It’s been awhile, but enough NFL has been consumed to whip these up before Wild Card Weekend gets underway. Below is a power ranking and some musings of the teams most likely to win the Super Bowl.
- Kansas City Chiefs
It’s another one of those years where you can’t feel great about anyone. No one appears or seems to be that good. Everyone has a flaw.
So that’s why it’s best to rely on the old reliable. Yes, the Chiefs have only won the Super Bowl once in the Patrick Mahomes era, but they’ve made two and only had one disappointing postseason loss in the process (last year to the Bengals).
That doesn’t mean we have to feel great about them. Kansas City wasn’t dominant like they’ve been in years past. There were games where the loss of Tyreek Hill and the lack of top-tier weapons showed. There’s their weird lack of having a number up on the Bengals. The Bills are also awesome and could easily steal a game away from them.
But Mahomes is scary to bet against – especially when he’s on the heater he is now. It’s been an MVP-worthy season for him, which is stunning considering the loss of Hill and some of his average weapons. In a wide open year, Mahomes should be able to rise to the top, and bring his accolades to where they frankly should be at this point in his career.
- Buffalo Bills
In some regards, it seems silly to not have Buffalo ranked No. 1.
Overall, the Bills are more talented than Kansas City. Their offense is more well-oiled, more frightening. Their defensive unit is better. They’ve got the stars.
They also arguably have more to play for than any other team in this tournament.
The letdowns in winnable situations, Josh Allen’s carelessness and arm health – which very well may be related to each other – the inevitability of Mahomes and Buffalo’s lengthened inability to get over the hump places them second. But now, in a year so emotionally draining and yet inspiring, gives them their best chance ever.
- Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are very similar to last year’s team except they aren’t cute anymore. They’re big and scary.
Still, Cincinnati has demons to conquer. It’s shown that they own the Chiefs, but the Bills remain an unseen task at-hand for the Bengals. Buffalo, with its talent and motivation, should get the edge.
The one edge that remains highly in Cincinnati’s favor is that it doesn’t play down to their competition. The Bengals owned a couple of stinkers early in the season, but those came during a time in the year where we assumed Cincy was going to come off its own Super Bowl hangover and not establish itself as a contender. A late season run negated that concern, and unlike Kansas City and Buffalo, hasn’t been caught lacking since. The Bengals are here to take care of business, and they shouldn’t be sneaking up on anybody this time.
- Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles were the best team in football this year. They were dominant on both sides of the ball. Their offense was a machine thanks to a suddenly stocked arsenal of weapons, which highly benefited Jalen Hurts. The defense was as deep as any in football. For a while, it felt like they actually may not lose a single game. They were that good.
And yet, here they are at No. 4.
The NFC wasn’t good and Philadelphia was the team that decided to assert itself without much doubt. They are the best of the rest, essentially.
Then there’s the playoff game from last year, where the Eagles – and most notably Hurts – looked like they didn’t belong and were steamrolled by the Buccaneers. Yes, that was a Philly team that didn’t have A.J. Brown as its top wide receiver, which has clearly made all the difference for Hurts and Co. But Hurts’ improvement this year is more tied to the fact that Brown is an Eagle rather than his own advancement as a passer, which is still markedly better than last season.
The Eagles will likely make a deep playoff run. They only have to win two games to be in the Super Bowl as a result of earning the No. 1 seed. But the three teams ahead of them on the list have been there and done it before. We’ve never seen that from Philly, and while last season’s loss could count as the type of loss that a team must endure before it wins big, it was the type of performance that makes one question whether a team has a couple more steps to climb before they truly reach destiny.
- Los Angeles Chargers
There’s a serious dropoff in the rankings starting here. The Eagles could be in their own tier if we were to assign them – the top three are a sacred bunch, while the Chargers have an easy case for being much lower on this list.
It was a very average season for them. They never appeared to be coached well, and as usual were plagued by the injury bug. Add in whatever bad Chargers juju that popped up, and you get a team that feels like it’s just not very good entering the playoffs.
But they also have Justin Herbert.
His efforts haven’t been fully realized this season, so it could be tough to see them come to fruition in the playoffs – especially with the injury bug (and sheer stupidity from the coaching staff) holding out receiver Mike Williams – but like Mahomes, one does not want to face Herbert when he’s hot.
It’ll be up to some poor team to make sure he doesn’t heat up – and good luck to them.
Given the quarterbacks remaining on the list, a Herbert hot streak might be the most dangerous for the rest of the league. Tom Brady more checked out than LeBron in Game 2 of the 2018 Finals? Kirk Cousins – really???? Dak Prescott, who strangely can’t stop throwing the ball to the other team? Trevor Lawrence’s first playoffs in a season felt like another rookie year for him? Daniel Jones – does more need to be said?
