The field is now down to just eight.
After a thrilling weekend of Wild Card action, the final eight teams are left standing in the NFL playoffs. Has the first weekend of playoff action changed our thinking? Is it time to take the Jacksonville Jaguars seriously? Are the San Francisco 49ers inevitable? Will Sunday’s closer-than-expected win over the Miami Dolphins be the catalyst for a deep playoff run from the Buffalo Bills?
Here are the NFL’s final eight teams, ranked by their Super Bowl chances.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Earning the top seed in the AFC and the associated first-round bye, the Chiefs will finally enter the tournament this weekend.
Once they do, it’s all about their offense.
Led by head coach Andy Reid and MVP frontrunner Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, the unit is the most explosive in the game today. Even with star wideout Tyreek Hill now in Miami, it is able to put pressure on any defense — a fact that allowed Kansas City to finish the regular season as the No. 1 team in the league in both scoring (29.2 points/game) and expected points added (0.179/play)
For as impressive as the Chiefs have been on offense, there is a reason they exited the regular season “only” ranked fourth in point differential (+127): their defense has not been quite on the same level, checking in at No. 15 in the league in EPA (-0.001).
At the end of the day, though, Kansas City is as good a team as any in the league while also bringing plenty of playoff experience to the equation.
— Bernd Buchmasser
2. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles enjoyed the benefit of being the top seed in the NFC, as they got to stay home and watch the playoffs along with the rest of us.
Now it is time to go to work.
Jalen Hurts is back, which is a huge benefit for this offense. As center Jason Kelce noted recently on the podcast he hosts with his brother, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, everything the Eagles do on offense starts with Hurts, both in the running game, and in the passing game. Having Hurts back — and having the bye week — should be huge for the Eagles.
Looking ahead, the Philadelphia run defense could be a storyline, whether this weekend against the New York Giants or in a potential NFC Championship Game. But if the Eagles can build a lead early and force the opposing offense to be one-dimensional, watch out. The Philadelphia pass defense, and in particular their pass rush, is among the league’s best.
— Mark Schofield
3. San Francisco 49ers
It’s official. We don’t have to worry about Brock Purdy. We’ve been waiting for him to turn into a pumpkin for the past month, but it hasn’t happened yet. When Jimmy G went down in Week 13, we all thought the 49ers were cooked. But Purdy, the very last draft pick in 2022, has taken over this team. He is not managing games. He is taking them over. Purdy was tremendous in the 49ers’ Super Wild Card blowout win over the Seattle Seahawks. So, there’s really no stopping this team. The 49ers are loaded on both sides of the ball and they’re getting remarkable quarterback play. There’s nothing not to like about this team.
— Bill Williamson
4. Buffalo Bills
Well, it wasn’t pretty at all, but the Bills took care of Miami in a 34-31 thriller. The Bills came in as the preseason favorite to win the title, but right now they seem out of sorts on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they’re one dimensional with the lack of a ground game or quick game to help generate easy offense, and their special teams unit leaves a lot to be desired. However, they have Josh Allen, and when you have him you can do pretty much anything at any time. He has his lapses in play, but when he’s on, he’s the best QB left in the playoffs outside of Kansas City. They might not be the favorites, but they’ll be tough outs.
— JP Acosta
5. Cincinnati Bengals
It is often said that football is a game of inches.
The Cincinnati Bengals proved that on Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore was inches away from taking a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, but a Tyler Huntley quarterback sneak was stopped within inches of the goal line by linebacker Logan Wilson. Wilson jarred the football out of the quarterback’s hands, and the ball bounced into the waiting arms of pass rusher Sam Hubbard, who returned it the distance for a go-ahead score for the Bengals.
Then, on the game’s final play, a desperation throw from Huntley into the end zone bounced in the direction of wide receiver James Proche II, but the miracle for Baltimore remained just out of reach.
Now, the Bengals will travel to upstate New York to take on the Buffalo Bills. The biggest storyline from Cincinnati’s perspective might be the health of their offensive line, and whether they can protect Joe Burrow the rest of the way. Burrow was pressure early and often by the Ravens, as Baltimore sacked him four times and put eight QB hits on Burrow. Will that continue next week?
— Mark Schofield
6. Dallas Cowboys
Tom Brady was 7-0 against the Dallas Cowboys in his career entering Super Wild Card weekend, which is now just another example that Touchdown Tom stuck around too long. The Cowboys destroyed Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-14, in a performance that saw Dallas dominate every phase of the game outside of making extra points.
The Cowboys defense looked phenomenal all night, keeping Brady under pressure and even picking him off in the red zone for the first time since he joined Tampa Bay. The offense was just as good for Dallas: Dak Prescott looked like he was in complete control of the game, Tony Pollard was consistently breaking off solid runs, and the Dallas o-line held up against Tampa’s pass rush.
Nothing about the Cowboys’ win seemed flukey. Prescott is playing some damn good ball right now, the defense has some big-time playmakers, and the NFC is wide open. Cowboys-Niners is going to be fantastic.
— Ricky O’Donnell
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
It might be a little tougher to doubt the Jaguars after Saturday night.
Jacksonville found themselves in a 27-0 hole in the first half, Trevor Lawrence was drawing comparisons to Nate Peterman after throwing four interceptions, and it looked like the Jaguars would be one-and-done this postseason.
But the Jaguars stormed back, pulling of a comeback that will live on in Jaguars’ lore. Lawrence threw four touchdown passes after the nightmarish start, with three of those coming in the second half, as Jacksonville pulled off the 31-30 win.
They will be underdogs this weekend. Maybe the Jaguars will always be underdogs.
But maybe, just maybe, it was always the Jags.
— Mark Schofield
8. New York Giants
The magical season from Brian Daboll and the New York Giants rolls on. Despite entering the season with low expectations, the Giants not only made the playoffs, but will play in the Divisional Round thanks to Sunday’s 31-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings on the road.
Also continuing his magical season? Quarterback Daniel Jones. Jones made history on Sunday, becoming the first QB in NFL postseason history to throw for 300+ passing yards and 2+ touchdowns, while adding 70+ rushing yards.
Up next? A rematch with their division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. Philadelphia won both meetings this season, including in Week 18. But perhaps, perhaps, the Daboll magic rolls on for another week.
— Mark Schofield