12 franchises are in the postseason and eight franchises are making head coaching changes in the NFL. There are a lot of changes in the pre-playoff power rankings; where does each team rank heading into the postseason? Keep in mind, these power rankings take into account road to the Super Bowl and seeding, so it’s not a lock that I believe the top two teams will be playing in February.
1. New Orleans Saints (13-3) | Last week: 1
It was awesome to see Teddy Bridgewater continue his comeback by making his first start since the 2015 season, and Drew Brees shouldn’t be rusty in next week’s Divisional Round despite a long layoff, as he’s extremely comfortable in the Superdome and has plenty of experience in Sean Payton’s offense. With most of New Orleans’ starters playing against the Panthers, it was a bit of a surprise they were routed at home, which isn’t a good sign if you believe in momentum heading into the postseason. Still, Brees and Payton have never lost a home game in the playoffs, and the homefield advantage makes them the Super Bowl favorite.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) | Last week: 2
The Chiefs needed a win to secure the top seed in the AFC, and they took care of business on both sides of the ball against a Raiders team they should’ve handled like they did. After joining Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as third player in NFL history to throw 50 touchdowns in a season, Patrick Mahomes’ confidence is likely very high entering January, which could make Kansas City’s offense unstoppable if the run game can do damage with Spencer Ware and Damien Williams. The health of wide receiver Sammy Watkins is also big, as he’s one of the league’s most underrated playmakers and is an insanely good third option behind Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. The defense seemingly wanted to make a statement at home in Week 17, and the Chiefs will be tough to beat if they keep it up against stronger teams this month.
3. New England Patriots (11-5) | Last week: 5 (+2)
Homefield advantage has the Saints and Chiefs in the top two spots of the power rankings, but the Patriots move up to No. 3 as they look to make yet another run to the Super Bowl. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and company simply aren’t a bunch to bet against, and they’ve shown they can put up points on Kansas City’s defense—granted that game was in Foxboro—which is the only game they’d play on the road this postseason. New England’s defense is an undervalued unit that’s been playing really well lately, and the squad has the running game to compliment it and win games multiple ways. Also, it was good to see the passing attack get on track a bit, and All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski still has the potential to be a major force down the stretch despite a concerning regular season.
4. Los Angeles Rams (12-4) | Last week: 3 (-1)
The passing game of the Rams also got going heading into the postseason, and it was in part because the offensive line played better than they had while C.J. Anderson was handed a heavy workload to give the offense a jolt in Todd Gurley’s absence. Gurley’s health, which probably isn’t a sure thing, is one of the biggest storylines in the league this month. Defensively, I expect the talented group led by Aaron Donald to be locked in, but they have some emotional players and must stay composed during the playoffs—especially when things aren’t going well.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) | Last week: 4 (-1)
Both LA teams move down one spot in the power rankings, but it’s not a huge deal and I believe (as most people probably do) both 12-win teams can make a strong championship run. The No. 1 seed in the AFC with a first-round bye might have been nice, but the Chargers don’t have much of a homefield advantage anyway, and they were an NFL-best (tied with the Saints) 7-1 on the road this season compared to 5-3 at home. Heading to Baltimore to face a Ravens team that basically shut them down a couple Saturday’s ago will be tough, but a win could be a huge momentum-builder for a talented team heading into the Divisional Round.
6. Chicago Bears (12-4) | Last week: 6
I give Matt Nagy and the Bears a lot of credit for playing their starters and playing to win against the Vikings, even deep into the game when it looked like they would clearly be locked into the No. 3 seed in the NFC. Minnesota is no easy place to win, but Chicago convincingly got it done—kicking last year’s NFC North champions out of the playoffs—to improve to 9-1 in their last ten games, with their only loss coming in an overtime thriller without Mitchell Trubisky against the Giants. If Trubisky and the offense are on in January, the Bears can obviously beat any team in the league.
7. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) | Last week: 12 (+5)
The wild card opponent for the Bears can also beat any team in the league with Nick Foles under-center, and the Eagles will look to thank their playoff opponent for helping them get into the postseason by swiftly knocking them out this Sunday. The defending Super Bowl champs led by last year’s Super Bowl MVP won’t be a crew that anyone wants to see in January, especially with the secondary doing a much better job—from coverage to coming up and making sure tackles—in recent weeks. With a stacked skill group led by clutch players Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Zach Ertz, we saw last season what the group can do with Foles giving his guys opportunities to make plays.
