One of my favorite things to do as a football analyst is make power rankings lists of certain positions in the sport. Most notably, I do annual power rankings of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the league, which is a lot of fun.
This time, I felt the need to create a power rankings list on this season’s 12 playoff teams. In the AFC, I had four of my predicted playoff teams (Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs, Titans) make it in, while in the NFC, only two (Falcons, Vikings) made it in.
So especially on the NFC side, it’s been a wild year of football. It’s all for the better.
So to celebrate the wackiness the 2017 regular season provided us, I’ve created The 2017-18 NFL Postseason Team Power Rankings list, going from the lowest ranked team (12) to the highest (1). Also keep in mind that these are ranked without regarding the conference seeding or win-loss records. Instead, these rank simply on how good I think the talent on every team is. Key pieces and areas of concern will also be looked at.
Without further delay, let’s get things started. This is a ranking of the 12 playoff teams from this season from 12-1. I present The 2017-18 NFL Postseason Team Power Rankings.
12. Buffalo Bills
Incredibly, the Bills are actually in the playoffs after finally ending their infamous postseason drought from 1999-2017. And no one believes it.
This was a team that traded away many of its young assets, was bent on tanking, and was supposed to have at the most four wins. Improbably, the Bills finished with nine, and no one believes it.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor went through hell and back. With Sammy Watkins traded, Robert Woods gone in free agency, a horrific cast of wide receivers, a scheme that heavily featured Mike Tolbert, and an offensive line that couldn’t protect, Taylor was made the scapegoat, leading to his benching for a game. The team was 5-5 at the time.
Since then, the Bills won four of their last six games as Buffalo legend Andy Dalton knocked the Ravens out of playoff contention. Luck has been the theme for this Bills team in 2017, and it shows in this power ranking.
Taylor has had a really good season. His pocket play took a step forward, and his mobility, ability to extend plays, and overall (as cliched as it is) big time plays guided the Bills to a postseason berth they shouldn’t have gotten close to. LeSean McCoy will likely play against the Jaguars, but won’t be 100%, which will be a big hit to a team already lacking in weapons.
On the defensive side, Micah Hyde has been phenomenal, EJ Gaines has been a pleasant surprise, and guys like Jordan Poyer have played well. But the front seven has been rough, and has especially been one of the worst defenses against the run all season.
Deep down, I want the Bills to go on some crazy Cinderella run that proves everyone wrong. As crazy as it sounds, it could happen. Blake Bortles could be the deciding factor in changing the whole AFC, so it’s possible the Bills come away with an upset. But this is a team that massively overachieved this season, and has been lacking in talent in the WR position.
Even so, I’m really happy to see the Bills in the playoffs. Fans will be able to see postseason football at last.
Key Pieces: Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Richie Incognito, Micah Hyde, Eric Wood, EJ Gaines, Jordan Poyer
Areas of Concern: RB (McCoy’s health), WR, Coaching, Front 7, Rest of OL
11. Tennessee Titans
Miraculously, the Titans avoided missing the playoffs entirely after wasting away an 8-4 start with a week 17 win against the Jaguars.
Despite the trip into the postseason for the first time since 2008, Tennessee has been held back by poor coaching. Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie have designed one of the worst offensive schemes we’ll ever see. Marcus Mariota is constantly asked to throw in tight windows with maximum protection to isolated receivers, with rarely anything coming open. The overused trick plays are also drive killers.
Furthermore, the skill players on offense have been less than stellar. DeMarco Murray has reached a downward spiral in quality, Eric Decker looks washed, and he and Delanie Walker produced a lot of drops. Rishard Matthews has been more consistent this season, but Corey Davis has seen limited action, making for a limited and underwhelming receiving corps.
On the defensive side, Dick Lebeau is 80, and it shows in his coaching. Kevin Byard is a fantastic safety that has boosted the secondary, and guys like Wesley Woodyard, Jurrell Casey and Brian Orakpo are high quality players, but overall this is a team that is suffocated by horrific coaching. If Tennessee wants any chances at advancing, the other team needs to shoot themselves in the foot even harder.
Key Pieces: Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry, Delanie Walker, Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, Kevin Byard, Wesley Woodyard, Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo
Areas of Concern: Coaching, WR, RB2, Defensive Depth
10. Atlanta Falcons
Isn’t it incredible that the Falcons look nowhere near as dominant as last season yet only finished with one less win?
Kyle Shanahan’s departure has been well documented, as has Steve Sarkisian’s inability to use the talent he has, but this is still a team with plenty of pieces on both sides of the ball. Julio Jones’ fluid motion as a receiver makes him one of the absolute best at his position, and the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is sensational.
