We did it. It’s finally playoff time. After 16 grueling games and a surprisingly wild Week 17, the NFL postseason field is set. So rather than pore over what happened on Sunday, I thought it’d be best to go through all 12 playoff teams and determine which one has the best chance to win it all. Let’s get to it.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
Doug Pederson’s team gutted out huge wins in the past couple of weeks to sneak into the playoff field, but Philly is just too banged up to make a run. The list of injured Eagles is ridiculous. Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Jordan Howard, Jalen Mills, Nelson Agholor, and Ronald Darby were all out for Week 17, and that was before both running back Miles Sanders and guard Brandon Brooks left Sunday’s game with injuries. Philly still has plenty of talent, especially in its front four. But even if the Eagles somehow sneak past the Seahawks—who are dealing with their own injury issues right now—next week, it’d be tough to go on the road in the divisional round and beat a talented group like the 49ers. The Eagles are a well-coached team that will be relevant again next season as they bring back most of this roster, but this just isn’t their year.
11. Minnesota Vikings
At their best, the Vikings have looked like one of the top teams in football this season. Mike Zimmer’s defense has continued its trademark excellence—with guys like Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter turning in career years—and that unit will likely finish in the top 10 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA for the fourth straight season. That just isn’t easy to do in this era.
Great defense has become the expectation in Minnesota, but what set this year’s Vikings apart was the offense. Offensive adviser Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski devised a play-action-heavy system that perfectly fit quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Vikings’ offensive personnel. Cousins had arguably the best season of his career in 2019. During a seven-game stretch in the middle of the season, Cousins completed 73.3 percent of his passes while throwing 18 touchdowns and just one interception. Minnesota’s offense settled into a groove in October and currently ranks 10th in DVOA.
If that Vikings team shows up in the wild-card round against New Orleans, Minnesota may very well have a chance to pull off an upset. But this group had a troubling performance in its last meaningful game. In Week 16, with the chance at a division title on the line, the Vikings got dismantled by the Packers defense; Cousins averaged just 3.13 yards per attempt and completed 16 of his 31 attempts in a 23-10 throttling. That game could be an aberration—especially considering that Minnesota’s top two running backs were out with injury. But New Orleans has a talented defense and frightening front four that could easily give the Vikings fits in the same way Green Bay did. The Superdome is never an easy place to play, and it’s not surprising that Minnesota opened as an 8-point underdog.
10. Buffalo Bills
It’s been a fun season for Bills fans, but it still feels like this team is a year away from making any significant noise in the postseason. Buffalo’s defense could absolutely be a problem for the Texans in the wild-card round. The Bills’ secondary is one of the league’s best, and there’s a reason that Buffalo is currently ranked third in pass defense DVOA. But if Sean McDermott’s team does manage to knock off Houston, a trip to Baltimore will likely follow. The Bills hung with the Ravens in a 24-17 loss earlier this month, but it’s hard to imagine a Josh Allen–led offense keeping pace with Lamar Jackson on the road. Buffalo’s front office has done an excellent job of assembling this team and steering the franchise in the right direction, but it just doesn’t feel like the Bills are ready to take on the AFC’s heavy hitters.
9. Tennessee Titans
Congratulations, Titans. You took care of business in Week 17 and secured the no. 6 seed in the AFC. Your reward? A trip to New England to face the greatest coach and quarterback of all time. Playing in Gillette Stadium in the playoffs has long been a nightmare for visiting teams, but this year, going to Foxborough doesn’t seem quite as daunting. I’m sure this statement will come back to haunt me when the Patriots are lifting the Lombardi Trophy in February, but Bill Belichick’s team looks more vulnerable than it has in years.
The Titans, on the other hand, have looked like a completely different team since inserting Ryan Tannehill into the starting lineup. Tennessee ranks fifth in weighted offensive DVOA (which prioritizes recent performance) and has developed a strong identity on offense. The Titans want to pound the ball with Derrick Henry—who looked healthy and explosive on Sunday after sitting out Week 16 with a hamstring injury—and use play-action complements to their ground game. Tannehill has played the best football of his career under first-year coordinator Arthur Smith, and he’s developed a strong connection with the offensive weapons in this system. The Patriots’ top-ranked defense will be a significant challenge for this Titans group, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Tennessee go into New England and pull off a win.
8. Houston Texans
It’s difficult to get a handle on how good the Texans really are. When healthy and clicking, Deshaun Watson and his receivers can burn defenses to the ground. But Will Fuller is still nursing a groin injury, and though Kenny Stills is a solid alternative if Fuller can’t go this weekend against the Bills, Houston’s passing game is just different with its speedster on the field. As Pro Football Focus’s Kevin Cole pointed out earlier this week, Watson’s expected points added with Fuller in the lineup is an absurd 78.2 this season. With Fuller out, that number is negative-4.3. Watson, Fuller, and DeAndre Hopkins is a combination that should scare any defense, but the rest of Houston’s roster still has plenty of holes. The Texans are expected to get J.J. Watt back this week after he missed eight games with a torn pec, but even with their star pass rusher back in the fold, there are plenty of questions about how Houston’s defense will hold up against teams like Baltimore and Kansas City—should the Texans make it past the wild-card round. This defense is healthier than it’s been all season, especially in the secondary, but the Texans still aren’t quite in the same class as the AFC’s best.
