1. New England Patriots (14-2)
Not only do the Patriots finish the regular season with the best in the league but they went into Miami and dismantled another playoff team. These Patriots look focused and deadly, even without Rob Gronkowski.
2. Dallas Cowboys (13-3)
The Cowboys rested key personnel against Philadelphia and gave Mark Sanchez a lot of game time, hence the loss. They are relatively healthy and have that unstoppable ground game. Ezekiel Elliott finished the year with an NFL-best 1,631 yards, winning the rushing title by over 300 yards despite playing just 15 games. The question now is if their young backfield can handle the pressure of the playoffs.
3. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
The Falcons might be the hottest team in the NFL right now. They are certainly the deadliest offense, averaging 33.8 points a game (six more than any other playoff offense) and 415 yards a game. They also happen to have the league’s leading sacker in Vic Beasley, which helps when teams are going to need to go pass-heavy to try and keep up with Matt Ryan.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
The Chiefs slipped into the #2 seed and are very quietly a dangerous prospect for any team in the playoffs. Marcus Peters got a sixth interception on Sunday to be second in the NFL there while rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones continued to impress against San Diego. He has given the Chiefs an interior disruptor all season to go along with their terrifying edge rushers which has created a lot of problems for opponents, while Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are running wild on offense. This is a team that should not be taken lightly.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
The Steelers finish the regular season on a seven game win streak, just surviving the Browns after sitting their key offensive players. Their inconsistencies on offense are a worry, and yet on paper they are as talented and terrifying as any other offensive unit. If they can put it together then they can beat anyone, but as we have already seen this season, they could lay an egg against Miami and get steamrolled out of the playoffs.
6. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
Aaron Rodgers promised they would run the table, and they did. Green Bay were already in the playoffs before they kicked off against Detroit, but they still put their foot down and asserted their dominance. Aaron Rodgers ran around and made maddening, head-scratching plays that only he can make while the defense forced mistakes up front. The only worry for Green Bay is that their secondary is paper thin and a good defense may be able to handle the less-than-stellar ground game without giving up too much space in behind.
7. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)
After years of being the class of the NFC, time has taken it’s toll on Seattle. Earl Thomas’ injury has devastated the defensive scheme and their inability to run the ball has been an issue all season. A home game in the playoffs should still be a comfortable win, but on the road they are far from frightening anymore.
8. New York Giants (11-5)
The Giants may have a great record, but their offense is perhaps the worst unit in the playoffs. Eli Manning has once again been a turnover machine while the ground game has been disastrously bad. However none of that may matter as the defense has been smotheringly good all season. Their battle with Aaron Rodgers on Sunday is easily the best Wildcard game.
9. Detroit Lions (9-7)
The Lions made the playoffs despite losing their last three games, having no ground game and minimal playmakers on defense. The main issue Detroit have is that their offensive fire was dwindling before Matt Stafford’s finger injury, now the quarterback’s accuracy is not where it needs to be to support the rest of the team. The Lions maybe one-and-done this season as they go over to Seattle at the weekend, but the #6 seed still represents a good season for them and there is plenty to build on for next year.
10. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
A #6 seed is also a great victory for the Miami Dolphins. Despite being turned over at home by New England in Week 17 and starting Matt Moore under center the Dolphins will fancy their chances against the Steelers, who they beat 30-15 earlier in the season. That game was one of Jay Ajayi’s trio of 200-yard explosions, and if he can do the same again they could easily cause an upset.
11. Oakland Raiders (12-4)
The Raiders season has been turned upside down the last two weeks following Derek Carr’s broken leg. The poor display against Denver showed just how important he was to their success this season, and while going to Houston to play the Texans isn’t the toughest way to open the playoffs, they will struggle to go as far as they could have if Carr was still under center calling the shots.
12. Houston Texans (9-7)
The Texans come in at #12 purely thanks to being in the playoffs. Tom Savage suffered a concussion during the Texans 24-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans, but they had already made the playoffs thanks to racking up five wins against their own division. With a -49 point differential the Texans are far and away the worst team in the playoffs this season and are likely to be bounced straight out of them by Oakland on Saturday.
13. Denver Broncos (9-7)
The defending champions missed out on the playoffs with their loss to Kansas City last week, but the real story in Denver is the retirement of head coach and franchise icon Gary Kubiak due to health concerns. There is a good platform to build on for the next head coach in Denver, but the unexpected turn of events has left a sour taste in the mouth after a relatively good season.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
It was perhaps a season too soon for the Buccaneers. There is a lot of young talent on this team and they will be a favourite to make the jump into the postseason in 2017 as Jameis Winston continues to mature. They need to find a solution to a disappointing ground game but otherwise things are looking very good for the future of the Bucs.
15. Tennessee Titans (9-7)
Likewise the Titans had a very successful year and are likely to be a favourite to make the postseason next year. The “exotic smashmouth” offense worked well, and with the fifth overall pick this year thanks to the Rams awfulness they have a chance to add serious talent to the roster and build the defense up or get another target for Mariota.
16. Washington Redskins (8-7-1)
Washington had their playoff fate pretty much in their own hands on Sunday, but like a lot of teams simply could not move the ball against the Giants. A win would have forced the team to give Kirk Cousins a serious contract, but now his future is very much up in the air as a protracted negotiation will no doubt be the main story throughout the offseason.
17. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
The Ravens season died with Antonio Brown’s stretch over the goal line last week. While the defense was as good as ever in 2016 the lack of consistency and production on offense was their achilles heel. The hope will be that a further year on from his ACL tear, Joe Flacco will be better next season, but they need to provide him with another target following the retirement of Steve Smith and find some kind of ground game to start building back to the Super Bowl.
18. Minnesota Vikings (8-8)
Minnesota’s season started so well and ended so badly. They managed just three wins in their final 11 games, and while the defense was productive for almost the entire season it was on offense where they were really let down. Sam Bradford might now hold the title of “most accurate QB in the NFL” but that doesn’t mean he was worth the first round pick they surrendered to bring him in. Minnesota must get better up front on the offensive line before they can realistically challenge the supremacy of Green Bay.
19. Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1)
It’s a season of what might have been for the Cardinals. After 2015’s brilliance they fell back to earth offensively, and a few missed field goals were the difference between pushing for a playoff spot in the last few weeks and waiting for the offseason to come. The one bright silver-lining was the performance of David Johnson, who put up 2,118 yards from scrimmage and found the endzone 20 times in basically 15 games.
20. Indianapolis Colts (8-8)
The Colts are still a mess. Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton was their only tangible threat in 2016, and the retirement of Robert Mathis creates another huge hole for Ryan Grigson to attempt to fill. The future is not bright for the Colts right now, and they desperately need a good draft and smart free agency period to turn the franchise around.
21. New Orleans Saints (7-9)
The Saints offense was once again a menace to all that tried to stop it as Drew Brees completed his fifth 5,000 yard season, but it was the defense that hamstrung the Saints all season and limited their playoff potential. It’s been a recurring theme for years now but if they could just be average on defense this team could be competing for a Super Bowl every season.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)
Expectations were low for 2016, but a hot start quickly raised the bar. However disappointed Eagles fans are that a promising September and October gave way to a sub .500 season they should take the positives away. The team bounced back well in the first year under Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz looks far from a total bust.
23. Carolina Panthers (6-10)
Dead last in the NFC South is not how things were expected to go for the Carolina Panthers, who never recovered from a four-game losing streak early in the season. Luke Kuechly’s future health is the teams main concern going into the offseason, along with trying to retain Kawann Short in free agency, but they also have work to do offensively before they can be a consistent championship contender.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (6-9-1)
After coming so close in 2015 the disarming of the Bengals offense in the offseason was far more devastating than anyone thought it would be. The offense regressed dramatically in all phases and the defense couldn’t keep them above water.
25. Buffalo Bills (7-9)
The Bills are in disarray at the moment. They have alienated Tyrod Taylor and General Manager Doug Whaley said; “I wasn’t privy to the conversation” when asked about Rex Ryan’s firing. It’s not even clear that he will be involved in the hiring of the next Bills head coach.
26. San Diego Chargers (5-11)
Another injury-filled season from the Chargers crippled their playoff chances, but they were always a threat to do something with Phil Rivers slinging passes around. It wasn’t enough to save Mike McCoy’s job though, and with the team potentially heading to Los Angeles they are far from a settled and steady organisation.
27. New York Jets (5-11)
It was an ugly season for the Jets that stemmed from shockingly bad quarterback play, but it wasn’t just under center where the Jets faltered. The defense, usually so good, struggled to stop anyone and while Leonard Williams was destructive on the field Sheldon Richardson seemed to be destructive off it.
28. Chicago Bears (3-13)
John Fox has survived Black Monday, thanks in part to the hard work of the entire Bears roster. Matt Barkley did well enough in relief of Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer to keep the Bears competitive and earn a shot at the job next season, though Alshon Jeffery’s guarantee of a Super Bowl may be a little far.
29. Cleveland Browns (1-15)
The Browns have played hard all season and avoided the embarrassment of a winless season by beating the San Diego Chargers in Week 16. Hue Jackson is staying on, which is a wise decision after handing him comfortably the least talented roster in 2016. The question marks at quarterback still plague this team, but the are in a good position to add talent at all levels and Terrelle Pryor is keen to re-sign with the team which speaks volumes about the feeling within the team about Jackson’s abilities.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)
Jacksonville are once again rebuilding. They at least finished the season with their heads held high as they fought throughout. If reports are to be believed Blake Bortles played through two shoulder separations this season, which would explain his less-than-accurate year under center and means that perhaps there is a chance for him still.
31. San Francisco 49ers (2-14)
A terrible regular season lead to everyone in the front office being let go and the dubious honour of being the only team in NFL history to have back-to-back one-and-done head coaches. Jed York was roasted by the media during his press conference this week as pressure mounts on him to step down as well. It has been a quick and steep decline for the 49ers.
32. Los Angeles Rams (4-12)
The Rams finish the season at the foot of our Power Rankings following a rudderless 0-7 stretch that did nothing but expose how inept their offense is. They were blown out of the water by everyone they played in the last few weeks in generally embarrassing fashion. The Rams have already asked permission to interview over half a dozen coordinators for the head coaching vacancy.