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AP/ Photo Jeffrey T. Barnes

2021 NFL Power Rankings: Wild Card Round

After a crazy 2021 NFL regular season that had its final two playoff spots determined literally as late as possible on a game-winning field goal by Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson in overtime of Sunday Night Football, it’s playoff time. Where do teams rank ahead of the postseason? More thoughts on the teams that missed the postseason can be found on The Wolf Sports Show (AppleSpotifyGoogle Podcasts), as I looked ahead in last week’s episode and will touch more on some of the eliminated teams (particularly those with coaching changes) for tomorrow’s episode ahead of the postseason.


1. Green Bay Packers (13-4) | Last week: 1

Keep in mind that these power rankings are not necessarily my Super Bowl predictions, but the Packers are in a better spot than they have been entering the playoffs the past couple of years in my opinion. Green Bay is getting healthier at the right time, and Aaron Rodgers and company were able to get some good work in during Week 18 before leaving early. It’s been a cold winter as of late, and the Packers will be hoping for major homefield advantage at Lambeau Field for a couple of games.


2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) | Last week: 2

The Buccaneers should be getting healthier on defense for the playoffs, but the offense is what has me relatively concerned about their chances of repeating (they are led by Tom Brady, though, so the concern is very minor). Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are gone (for very different reasons), and speedster Cyril Grayson is now dealing with a hamstring injury after coming on late in the season. Rob Gronkowski should now be the key for Tampa Bay’s offense, and the defense led by Devin White should be energized and flying around as they look to win another title.


3. Tennessee Titans (12-5) | Last week: 3

The Texans were able to hang around and make it a game against the Titans, but Tennessee clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and the first-round bye could lead to Derrick Henry being available for the start of their postseason. Week 18 was a positive for Julio Jones, who caught five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown and will give defenses something else to think about. The ability to play with anyone in the trenches has me optimistic about the Titans’ Super Bowl chances.


4. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) | Last week: 4

Nick Bolton’s fumble recovery returned for a touchdown helped the Chiefs secure victory over the Broncos to complete a 12-5 regular season following a slow start. Playing at home, Kansas City should be confident—but not overconfident—facing a Pittsburgh squad they just blew out a few weeks ago.


5. Buffalo Bills (11-6) | Last week: 5

A dominant defensive effort capped off the regular season for the Bills, who might be the most complete team in the AFC with a superstar quarterback, a great supporting cast around him, and a top defense. If Buffalo can get past New England on Saturday night, they should feel they can beat anyone this postseason.


6. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) | Last week: 6

The Bengals pretty much used Week 18 as a bye, and I’m anxious to see how that works out given the potential rust factor. Joe Burrow has been excellent in big games, and the former No. 1 overall pick will now get his first taste of the postseason. Cincinnati has been a focused team all season.


7. Dallas Cowboys (12-5) | Last week: 11 (+4)

Taking the approach of getting something going heading into the playoffs, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense lit up the Eagles’ backups for five passing touchdowns on Saturday night. The only problem is the competition level will take a major step up when they face the Niners, but Dallas will get a jolt with Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs returning to the lineup on defense.


8. Los Angeles Rams (12-5) | Last week: 7 (-1)

The Rams appeared set to roll against the 49ers and head into the postseason hot (while also knocking out the division rival), but the offense stalled in the eventual overtime loss in front of a hostile “home” crowd. I remain very worried about Matthew Stafford’s ability to lead the Rams to a championship, but, again, perhaps he can catch fire at the right time this month. In a notable surprise, former All-Pro safety Eric Weddle is coming out of retirement and joining the Rams for the postseason to help replace Jordan Fuller.


9. New England Patriots (10-7) | Last week: 8 (-1)

They battled back to make it a game, but the Patriots always seem to have trouble at Miami, and Bill Belichick’s squad will now look to wipe the slate clean for the postseason. I wish it was a different Wild Card Round matchup than Pats-Bills because I am high on both teams and thought this could be a showdown we’d see deeper in the playoffs, but the winner should have a good shot to go on a run.


10. San Francisco 49ers (10-7) | Last week: 13 (+3)

This might prove to be too low for the Niners entering the playoffs. San Francisco can run the ball about as well as anyone, and they have a stacked offense that includes Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle among the pass-catchers. It’s surprising (and nice) to see an injured Jimmy Garoppolo finally get some respect for his extremely clutch play down the stretch of the Week 18 comeback victory, but we’ll see how quickly the sheep turn if he has a subpar outing this month.


11. Arizona Cardinals (11-6) | Last week: 10 (-1)

The Cardinals enter the single-elimination tournament with a 1-4 record over the final five games, but the good news (probably, as crazy as it sounds) is that they get to play on the road, where they were 8-1 this season. This is also Kyler Murray’s first opportunity in the NFL playoffs, and I’m ready to see how the former Heisman Trophy winner and his teammates—potentially including J.J. Watt as he looks to make an improbable return from a shoulder injury—perform in LA on Monday night.


12. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) | Last week: 12

Opposite of the Cowboys, the Eagles took a rest-the-starters approach to the regular season finale. Like the Bengals, I just hope it doesn’t lead to rust while facing a Buccaneers team that continued to go as hard as possible through Week 18. Philadelphia played Tampa Bay close earlier this season, and both teams are pretty different at this point. The Eagles will look to ride the run game and the playmaking ability of Jalen Hurts as they attempt to make a run.


13. Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) | Last week: 15 (+2)

The Raiders earned a ton of respect for making the playoffs despite dealing with about more serious problems as any team I can remember in a season. The great Justin Tucker has a case as always, but Daniel Carlson should be an All-Pro kicker with how clutch he was this season, hitting five game-winning field goals including two in overtime (one on Thanksgiving and one to conclude Week 18). Yes, he’s a kicker, but Carlson can be a serious weapon in close playoff games.


14. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) | Last week: 16 (+2)

They got some unlikely help from the Jaguars in the final week, but I said before the season that Mike Tomlin and the Steelers are not a group to bet against and thought their over/under win total was crazy considering Tomlin simply doesn’t finish with a losing record. The Steelers were recently handled by the Chiefs, but it sounds like they are going into Wild Card Weekend with a carefree, underdog mindset—which might be the right formula for an upset.


15. Indianapolis Colts (9-8) | Last week: 9 (-6)

Obviously, Carson Wentz did not play will in the Colts’ stunning loss to the Jaguars, but neither did the offensive line—the strength of the team—in front of him. It’ll be tough to watch given the disappointing tone that’ll certainly be hanging over the episode, but I am interested to see what type of insight we get into the results on the final episode of the first-ever in-season Hard Knocks on HBO.


16. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8) | Last week: 14 (-2)

As you know if you’ve followed along, I liked Brandon Staley’s aggressiveness in the first win over the Chiefs this season, but I felt he took it to outrageous extremes after that—and it’s almost like he keeps doubling down to show that he’s “right”. The Chargers are a very talented team, and they don’t need the coach holding them back by making decisions you wouldn’t even attempt in Madden video games.


17. New Orleans Saints (9-8) | Last week: 18 (+1)

The Saints dealt with many injuries this season, so going 9-8 with a real shot to make the postseason was a result they can look to keep their head high about entering the offseason. Quarterback is the position to watch, with both Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill (after a Lisfranc injury in Week 18) currently injured.


18. Baltimore Ravens (8-9) | Last week: 17 (-1)

The Ravens also dealt with injuries (perhaps being affected by it more than any team in football), with former MVP Lamar Jackson most notably missing the final stretch with an ankle injury. They should be healthier in 2022.


19. Minnesota Vikings (8-9) | Last week: 20 (+1)

I outlined why Mike Zimmer maybe should be given another year in last week’s episode of The Wolf Sports Show, but perhaps it’s best for the Vikings to get a fresh start as they look to take a step forward into consistent championship contender.


20. Cleveland Browns (8-9) | Last week: 21 (+1)

I did not think it would be the case (and perhaps it’s just posturing for a potential move), but it sounds like the Browns will keep Baker Mayfield as their quarterback next season. They are another team looking for better injury luck in 2022, particularly at quarterback after Mayfield was injured almost all year.


21. Miami Dolphins (9-8) | Last week: 19 (-2)

The firing of Brian Flores after three seasons was this year’s stunner, and it does not make sense to me. It appears to have been a power struggle that he lost to general manager Chris Grier, who I frankly don’t think has done a good enough job at all with his drafts.


22. Seattle Seahawks (7-10) | Last week: 26 (+4)

This was a very disappointing season for the Seahawks, but the team was able to get enough going down the stretch—particularly on offense led by Rashaad Penny—to be optimistic heading into next season. We’ll see what happens, but I don’t think Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll are going anywhere.


23. Atlanta Falcons (7-10) | Last week: 22 (-1)

I’m not saying it’s a miracle, but it was impressive that the Falcons got to a 7-10 record this season, as there were times where they felt like a potential four- or five-win team. Matt Ryan is a big part of that, and Arthur Smith definitely wants to keep him as his quarterback moving forward. Atlanta’s players have clearly bought in to Smith.


24. Denver Broncos (7-10) | Last week: 23 (-1)

I think Vic Fangio had a tough deal in getting fired from the Broncos after three seasons. As stated last week, he just didn’t have the right quarterback in place, which can be a difficult ask for a defensive coach.


25. Washington Football Team (7-10) | Last week: 24 (-1)

7-10 isn’t a terrible final finish for Washington, but the group—which will have a new team name in 2022—will be expected to take a step forward next season.


26. Chicago Bears (6-11) | Last week: 25 (-1)

The intrigue for the Bears job really comes down to how prospective head coaching candidates feel about Justin Fields at quarterback. Ultimately, Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace were fired, but they left some strong pieces to work with on both sides of the ball.


27. Carolina Panthers (5-12) | Last week: 27

Things appeared shaky for a bit, but I like the Panthers showing patience in Matt Rhule, who showed he can build programs at the college level. Carolina is yet another squad that’s trajectory will probably come down to the quarterback position.


28. Houston Texans (4-13) | Last week: 29 (+1)

I would not be shocked if a move is made, but I personally think David Culley helped the Texans show enough progress this season that he should not be fired after one season. Now, we’ll see where the Deshaun Watson situation goes and how much Houston can get in return for him.


29. Detroit Lions (3-13-1) | Last week: 30 (+1)

My optimism for the Lions’ ability to compete was high entering the season, and they did that all year despite just three wins. There’s a lot to like in Detroit, but it’ll be a process building this thing up.


30. New York Jets (4-13) | Last week: 28 (-2)

Zach Wilson and the offense showed flashes this season, particularly when the No. 2 pick returned from his knee injury, but it was a tough end to the year against Buffalo. More pieces must be added this offseason.


31. New York Giants (4-13) | Last week: 31

The Giants are making yet another coaching change, and ideally this next hire paired with the new general manager will be a regime that lasts for years. For as bad as things were for New York to end the season (six consecutive double-digit losses), there are players in place for a quick turnaround.


32. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14) | Last week: 32

Trevor Lawrence might have played his best game of the season in the Jaguars’ upset win over the Colts, and potential head coaches should be extremely excited about the chance to build the team around him.


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