So this is it. It all comes down to the final week of the season, with five playoff spots still on the line. Very little has been resolved through 17 weeks.
One thing is clear, though: There is a front-runner heading into the playoffs … the Baltimore Ravens. In back-to-back weeks they played in a matchup with another top team, and they prevailed each week. First, they traveled cross country and defeated the San Fransisco 49ers. They followed that up this week by utterly dismantling the Miami Dolphins.
Instead of listing all 32 teams, I’ll focus on the teams that are either already in the playoffs or mathematically still have a chance. There are still 20 teams who qualify for that threshold. Interestingly, due to the way the divisions are shaking out, three of the remaining alive teams were not in my top 20 last week (the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, and Atlanta Falcons). And three teams who were in my top 20 (the Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, and Denver Broncos) have been eliminated and are out.
Here are the 20 remaining teams with at least a theoretical chance at winning it all this season:
NFL Power Rankings Week 18
- Baltimore Ravens: Mea culpa … I actually thought Miami would go to Baltimore and leave with a victory. Not only did Miami lose, they got absolutely picked apart, giving up 56 points. The Ravens have clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the first-round bye. The playoffs go through Baltimore this year.
- Cleveland Browns: Can Joe Flacco win a Super Bowl with a second team? The way he and the entire team are playing, I wouldn’t rule it out. They have the weapons on both sides of the ball where they could go into any stadium, including Baltimore, and come out with a victory on the road.
- San Fransisco 49ers: Like the Ravens, the 49ers clinched the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. They seem to have a clearer path to the Super Bowl, with the Eagles faltering. The Cowboys still have to prove they can win a big playoff game, especially on the road. And the Lions are still young, and I question Dan Campbell’s situational coaching.
- Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins will have to do a ton of soul searching with not much turnaround as Buffalo comes to town, playing for the division. Interestingly, they have already clinched a playoff spot, while the Bills have not. If the Bills lose, they could still miss the playoffs. They definitely need the game more.
- Buffalo Bills: The Bills were 6-6. They have won four in a row to get to 10-6 and put themselves in a position to win the AFC East. But a loss could still jettison them from the playoffs. I will gain a ton of respect for Miami HC Mike McDaniel if he can win this game against a Buffalo team starting to peak.
- Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs look like an aging Muhammad Ali. To be the champ, you have to beat the champ, and they haven’t been beaten for good yet. The Chiefs had lost three games in a row facing the Bengals at home this week. They were down early, but Patrick Mahomes did enough to get the team in field goal range, and Harrison Butker did the rest, kicking six FGs. That’s no long-term prescription for success, but they did what champions do: They found a way to win.
- Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys appear to have backed into the NFC East division title and No. 2 seed in the conference. This would give them home field advantage until the NFC Championship game if they and San Fransisco each win. It has been two decades since there has been a repeat NFC East Champion, and it appears that streak is going to continue. Could this be the year that the Cowboys actually break through?
- Detroit Lions: Make no mistake about it, the Lions got screwed by the refs. It was an awful call to end the game against the Cowboys. The lineman clearly notified the ref he was an eligible receiver, but the ref blew it. But still, this is where I question HC Dan Campbell: Kick the extra point! I disagree with going for the two-point conversion, but ok, if you want to be aggressive and show confidence for your team, fine. But after that penalty, whether it was the right call or not, you’re at the seven-yard line now … KICK THE EXTRA POINT!
- Los Angeles Rams: A few weeks ago, I noticed that the Rams were playing very good football, under the radar. I checked their Super Bowl odds at the time, and they were sitting at 60/1. They have Super Bowl pedigree, and the only NFC QB to have a Super Bowl ring in Matthew Stafford. They have a top HC in Sean McVay who has gotten to the game twice. They have a dynamic passing attack and solid defense. With a chance to win $6,000 it was worth a $100 wager. And they keep winning. They won a nail-biter this week against the Giants and have secured a playoff spot. They are currently the No. 6 seed and would go to Detroit to play the Lions in the first round as things stand. How juicy would that matchup be, with Stafford going back to Detroit and Jared Goff facing his former team that, in essence, fired him?
- Philadelphia Eagles: A team with Super Bowl aspirations cannot lose to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 with a division title on the line.
- Houston Texans: These next three teams are all sitting at 9-7. They are all in the AFC South. Neither the division winner, nor the AFC Wild Card spots, have been established yet. And of the three teams, these Texans are the team who is currently on the outside looking in. However, of the three teams, they are the only team with a positive point differential, +20. They have their rookie standout C.J. Stroud back and they face the Colts this week. A win puts them in the playoffs.
- Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have been playing well as of late, too, going 3-2 in their last five games. If they win and Jacksonville loses, they’ll win the division … if they lose, they’re out.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: If the season ended today, the Jaguars would be division champs, which would be great for them since they’ve lost four out of their last five games. Trevor Lawrence was out with a shoulder injury this week, and the team just hasn’t been playing very well as of late. They are heading to Tennessee to play a Titans team with nothing but pride to play for. Mike Vrabel would love nothing more than to be a spoiler.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Other than their midseason losing streak, the Steelers have been what the Steelers always are: a tough team to play each week. They’ve won their last two games and Mike Tomlin is again over 500. They are sitting with a 9-7 record, guaranteeing he finishes above .500 for the 17th consecutive time. Right now, they are seeded ninth in an AFC with only seven playoff spots and have just a 29% chance at making the playoffs.
- Green Bay Packers: The Packers’ future looks unbelievably bright, and it appears the baton pass from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love is complete. As it is, their future may be now. They are currently sitting with the seventh seed, and if the playoffs started today, they’d be in. As it is, they have a 60% chance of making it. It would be fun for the Packers to reach the playoffs.
- Seattle Seahawks: Seattle is .500 at 8-8 and has a 26% chance of making the postseason. They are currently seeded eighth and need help to make it any further.
- New Orleans Saints: Similar to the three teams in the AFC South, these next three teams are all in a dogfight in the NFC South. The Saints are currently in second place in the division with an 8-8 record and a 31% chance of making the playoffs.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Even with Tampa Bay’s loss to the Saints this past week, they are also sitting with an 8-8 record and are actually in first place in the division. They have a 69% chance of making the playoffs, with the division title, the No. 4 seed, and a guaranteed home game.
- Atlanta Falcons: Inexplicabl,y the Falcons still have a 10% chance at reaching the postseason despite having a below .500 record. They are currently 7-9, but if they win and Tampa Bay and New Orleans each lose, they will hold the tiebreaker with all three teams sitting at 8-9.
- Minnesota Vikings: Even after the trouncing that Green Bay put on the Vikings Sunday night they are still sitting with a 3% chance at making the playoffs. The Vikings need to beat the Lions. The Packers need to lose to the Bears. The Seahawks need to lose to Arizona. And, Tampa Bay needs to lose to Carolina … so you’re saying there’s a chance.