- The Chargers are one of the best teams in the NFL—but so is the team that won their division, the Chiefs—putting Los Angeles in position to make a deep run through the playoffs, starting this wild-card weekend.
We’re a day away from the opening of the wild-card weekend, arguably one of the best Saturdays and Sundays on the NFL calendar.
For me, the most enjoyable part is seeing a team that may have come in either riding a hot streak or stumbling to the finish line, and watching how it emerges once the entire league stops to pay attention to the games. The idea that it could upset the established order—the top-seeded teams we’ve all been fawning over for months—gives the playoffs the tournament-esque feel that we crave, even if won’t ever quite tap into the same kind of chaos we see in large-format tournament playoffs.
Ten years ago, the six-seed Eagles and six-seed Ravens both reached their respective conference title games. In 2009-10, the fifth-seed Jets got there and in ’10-11, the six-seed Jets and Packers were both in the title game (the Packers won it all). The Giants won the Super Bowl as a four-seed in 2011-12, as did the Ravens the year after. Over the last 10 years, it wasn’t until 2015-16 that we had a boring matchup of the two top seeds in both conference championship games.
That’s a long way of saying that at least one of the non-top-seeded teams is going to do some serious damage over the next month. Here’s how we’d rank them, from most dangerous to least, with a few thoughts:
1. Chargers: Los Angeles is one of the best teams in the NFL. Unfortunately, the second-best team in the NFL is also in their division and had a slight advantage record wise. The Chargers can control the game on the ground. Philip Rivers can still hang in a shootout. That defense is monstrous, and has some of the best complementary secondary play in the NFL.
2. Bears: If Mitchell Trubisky is the one hesitation people have picking them to win it all, they might want to reconsider. This is one of the most creative, adaptive offenses we’ve seen in the NFL and the defense is downright destructive.
T3. Ravens: Leave it to another Harbaugh brother to tap into the insane advantage that comes with drastically changing your offense mid-stream. Lamar Jackson is almost impossible to prepare for. Most teams don’t have someone like that on their roster for defenses to mimic. Their offensive line is playing well. Their defense is something that will set the standard for future schemes to come (more on that below).
T3. Seahawks: I wanted to pick them to go to the Super Bowl in our staff selections this week badly, but chickened out. Name one thing they don’t have that the rest of these top-tier teams do? Pete Carroll should have been a bigger presence in coach of the year rankings after recycling and reloading this roster.
5. Texans: This shows how difficult the exercise is. There’s a lot to like about this Texans team. DeAndre Hopkins is having one of the best years for a receiver….ever. Their pass rush is still devastating. Their offense is the second-least efficient among playoff teams, per end of season DVOA rankings, but still possesses the personnel to upend a major contender.
6. Colts: I feel like a shootout-capable quarterback is a necessity, even if it’s hard to define. Who, for example, thought that Nick Foles would provide nearly 400 yards worth of offense in last year’s Super Bowl? But Andrew Luck is something else. A still-ascending star with a complementary offense, maybe for the first time in his career.
7. Eagles: I give them a slight advantage over the Colts, if only because I like their veteran defensive personnel (and coordinator) a little more in situations like this. Having Jim Schwartz come back was probably a bigger retention than people realize, given how picked-apart Pederson’s staff was after the Super Bowl in 2018. While they finished middle-of-the-road, any team capable of playing lights-out defensive football is hard to ignore in the postseason.
8. Dallas: Dak Prescott since Thanksgiving: 1,747 yards, 11 touchdowns, 2 INT, 105.9 passer rating. Is Amari Cooper and a cast of athletic counterparts enough to do significant damage against Seattle and beyond, though?
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WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: Did Juju Smith-Schuster winning the Steelers’ team MVP award send Antonio Brown off the ledge? ... Why are all the GMs getting let off the hook this coaching cycle? … Tom Coughlin’s mad scramble to fix the Jaguars.
1. Could Hue Jackson come to Kirk Cousins’ rescue as the Vikings’ next offensive coordinator?
2. Which teams should trade for Antonio Brown?
3. The Browns aren’t letting Freddie Kitchens get away.
4. The group of interested parties for Kris Richard are lining up.
5. Wild Card Weekend power rankings from the data folks at PFF.
6. How would Josh McDaniels be received in Green Bay?
Life lessons for all of us, from the Grumpy Cat.
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