NFL Wild Card Power Rankings: Packers lead, Bengals secure spot

NFL Wild Card Power Rankings: Packers lead, Bengals secure spot

The NFL Power Rankings are a staple of any NFL publication. But not everyone dips their toes into power rankings after Wild Card Weekend. In a one-and-done format, anything can happen. Then, if anything happens, your precious playoff power rankings look foolish.

It’s the nature of a sport played by 22 people at a time. Even the best can have an off day. Even the 2007 and 2011 Giants won Super Bowls when they were clearly not the best team in the field.

NFL Wild Card Playoff Power Rankings

The regular season is over. There are no more records. It’s a royal rumble, pitting team against team in a free-for-all format. As teams are victorious on Super Wild Card Weekend (or those who have a bye), we will be ranking them below. If your team lost … well … you, unfortunately, won’t find them here.

8) San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are a better football team than they showed against the Dallas Cowboys. Jimmy Garoppolo can be prone to egregious mistakes, but even he doesn’t usually try to hand a game back to the other team with a victory in his grasp.

San Francisco needs to get Nick Bosa and Fred Warner back if they want to make it to the Conference Championship. However, even without Bosa in the lineup, the Niners’ defensive front smothered Dak Prescott and what was supposed to be a good offensive line.

Unfortunately, the 49ers’ ceiling is limited by Garoppolo. But even with his mistakes against Dallas, they were able to disrupt a dangerous offense while rushing only four for most of the game.

7) Cincinnati Bengals

I really wanted to feel great about the Bengals heading into the Divisional Round of the playoffs. They dominated the first half, and it looked like they might walk away with a comfortable win against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Joe Burrow played an incredible game, and Ja’Marr Chase showed why he should be the Offensive Rookie of the Year and was deserving of the fifth-overall pick. But two-minute drill Derek Carr showed up in both halves, keeping the Raiders in the game with a touchdown before the half, and then a magical drive with 1:51 left in the game without any timeouts. They got down to the Bengals’ 9-yard line before coming up short on fourth down.

The Raiders have had a knack for these sort of heroics all season. But it was clear from watching 56 minutes of the game that the Bengals were the superior team.

6) Los Angeles Rams

The Rams may be led by a quarterback who won his first playoff game in a 13-year career, but they also stepped up and played to their potential as a team against their divisional opponent in the Super Wild Card Weekend.

From the first snap, it was clear that they were going to make things difficult on Kyler Murray defensively. Murray and the Cardinals’ offense has struggled since the loss of DeAndre Hopkins, and that continued here. Los Angeles didn’t allow a single third down on defense while converting 6-of-13 offensively.

Conversely, Arizona looked as if they didn’t belong. The Rams’ offense cut through them like a sieve. Aaron Donald dominated, and LA looked like the far superior team on Monday night.

5) Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans might be the most underwhelming No. 1 seed in quite some time, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous in the playoffs.

They’ve built a solid defensive foundation up the middle from tackle to safety, and Kristian Fulton has emerged as one of the best young cornerbacks in the game.

Oh yeah, and now they’re getting back their cyborg running back who hasn’t taken a hit since breaking his foot in Week 8. But even if Derrick Henry is not 100%, D’Onta Foreman has emerged as an option in Tennessee’s backfield.

The Titans also get a week of rest, which can only help Julio Jones and A.J. Brown, who have both been banged up throughout the year.

4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Listen, there probably shouldn’t be 14 teams in the NFL playoffs. I love football. There’s a reason I chose to do this for a living. But it’s not fun to watch a markedly better team risk injury while dog-walking an inferior opponent. The Eagles didn’t deserve to be a playoff team, which showed in their performance today.

The regular season is a completely different entity from the postseason. In the playoffs, good teams can elevate their level of play. That is especially true when they have the G.O.A.T starting under center.

The Buccaneers still have an outstanding depth chart, despite the recent losses at wide receiver. It’ll be interesting to see just how much those losses hurt them in the Divisional Round against a better team.

3) Kansas City Chiefs

It wasn’t pretty in the first quarter for either team. The Chiefs punted 3 times, and Patrick Mahomes threw an interception. The Steelers punted 4 times. After a direct snap to Mecole Hardman resulted in a fumble, the Chiefs went on to do their best Bills impression, scoring touchdowns pretty much at will from that point on.

Before we could blink, they scored 35 unanswered points. Mahomes was putting up video game numbers, and Jerick McKinnon was averaging 5 yards a pop. Heck, a #Thicc6 was scored, and Travis Kelce threw a TD to make it 41-14 because Andy Reid rejects normality in the red zone.

Once the Chiefs warmed up, it was over for Pittsburgh.

2) Buffalo Bills

I can’t guarantee the Bills can play consistently enough on offense to be the Super Bowl favorite. What I do know is that no team in the AFC wants the Bills in their path to Los Angeles. When they’re at their best, nobody in the NFL can stop them.

This has become especially true since Buffalo started leaning on Josh Allen as a runner. He’s the equivalent of a high-schooler playing pickup basketball with a bunch of middle-schoolers. He’s bigger and more physical, and it shows in his 6.25 ypc clip, which is only slightly lower than his yards per attempt passing the ball.

Yet, as dangerous as Buffalo’s offense is at their best, the defense can keep up. They receive outstanding safety play from veterans Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, and they have one of the most exciting linebacking duos in the NFL. Their downfall in the regular season was crippling inconsistency, but they still finished with the best point differential by 22 points and ranked second in team DVOA behind only the Dallas Cowboys.

If the Bills don’t scare you as a fan of another AFC team, you’re either lying to yourself, or your fandom has clouded your judgment.

1) Green Bay Packers

No team has been more consistent in 2021 than the Green Bay Packers. Despite playing an entire season without left tackle David Bakhtiari (who’s back now) and seeing cornerback Jaire Alexander miss a significant amount of time, they’ve endured. But that’s just the beginning of their injury woes.

Offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins was lost for the season in Week 11. Rookie center Josh Myers was excellent before missing a large chunk of the year to injury. Both Aaron Jones and Davante Adams missed games.

Yet, here we are. Aaron Rodgers is the eventual MVP recipient, head coach Matt LeFleur is now 39-10 in the regular season, and the Packers are the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The road to the Super Bowl must go through Lambeau Field.