A big reason for Atlanta’s return to the playoffs has been the defense. Vic Beasley and Desmond Trufant remain top class, and it’s been aided by excellent seasons from Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, and Grady Jarrett. Neal’s development has ascended him into one of the premier safeties in football, and Jarrett’s crawled his way into becoming a top defensive tackle.
2016 MVP Matt Ryan saw a big decline in his statistics, throwing 20 TD to 12 interceptions. Kyle Shanahan’s play action heavy offense, in addition to some turnover luck, propelled him into winning that award. This year, he’s in a far less friendly scheme and has worse turnover luck, but really hasn’t changed that much in quality. He’s not a great QB, but he’s a good one, being able to execute the fundamental plays near flawlessly.
Major concerns come from Sarkisian’s play calling, which has been nowhere near as efficient as Shanahan’s, and the WR corps. We know Jones is phenomenal, but Taylor Gabriel hasn’t been able to replicate the success he had in 2016. Mohamad Sanu is a servicable receiver, but lacks the quality of top WR2s.
Key Pieces: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Vic Beasley, Keanu Neal, Desmond Trufant, Alex Mack, Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett
Areas of Concern: Coaching, WR depth, OL
9. Carolina Panthers
There are major depth problems with the Panthers. The secondary has stunk recently, the offensive line isn’t good, Mike Shula’s play calling is infuriating at times, and the receiving corps lacks proven guys.
So why is Carolina at 9 and not 12? A big reason is the duo of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey. Newton is one of the absolute best tight passers in the league, and that’s a good thing because that constitutes 80% of Shula’s play calling. His ability as a runner is the best in the league as well, as he combines intelligence with hesitance and smooth footwork. McCaffrey is as versatile as they come. His work in the slot has received the most notoriety, but this is a guy that can be positioned anywhere and still dominate.
The release of Kelvin Benjamin has opened up more speed for the offense as well. Devin Funchess isn’t polished but has more consistency and athleticism than Benjamin. Greg Olsen’s return also boosts the offense, as he is still an athletic possession receiver even in his old age.
The front seven has quality in Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Mario Addison, Shaq Thompson and Julius Peppers, but the secondary has been giving up more big plays in the second half of the season. Still, if Newton and McCaffrey are at the top of their games, this is a team that can challenge anyone.
Key Pieces: Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson, Julius Peppers, Mario Addison
Areas of Concern: Coaching, OL, WR, Secondary
8. Jacksonville Jaguars
We all know how sensational the Jaguars defense is. There is talent at literally every position on that side of the football, highlighted by guys like Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue, Paul Posluszny, and AJ Bouye. Dare we say it’s a historic defense?
Despite the injuries to the receivers and the presence of Blake Bortles, Nathaniel Hackett has done a great job in his second year as offensive coordinator. He’s done what John Morton did with Josh McCown in New York, running a safer, but more diverse offense, helping limit Bortles’ turnovers (to an extent).
Leonard Fournette needs to polish his receiving skills, but he has proven himself as a quality runner from what Jacksonville has asked from him, generally being ran up the middle. Keelan Cole looks like an undrafted gem; he’s a polished route runner and a dangerous vertical threat.
What largely hurts the Jaguars is Bortles. His inability to diagnose coverages, play with poise, and weak mechanics have anchored what should be a Super Bowl contender. Beyond that, the offensive line is poor, the defensive coaching needs to be checked after being underwhelming in the last two games of the regular season, and the receiving corps has to prove its consistency; Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee are returning from injury.
Key Pieces: Defense, Leonard Fournette, Allen Hurns, Keelan Cole, Marqise Lee, Chris Ivory, Coaching on offense
Areas of Concern: QB, Coaching on defense, WR health/consistency, OL
7. Kansas City Chiefs
Once upon a time, the Chiefs started 5-0, then went to 6-6, then closed the season with four straight wins to go to 10-6 and clinch their second straight AFC West title.
Yeah, it’s been crazy.
Make no mistake, the Chiefs are a flawed team. The offensive line is bad, both the front seven and secondary have been terrible (Eric Berry’s injury in week 1 has been brutal), and Alex Smith has been all over the place in a season that ultimately could decide his fate in Kansas City.
But the reason the Chiefs are ranked higher than they should be is because of Andy Reid. Reid’s ability to overwhelm defenses with excellent matchups and constant misdirection has kept this team competitive and dangerous. Kareem Hunt is one of the most complete rookies we’ll ever see; his ability to break tackles, ball skills, and elusiveness are being done at a level rarely seen from someone with his amount of experience.
It also helps that you add in the excellent possession receiving ability of Travis Kelce and the raw vertical speed of Tyreek Hill. Albert Wilson has also gotten better as the season has progressed.
