We’re near the conclusion of the NFL playoffs, with the NFC Championship Game and AFC Championship Game schedules set and the NFL playoff bracket nearly filled out.
With one more game left to go before the Super Bowl, we’re seeing the traditional powerhouses that have made runs at the Super Bowl in recent history populate the Championship Round.
But that doesn’t make the matchups boring. There are great stylistic caveats to every ranking, and the games themselves will be a good watch for any football fan. We put together an NFL Power Ranking of the final four teams left alive in the playoffs by how likely it is that they can win the Super Bowl.
NFL Power Rankings: Championship Round
1) Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs entered the Divisional Round with some questions about their defense and some inconsistency on offense. The concerns were minor, but even so, they blew those concerns out of the water.
They held a resurgent Jaguars offense to just 20 points. One of Jacksonville’s two touchdowns came on a short field, the product of an excellent kick return. Overall, Kansas City’s play-to-play performance was excellent on both sides of the ball, and it allowed them to do what they do best: overwhelm opponents with their offense.
It wasn’t a blistering series of points, but it was a relentless display of competence. The Chiefs had the second-highest success rate on plays of the playoff week, and their 52.2% success rate was higher than any team pulled off over the course of the full season.
Kansas City reinforced what everyone knew about them — they can be good enough on defense to let their extraordinary offense shine. Though the final score was close, the Jaguars clearly couldn’t make any mistakes. Missing a potential interception or making the wrong move on fourth down was enough to put the game out of reach for them.
MORE: Can Chiefs Win Again With a Hobbled Patrick Mahomes?
Now that the Chiefs have seemingly put together a reasonable run game to complement what Patrick Mahomes can do through the air, it’s tough to completely stop them. Teams already have had to sell out in order to stop him from throwing the ball, and that usually doesn’t even work.
Now that light boxes invite runs from Jerick McKinnon and Isaiah Pacheco, and those runs actually do damage, it’s tough to stop an already aggravatingly versatile offense. With that in mind, it should be fun to see the Chiefs in what promises to be a titanic matchup between them and the Cincinnati Bengals.
This is still a team that features Creed Humphrey and Travis Kelce alongside Mahomes. Defensively, they benefit from the presence of Chris Jones and Frank Clark. The Chiefs’ young secondary seemingly gets better every week. But most importantly, even teams that are efficient on both offense and defense can’t match them for overall effectiveness.
Nothing has changed since last week. As we said, they’re battle-tested, capable, and efficient. The offense combines explosive playmaking and consistency. They lead the league in 20-plus-yard plays and are second in explosive play percentage while remaining No. 1 in success rate on both a play-to-play level and drive-to-drive level.
The Chiefs’ offense is overwhelmingly good, while their defense is fine. That’s enough to be the best team in the NFL. Now they just need to dial in their kickoff coverage.
2) Philadelphia Eagles
Like the Chiefs, the Philadelphia Eagles had a few concerns they needed to address heading into the Divisional Round. While the Giants were not the most intimidating opponent, New York earned that matchup with their high level of regular-season play.
The concerns came from how their regular season ended — injury to quarterback Jalen Hurts and an overall drop-off in the level of offensive and defensive play. Aside from Hurts, there were injuries along the offensive and defensive lines as well as the secondary, all of which contributed to the slowdown in Philadelphia’s overall dominance and made it tough to trust the team to be as good as its record.
They’ll need to prove it again in the NFC Championship Game, but the early returns are great. Over their bye week, the Eagles were able to rest a number of their key starters, and most of them came back completely healthy. Those returning players were dominant against New York.
The Eagles, one of the few truly effective rushing teams, used to be stymied by opposing rushers. And though the Giants did find some success on the ground with Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, Philadelphia demonstrated that they can contain the worst of it. Paired with a high-level secondary and fantastic pass defense, the Eagles have put together a complete team on offense and defense.
They’re the only team to rank top 10 in both passing EPA and rushing EPA, and they have matchup answers to nearly every weapon in the NFL. The Eagles will be up against an extremely versatile defense and an electrically efficient offense in the San Francisco 49ers, so it should be a dynamic clash of styles.
3) Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals’ biggest issue at the beginning of the season was their abysmal pass protection. They figured out a way around it, but they encountered a new problem in the playoffs with three of their offensive linemen out due to injury.
The Bills weren’t able to take advantage of it, but other teams might. As a result, the Bengals place third here instead of higher because it really is the biggest hole of any of the remaining teams. Joe Burrow is playing extremely high-level football and has the chops to play a quick-passing game short, a cerebral intermediate game, or a deep-shot game full of contested catches.
MORE: Bengals QB Joe Burrow Is Who Everyone Believed Josh Allen Would (But Might Never) Be
Burrow has the receivers with the ability to adapt their style of play to whatever the offense needs that week. That kind of flexibility, in addition to what Joe Mixon was able to provide on the ground, means that the Bengals will always find a way to get into games.
Cincinnati has been able to run the ball well all year, just preferring to get most of their offensive production handled in the air. Depending on the efficiency metric, they’ve been between top 10 and top five in rushing ability.
The Bengals run game ranks this season:
– 4th in offensive rushing DVOA (2nd since Week 5)
– 8th in rushing success rate (3rd since Week 5)
– 5th in EPA/rush since Week 5
They're not explosive when they run the ball, but they're incredibly efficient. https://t.co/P1ygkHGZ7Y
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) January 22, 2023
Defensively, we saw a master class from coordinator Lou Anarumo, who attacked the Bills’ most common tendencies and kept both Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs contained despite having fewer resources poured into that side of the ball than on offense.
Cincinnati has reliable players all over that defense, including Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, Mike Hilton, Germaine Pratt, and Jessie Bates III. Those defenders match up fairly well to what the Chiefs have on offer, with the Humphrey/Reader matchup likely defining the run game and the combination of Bates and Pratt hoping to slow down Kelce.
If the Bengals can match the Chiefs throw for throw on offense, their advantage on defense and special teams could swing the contest in their favor.
4) San Francisco 49ers
It’s hard to take a team that ranks so high in nearly every metric on offense or defense and place them last among the competitors for the Super Bowl. But we saw the limits to Brock Purdy’s play against the Dallas Cowboys.
Though the Cowboys couldn’t eke out a win, we saw the impact pressure has against Purdy and how the offense degrades when he can’t reliably take screens or shots over the middle of the field. A lot of the excellent production San Francisco’s seen offensively with Purdy at the helm has to do with his quick decision-making, good accuracy, and toughness in the pocket, and those are all a credit to him.
But it’s hard to ignore the influence Kyle Shanahan has had on crafting an excellent offense around all those pieces in order to get it going. The worry is that there is a ceiling on how far schematic genius and excellent game planning can take a team when there are talent limitations.
Purdy has issues throwing outside the numbers or deep and threw shorter than all but a few quarterbacks last year, with only Matt Ryan and Daniel Jones throwing with a shorter depth of target.
A good tackling team can shut down this style of offense, one that’s not built for comebacks or late close-game situations. On the other hand, the 49ers have the best remaining defense in the NFL. They’ve generated elite play from Talanoa Hufanga, Nick Bosa, and Fred Warner and further high-level play from Dre Greenlaw, Charvarious Ward, Jimmie Ward, and Arik Armstead.
DeMeco Ryans has coordinated a flexible defense to go with the talent he’s working with, whether it’s blitz-heavy man coverage, deceptive replacement pressures with dropping linemen, or traditional spot-drop zones. While there are holes in this defense, like with any other, it’s impressive enough to carry games by itself — just like we saw against Dallas.
The 49ers have had some inconsistencies this year defensively, but they’ve been dominant overall. If teams can crack the code on how Chicago, Las Vegas, and Kansas City took them apart, it would be instructive. Taking out the defense would take out much of what makes San Francisco intimidating. For as multidimensional as the defense is, the offense is single-note.
The repeat matchup facing them in the form of the Chiefs is intimidating, given the beatdown they took last time. But Ryans is nothing if not adaptable, and the 49ers will have a whole new series of answers ready for Andy Reid and Mahomes should the two teams meet in the Super Bowl.