Ranking the NFL’s final eight
Wild-Card weekend is officially in the books as we now look ahead to the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. Nothing comes easy in the postseason, and that will certainly be the case next weekend when we have several marquee matchups between Super Bowl contenders.
The Patriots, Cowboys, Falcons and Chiefs will all make their postseason debuts in Round 2 after enjoying their week off, but that hardly makes their path to Houston any easier. Let’s take a look at the remaining eight teams, ranking them from worst to best in terms of their Super Bowl odds.
8 Houston Texans
The Texans beat the Raiders to advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs, but it hardly improves their chances of winning it all. Yes, the defense is dominant and Brock Osweiler played better, but you have to consider the fact that they were playing a third-string quarterback.
Connor Cook is no Tom Brady or even Alex Smith, so every quarterback Houston faces from here on out will be a much bigger test. Not to mention, Oakland’s defense was one of the worst in the NFL. Jadeveon Clowney has to keep playing like a dominant force in order for the Texans to have a chance.
7 Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were fortunate to nab the No. 2 seed in the AFC, giving them a first-round bye. However, that won’t protect them from facing some of the best quarterbacks in the conference. The Chiefs will host the Steelers in the Divisional Round, which is about as poor of a matchup as they could get.
Still, KC has a decent chance to go all the way. The defense forced more turnovers than any other team in the NFL this season, and Tyreek Hill is a game-changer both on offense and on special teams. Alex Smith will need to rely on his playmakers – Hill, Travis Kelce, Spencer Ware – as he has all season in order for the Chiefs to go far.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers looked absolutely dominant on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, and not just offensively. They shut down Jay Ajayi after he ran for 200-plus yards in their first meeting, limiting him to just 33 yards on 16 carries this time around. The run defense stepped up in a big way, as did the secondary against Matt Moore and the passing attack.
This is a great sign going forward for Pittsburgh, which will move on to face the Chiefs in the Divisional Round. Kansas City’s defense will be a challenge for the Steelers, but if Brown and Bell continue to post the unworldly numbers they put up on Sunday, they’ll be in good shape. This might just be the league’s best offense outside of Atlanta. It’s certainly one that can carry the Steelers to a Super Bowl championship.
5 Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have been reliant on playing at home all season, finishing the year 7-1 at CenturyLink Field. Unfortunately, they won’t be in the comfort of their home stadium next weekend. Instead, they’ll be indoors against a high-powered Falcons offense that loves the Georgia Dome. That doesn’t completely destroy Seattle’s Super Bowl hopes, of course.
The Seahawks got the running game going on Saturday behind Thomas Rawls, which is a great sign for their chances of winning it all. As long as they can run the ball consistently and continue to play lights-out defense, the Seahawks will have as good of a shot as any team. If Rawls sputters, though, they could be in some trouble.
4 Green Bay Packers
The Packers looked like one of the very best teams against the dominant Giants defense on Sunday with Aaron Rodgers torching the secondary for 362 yards. They’ll now take on the top-seeded Cowboys next weekend with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line. With Rodgers playing as well as he is right now, there’s plenty of reason to believe the Packers can pull off the upset.
What was most impressive about Green Bay’s defense Sunday was the way it shut down New York’s running game. That will be key when facing Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys, considering they had one of the top rushing offenses in the game. Green Bay’s success will ultimately come down to the play of Rodgers, but seeing the defense play well is certainly encouraging.
3 Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons now have a chance at redemption for their loss to the Seahawks earlier this season, which ended with a controversial no-call on Richard Sherman late in the game. Both teams have improved since that game, but Atlanta is still favored to come away with a win and move on to championship weekend.
Being at home against the Seahawks, who were 3-4-1 on the road this season, is huge. Seattle isn’t the same team when playing away from CenturyLink Field, and Atlanta was 5-3 at home. The Falcons are red-hot right now having won four in a row, and with that offense there may not be a team in the NFL that can keep pace.
2 Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys will face the Packers in the Divisional Round, setting up for what’s sure to be the best game of the postseason thus far. Dallas is inexperienced playoff-wise at key positions – namely quarterback and running back – but having the best offensive line in the NFL is huge. It can protect Dak Prescott and open up running lanes against Green Bay’s stout run defense.
If the Cowboys can get past the Packers, they’ll have a good chance of reaching the Super Bowl. Neither the Falcons nor Seahawks pose as big of a threat as Dallas’ first opponent, and they’ll be at home should they reach the NFC Championship.
1 New England Patriots
Nothing has changed after the first weekend of playoff action: The Patriots are still the team to beat. They’ll take on the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round, making for an easy path to not just the Conference Championship but to the Super Bowl, as well.
Even without Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots are dominant offensively. And on defense, they don’t get nearly enough credit. They finished first in points allowed per game, and the secondary is playing as well as any in the NFL. The team that beats the Patriots will be one that boasts a great defense and an offense that can keep pace with Brady and Co. – and there may not be a squad that has a combination of the two.