7. Seattle Seahawks
Based on their injury issues and recent offensive slump, the Seahawks should probably be lower on this list. Seattle has enjoyed some excellent luck in close games this season and could easily be 9-7 if a couple of opposing kickers had made field goals late in games. But Russell Wilson gives this team a chance any time it takes the field. After starting the season on an MVP-worthy tear, Wilson has fallen off a bit during the second half of the year, but he still brought this team within about 6 inches of winning the NFC West on Sunday night. Injuries to key players like Chris Carson, Duane Brown, and Quandre Diggs have hurt Seattle, but no one would be surprised if this group went on the road and beat the Eagles next weekend—despite being short-handed. A win over Philly would likely mean a rubber match with the 49ers in the divisional round, and we’ve already seen how well Seattle plays against its division rivals this season. The Seahawks may not be quite as talented as some of the other playoff contenders, but this group has a way of sticking around.
6. Green Bay Packers
It’s been a disheartening couple of weeks for the Green Bay passing game. With a first-round bye on the line on Sunday, the Packers were expected to blow out a David Blough–led Detroit team. Instead, Aaron Rodgers struggled to find his receivers all afternoon, and Green Bay needed a late touchdown drive to tie the game and a last-second Mason Crosby field goal to win it. The Packers are still a daunting opponent, with their strong defense—particularly the Za’Darius Smith–led pass rush—and excellent skill-position duo of Aaron Jones and Davante Adams. But even with a first-round bye and a home game in the divisional round, it’s hard to imagine Green Bay beating a team like New Orleans if the offense continues to struggle. The Packers may have gotten the no. 2 seed, but at this point, they’re clearly the third-best team in the NFC.
5. New England Patriots
Throwing dirt on the Patriots is always risky, but Sunday’s letdown against the Dolphins was worrisome. New England has lost ugly games in December before, but with a first-round bye on the line, the Patriots couldn’t dispatch a four-win Dolphins team that’s in the midst of an organizational teardown. The Pats offense lacks an identity. Tom Brady has almost single-handedly overcome a lack of weapons in the past, but at age 42, he’s not able to carry this unit in the same way. New England just doesn’t have many answers on that side of the ball right now. The Pats tried to feed N’Keal Harry on Sunday, but the rookie receiver doesn’t look ready to take on such a large role. No one would be surprised if the Patriots defense carried them to a couple of ugly wins and got this team back into the AFC championship game, but it also wouldn’t be shocking to see New England lose to a feisty Titans team on Saturday.
4. San Francisco 49ers
After riding a red-hot defense for the first half of the season, the Niners have been forced to lean on head coach Kyle Shanahan and the offense in recent weeks. There are worse fates. Aside from tight end George Kittle, San Francisco doesn’t have any established stars on offense, but Shanahan has found a recipe that works. Undrafted running back Raheem Mostert has developed into an explosive threat. Rookie receiver Deebo Samuel has become a terror with the ball in his hands, and Shanahan continues to find creative ways to get him in space. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk emerged as a vertical threat in Sunday’s win over the Seahawks. The Niners are a creative, talented bunch that will enjoy home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. If San Francisco can get key defenders Jaquiski Tartt and Dee Ford back healthy for the playoffs, this team can absolutely get all the way to the Super Bowl.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
Man, did the Chiefs catch a break on Sunday. New England’s loss to Miami opened the door for Kansas City to snag the AFC’s no. 2 seed and a crucial first-round bye. This weekend, instead of hosting a Titans team that beat them in November, the Chiefs will be watching the wild-card round from the comfort of their own homes. Sunday’s seed shuffling may also result in the Chiefs hosting the Patriots in the divisional round rather than heading to Foxborough—which is a potentially season-changing swing. Kansas City is less than a month removed from picking up a convincing road win over the Pats; hosting the Patriots this time around, the Chiefs would almost surely be a considerable favorite. Andy Reid’s team wasn’t the juggernaut that many expected them to be heading into the season. But this group has overcome a serious injury to Patrick Mahomes, fixed many of its issues on defense, and ended up with a bye in the first round. The Chiefs are the team we thought they were. It just took a while to get there.
2. New Orleans Saints
The Lions failed to come through on Sunday, which means the Saints won’t have an all-important first-round bye. But this still looks like the best team in the NFC. New Orleans has lost a couple of key defenders to injury this season, but from top to bottom this roster is absolutely loaded. Drew Brees has been lights-out since returning from his thumb injury in Week 8, and missing five games has turned out to be a blessing for the 40-year-old quarterback. After wearing down near the end of last season, Brees looked fresh in Sunday’s teardown of the Panthers. He’s playing as well as any passer in football right now, and the rest of the offense seems to be falling into place as well. Running back Alvin Kamara hasn’t produced this season like he has in the past, but he’s looked good over the Saints’ past couple of games. And Michael Thomas has been unstoppable all year. If New Orleans can take care of the Vikings this week, the team will head to Green Bay for the divisional round. That’s no easy task, but at this point, the Saints are better than the Packers. Winning two road games en route to the Super Bowl is a significant challenge, but this is the type of team that can pull it off.
1. Baltimore Ravens
I mean, c’mon. No other team could top this list. The Ravens have looked like a machine during the second half of the season. Lamar Jackson is the runaway MVP, Baltimore has the best-designed offense in the league, and the defense has emerged as a dangerous unit. The Ravens have the most efficient passing game in the NFL, the best running game in the league, and a cavalcade of stars on both sides of the ball. This team is the favorite to win it all.