8. Houston Texans (11-5) | Last week: 7 (-1)
Needing a win to clinch the AFC South, Houston’s defense stepped up to shut down the Jaguars after giving up 29 points to the Jets and 32 points to the Eagles the two previous weeks. Things will get much tougher than facing the Jags in the postseason, though, starting with Andrew Luck and the Colts coming to town this Saturday afternoon. The Texans defense has guys that can take over a game and help carry the team to wins, but the secondary must play well against the fast, high-flying offenses they’ll be facing this month. It should be great fun seeing big-game maestro Deshaun Watson in the NFL postseason after he played his best when it mattered most during his college career at Clemson.
9. Seattle Seahawks (10-6) | Last week: 8 (-1)
In an NFL with about as much parity as ever, the Seahawks entering the party at No. 9 in the power rankings shows that this should be a wide-open few weeks of football. Seattle’s defense isn’t as strong or experienced as past years, but Pete Carroll will get the guys to play with a ton of energy. On offense, second-year running back Chris Carson has been one of the league’s most underrated players this season, and he has at least 90 yards and a touchdown in his last four games—the Seahawks also have Mike Davis and first-round rookie Rashaad Penny working in as strong change-of-pace options to help wear down opposing defenses. And we know Russell Wilson is one of the NFL’s most maddening quarterbacks for defenses to face—if he’s on, watch out.
10. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) | Last week: 9 (-1)
I think the Colts are going to win on Saturday, but it’ll have to come on the road in a relatively short week in Houston, as they play Saturday afternoon after just winning the de facto playoff game in Tennessee last Sunday night. It’ll be great to see a healthy Andrew Luck back in the postseason for the first time since 2014, and it might not be another several years until we don’t see him and the Colts in the dance, as they are probably ahead of schedule and will add more talent in the coming years. Matt Nagy and others are good options, but Frank Reich might be the Coach of the Year after the job he’s done for Indy.
11. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) | Last week: 10 (-1)
The Ravens picked off Baker Mayfield three times on defense while the offense continued to run the ball well with Lamar Jackson avoiding mistakes to improve to 6-1 with the rookie quarterback as the starter. It’s crazy Baltimore hasn’t been in the postseason since 2014, as they always seem to be in the mix, but this season is why you don’t give up on coaches as good as John Harbaugh. In their 6-1 stretch, the Ravens have just one win against a team with a winning record (their Wild Card Round opponent, the Chargers), but they played the Chiefs very close in the one loss. The Ravens are down at No. 11 because they have an inexperienced rookie quarterback leading them, but they clearly have the potential to make a run.
12. Dallas Cowboys (10-6) | Last week: 11 (-1)
While the Cowboys are the lowest playoff team in the pre-postseason power rankings, they also have the potential to make a run. Late in games, Dak Prescott has been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks since entering the league, and he came up clutch again with a game-winning touchdown to Cole Beasley against the Giants in Week 17. The game meant nothing for seeding, but it should be a confidence-booster for a streaky quarterback like Prescott. Dallas’ defense must be on its game to get past teams like New Orleans and to the Super Bowl, but they’ve shown they can do it during the regular season.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1) | Last week: 15 (+2)
I would trade Antonio Brown without hesitation, and Mike Tomlin certainly sounds open to it. The All-Pro receiver is clearly open to it too—if not straight up wanting a trade to happen—and you really don’t need someone like that on your roster as you attempt to get back to the Big Game and win it, which hasn’t happened with Brown. AB is undoubtedly a great player and one of the hardest-working guys in the league, but Pittsburgh would be fine without him. This was a hugely disappointing season for the Steelers, but it could lead to a slight overhaul that helps make them stronger championship contenders moving forward.
14. Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1) | Last week: 13 (-1)
When things aren’t going well, it’s not surprising to see arguments happen, but the frustration of Adam Thielen with his quarterback is not a good sign for the Vikings moving forward. I’ve noticed the wide receivers have been frustrated with Cousins for much of the season, as the quarterback didn’t play as well as his stellar numbers indicate—hopefully it’s not something that lingers into the offseason and into 2019. Strengthening the offensive line this offseason, to give Cousins time to sit back there and deliver the ball to his great weapons, is a major key this offseason for the Vikings as they look to shake off this step-back season.
15. Tennessee Titans (9-7) | Last week: 14 (-1)
It’s probably killing Marcus Mariota that he was unable to play against the Colts in the Titans’ must-win game, but the right decision was unquestionably made if the franchise quarterback was in danger of suffering permanent damage while dealing with the neck/arm nerve issue. Mariota’s numbers weren’t great this season, but it’s pretty outrageous if people seriously suggest the team move on from him as their quarterback. The Titans are in good hands with Mariota under-center, and he just needs to stay healthy and have people step up around him; the offensive line was disappointing this season, and Derrick Henry showed that there isn’t any question the team waited way too long to feature him on offense.