While the defense lacks quality, Justin Houston and Marcus Peters remain outstanding, and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has done a fantastic job keeping a struggling unit on its toes. If Alex Smith retains his aggressiveness, this is a scary team that could make a deep playoff run.
Key Pieces: Coaching on both sides, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, Mitchell Schwartz, Justin Houston, Marcus Peters, Good Alex Smith
Areas of Concern: Bad Alex Smith, OL, Defensive depth
6. New Orleans Saints
Hey look, Drew Brees has a great running game and a competent defense. Playoffs!
It’s bizarre to see Brees not throw 600 times a season anymore, but no one in The Big Easy is complaining. Mark Ingram has finally gotten more chances to thrive, and combined with the sensational Alvin Kamara it makes for the best backfield in the league. Michael Thomas is an outstanding, smooth all around receiver as well, and the play calling of Sean Payton continues to elevate the offense.
Marshon Lattimore deserves to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. His coverage, vision, and ball skills have all been otherworldly, and he’s elevated a previously abysmal secondary. Cam Jordan is also a phenomenal pass rusher, and he’s joined by Sheldon Rankins and Ken Crawley.
There’s still issues with depth in the receiving corps; Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman and Coby Fleener are all lacking as skill players. The pass protection has taken a step down, though the run blocking continues to be good and rookie RT Ryan Ramczyk has had a strong season. The defense still has a long way to go before it’s league standard, but it’s taken a step in the right direction.
As long as Brees is at the top of his game and his arm strength doesn’t falter, the Saints are doing damage in the playoffs.
Key Pieces: Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Michael Thomas, Coaching, Marshon Lattimore, Cam Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Ken Crawley
Areas of Concern: OL, WR, TE, Front Seven/Secondary Depth
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Doug Pederson deserves a lot of credit for how he’s been able to make the Eagles offense among the league’s most explosive. Calling a diverse passing game with loads of play action, mesh plays, option plays and phenomenal line scheming, he’s helped Carson Wentz take steps forward and gain more confidence.
With Wentz out for the season, his mobility leaves a big hole in the Eagles offense. Nick Foles will start his second playoff game with Philly and his first since 2013, but let’s face it; he’s a verified statue. Pederson is faced with the difficult task of adjusting the offense even further so that Foles plays comfortably in it, otherwise an amazing season for Philadelphia is in jeopardy.
If he succeeds, this is a team loaded with playmakers. The combination of Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount lend themselves to a power based run game, and Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Trey Burton, and Nelson Agholor have all improved greatly on their previous seasons, making them more consistent (and dangerous) pass catchers.
The secondary remains the other big concern for the Eagles. Malcolm Jenkins is superb, but the rest of the players have struggled in coverage, especially in recent weeks. Jim Schwartz has also been way too aggressive on blitzes, leading to costly big plays. Still, the front seven is phenomenal, with Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Nigel Bradham being some of the highlights of this monstrous unit.
Key Pieces: Coaching, OL, RB, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Nelson Agholor, Front 7, Malcolm Jenkins
Areas of Concern: QB, Secondary
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
At last, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant will all be in a playoff game for the first time ever.
In his return, Bryant largely struggled to find an identity in this offense, but in the last month of the regular season he was finally able to get going. Bryant is a ridiculously talented receiver that excels at yards after the catch and great ball skills downfield. If the Steelers can continue to get him more reps, that boosts an already phenomenal offense.
It goes without saying that Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are the best at their respective positions, and since the loss to the Jaguars, Ben Roethlisberger is playing with more consistency. And behind maybe the best offensive line in the league and Todd Haley’s QB friendly play calls, the sky is the limit. JuJu Smith-Schuster has gotten plenty of attention, playing relatively well in his rookie season.
The front seven has taken a massive step forward. Ryan Shazier’s injury hurts, but the quality of TJ Watt, Bud Dupree, Mike Mitchell and Stephon Tuitt will hold the fort. Joe Haden has been a pleasant surprise in his first season in Pittsburgh as well.
Concerns for the Steelers are the usual. Will Mike Tomlin be able to prepare for the big games against teams they should be able to beat, and especially against the Patriots? In the Tomlin era they’ve struggled in this regard. There’s still issues in the secondary, and Roethlisberger needs to stay consistent. This was a team that outplayed the Patriots for most of their matchup, so they have a good shot at handling them if they meet.
Key Pieces: Ben Roethlisberger at his best, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Coaching, OL, TJ Watt, Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt, Mike Mitchell, Joe Haden
Areas of Concern: Preparation, Roethlisberger’s consistency, Brown’s health, Secondary
3. New England Patriots
Surprise, the Patriots aren’t #1! But they are inside the top 3.
