Another NFL regular season has come and gone. It is now time to shift our attention to the playoffs and make our predictions about the next Super Bowl winner. Every year there seems to be some surprise teams that make it the post-season and there are also teams that shock us by not making the playoffs. For instance, how many people would have guessed that the Denver Broncos or Carolina Panthers would not make the playoffs this year? How many people thought the Oakland Raiders were going to be ahead of the Broncos in the standings? That is the great thing about the NFL, you just really never know what can happen on any given Sunday.
Despite the unexpected, there are still some very perennially good teams that made the playoffs this year. The playoffs are the ultimate test of how good a team really is. Gone are the games against poor teams and in are the weekly grinds to get to try and get to the Super Bowl. For instance, the New England Patriots will not get a chance to play the lowly Jets in the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Steelers will not get the chance to play the Cleveland Browns again, and so forth. Perhaps the greatest part about the NFL playoffs is that you can never predict what is going to happen. Some years the favorites will go on to win it all, some years an underdog will come out of nowhere to claim the glory, and some years a darkhorse will win the title. This year will be no different and we should be in for some great games in both conferences. With that being said, we have decided to rank every team in the NFL to make the playoffs this year from worst to best.
17 Near Misses:
16 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We figured we'd give an honorable mention to some teams that barely missed out on the postseason. The margin of error in the NFL is so small and if not for some tough breaks, the following three teams easily could have been in the postseason. We'll start with the Buccaneers, who were a pleasant surprise at 9-7 thanks to a breakout season from 2015's first overall pick Jameis Winston. Winston threw for 4,090 yards, 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Winston will have to cut down on those picks, but he showed tremendous poise and in a two year span, he has helped the Bucs improve from 2-14, to 6-10 in his rookie year and 9-7 in his sophomore year. Year three looks like the next step for Winston and the Bucs will likely be a playoff team this time next year.
15 Tennessee Titans
When looking at the Tennessee Titans, it's a bit of a mystery as to why they didn't make the playoffs. Marcus Mariota was the most efficient red zone quarterback in the NFL, DeMarco Murray had a tremendous bounce back season and the Titans showed an ability to close games out in the fourth quarter, something they lacked in previous years.
The Titans' downfall proved to be their divisional record, as they finished with a 2-4 mark. They pulled out some tremendous wins over several playoff teams including the Lions, Packers, Chiefs and Dolphins, but they just couldn't solve the AFC South, losing twice to the Colts and once to the lowly Jaguars.
With the Colts a mess, the Jags still rebuilding and the Texans in QB limbo, there's no reason to think the Titans can't win the AFC South next year.
14 Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos will not be defending their title this January and it's due to a weak second half of the season after a promising start. It seemed that even with Peyton Manning's retirement the Broncos would be contenders, with Trevor Siemian getting off to a promising start and the Broncos riding their defense. The team started 4-0, but injuries in the backfield and inconsistent play at quarterback, the Broncos had trouble from November on.
A blown fourth quarter lead against the Kansas City Chiefs proved to be their downfall, and the Broncos, like the Titans, also had trouble in their division, going 2-4. Gary Kubiak has now retired from coaching, so the Broncos will have to undergo more changes in 2017, but this team still has the pieces to contend next season.
Now, onto this year's playoff teams...
13 Playoff Teams:
12 Oakland Raiders
When Oakland lost Derek Carr, they lost all hope for this season. Not only did they lose their star quarterback, but they lost their leader. Some teams would be able to offset the loss of their quarterback with great defense and special teams, but so far the Oakland Raiders have not proven they can do this. Their defense can create turnovers, but they also give up a ton of points and are very vulnerable against the pass.
Overall, Oakland was having a great season with Carr and looked like a legitimate team to win the AFC. Now with the loss of Carr, the Raiders lost home field advantage and will likely not get past the second round. The Raiders should be able to bounce back next year with a healthy Carr.
11 Houston Texans
We already know that the Houston Texans offense is not very good. It is never a good sign when the head coach has to change quarterbacks this late in the season due to poor performance. Brock Osweiler did not live up to expectations and as a result, Tom Savage took over the starting job. With Savage suffering a concussion, we are not even sure who will start the playoff game for the Texans (although many reports are suggesting Osweiler). Either way, we are going to have a matchup of either Tom Savage or Brock Osweiler against Matt McGloin or Connor Cook. Pretty appealing matchup, don't you think?
What puts the Texans rank ahead of the Raiders on this list is their defense. Their defense has been pretty consistent this year. This defense will probably be enough for them to get past the Raiders, but after that it will be tough for them to beat anyone.
10 Detroit Lions
I have to give Detroit props for their season. I expected them to be an under .500 team, but they ended up making the playoffs instead. Granted, they did blow a big division lead and now have to go play on the road in a hostile environment instead of hosting a playoff game, but remember to look at the whole picture for this team. This is a team that lost their once in a generation wide receiver to retirement in the offseason and as a result, no one really expected them to make the playoffs this season.
Another issue with the Lions is Matthew Stafford's finger, as it can be said that everything was going great for the Lions until Stafford got hurt. Ever since this finger injury, Stafford has not quite looked the same and this could be a good explanation for the Lions recent struggles. In the end, the Lions are probably packing their bags to go home after their match-up against the Seahawks.
9 Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins have had a nice year. It appears that the Dolphins made the right hire for a head coach in Adam Gase. Ryan Tannehill finally started to justify the massive contract he received, Jay Ajayi has established himself as an excellent running back, and Jarvis Landry is a beast at wide receiver. As a result, things appear to be looking up for Miami.
