February 20 2018
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NFL Playoff Rankings: Patriots Lead List Despite Reported Rift

The Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans kick off the NFL Playoffs this Saturday, and many fans are hoping this is the year their team will win it all.

The New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Minnesota Vikings all locked up first-round byes with the same record (13-3). The Patriots and Eagles have home-field advantage but that surely won’t guarantee them a spot Super Bowl LII.

New England took the top spot on last year’s playoff rankings, but the Atlanta Falcons surprised many, making their first Super Bowl appearance in almost two decades.

Below is a list of all 12 playoff teams, ranking each franchise’s chance to win Super Bowl LII.

12. Buffalo Bills

The Bills finally snapped their 17-year playoff drought but face an uphill battle in the postseason. Buffalo only beat two teams (Atlanta, Kansas City) with a winning records in 2017 and face the Jacksonville Jaguars’ second ranked defense on Wild Card Weekend.

It’s no secret Buffalo’s greatest strength is their ground game. Bills six-time Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game due to an ankle injury.

Buffalo’s chances of winning significantly decrease without their 1,000-yard rusher. The Bills finished the 2017 regular season ranked 26th defensively and 29th offensively in terms of yards.

11. Tennessee Titans

The Titans may be the hardest team to read in this postseason. They swept the Jacksonville Jaguars and beat both the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens in 2017. Tennessee also lost three of their last four games down the stretch, which included losses to Arizona and San Francisco.

The Titans will be without veteran running back DeMarco Murray for Saturday’s showdown in Kansas City, and none of Tennessee’s playmakers have lived up to expectations this season. Running back Derrick Henry, tight end Delanie Walker, and wide receivers Rishard, Matthews, Eric Decker, and Corey Davis will all have to step up their play if they want to pull off the upset on Saturday.

Titans franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota has struggled to take care of the ball this season, throwing 13 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. While all eyes may be on Tennessee’s offense, it’s their defense that has been the difference maker this season.

The Titans have NFL’s 13th ranked defense and have five different players with at least four sacks. Tennessee’s defense has recorded 21 takeaways, and safety Kevin Byard led the league with eight interceptions during the regular season.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are built for January football, but they are still missing one key piece, a franchise quarterback.

Jacksonville posted the NFL’s best rushing attack in 2017 and finished second in the league defensively in terms of both points and yards allowed. The Jaguars are loaded with talent on the defensive side of the ball and arguably have the best cornerback tandem in the league in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.

Rookie running back Leonard Fournette sets the tone for Jacksonville’s offense. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 draft posted 1,040 rushing yards in his first season and leads Jacksonville’s offense with 10 touchdowns.

Both Jacksonville’s defense and Fournette will look to take the pressure off quarterback Blake Bortles in his first career playoff game. The fourth-year quarterback has shown some improvement this season, completing a career-best 60.2 percent of his passes.

9. Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have both the offense and defense to make another Super Bowl run this postseason, but their losses to Atlanta and New Orleans down the stretch is a cause for concern.

Carolina’s offense revolves around franchise quarterback Cam Newton, and the seven-year veteran has struggled with turnovers in 2017. Newton has thrown 22 touchdowns to 16 interceptions but has also accounted for 754 rushing yards and six scores on the ground as well.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Luke Kuechly leads the way. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year can make plays behind the line-of-scrimmage and in pass coverage and leads Carolina’s defense in both tackles (125) and interceptions (3).

Carolina’s biggest weakness is their pass offense and pass defense. The Panthers were swept by the New Orleans Saints during the regular season, and teams that have swept opponents during the regular season have gone on to a post a 13-7 record in their third meeting since the 1970 merger.

8. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles surely would have taken a spot in the top five had Carson Wentz remained healthy but that’s not the case.

Philadelphia enters the postseason with the NFL’s third ranked offense and fourth ranked defense in terms of points. The Eagles have plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball, and arguably have the best defensive line in the NFL.

The major question for Philly fans is can Nick Foles lead them to a Super Bowl?

The Eagles second-string quarterback has amassed a 22-17 starting record since entering the league in 2012 but this is clearly the most talented team he has been a part of.

Despite having the No. 1 seed in the NFC, Philadelphia posted a 4-3 record against teams with winning records in 2017.

7. Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles’ offense exploded under first-year head coach Sean McVay. The Rams averaged a league-high 29.9 points per game during the regular season and their defense finished 12th in terms of points allowed.

