The NFL regular season is over and we now head to perhaps the most exciting postseason in sports. These power rankings from 1-12 are in order of who I think is most likely to win the Super Bowl, with the remaining teams being ranked by where they currently stand heading into next season—with a lot to change between now and then.
1. New England Patriots (13-3) | Last week: 1
The clear favorite entering the playoffs is the Patriots, as they have homefield advantage in the AFC, the playoff and Super Bowl experience, and the best coach and best player on the field in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Ideally, Rex Burkhead (knee), James White (ankle), and Mike Gillislee (knee) will all be good to go for the Divisional Round, but Dion Lewis has been a stud that can carry the load if not. New England clearly has one of the strongest secondaries in the NFL, and it looks like 39-year-old James Harrison might give the pass rush a boost.
2. Minnesota Vikings (13-3) | Last week: 4 (+2)
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is confident in the team’s Super Bowl chances, telling his team in the locker room, “we’re staying in this place the rest of the way,” after their Week 17 win against the Bears. (That would mean the Eagles are knocked off in the Divisional Round.) If the NFC Championship is held in Minnesota, it’ll be tough to knock off the Vikings in the conference, which might mean they’ll be the first franchise to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. Keep an eye on Sam Bradford, who returned to practice and could return during the postseason, as an ace-in-the-hole if Case Keenum struggles at quarterback.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) | Last week: 2 (-1)
Young rookie sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster has stepped up in a big way after Antonio Brown went down with a calf injury early in the Week 15 game against the Patriots, and his presence on offense has been huge this season. Brown is fully expected to be ready for Pittsburgh in a couple of weekends, and they might need him if they face a Jaguars team that intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in their early-October matchup. The run defense is my biggest concern with the Steelers right now, though.
4. Atlanta Falcons (10-6) | Last week: 9 (+5)
With Seattle’s loss to Arizona, the Falcons ended up not needing a win to get into the postseason, but they still won a convincing one against the Panthers to lock up the sixth seed. Just like that, the defending NFC champions have a chance to make another run to the big game in a wide-open conference. Their Wild Card matchup with the Rams should be a major battle, but a win would set them up with a game against an Eagles team that doesn’t look as strong without Carson Wentz under center. However, Philadelphia’s defense could present some issues for Atlanta—of course that’s down the line, and they need to focus on LA first, obviously. But I do like Matty Ice and company’s chances to potentially get another crack at the Patriots.
5. Los Angeles Rams (11-5) | Last week: 5
I don’t think the Rams were resting their starters for a better chance to get the four seed in the NFC, but if they were trying to set up a Divisional Round matchup with the Eagles, it didn’t work out. Last season, the Falcons absolutely demolished the Rams in Los Angeles, but a lot has changed since then. The Rams have a new coaching staff led by Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and potential Coach of the Year Sean McVay, and they can beat anyone at any time.
6. New Orleans Saints (11-5) | Last week: 6
They ended the season on a loss, but the Saints still ended up as NFC South champions with at least one home game in the playoffs. And they face a Panthers team they’ve handled in both matchups this season. The two-headed backfield of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara will be great for the playoffs, and it’ll probably come to whether the defense can get teams off the field—something they’ve been able to do for much of the season.
7. Carolina Panthers (11-5) | Last week: 7
Of all the teams in the NFC playoff field Carolina could have faced, New Orleans is probably the toughest matchup for them. Their two games this season weren’t really even close, and the Saints seem able to just frustrate the Panthers both offensively and defensively. A deep playoff run might be on Carolina’s quarterback, as Cam Newton is clearly going to run around and make plays with his legs, but they’ll also need him to be on-point with his passes. If Newton gets hot throwing the ball, watch out.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) | Last week: 8
Last season, the Chiefs faced the Titans and got off to a hot start with 14 first-quarter points, but they struggled offensively over the final three quarters and lost in Arrowhead on a game-winning 53-yarder by Titans kicker Ryan Succop as time expired. Kansas City knows the Titans can upset them on their homefield, so they should be locked in. Alex Smith has played some of his best games in the playoffs, and he must know this could be his last chance with this team after they drafted Patrick Mahomes last year. Expect Smith to bring his A game.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) | Last week: 3 (-6)
This drop in the rankings isn’t about Nick Foles, who is getting some unfair criticism right now, but I’m more confident in other NFC teams right now. The Eagles do have a formula for success if they run the ball and play great defense, but the defense was a concern down the stretch. That said, the Eagles will stay at home through the postseason, where they’ve been tough to beat, and they need to help Nick Foles settle in to games.
10. Tennessee Titans (9-7) | Last week: 12 (+2)
The Titans needed a play late against the Jaguars, and Marcus Mariota made it to ice the game and help send his team to the postseason. Mariota showed about as much emotion as you’ll see him show after he threw a great stiff-arm to Jags safety Barry Church and slid for a first down, and teams in the AFC better watch out if he and the offense starts feeling it. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau should have his athletic defense playing well in January, and Tennessee’s success will likely come down to the running game along with Mariota’s play at less than 100% health.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) | Last week: 10 (-1)
It wasn’t a good look for Jacksonville to lose a second straight game heading into the postseason, especially against a division rival. There’s basically no momentum for the Jags, and quarterback Blake Bortles isn’t playing well after he had an excellent stretch from Weeks 13-15. They have one of the league’s best defenses, which could take them very far, but their only win versus a playoff team this season was the early-October win over the Steelers—which was impressive, but it was the worst game of Ben Roethlisberger’s career and probably won’t happen again, no matter how good Jacksonville is defensively.
