NFL playoff power rankings 2021: Every team’s real chances to win Super Bowl 55
The 2020 regular season is finished. The 2021 NFL playoffs are set with 14 teams, with the AFC and the NFC each getting an extra entry.
The seedings for the Super Bowl 55 tournament are officially attached to every team that’s still alive to win it all. But history shows those numbers can be misleading.
These playoffs should be more unpredictable than usual because of only two teams getting byes, limited home-field advantages and little separation between teams with gaudy records, regardless of division-winning or wild-card status.
Here then are Sporting News’ power rankings for every NFL playoff team from 1-14, from the team with the best chance to win the Super Bowl to the team with the longest odds of lifting the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa Bay.
NFL playoff power rankings 2021
1. Kansas City Chiefs (AFC No. 1 seed)
The Chiefs (14-2) are heavy favorites to repeat (+200 at DraftKings), like they have been ever since winning Super Bowl 54 with Patrick Mahomes. They are a stronger overall team than last season, as they stayed mostly healthy and didn’t suffer key offseason losses.
Mahomes and the offensive principals will be rested and ready for another run. The defense also gets after it with the pass rush and makes big plays at the right times. The special teams also are sound and sometimes spectacular. The recent winning experience with Andy Reid and coaching strengths also can’t be discounted. It’s hard to find any weakness in a team that lost only one meaningful game. It truly is Kansas City vs. the field.
2. Green Bay Packers (NFC No. 1 seed)
The Packers (13-3) have their elite QB answer to the Chiefs with the way Aaron Rodgers played this season, perhaps stealing MVP honors away from Mahomes late. He’s locked into his playmakers led by Davante Adams and the Packers also have a strong running game led by Aaron Jones. Losing left tackle David Bakhtiari is a tough blow that can slow down the machine a little.
Defensively, Green Bay has had issues against the run, but it is built well to rush the passer and has a tricky secondary anchored by Jaire Alexander. It will be simply difficult for any opponent to outscore the Packers and needs a QB effort to match Rodgers to pull it off.
3. New Orleans Saints (NFC No. 2 seed)
The Saints (12-4) have marched to their fourth consecutive NFC South title, surviving numerous offensive ailments by adjusting well running and passing and playing consistent, good all-around defense. They also held off a serious challenge by the Buccaneers by dominating that team twice.
New Orleans goes into another playoffs with few weaknesses. The Saints’ biggest concern is overcoming past frustration, including the Minneapolis Miracle, the controversial NFC championship game loss to the Rams and being shocked by the Vikings at home in last year’s opening round. Drew Brees and Sean Payton still have the strong experience of winning a Super Bowl together. The Saints’ ability to win games in different ways is a helpful asset in win-or-go-home mode.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC No. 5 seed)
The Buccaneers (11-5) have put it all together late with Tom Brady. Their offense is humming along with balance and explosiveness. Loading up on receivers, backs and tight ends was smart to find the right healthy mix around Brady. The defense is dangerous because it can shut down the run and be in position to tee off well with the pass rush when Brady has helped deliver a significant lead. The Bucs have proved they can win either high-scoring shootouts or low-scoring battles of attrition.
This team is peaking at the right time and got a favorable draw as the NFC’s top wild card. The Bucs can also boast a big win over the Packers and playing the Chiefs tight despite having some breakdowns against Mahomes. It doesn’t hurt that the Bucs can also dream about playing in the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
5. Buffalo Bills (AFC No. 2 seed)
The Bills (13-3) are down here behind three NFC teams because they play in the AFC facing the big obstacle of the Chiefs, who beat them by a solid nine points in the regular season while containing Josh Allen, the conference’s second-most dangerous QB after Mahomes.
The Bills certainly are capable of outscoring the Chiefs if needed, but the concerns would be having ample defensive holes for Mahomes and the Chiefs’ running game to exploit. They are helped by their recent playoff experience (albeit losing) with coach Sean McDermott and the emotions that will come from making an always-proud franchise a Super Bowl contender again.
6. Baltimore Ravens (AFC No. 5 seed)
The Ravens (11-5) are the hottest team in the NFL going into the playoffs, riding a five-game winning streak with Lamar Jackson back locked in as a runner and passer, while also finding their groove elsewhere in the rushing attack with the dynamic duo of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Baltimore is looking more like the team that went 14-2 in 2019 and was the No. 1 seed in the 2020 playoffs, before being upset by the Titans in the divisional round.
Go figure the Ravens, who also lost to the Titans at home in Week 11, are faced with trying to finally solve Tennessee in this year’s wild-card round. Should the Ravens get past that game, they would likely get the crack at the Chiefs that eluded them a postseason ago. After Mahomes and Allen, Jackson is the only other AFC QB who can absolutely take over a game however needed with his arm and legs. Don’t forget about a veteran defense with good work up front and daunting cornerbacks.