16. Atlanta Falcons (7-9) | Last week: 19 (+3)
My preseason NFC pick wasn’t able to overcome injuries and make the postseason, but I like the way they battled toward the end of the year with three straight wins for a respectable 7-9 finish. The Falcons were the only team to have made the postseason in the NFC the last two seasons, so it’ll be weird not having them in the mix this January—I suspect they’ll be back as strong contenders next season, though. However, they’re in an interesting situation, with Dan Quinn letting go of the coordinators. Matt Ryan continues to play exceptionally well despite having to go through many offenses in his career, and hopefully the team gets an offensive coordinator that establishes the run—and utilizes beast runner Tevin Coleman if he re-signs with Atlanta—to keep pressure off the former MVP to do it all. I wonder how different things would be in the league if the team hired Chip Kelly as their offensive coordinator over Steve Sarkisian (as was apparently discussed) in 2017.
17. Cleveland Browns (7-8-1) | Last week: 16 (-1)
The Browns nearly pulled off another win in Week 17, which would have kicked the Ravens out of the postseason, but they came up just short. Despite Mike McCarthy being out there, 6-2 record would’ve made it almost crazy to go in any different direction than Gregg Williams at head coach; but even at 5-3, I think Williams should be hired for the full-time job. We’re talking about a Browns team that went 3-36-1 with Hue Jackson at head coach, and Williams—with the help of offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens—instantly turned things around. Cleveland would have taken plenty of 5-3 stretches over the years, and it’ll seem weird if they don’t keep the head coach that just helped them do it.
18. Washington Redskins (7-9) | Last week: 17 (-1)
The Redskins have been curiously quiet since the end of the regular season, but Jay Gruden is probably safe as the team’s head coach—and he should be after guiding the team to a 7-9 record despite getting hit with a ton of injuries throughout the year. Everyone should hope that Alex Smith makes a full recovery and can play football again, though it sounds uncertain at this point. The Redskins are contenders with Smith at quarterback, but it’s a tough situation in which the team can go in a number of directions at the position this offseason.
19. Green Bay Packers (6-9-1) | Last week: 18 (-1)
Assuming the head coach feels comfortable working with Aaron Rodgers and the expectations that come with it, the Packers look like one of the better head coaching jobs available this offseason. There are building blocks to work with, including potential All-Pro receiver Davante Adams and young cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. Some are pointing to Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as a potential fit, but they’ll obviously have to wait to hire him if he wants the job.
20. Carolina Panthers (7-9) | Last week: 21 (+1)
I am a bit surprised new owner David Tepper is keeping Ron Rivera as his head coach instead of bringing in his own hire after the team’s shocking 1-7 stretch to end the season, but it’s the right move keeping the two-time Coach of the Year. The health of Cam Newton is the key for Carolina heading into 2019, and the offense has major upside under offensive coordinator Norv Turner if the quarterback is healthy and playing well. The Panthers not being afraid to give Christian McCaffrey, who proved he’s a true all-around back despite clueless doubters, a huge workload was one of the best things to see this season.
21. Buffalo Bills (6-10) | Last week: 23 (+2)
There should be a ton of optimism in Buffalo, and it starts with franchise quarterback Josh Allen. The immensely athletic six-foot-five rookie basically carried his offense by running around and through defenders while delivering big-time throws to literally all areas of the field with his elite arm strength in his first NFL season. With Allen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll leading the offense, and Sean McDermott leading the defense and getting A+ effort from his players, the Bills could be a problem in the AFC if they add strong pieces this offseason.
22. New York Giants (5-11) | Last week: 24 (+2)
The three-game losing streak to end the season at 5-11 wasn’t ideal, but the Giants played hard all year for Pat Shurmur and had a good stretch toward the end of the season. They would’ve liked to get more wins, but having the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft gives them an opportunity to add another difference-maker for 2019 and beyond. Saquon Barkley already might be the best running back in football and clearly wasn’t a bad pick despite what you might hear from people that don’t think running backs are important, and now the team just needs to find a young franchise quarterback. The 2020 draft, which looks stacked with signal-callers, might be the target, as the Giants sound open to bringing back Eli Manning next season.