12. Buffalo Bills (9-7) | Last week: 15 (+3)
Buffalo has some great fans, as they showed their gratefulness to Andy Dalton and the Bengals by donating over $150,000 to Dalton’s foundation after Cincinnati’s win knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs. Now they face the coach that left the franchise on New Year’s Eve 2014 when they play Doug Marrone and the Jaguars, and despite all the turnover on Buffalo’s roster, they won’t forget it. It should be a defensive battle, which bodes well for the Bills. However, a win would mean a matchup with the Patriots in the Divisional Round.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) | Last week: 14 (+1)
After an 0-4 start, the Chargers went 9-3 down the stretch but couldn’t quite get into the postseason. There is a lot to like heading into next season, though, and it’s possible the Chargers will be the division favorites in 2018 if the Chiefs part ways with Alex Smith and go with the young gunslinger Patrick Mahomes. With a great quarterback that has a ton of underrated weapons on offense, along with perhaps the NFL’s best combination of edge rushers and cornerbacks, the Chargers should be contenders next season.
14. Green Bay Packers (7-9) | Last week: 20 (+6)
In a shocking move, Ted Thompson is no longer the GM of the Packers after holding the position since 2005. This could mean the stingiest team when it comes to spending for free agents could get a little more aggressive moving forward, but as always, the most important thing will be drafting well. Getting Aaron Rodgers back and determined for next season should cover up a lot of holes on the roster.
15. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) | Last week: 11 (-4)
Week 17 losses don’t get much more heartbreaking than the one Baltimore suffered, getting knocked out of the playoffs by the Bengals. More concerning than the loss was the number of empty seats in M&T Bank Stadium, but perhaps it was just too cold for people to leave the comfort of their homes. Longtime defensive coordinator Dean Pees has retired from the NFL, so the Ravens have their hands full when trying to get a replacement for him.
16. Seattle Seahawks (9-7) | Last week: 13 (-3)
Unfortunately, it sounds like Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril’s careers could both be over due to neck injuries, which is a big loss for the team (especially Chancellor) but would be even worse for the two men personally. Hopefully they get good news. A Russell Wilson-led squad not making the playoffs might not be something we see happen often, but the front office is going to need to get him some help on offense moving forward.
17. San Francisco 49ers (6-10) | Last week: 18 (+1)
Next season isn’t for another several months, but if there was ever a case of building momentum from one season to another, it’s happening with the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo went 5-0 as the team’s starter, and there is 0% chance the Niners let him walk in free agency. Jimmy G will either get a long-term deal or the franchise tag, and the future is bright with him under center. The roster was already made much stronger from 2016-2017, and the team still has a lot of cap space and can make another jump in talent for 2018.
18. Oakland Raiders (6-10) | Last week: 23 (+5)
Jon Gruden certainly looks like he’ll be back on the sidelines next season, and it should be very exciting. The Super Bowl winning head coach has said he won’t come back to coaching unless he has a franchise quarterback and gets to pick the players, so it’s safe to say he’s a big fan of Derek Carr and will get to shape the roster in his image. You really have to feel for Jack Del Rio, though, who brought the team back to respectability despite their issues—which I believe stemmed from adding Marshawn Lynch and getting rid of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave—this season.
19. Dallas Cowboys (9-7) | Last week: 16 (-3)
There is no question Dak Prescott struggled toward the end of the year, but the season started off about as well as it did last season, and it’s a little crazy how far the narrative has shifted so quickly, with some calling Prescott a terrible quarterback. He’s shown he can be an extremely accurate and on-time passer for most of his first two years in the NFL. Dallas needs to revamp the receiving group, which may or may not include letting Dez Bryant go despite having to pay him $8 million either way.
20. Houston Texans (4-12) | Last week: 30 (+10)
First and foremost, everyone should be wishing the best and praying for Rick Smith and his wife, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Houston is now looking for a new GM to pair with head coach Bill O’Brien, who is thankfully staying with the team. It would’ve been a mistake to get rid of him without giving at least one full year with Deshaun Watson under center. I am concerned about J.J. Watt, as I hope his body isn’t breaking down after the injuries he’s gone through over the last few years.
21. Washington Redskins (7-9) | Last week: 19 (-2)
Like with Bill O’Brien in Houston, it’s a good move by Washington to keep Jay Gruden as their head coach. He also had to deal with his team having a ton of injuries this season, and even before the injuries some of the roster—particularly the supporting cast on offense—was shaky after letting their top two receivers go in free agency. Now it’ll be extremely interesting to see what happens with Kirk Cousins, with the two sides not seeming overly eager to stay together.
