away from tying the game up.
After the 2019 season if you offered the Steelers a 12-4 record and a playoff berth, they would have bitten your hand off. Pittsburgh now welcomes the Cleveland Browns back to Heinz Field for Wild Card Weekend. Despite the loss Pittsburgh will take momentum from this game where they went to their opponents, started a B team and came close to causing an upset. It will take them a week longer but in the end, Pittsburgh will be expecting to knock the Browns out of the playoffs.
5. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Going into Week 17 the Seattle Seahawks still had a shot at the number one seed in the NFC. Granted they would need both the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers to lose, but still an outside shot remained. Chicago and Carolina would have to do them a massive favour. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, and the Seahawks would have to settle for the third seed.
Seattle would finish the season in a tightly contested battle with the San Francisco 49ers and have to come back from ten points down in the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to give the Seahawks a 19-16 lead. A further touchdown drive later in the quarter cemented the win for the Seahawks and gave them a strong win before the playoffs begin.
Up next is the Los Angeles Rams in what will be the third matchup between the divisional rivals. Currently tied at 1-1 the Seattle get to host the Rams for the most important matchup of the season. Most recently they faced off in Week 16 where the Seahawks defense completely halted the Rams offense and even broke Jared Goff’s thumb. If Goff fails to suit up for the Wild Card game, then Seattle will be the heavy favourites to progress.
4. New Orleans Saints (12-4)
New Orleans finished the season strongly and maybe silenced a few of the doubters from previous weeks. It was a commanding performance from Drew Brees where he threw three touchdown passes and probably silenced a few of the doubts in his own head. On top of that the Saints defense forced three interceptions on their way to a comfortable victory.
Next up the Chicago Bears come to New Orleans and the Saints will be the heavy favourites in this one. With Alvin Kamara back in the line-up the Saints will have all their weapons and should be far too much for the Bears to handle. Mitchell Trubisky is prone to a few dodgy throws at the best of times and with the pressure of the playoffs and going up against one of the best defenses in the league he will need to be extremely careful.
New Orleans could be facing their last few games with the future hall of fame quarterback Drew Brees and even though he is destined for Canton he will be desperate to add another Super Bowl victory to his resume. Unlike previous years Brees will have to rely on his supporting cast more if he wants to lift another Lombardi. Alvin Kamara could be the key to this game and the Saints’ progress as a whole.
3. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
Green Bay have secured the number one seed and the all-important bye week. A Week 17 matchup against the Chicago Bears gave Aaron Rodgers another chance to cement his credentials for the MVP crown. A dominating win against the Chicago Bears sets the Packers up well for the offseason and most importantly it means that they have home field advantage throughout.
Other than maybe the Buffalo Bills there is no team in better form right now than the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams have lit up the league this year as part of one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL. The Packers finished with more touchdown passes than punts. Is there anything more efficient than that?
Green Bay could finish the year with the Super Bowl title, the Most Valuable Player and the Offensive Player of the Year. On top of that they have a defense that has improved as the season went on and they seem to have very few questions compared to some of their NFC rivals. The NFC Championship would appear to be Green Bay’s to lose and with everyone having to face the wintery conditions of Wisconsin it may just be.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
Kansas City had the number one seed secure going into their Week 17 tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers and they made the decision to rest starters including Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City have been the dominant team in the NFL for the past two seasons but in the last few weeks they seem vulnerable.
Since the start of November every Kansas win has come by just one score. This has included tight wins against the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos. The Chiefs of last year would have blown these teams away. What is different this year? Are teams catching on to their style of play or are the Chiefs getting worse? Either way the Chiefs are still winning games, and nobody has done it as often as they have in recent years. Who am I to stay that the wins won’t keep rolling in? All I will say is that this team is beatable, and I wouldn’t have said that last year.
1. Buffalo Bills (13-3)
After seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers rest their starters the Buffalo Bills could have become complacent in the race for the second seed and also make the decision to rest their starters. A Pittsburgh loss or a Buffalo win would guarantee the Bills the number two seed. Unfortunately for them it is the first year that this won’t result in a bye week. Buffalo decided to play their starters going up against one of the best defenses in the league and a team that was still battling for their playoff chances.
A decision that many might have questioned but one that paid off for the Bills. They completely dominated the Dolphins and made one of the league's best defenses look pretty poor. Josh Allen lit up the Dolphins with three touchdowns and even Matt Barkley came in and got one himself. Buffalo hung 56 points on the Miami defense and their defense also intercepted Tua Tagovailoa three times.
Buffalo have been in incredible form this season and if it wasn’t for Aaron Rodgers superhuman season then Josh Allen would be the lead candidate for the MVP trophy. They will have to go through Kansas, but the Buffalo Bills could be the new champions in waiting. Kansas better look out.