However, I do not feel that there time to win in the playoffs is this year. Unless, Ajayi manages to go off for 200 plus yards again, I do not see how the Dolphins will get past the Steelers in Pittsburgh. At this time, Pittsburgh is just the better team and I expect this to be shown when the two face-off in the playoffs.
8 Seattle Seahawks
There are just too many holes on the Seahawks roster right now for them to be higher on this list. Injuries are a major reason for these holes and if they were healthy, they would probably be much higher on this list. However, this is not the case and despite how good of a team the Seahawks have been over the past few seasons, I just do not seem them being a legitimate threat to win the Super Bowl this season.
Their defense has taken a major step backwards ever since Earl Thomas has been injured. In addition, the Seahawks offensive line has just been too inconsistent. When Wilson has been protected well, like the game against New England, the Seahawks offense has been good. However, this great protection has been rare and as a result, the Seahawks are not going to win it all this year.
7 New York Giants
Defense wins championships, right? If New York's defense continues to play the way they have been lately, they could be one of those "surprise" playoff teams that goes deep into the playoffs. Obviously, that is a big if, but we have seen crazier things happen (like when the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007).
The other factor we cannot dismiss with the Giants and playoff time is Eli Manning. I know the Giants offense has been a question mark all season, but something just happens when Eli gets into the playoffs. He looks like a completely different player, which is reflected in his two Super Bowl rings. He also has a once in a generation talent in Odell Beckham Jr. that can turn a five yard slant pass into a 60 yard touchdown at any point in the game. Overall, the Giants have some question marks, but I would not be surprised if they make a deep run.
6 Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta has had one of the best overall offenses in the league all season. They are first in points per game with just under 34 points per game. They are also second in total yards per game with 415.8 yards per game, third in passing yards per game with 295 and fifth in rushing with over 120 yards per game. I also feel that Matt Ryan has been so good this year that he deserves the MVP.
So what is the problem, and why do I have Atlanta in the middle of these rankings? Well, their defense is still a very big question mark. Remember, all of Atlanta's offensive rankings? Well, just picture the opposite for their defense. With the exception of rushing yardage, Atlanta is in the bottom of the league for points, total yards, and passing yards per game.
5 Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the overall best "big three" in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger is one of the game's best quarterbacks, Antonio Brown is arguably the best receiver in the game, and Le'Veon Bell is arguably the best running back in the game.
However, I am still not sure if this is going to be enough to help the Steelers get to the Super Bowl. Do the Steelers have enough secondary receivers to complement Antonio Brown in the passing game against a great defense? I know the dominant run game can make up for this at times, but what happens if the Steelers fall behind and have to ditch the running game? This is a question I need to see answered before putting them over teams like the Patriots and the Chiefs in the AFC.
The other issue I see with the Steelers is the at times vulnerable secondary. If they are playing a great quarterback like Tom Brady, is their secondary going to hold up? Guess we will have to wait and see.
4 Green Bay Packers
Many people think that Green Bay may be too high on this list. However, their team is peaking on both offense and defense at just the right time. Their defense has stepped up dramatically ever since they were 4-6 earlier in the season. In addition, the "inconsistent" Rodgers we saw in the beginning of the season is nowhere to be found. Now, he is back to being a top two quarterback in the game.
Additionally, Jordy Nelson looks healthy again, Davante Adams has taken a big step up as a receiver, and Jared Cook finally gives the Packers a legitimate receiving tight end. Add in the fact that Green Bay has established a solid running game with Ty Montgomery and Aaron Ripkowski...watch out.
3 Kansas City Chiefs
For some reason, many people still sleep on the Kansas City Chiefs. Maybe it is because these people do not believe in Alex Smith or people are not too keen on Andy Reid and his conservative style. For me, I just know that all Kansas City has done lately is win games. They came first place in the toughest division in football and this means they are probably more battle tested than any other playoff team. Add in the fact that they secured a bye in the first round, Kansas City is looking like a legitimate threat to defeat teams like the Patriots on their way to the Super Bowl.
Overall, Kansas City has great play-makers on defense and we have seen them single handedly win games by creating turnover after turnover. The Chiefs also have two game changers on offense in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Add all of these factors up and this means do not be surprised if we see Kansas City in the Super Bowl.
2 Dallas Cowboys
At first, I was not sold on the Cowboys even though they kept on winning games. The two major reasons I doubted the Cowboys were that they have a rookie quarterback and I also questioned their defense. I thought Dak Prescott would have to look like a rookie at some point during the season and man has has he proven me wrong. You would think he has been a quarterback in the NFL for 10 years with the way he has played all season.
Additionally, the Cowboys defense has stepped up of late. The major factor the Cowboys defense has lacked all season is a pass rush. However, the last two or three games have changed dramatically and players like David Irving have helped the Cowboys generate a legitimate pass rush. There are still some holes in the secondary, but if the Cowboys continue to dominate time of possession this problem is less worrisome.
1 New England Patriots
The two factors the Patriots have over everybody else: the best head coach and the best quarterback. Many people thought the chance for the Patriots to fall off would be this year. Tom Brady was suspended for the first four games, and several key players were recovering from pretty serious injuries at the beginning of the year. Despite all of these issues, the Patriots just kept on winning. Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett got the job done and when Brady came back the Patriots looked even more dominant.
I have to admit that when Gronkowski was declared out for the rest of the year, I thought the Patriots would struggle. However, their offense has still managed to look great and their defense has stepped up tremendously in recent weeks. Overall, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Foxborough in the AFC and we could very well seem them in Houston in February.