It’s not an easy bet, but we’ll know fast if the Chargers are coming or not. Buckle up.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is an honorary rank. Tampa Bay really doesn’t deserve to be this high. But like Herbert, if Tom Brady can dig deep, find something and turn it on, then watch out.
Tampa Bay’s problems are largely similar to the Chargers’ – bad coaching and injuries at spots they can’t afford. But while Brady has had some miraculous and high-quality games this year, there’s also been times he hasn’t looked quite the same. Bad, bone-headed throws have plagued him, and some have come while the Bucs were healthy, tossing out the excuse of lack of weapons.
If Tampa Bay can rejuvenate itself into the team we thought they’d be, then they’re a threat. That scenario would include Brady looking like he did his first two years with the Bucs. The vibes are bad, and it seems improbable, but a rise in Brady’s play also means a rise in the rankings for the Bucs. The ceiling on both of those is unlimited.
- Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings’ red flags are glaring. The horrendous losses and games that make one sea sick. The minus point differential. The fact that they faced a backup quarterback in almost all of their wins. Their own quarterback’s history in games of playoff magnitude.
There isn’t much to glorify. They don’t have as much bad juju as the Cowboys, and there’s a level of trust and competence with Minnesota that isn’t present with the teams below them in these rankings. Still, it’d be hard to imagine a Super Bowl victory out of this squad, and they represent another tier break – Tampa Bay, by virtue of Brady, feels a lot more palpable to emerge on top this postseason.
- Dallas Cowboys
Even though they rank No. 8 and not No. 7, the Cowboys are the average mark of these rankings.
The cases get hard to make here. The Cowboys have been one of those teams that have had their losses and struggles go well noticed and their successes go without it. Nothing about them makes you believe in destiny.
That said, there’s a level of pedigree here that just doesn’t exist with the rest of the teams. It’s been a weird year for Dak Prescott, but he’s unequivocally the best QB at No. 8 and below. Dallas’ offense has had games where they look unstoppable, and anything can be possible with a defense like theirs.
- Jacksonville Jaguars
Here’s your deep sleeper, like the Bengals last year. There are serious parallels: A young, generational quarterback at the helm in his second year after an extremely tough rookie season (for different reasons). A team that didn’t really dominate or impress a whole lot during the regular season, and that got into the playoffs with a less-than-impressive record in a bad division.
But a Jaguars run would be way more improbable than what Cincinatti did last year. There’s a talent deficit with Jacksonville, and it’s hard to see the offense coming together in that type of way. Additionally, Trevor Lawrence hasn’t been nearly as good as Burrow was last season, and expecting an improvement in the playoffs is unreasonable.
However, the pedigree with Lawrence is similar to what that of Burrow’s was last year, and that can sometimes be a scary thing to bet against. Out of the quarterbacks that are playing this weekend that remain to be ranked, it’d be least surprising if Lawrence led a miracle run, hence Jacksonville’s top-ten finish.
- Seattle Seahawks
In some ways that still seem completely unbelievable, it’s easier to trust Geno Smith than Lawrence heading into these playoffs. But it’s a lot of things outside of the quarterback position – most notably Seattle’s defense – that makes it extremely hard to peg them any higher.
Seattle has very good odds of advancing out of Wild Card Weekend, as we’ll touch on shortly. Perhaps that fact should bump them a little higher in these rankings. But while Smith has unequivocally played himself into at least being Seattle’s starter next year, it seems a little improbable that he’ll be good enough to take the Seahawks on a deep playoff run. If the defense was better, perhaps Smith could be supported a little more, but there’s a lot on his shoulders, and if he’s able to carry them, it would make for one of the best tales ever.
- New York Giants
If the Giants were playing as good of football as they were in the first half of the season, New York would likely be multiple spots higher on this list. But thanks to what seems to be some in-season regression from Daniel Jones, defenses catching up to the Giants scheme and just a brutal lack of wide receivers, New York is simply lucky to be here.
As depressing as it is to be the first team without a backup/totally untrustworthy QB on these rankings, the Giants being ranked here also ends a tier of teams – the ones that fall below can be categorized as having an insanely low chance to win the Super Bowl. The early season Giants had the looks at times of the two New York teams that won Super Bowls with Eli Manning at the helm. Perhaps a rebound from Jones and incredible coaching from Brian Daboll – which is something that hasn’t been in short supply this year – could trigger a miracle run this postseason.
