I still feel both No. 6 seeds could end up meeting in the Super Bowl, but where do the Eagles and Colts land in the Divisional Round power rankings after their big wins during Wild Card Weekend?
1. New Orleans Saints (13-3) | Last week: 1
The Saints routed the Eagles, 48-7, in Week 11—Sean Payton and company even ran up the score a bit, which you can’t blame them for doing in an NFL game. The NFC’s top seed and the defending champions are obviously much more evenly matched than that Week 11 score indicates, but the Saints remain in the top spot of the Divisional Round power rankings because they might have the best home-field advantage of any team at the Superdome, where Drew Brees and Payton are 5-0 in the postseason. Brees is 4-1 in his last five games against the Eagles, including a January 2014 playoff victory on the road.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) | Last week: 2
This is not a great matchup for the Chiefs, as they might have trouble stopping Andrew Luck, Marlon Mack, and a hot Colts offense, but I opted not to drop them from the No. 2 spot in the power rankings after they didn’t play a game last week. Andy Reid is 20-4 off the bye week in his career (including postseason, when he’s 3-1 off the bye), and Arrowhead Stadium is one of the best environments in football—there’s certainly reason to be optimistic about the Chiefs winning this Saturday to get to the AFC Championship Game for the first time under Reid. It’ll be fun to watch likely league MVP Patrick Mahomes in his first playoff start, and he’ll benefit from one of the most electric supporting casts in league history this postseason—assuming Sammy Watkins (foot) is ready to go.
3. New England Patriots (11-5) | Last week: 3
With the hype about the Saints, Chiefs, a couple of six seeds, “American’s Team”, and a couple of Los Angeles teams, the Patriots appear to be somehow below the radar ahead of their first playoff game. Tom Brady and company are not the group to doubt, and I anticipate the future Hall of Fame quarterback will come out razor-sharp leading a maligned 2018 passing attack. Also, New England has a very potent run game that can open up play-action passes as well as grind the clock late in games; and that defense, which includes All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore, in Foxboro during January won’t be easy for other teams to face. Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett is someone I’m keeping an eye on during the postseason, as he’s seemingly made plays whenever he’s been given opportunities the last two seasons with the Patriots.
4. Los Angeles Rams (12-4) | Last week: 4
Todd Gurley is fully expected to return from the knee injury that forced him to miss the final two games of the regular season, but the emergence of late-season addition C.J. Anderson helps give the offense a one-two punch to wear out potentially-tired defenses this late in the season. I anticipate Jared Goff will play very well after he already got a taste of the postseason in last year’s breakout campaign, and Sean McVay should have an outstanding gameplan with the extra time to prepare after the first-round bye. If Wade Phillips’ defense led by Aaron Donald is on, the Rams might be the team to beat with perhaps more talent than any team in the NFL.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) | Last week: 5
The other team in LA is pretty talented too, and they have an experienced veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers that knows he probably doesn’t have many opportunities left to win a championship before his career is over. It’s a bit of a concern the Chargers weren’t able to do a better job of putting away rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens last Sunday, but the defense played great for most of the game and has the ability to pressure Tom Brady and force turnovers with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. They obviously played one more game because they have to play in the Wild Card Round, but the Chargers have the best record in the AFC heading into this weekend.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (10-7) | Last week: 7 (+1)
Again, it would not surprise me if the defending Super Bowl champions made a run back to the Super Bowl with Nick Foles working his magic for a team that believes, but going to the Superdome might be the toughest draw for teams this postseason. Foles is simply fantastic, especially with the offensive line protecting as well as it did versus Khalil Mack and the Bears. Michael Bennett in particular can’t afford to make any more idiotic plays that could cost his team—like his personal foul that basically gave the Bears three points last Sunday—if the Eagles want to keep winning as the playoffs progress, especially because this is a squad that thrives on a team bond and elite culture. Bonehead plays can derail that.
7. Indianapolis Colts (11-6) | Last week: 10 (+3)
The Colts can dominate in the trenches, particularly on offense, which gives them the ability to beat any team in the league no matter where the game is played. Marlon Mack has basically been dominant when Indianapolis has committed to running the ball, and it sounds like that’s what they’re going to do as long as they remain alive in the postseason—including this Saturday as they look to keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. Andrew Luck receiving excellent pass protection and getting rid of the ball quickly to keep the offense moving will also keep drives moving while keeping pressure off the defense—a group that has played as hard as any unit in the league this season.
8. Dallas Cowboys (11-6) | Last week: 12 (+4)
The Cowboys defense reminds me of the Colts defense a bit because of how they play hard and relentlessly fly around to make plays all over the field, but there’s probably more talent on Dallas’ defense. Either way, their style of play should help keep them in games no matter who they play, as no one has been able to stop Ezekiel Elliott from moving forward for positive yardage on his 25-30 touches per game. And if games are close in the fourth quarter, Dak Prescott has shown that’s when he plays his best through three seasons. However, stopping the Rams off the bye could be very difficult.
9. Chicago Bears (12-5) | Last week: 6 (-3)
It was good to see Bears players—and even some Eagles players as former teammates—come to the defense of kicker Cody Parkey after the would-be game-winning field goal was no good in Chicago’s Wild Card Round loss. The kick was tipped by Treyvon Hester, but of course people would rather just take the negative approach and pile on Parkey despite the fact that the kick probably would’ve been good if not for the tip. The attitude the Bears have after the crushing loss is a good sign for the team moving forward, but their big concern now is the potential loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who is apparently a finalist for the Broncos head coaching job. Chicago has plenty of talent on defense for any new defensive coordinator to work with, though.
10. Seattle Seahawks (10-7) | Last week: 9 (-1)
They weren’t able to pull off a road playoff win, but this was a solid season for the Seahawks in a year some people actually expected them to be one of the worst teams in the league while going through a mini rebuild. Russell Wilson’s presence should always keep Seattle among the better teams in football, and the competitive spirit Pete Carroll brings to his roster helps get the most out of young, inexperienced players. Next season, the roster will be a year wiser with some more talent thrown in there, and the defense in particular could start to trend towards becoming a force again.
11. Houston Texans (11-6) | Last week: 8 (-3)
The Texans have a quarterback (Deshaun Watson) I was higher than anyone on when he entered the draft a couple of years ago. I like Bill O’Brien, the coaching staff, and the talent on both sides of the ball. But there’s something about the Texans that doesn’t make me feel confident about them during the postseason—perhaps it’s just their lack of January success, but they seem to be a team that’s better when they’re frontrunning, which obviously doesn’t happen as often against tougher opponents in the postseason. There were opportunities to get back in the Wild Card game against the Colts, but to me personally it just never felt like that was going to happen even after they fell behind just 7-0 to start the game.
12. Baltimore Ravens (10-7) | Last week: 11 (-1)
Credit to Lamar Jackson and the offense for battling back and making last Sunday’s loss to the Chargers a close game at the end. Like many others, I was waiting for former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco to be inserted into the game, but at least Jackson gained valuable experience by finishing his first playoff start—and hopefully the rookie received a boost in confidence after showing he can come back and make it a game when things aren’t going well. Jackson should benefit from a full offseason as the starting quarterback, as should the coaching staff crafting an offense around the former Heisman Trophy winner.