23. Detroit Lions (6-10) | Last week: 26 (+3)
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter did a good job with the Lions the last few seasons, but this year just didn’t feel like a fit with new head coach Matt Patricia. I am very interested to see who Patricia hires for the position—there are some strong pieces there around Matthew Stafford, including 25-year-old receiver Kenny Golladay and 21-year-old running back Kerryon Johnson. Overall, the defense will probably be the key to Patricia’s team, as he’ll be tasked with building it into an elite unit.
24. Oakland Raiders (5-11) | Last week: 27 (+3)
I absolutely love the fit of Mike Mayock as the general manager of the Raiders with Jon Gruden as the head coach. Mayock, who puts in the work as does Gruden, has routinely had among the best draft rankings each year—he was high on Carson Wentz (probably higher than anyone), Jaire Alexander, and Tevin Coleman, among others. There might be just a few teams I believe have a brighter future than the Raiders with Gruden and Mayock—two true football guys that’ll work as hard as anyone—leading the way.
25. Miami Dolphins (7-9) | Last week: 20 (-5)
The Dolphins appear to be blowing things up, and the decision to fire Adam Gase, who is held in very high regard around the league including by all-time great Peyton Manning, is a bit perplexing. Now in command of all football decisions, Chris Grier will have the opportunity to hire a coach and make a decision at quarterback while in total control, and those two decisions will obviously be big for the trajectory of the franchise. I expect Gase will be hired as a head coach someplace else soon, and it’ll be interesting to see who the Dolphins believe will be an improvement over him.
26. Denver Broncos (6-10) | Last week: 22 (-4)
Two seasons isn’t much time as a head coach, and the quarterback situation wasn’t great for Vance Joseph, but it’s not surprising that John Elway decided to go in another direction. Quite honestly, I thought Joseph should’ve been fired after last season after the defense (his calling card) looked downright bad for much of the year, but it was good to see his team play hard for him this year—particularly shoring things up against the run after some more struggles—and it might not have been a bad idea to give him one more season. A lot is up in the air for Denver, as they’re in between trying to win now and continuing to add to some solid young talent.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (6-10) | Last week: 25 (-2)
While he didn’t get a playoff win, Marvin Lewis did a great job of making the Bengals competitive during his 16 years leading the franchise. It sounds like Vance Joseph, who was the team’s defensive backs coach from 2014-2015, might get a strong look for the job, but he might ultimately become the defensive coordinator with an offensive head coach. I do not think hiring Hue Jackson would be a good hire, but he might make the case that he’d be good for Andy Dalton if the team wants to stick with him at quarterback.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) | Last week: 28
Bruce Arians would be a home-run hire for the Bucs, as he would get the best out of Jameis Winston, who the team is apparently intent on keeping as the quarterback in 2019. There are plenty of weapons on offense in Tampa Bay, so it’s easy to see why Arians would potentially be interested in the job (in addition to knowing Bucs GM Jason Licht). The Bucs haven’t been in the postseason in over a decade, and they appear to be clearly behind the other three teams in the NFC South entering the offseason.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) | Last week: 29
Leonard Fournette had some good moments as a rookie last season, but it looks like his time in Jacksonville is coming to an end after he was selected fourth overall in the 2017 draft. The Jaguars defense has plenty of talent to be a playoff-caliber unit, but the entire roster might go through a big overhaul—the offense in particular will likely go through a many changes, including at quarterback.
30. New York Jets (4-12) | Last week: 30
The Jets have their quarterback moving forward, and they should feel really good about it after the flashes Sam Darnold showed as a rookie this season. Darnold’s first start in Foxboro didn’t go well, but that was expected; he otherwise had a spectacular end to the season. I don’t think Todd Bowles was given a good enough opportunity with the Jets and their subpar roster, but he said himself the 4-12 record pretty much spoke for itself. Bowles should get another head coaching job at some point, potentially this year.
31. San Francisco 49ers (4-12) | Last week: 31
Nick Mullens received some valuable experience this season, as did C.J. Beathard again, so the backup quarterback situation in San Francisco is strong heading into 2019. Ideally, Jimmy Garoppolo will be back better than ever and stay on the field next season, and he should help the Niners better compete for a playoff berth under Kyle Shanahan. A bright spot this season was obviously George Kittle, who broke the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end (1,377) and will lead an underrated roster and supporting cast in San Francisco.
32. Arizona Cardinals (3-13) | Last week: 32
I don’t like firing coaches after one season, but Steve Wilks’ defense surprisingly didn’t seem to show much effort at times this season, as opposing offenses didn’t have much trouble at all pounding the ball into the end zone seemingly every week. Clearly, this roster needs work despite the presence of some star talent, though, and it might be one of the worst jobs available this offseason depending on how coaches feel about Josh Rosen at quarterback.