There are plenty of reasons why I don’t think the Patriots are the best playoff team this season. The big concern is the entire defense. While that side of the ball has improved in communicating, they’ve also faced weak offenses this season. And overall there’s little talent, especially on the front seven which has been miserable. This has led to the signing of Steeler legend James Harrison, who has made an impact immediately.
Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell’s injuries also loom large, as Phillip Dorsett, Martellus Bennett, Kenny Britt and Dwayne Allen have been unable to get going. The offensive line also remains an issue.
What keeps New England dangerous however, is Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Big shock. Belichick has done an amazing job of keeping the offense functional, and Brady remains poised and quick in the passing game. The freak Rob Gronkowski is still the best tight end in the league and is unstoppable in man coverage. Brandin Cooks is a quality deep threat, and Dion Lewis has had a great season at 100% health. With his quickness returning, he’s taken over the feature back role.
James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee compliment Lewis with diverse skill sets of their own. With Belichick and Brady carrying the team with little problems, this is still a team we can expect to see in the Super Bowl. They will need a lot to overcome the problems on defense though.
Key Pieces: Coaching, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis, Brandin Cooks, James White, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty
Areas of concern: OL, Defense, WR Depth
2. Los Angeles Rams
We all expected the Rams to be slightly better in 2017 than 2016. What no one saw coming was the team being this good.
With key draft picks, free agent signings and trades, the Rams look completely different. Of course, Sean McVay has gotten a lot of credit as the Coach of the Year, all of which is deserved. The youngest coach in football history, McVay like Andy Reid and Doug Pederson runs an innovative, versatile offense without wasting a single drop of talent he’s been provided.
And believe me when I say there’s a lot of talent on this Rams offense. The offensive line is now one of the league’s best, and what more can we say about Todd Gurley? He’s a physical matchup nightmare as a runner and a receiver, and his speed in the open field is jaw dropping.
Joining Gurley is a fantastic receiving corps featuring Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Tyler Higbee, Cooper Kuup and Gerald Everett. All five receivers have their own unique skill sets and win in a number of ways. Sure, Kuup drops a lot of passes, but he’s also an explosive player in his own right.
The defense can’t compare in terms of talent, but with Wade Phillips it’s also well coached. That said, Aaron Donald probably deserves Defensive Player of the Year. It doesn’t matter if you block him with one or more guys, his strength, speed, and athleticism will still break up the pass protection and he will wreck your quarterback. Connor Barwin and Robert Quinn remain great players on the front as well, and Trumaine Johnson’s been a top corner.
Jared Goff will be tested in the postseason. He’s improved for sure, but has largely been carried by this loaded offense. He’s still a slow processor, leading to too many strip sacks, and he’s lacking in poise, but at least he’s not a bottom three passer.
Could we see this Rams team in the Super Bowl? Maybe. It depends on if Donald/Barwin/Quinn can make up for the lack of quality around the rest of the defense, and of course if Goff can limit the mistakes. But this is a dangerous team that deserves even more credit than it’s already getting.
Key Pieces: Coaching, Todd Gurley, OL, Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Cooper Kuup, Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, Connor Barwin, Trumaine Johnson
Areas of Concern: QB, Defensive Depth
1. Minnesota Vikings
At long last, the Vikings have the pieces to compete for a Super Bowl once more. And yes, the ranking is not a typo.
I’ve sung the praises of this team millions of times, but it’s true; Minnesota’ talent level is off the charts on both sides of the ball. Players like Adam Thielen, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, Pat Elflein, Stefan Diggs, Xavier Rhodes and Eric Kendricks are some of the absolute best at their respective positions. The offensive line is no longer close to being the worst in football, and Pat Shurmur has done an excellent job calling a varied and fun offense.
Complimenting the offense are Kyle Rudolph, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, who have all been surprisingly good this season. Virtually every position on defense is excellent, though Trey Waynes remains the weak link on that side of the ball, but overall Mike Zimmer has done an unreal job building one of the game’s scariest defenses.
Case Keenum is virtually the only thing that can stop the Vikings from making the Super Bowl. If he limits the mistakes, this could be the first team to play the Super Bowl at home. Right now this is the most dangerous team in football. That’s gotta be nerve wracking for Vikings fans to hear, but they finally have a team worthy of the high expectations.
Key Pieces: Coaching, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes, Andrew Sendejo, Linval Joseph, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, Latavius Murray, Pat Elflein, Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers
Areas of Concern: QB
I look forward to more of the confusion of the 2017 season as it’ll throw more curveballs at us.