- San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are getting a lot of hype, and they deserve it. They’ve put together a powerhouse offense full of superstars who are yards-after-catch monsters in perfectly schemed concepts. They’re also studs who can get open and create plays on their own. They have a mastermind behind it all, who has succeeded with virtually any type of quarterback, and has extracted the best out of all of them. On defense, they’re high-flying and full of blue-chippers, once again led by a genius who should earn a well-deserved promotion after their season comes to an end. The San Francisco drink deserves to be stirred and sipped luxuriously.
Now let’s talk about the one thing not mentioned above.
A deep run by the 49ers would change football, just one year after it went through a quarterback awakening after Allen and Mahomes dueled in the Divisional Round in one of the greatest shows we’ve seen. If San Francisco has rousing success with Brock Purdy in the playoffs, the San Francisco model will become a strategy: teams won’t worry about the quarterback until they put the best supporting cast together, and then see how truly little capital they can get away with putting into the position.
Those are the stakes with a 49ers run. A complete 180 just one year after the exact opposite happened.
That’s not to throw Purdy so far under the bus. He’s not another quarterback we’re going to see this weekend (more on him shortly). But Purdy was a fine recruit overshadowed by his younger brother, then went to Iowa State and played for a great coach and an offense exactly tailored to his strengths and weaknesses. He never impressed in that rosy situation, hence his selection as the 2022 Draft’s last pick. With San Francisco, it’s been a similar scenario, only with even better weapons, better coaching and – as a result of the prior two – better play from Purdy, real success has come.
But this is the playoffs. The pressure is on, and quite literally nothing has gone wrong for Purdy yet. There’s been one example of a similar run before, but Nick Foles’ Super Bowl MVP performance came after many instances of friskiness shown from him at the NFL level in seasons prior. For the third-string write-off with virtually no NFL projection just months ago, it would be an entirely unprecedented, unlikely and league-changing story written.
- Baltimore Ravens
With Lamar Jackson out for Sunday night’s game, the Ravens stand little chance against the No. 3 ranked team on this list. But it’s not like Baltimore would rank that much higher with Jackson in the fold.
Instead of breaking down the odds of Anthony Brown or Tyler Huntley pulling an upset against Cincy, this write-up will serve as a referendum on the fact that the infrastructure isn’t and never was there for any quarterback on Baltimore’s roster to succeed this season.
Like how the Packers treated Aaron Rodgers, Baltimore essentially went into the year with only Rashod Bateman and Mark Andrews as reliable weapons for Jackson. That was quickly neutralized, as Bateman suffered through injuries again. Devin Duvernay’s breakout was nice, but he just can’t be close to a No. 2 receiver for an offense that asks a lot from that position. The Ravens lack of depth and overall talent really showed, and it didn’t seem like offensive coordinator Greg Roman did much to try and make up for it. Roman’s a smart mind and is one of the more sneaky influential people in the game, but it seems like he relied on his ways instead of adjusting this year.
It’s not all on Baltimore’s front office. Jackson missed time, and while he didn’t have much help, he’s made it clear that he’s not exactly the type of thrower to elevate what’s around him. Jackson’s truly had one above average passing season in his career, which was the season he won MVP unanimously. With Jackson’s piling deficiencies, it’s not hard to see why the Ravens’ front office has played hard ball in extension talks. One would hope the franchise tag allows Baltimore to use other cap space to fill in around Jackson this offseason, giving them a clearer evaluation heading into the next year’s free agency period.
- Miami Dolphins
The news that not only is Tua Tagovailoa not playing (thankfully for his sake) in Sunday’s game against the Bills but that rookie Skylar Thompson will be Miami’s starter knocked the Dolphins farther down these rankings than imagined.
Thompson, despite being drafted before Purdy – which might already be going down in infamy and frankly should have on draft day before we knew what Purdy would go on to do – barely projected as a NFL quarterback. His legs and running ability were probably the most attractive trait he had in the draft process. So far in 2022, he’s been quite uninspiring, which is hardly surprising considering he’s been thrust into tough and uncomfortable situations.
Sunday against Buffalo will be another one of those, and that’s understating it. The best team Thompson had meaningful playing time against this year was the Vikings, and he struggled then as well. It feels silly that the Bills even have to play this game, but it’s arguable their coaches will enjoy not having to deal with any rust in the Divisional Round once they take care of business against Miami.
It would be remiss not to honor what the Dolphins did do this season when fully healthy. Surely, they’d be ranked much higher with Tagovailoa in the fold – and perhaps a little dangerous. Despite the stupefying handling of Tagovailoa’s health at times this season – which may not fall solely on him – Mike McDaniel deserves an immense amount of credit for turning Tagovailoa’s career and the outlook of the Dolphins around. There is still room for both to grow, but what occurred this year with Miami at its peak was special, and McDaniel could be on Sean McVay’s corner as the hot new prodigy should the Rams coach step away.