It’s time for the playoffs and that means one more edition of the power rankings.
After 17 weeks of regular season action, the defending Super Bowl champions are in the same place they started. The New England Patriots battled through defensive struggles early in the year, but won 11 of their last 12 to guarantee that the road to the Super Bowl will go through Gillette Stadium.
At the bottom of the rankings, the Cleveland Browns, who put the appropriate cherry on top of an 0-16 season by literally watching a last chance at a win slip through their fingers. At least you got some fresh air and exercise the last few months, Browns.
With the playoffs now just days away, the top 12 spots in the power rankings go to the only 12 teams that still have games left to play.
The Bills are far from a Super Bowl favorite, but they’re in the postseason for the first time in 18 years and that alone is a reason to be on cloud nine. Just look at the unbridled joy.
Watching this on repeat all day. #GoBills pic.twitter.com/vq7sFAumHq— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) January 1, 2018
Buffalo fans are so happy that thousands of them have donated to Andy Dalton’s foundation as a thank you for knocking the Ravens out of contention and handing the final AFC Wild Card spot to the Bills.
Sports can break your heart or be the best thing in the world. Even if the playoffs don’t last long for the Bills, this is a great time for Buffalo.
With the Seahawks losing at home to the Cardinals, the Falcons didn’t need to win a tough game against the Panthers. But Atlanta handled business anyway and rolls into the postseason with some momentum on their side.
Of the six teams in the NFC half of the playoff bracket, Atlanta is the only one that was there a year ago. Unlike last season — when they earned a first-round bye — the Falcons will need to win road games to get back to the Super Bowl.
But they’re a win over the Rams away from a matchup with the Eagles, who don’t look scary at all without Carson Wentz. The Falcons spent 2017 trying to forget about the Super Bowl loss of last year, but that experience could prove useful now.
The Titans were the other team that needed a Week 17 win to punch a ticket to the postseason and they did it by shutting down the Jaguars from start to finish.
It wasn’t the junior varsity version of the Jaguars, either. Despite having nothing to play for, Jacksonville had the first-team offense and defense on the field ready to knock the Titans out of contention, and they couldn’t do it.
Tennessee gave the Jaguars a golden opportunity to do so when Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry collided for a fumble that squirted straight in the air and was returned for a Jacksonville touchdown. But Mariota put the game on ice with a stiff arm in the final minutes of the game to send the Titans to the postseason.
More plays like that in January, and Tennessee could sneak up on a team or two.
HOW? The Ravens just had to stop the Bengals from going 90 yards in the last three minutes of the game and they’d be in the playoffs. THE BENGALS. Cincinnati was dead last in total offense in 2017, shut out by the Ravens in Week 1, and still managed to be the ones to score a 49-yard touchdown with 44 seconds left to knock the Ravens out.
Again: Baltimore was about as close to locked into a playoff spot as they could possibly get and blew it TO THE BENGALS.
And here's the final AFC wild card plot, from after the Bills' win was complete, of an insane late afternoon window. pic.twitter.com/7iww6lCMOv— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 1, 2018
Go sit in the corner and think about what you did for nine months, Ravens.
Uh ... yikes.
The Eagles didn’t have anything to play for, but getting shut out is never a great look. Especially when the quarterback who is supposed to carry the torch now that Carson Wentz is gone finished with a 9.3 passer rating.
Nick Foles threw 11 passes before leaving the game, but completed just four of them for 39 yards and threw an interception. Philadelphia’s defense is going to have to lead the way, but the Eagles’ offense has to at least score a few points and that looks like a real problem.
Full hope rankings
Weekly disclaimer: These aren’t your average power rankings and are instead an attempt to measure the current state of mind — or “hope” — for each team and fan base.
The NFL can be an emotional roller coaster, and one big week can shoot a team’s spirits through the roof and tank another’s hopes of finishing with the Lombardi Trophy in February or beyond. Teams near the top are feeling great after Sunday, while those at the bottom aren’t feeling too optimistic.
If you’re looking for a ranking of who would beat who, this isn’t always going to be the best gauge:
Hope rankings, Final
|1||New England Patriots||1|
|5||Los Angeles Rams||5|
|6||Kansas City Chiefs||7|
|8||New Orleans Saints||6|
|13||San Francisco 49ers||13|
|14||Los Angeles Chargers||14|
|23||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||28|
|25||Green Bay Packers||24|
|29||New York Giants||31|
|31||New York Jets||27|