22. Detroit Lions (9-7) | Last week: 17 (-5)
On paper, the Lions have a lot of talent. They have Matthew Stafford at quarterback, with potentially one of the league’s best receiver trios in Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and Kenny Golladay. But they don’t have a head coach right now. My hire would be Pat Shurmur, who is doing an outstanding job with the division rival Vikings as their offensive coordinator—though he would probably be my pick for most of these jobs. The Lions need to get their run blocking situation sorted out, and they might need to add more to the backfield, too.
23. Miami Dolphins (6-10) | Last week: 22 (-1)
The NFL is deep right now, which is part of what makes it such a great league. The Dolphins could be higher in the rankings, as I believe in head coach Adam Gase, but the quarterback situation is very much up in the air. Presumably, it will be Ryan Tannehill under center for Miami, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they went after another quarterback this offseason, whether it’s in free agency or the draft.
24. New York Jets (5-11) | Last week: 24
I was very happy to see the Jets give Todd Bowles a contract extension, as he most certainly deserved it for what he’s done with a team many thought would be in contention for the first pick in the 2018 draft. If they stay the course, the Jets should continue to get things turned around while building the program, but they’ll need to find a young quarterback, as Christian Hackenberg hasn’t gotten any time and doesn’t appear to be the Jets’ guy.
25. Indianapolis Colts (3-13) | Last week: 28 (+3)
The Colts are this low because Andrew Luck’s health is a bit of a mystery. However, Luck did sound very optimistic when he spoke last week, and a full offseason leading up to next season would be awesome to see. Indianapolis is in a nice draft position at the third spot in the draft, and it certainly sounds like they could be targeted Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who is clearly the best player in the draft in my opinion. That sounds like a good plan to me, assuming Barkley is still there at No. 3.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) | Last week: 26
I didn’t think it would happen based off the reports that were out there during the season, but I think I like the move for the Bengals to keep Marvin Lewis on as head coach. The team played well after a terrible start offensively this season, and their win over the Ravens in Week 17 to knock Baltimore out of the playoffs might’ve saved his job. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will now get a full offseason with the interim tag taken off him, and the Bengals might have an explosive offense that catches people off guard in 2018.
27. Chicago Bears (5-11) | Last week: 25 (-2)
Frankly, it’s a little confusing that GM Ryan Pace is keeping his job and received a contract extension while John Fox was fired. Fox didn’t have a ton to work with on offense during his tenure with the Bears, but Chicago is likely to add pieces around Mitchell Trubisky this offseaon with the hope of him taking a similar jump to the one Jared Goff and Carson Wentz took from their rookie to sophomore NFL seasons. Pace has drafted some excellent players like Jordan Howard and Leonard Floyd, but I mostly think Fox should’ve gotten another season to see this thing through longer.
28. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) | Last week: 21 (-7)
The Cardinals lost a great one with the retirement of Bruce Arians, who was a slam-dunk hire back in 2013 and leaves as the franchise’s all-time leader in wins. And after Carson Palmer’s retirement a day later, they now have a hole at the quarterback position too. The good news is the quarterback market looks like it’ll be as good as it’s ever been this offseason, so a head coach and quarterback combination (Pat Shurmur and Sam Bradford?) could keep the Cardinals elevated as NFC West contenders. However, Larry Fitzgerald could also decide to retire, and that’d make three key members of an organization gone, which would be difficult to overcome.
29. Denver Broncos (5-11) | Last week: 27 (-2)
The play of the Broncos defensively this season was puzzling, and most people would have probably been fine with the firing of Vance Joseph. But John Elway deserves credit for not firing someone just a year after hiring them while acknowledging his own shortcomings as the person putting the team together—mainly at the quarterback position. Denver is low in the rankings, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think Elway can get things turned around this offseason.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) | Last week: 29 (-1)
We’ll probably never know for sure, but the Buccaneers might’ve gone after—and missed on—Jon Gruden before they made the announcement about Dirk Koetter returning to coach the team in 2018. The focus should be holding players more accountable for next season, as you can’t have Mike Evans and Jameis Winston acting immaturely when they’re two of the best players on the team. The best players need to set the example for everyone else to follow, and hopefully Koetter and company can get that message through to them.
31. New York Giants (3-13) | Last week: 31
Star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will make his return next season, and he should be 100% after his broken ankle occurred early in the season. But the new head coach needs to be someone that can keep his antics a bit under control. Some rebuilding needs to be done after the season the Giants had, and like the Bucs, they can’t have their best player setting a bad example for everyone else. OBJ might be able to get away with it when things are going well, but if they draft a rookie quarterback and part ways with Eli Manning, there might be more downs than ups in 2018.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-16) | Last week: 32
I know I’ve said it before, but I typically don’t call for guys to get fired from their jobs. That doesn’t mean Hue Jackson going 1-31 on a roster that’s a lot better than isn’t making me scratch my head. And the fact that Jackson is playing a bit of a victim-card and saying stuff like no one else could have done his job over the last two seasons is ridiculous. Frankly, a lot of people could’ve done his job—in fact, they could’ve probably done a better job than losing nearly 97% of the time in two years.