7. Seattle Seahawks (NFC No. 3 seed)
If there were style points awarded to playoff teams, the Seahawks (12-4) wouldn’t have a lot of them going into the playoffs. They still have Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll, one of several Super Bowl-caliber QB-coaching combinations in the field.
Wilson cooled off down the stretch, but he was lifted by the running game and defense starting to do more to win games, which is Carroll’s preferred formula, anyway. There’s always a chance that Wilson reheats to navigate the Seahawks through a field that includes fellow ringed ones Rodgers, Brady and Brees. But in the end, Seattle may fall short with either not enough offense or not enough defense for a long time.
8. Tennessee Titans (AFC No. 4 seed)
The Titans (11-5) have an intimidating offense powered by their hammer of a 2,000-yard back, Derrick Henry, who also opens up a terrific downfield passing game with Ryan Tannehill firing often to A.J. Brown and Corey Davis. Tannehill’s own wheels are a big X-factor, too.
Defense is the problem here. That was on full display when Henry went off against the Texans in Week 17 but the Titans almost blew a big lead late. The Titans have a shaky run defense plus a limited pass rush and can get roasted in the back seven. Tennessee can score with anyone, but not stopping someone will eventually cost the team.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC No. 3 seed)
Consider the Steelers (12-4) to be the anti-Titans. They don’t have a reliable running game to set up a downfield passing game, relying heavily on Ben Roethlisberger dinking and dunking well on short-to-intermediate throws to move the ball. Defensively, they do stop the run consistently, backed up by a daunting pass rush and a secondary full of good cover men.
The Steelers’ offense is capable of getting hot with their talented receivers under Big Ben, but there’s limited evidence to think they can outscore four teams to win again with Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin.
IYER: Ben Roethlisberger will cost Steelers in playoffs — a price they can’t pay again in 2021
10. Indianapolis Colts (AFC No. 7 seed)
The Colts (11-5) are definitely dangerous for any opponent, starting with the Bills in the opening run. That’s because they run the ball extremely well with rookie Jonathan Taylor and they have a fundamentally sound, well-rounded defense, from the front to the secondary. Frank Reich also has the Super Bowl-winning experience from the Eagles, while Philip Rivers has a ton of experience, period.
The question is whether Rivers can deliver in the passing game, working comfortably out of the pocket to make big plays without making big mistakes under pressure. The Colts can either put up big points with everything clicking or struggle at times to move the ball in any way. They feel like a boom-or-bust last wild-card team, and the immediate Bills matchup drops them into the latter category.
11. Los Angeles Rams (NFC No. 6 seed)
The Rams (10-6) offensively aren’t humming the way one is used to seeing them under Sean McVay. With Jared Goff not playing well and now hurting, they need to be reliant on the running game and intermediate passing, focusing on limiting mistakes knowing fully well their defense can dominate. From Aaron Donald to Jalen Ramsey, it’s hard to feel confident and score much on Los Angeles. But again, here’s another team that can’t string together enough high-scoring games. The Rams also are hurt by seeing Wilson and the gritty Seahawks again right away.
BENDER: This Baker Mayfield version makes Browns a playoff threat
12. Cleveland Browns (AFC No. 6 seed)
The Browns (11-5) should be thrilled about how much rookie coach Kevin Stefanski got the best out of Baker Mayfield, playing well off the running game, and how their defense shored up against the run. Getting to the playoffs alone is a major breakthrough for a team that hasn’t experienced anything like this in almost 20 years.
Cleveland might be able to get past Pittsburgh again in the opening round, but the pass defense isn’t good enough to handle Mahomes, Allen or Jackson later.
13. Chicago Bears (NFC No. 7 seed)
The Bears (8-8) found plenty of offense down the stretch to get into the playoffs. Running back David Montgomery was the catalyst, but Mitchell Trubisky also made good use of the depth at wide receiver and tight end. Unfortunately, through that development, because of some injuries, the Bears’ defense has gone downhill for the most part around Khalil Mack, both showing more holes against the run and giving up big pass plays.
Chicago will try its best to outscore New Orleans on the road, but everyone already knows the NFC North runner-up is not getting past Green Bay beyond that.
14. Washington Football Team (NFC No. 4 seed)
Washington (7-9) lost more games than it won, but other than Arizona, no other NFC team could make a case it was worthy for the final spot. WFT has a strong defense led by rookie Chase Young and can’t be sold short offensively with playmakers such as Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic to help Alex Smith. That said, WFT is the longest of shots to get through a very tough NFC field, facing Brady’s Buccaneers right off the bat.
Smith is a seasoned playoff QB, but in the end, his resume doesn’t come close to the veteran QB heavy hitters in the conference, led by 2005 first-round draft mate Rodgers.
Source: Read Full Article