We have reached the second stage of the playoffs, leaving us with the NFL’s version of the Elite Eight. We have already seen both the reigning Super Bowl champs and a 13-3 Saints squad leave the tournament due to upsets at home and if it wasn’t for an epic collapse by the Bills in Houston, we would have seen all four division champs kicked out already. However, now the four teams coming off a bye will be well rested to take on those aspiring contenders. The bookmakers have three of those home teams favored by at least a touchdown, with the Seahawks being the only ones to keep it really close, but as we have seen plenty of times, the playoffs have different rules and there always seems to be one surprise outcome in this round. I looked at each matchup and who has the advantage at every offensive and defensive position. In the column underneath I also mentioned if anything stood out to me with special teams and/or coaching.
As crazy as it may sound, there are only four weeks left in the regular season and as we are heading into the final stretch of what has been a very exciting year, it is time to rank these teams one through 32 once again,. This order is based on what I see when I watch the games or put on the film afterwards, in terms of pure talent on the roster, schematic advantages, situational success and overall team chemistry. So obviously teams who have already faced a tough schedule will be given more credit, but these aren’t college football rankings, where we bring up strength of record or what not, yet instead I am trying to tell you who I think are the best teams in the league. A lot of these have already played each other and I consider that as well, but just because one team beat the other eight weeks ago, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be ranked above – we are trying to assess the situation at this very moment.
We are at a point of the NFL season where the playoff picture is really starting to form. Nine of the twelve teams that are currently in line for a spot in the postseason have won seven or more games, with both Wildcard teams in the NFC sitting at eight wins already. In the AFC there are far less true contenders one through six it seems like, but there are two elite squads at the very top.
With only six weeks left in the regular season, I decided to take a look at every team’s schedule (well, outside of the Bengals, Redskins and Dolphins), and predicted their final records. According to that, I put together my top six seeds from each conference, to see where they will end up as we close the year. While most of the teams mentioned are already en route to making the playoffs, I have quite a bit changing about the seeding.
Every year you have NFL teams failing to reach the expectations fans have for them in the offseason, while others start off slow and end up going on a run. Just last season you had two teams, who were coming off conference championship game appearances, miss the playoffs entirely in the Vikings and Jaguars. On the other hand, you had two AFC South teams in the Texans and Colts meeting in a matchup of 0-3 teams early on in the season, but then both putting together impressive stretches to finish with double-digit wins.
Because of that, I looked around the league for teams that have been disappointing so far and pointed out one squad, who I think still has hope to turn things around and another one, whose season is already over to me. I only picked teams at or below .500 record to do so of course. Three of these four were playoff teams last year, while another one might have just been the most hyped group in the entire league over the summer.
Like I do every year a few days before the regular season kicks off, I put together my predictions for all the major NFL awards, picked every single one of the 256 games on the schedule and all the playoff matchups leading up to Super Bowl LIV. There is nothing tougher to predict than NFL games and nothing represents that better than the fact that every year half the teams that made the postseason the prior season will miss out the following year. While there are obvious favorites for the a few of the awards which I could not ignore, I also went off the radar with some names and I have seven new teams making the playoffs compared to last year.
Heading into Championship Sunday I looked at these two matchups and how things might play out. Instead of trying to preview one of them and pointing out schematic advantages and disadvantages like I did a week ago, I decided to present one X-factor for each team on offense and defense respectively. I believe these are truly the four best teams in the league when I combine players and coaching. There might have been more talented teams on paper, but when I look at these four head coaches and their staffs I think we are blessed with some of the very best play-callers and guys who excel at preparing their troops. So which players for each of them, who don’t usually play a primary role, could be key factors on Sunday?
Now in his 15th season in the NFL, Philip Rivers has started 218 straight games, recorded over 55000 passing yards and almost 400 touchdowns. He has made the Pro Bowl eight times, beaten basically every quarterback record in Chargers history and even seen them move cities. However, there is one thing he has never been able to do – beat Tom Brady. In eight total games versus the Patriots, Rivers’ only win against them came in 2008, when Matt Cassel replaced an injured Brady. And I don’t want to make this all about the quarterbacks, but these two guys have been the constants in that matchup for more than a decade now and so I thought the title makes a lot of sense. The Bolts finished the 2018 season tied for the best record in the AFC at 12-4, but with the Chiefs holding tie-breakers over them, they entered the postseason as a Wildcard team and already had to go on the road to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. Now they once again travel up to New England, where the Patriots are being questioned once again but still have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time under center. What might be different this time around? Rivers has the best team surrounding him since they went to the conference championship game over ten years ago. Will he finally slay the dragon?