As crazy as this sounds, we are only three weeks away from the NFL playoffs and the picture is starting to manifest itself. In this breakdown I’m ranking all 32 teams and I use different tiers to describe how I feel about them. While there are plenty of statistics to support the cases I want to make for them, I tried to limit those to a smaller degree, because at this point of the season it’s all about what I have learned from studying them every week and what my eyes tell me.
Here we go:
These are the four truly complete teams. You can find concerns if you nit-pick, but I don’t think there is an obvious weakness for any of them at this stage. The top three arguably have the three best quarterbacks in the NFL, while the other two have elite offensive play-callers and top five defenses. Football is all about matchups, so they could have a bad draw, but in general I think they are all winning at least one playoff game and have a legitimate shot to go the distance.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-1)
You can find those little flaws if you are looking for them, but to me the Chiefs are still clearly the number one team in the league. They can lack some urgency at times and we have seen them let teams hang around for multiple weeks now, with no multiple-score wins since their week ten bye. However, even when they are down in games, you know at some point they will turn it on and make a run, like scoring 30 straight in 18 minutes last week at Miami. And if you give Patrick Mahomes the ball at the end of the game, whether you’re up or down, they will finish the job. Kansas City still number one in point differential for the season (+9.4) and until last week they were tied with Pittsburgh for number one in turnover margin (now +8). I think there’s about two teams in each conference that could make for exciting matchups against them, but I don’t think anybody is beating the Chiefs on a neutral field – and the playoffs will probably go through Arrowhead.
2. Green Bay Packers (10-3)
Aaron Rodgers is my choice MVP right now. He has been absolutely phenomenal, with only one blemish to his record and that was the only time the Packers really didn’t show up, back in week six at Tampa Bay. The chemistry between Rodgers and Davante Adams is unbelievable, but that running back duo is phenomenal as well and the offensive line has been one of the most consistent ones in all of football. Plus, Matt LaFleur has turned himself into one of the top offensive play-callers in the game. Defensively, my one big issue was their interior front, which has been vulnerable to the run game, and that’s the one area you can still question, but since Dalvin Cook had that monster game against them, they have held opponents to under 100 yards rushing on average over these past six weeks. You can argue that the Saints are a little more complete in terms of NFC opponents, but the difference in quarterback play is substantial and they are becoming a better all-around squad.
3. Buffalo Bills (10-3)
Where are the people who told me Josh Allen will absolutely not be an MVP candidate at the end of the season? After Mahomes and Rodgers there is no quarterback who you can tell me has clearly been better than him. While the run game hasn’t been very consistent, I like the combination of Moss & Singletary, while Allen is a major factor in that area as well, and Brian Daboll understands when he is in matchups where he can utilize it. Their defense has really come along as well, after they had some issues early on – especially defending the run, holding opponents to just 18.7 points since their bye three weeks ago – and I believe that has something to do with Sean McDermott getting more involved in the defensive game-planning. They do a tremendous job of taking away staples of the opposing team’s passing game and over this three-game stretch since their bye they have given up just under 70 yards rushing on average.
4. New Orleans Saints (10-3)
This is actually the one team with a real question mark potentially, because we just don’t know for sure where Drew Brees is in his recovery and he hasn’t been great this season either way. However, assuming he is fine for their playoff run and they can win at least one more game to hold on to the division title, they are a very complete team that wins at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Sean Peyton is as good an offensive game-designer and team motivator as we have in the league and while that loss in Philadelphia last Sunday is obviously on our minds, let’s not forget that they had won nine straight before that. Now, you can argue that they have faced some clearly inferior teams, but they have won close and they have blown teams out. Since their week six bye, this past Sunday was their first time of not reaching 100 rushing yards (over 150 on average), while their defense has been phenomenal. What it really comes down to is that until their trip to Philly, their quarterbacks had not been sacked more than the opposing team’s since their early bye and they were recording 2.5 more sacks on a weekly basis. However, they are still the most penalized team in the league (843 yards).