Los Angeles’ defense also recorded the fifth most takeaways (28) in the NFL this season.

Rams running back Todd Gurley and defensive lineman Aaron Donald are considered two of the best players at their positions across the league, and both are in the running for league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year respectively.

Rams second-year quarterback Jared Goff has also shown tremendous improvement under McVay, throwing 28 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Los Angeles’ revamped offensive line has been key to the team’s success this season, but inexperience is the biggest question mark for this young team as they enter the postseason.

6. Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City’s season can be broken into three parts. They started the year red-hot, winning their first five games in dominant fashion. The Chiefs would then go on to lose six of their next seven games before ending the year on a four-game winning streak.

Kansas City’s offense is led by rookie running back Kareem Hunt. The third-round pick out of Toledo won this year’s rushing title with 1,327 yards on the ground. The Chiefs posted the NFL fifth ranked offense in terms of yards, but their defense ranks 28th in terms of yards allowed.

While Kansas City’s defense is the biggest concern for Chiefs fans, it’s not as though they don’t have playmakers on the defensive of the ball. The Chiefs recorded the seventh most takeaways (26) in the NFL this season, and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Terrance Mitchell recorded a combined nine interceptions on the year.

5. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons take the highest spot for a wild-card team on this list. Atlanta went 6-2 in the second half of the season, beating Seattle, New Orleans, and Carolina to lock up a playoff berth.

While the Falcons do not have the same explosive offense that led to a Super Bowl run last season, their defense has vastly improved. Atlanta’s defense ranks in the top 10 in both points and yards allowed. Falcons linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal have only improved their play in their second season, recording a combined 254 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 15 passes defended, and four interceptions.

The Falcons still have plenty of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman are likely eager to prove themselves once again.

4. New Orleans Saints

The Saints may have arguably the most well-rounded offense in the NFC entering the playoffs.

They have a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees and the NFL’s fifth ranked rushing attack in terms of yards. Running backs Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and wide receiver Michael Thomas all posted 1,200-plus yards in 2017.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints finished 10th in terms of points allowed. New Orleans’ first-round pick Marshon Lattimore has made an immediate impact in his rookie season, knocking down 18 passes and snagging five interceptions.

Saints head coach Sean Payton has led New Orleans to its only Super Bowl title in franchise history, and this arguably the best team he has had since that 2009 season.

3. Minnesota Vikings

If defense wins championships then the Minnesota Vikings are Super Bowl bound. The Vikings dominated opponents with their defense in 2017, posting the league’s best defense in terms of both yards and points allowed.

The Vikings are stacked at all three levels of their defense. They have arguably the best secondary in the NFL and have no shortage of talent along the defensive line or in their linebacking corps.

On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Case Keenum and wide receiver Adam Thielen have taken the league by storm. Keenum has led Minnesota to the NFL’s 11th ranked offense in terms of yards, but running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have also played a vital role in the team’s offensive success.

The Vikings should be considered the favorites in the NFC this postseason. They have the NFL’s top ranked defense, a top ten rushing attack, and a quarterback that takes care of the ball.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

This is the second consecutive year Pittsburgh has come in at No. 2. The Steelers locked up the second seed in the AFC, but will likely once again have to go through New England to make it the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh fell short against the Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship Game but this is a much different team. The Steelers have significantly improved on the defensive side of the ball, ranking fifth in terms of yards allowed.

The loss of star linebacker Ryan Shazier has clearly impacted Pittsburgh’s defense, but the Steelers should still be considered the second best team this postseason.

While Pittsburgh’s defense has improved in 2017, the Steelers offense has remained dominant. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown are the catalysts for Pittsburgh’s success, but the addition of rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has not gone overlooked.

1. New England Patriots

Despite a reported rift between Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Robert Kraft, the Patriots should remain heavy favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

If any coach knows how to fuel a team amidst controversy, it’s Belichick. The Patriots have gone 11-1 in their last 12 outings, which includes wins over Atlanta, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh. They have the NFL’s top ranked offense in terms of yards and allowed the fifth fewest points in the NFL in 2017.

From Rob Gronkowski to Brandin Cooks to Dion Lewis, New England’s offense is stacked with playmakers. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots have a bend but don’t break defense.

No coaching staff is better at game-planning than New England, and having a five-time Super Bowl winner under center solidifies their position as the top ranked team this postseason.

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