The regular season is in the books, and it was a season filled with chaos up until the final seconds ticked off on Sunday night, when the Eagles curiously pulled their starters to practically give Washington the NFC East title and a trip to the playoffs. I've been ranking every team in the league from first to worst just about every four weeks of the season and tracking their movement from each post to the last. This time, I think it would be fun to compare my final rankings to my first rankings I did three weeks into the season to see if I was anywhere near correct in my initial list. Surprisingly, except for a few outliers, my original predictions were quite accurate.
You'll see two rank tracking numbers next to each team's name on the list. The first will show the difference from my week 13 rankings and the second will show the difference from my initial rankings. While I tried not to pay that much attention to win/loss records up until now in an effort to make each squad's position based off on-the-field performance alone, I think the use of the records are more justified now to be appropriate reflections of a team's performance over the course of a 16 game schedule. So, let's get into it.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) - No Change (NC), NC
Week 17 Result: L, 21-38 vs. Chargers
The Chiefs rested their starters in week 17 to prepare for the playoffs and as a result, lost for only the second time in their last 25 contests dating back to last season. The unquestioned favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champions, Kansas City' starters get another week of rest to prepare for the second round in the AFC playoffs. While they'll likely be tested in the tough AFC, as long as Patrick Mahomes and his offensive weapons remain healthy, I think we'll be crowning them again on February 7.
Up Next: Bye
2. Green Bay Packers (13-3) - UP 2, NC
Week 17 Result: W, 35-16 at Bears
Aaron Rodgers is probably going to claim the NFL's MVP award this season and he torched Chicago in the season finale in an attempt to secure that prize. The Packers offense is clicking on all cylinders, and it feels like Davante Adams is primed to score three touchdowns every time he takes the field. Like the Chiefs, they'll rest up during their round one bye and will get the benefit of playing in a slightly weaker conference. It's likely that the road to the Super Bowl for the NFC will go through Green Bay.
Up Next: Bye
3. Buffalo Bills (13-3) - UP 2, UP 1
Week 17 Result: W, 56-26 vs. Dolphins
Josh Allen has been just as impressive as the first two teams' quarterbacks on this list, with the biggest difference is no one expected it out of him when the season began. The exciting thing for Bills fans has to be that the rest of the team is playing equally out of their minds at just the right time. I mean, they put up 56 points on a near playoff team with a strong defense and Allen didn't even play in the second half. Buffalo is the team with the best chance of knocking off the Chiefs in the AFC.
Up Next: vs. Colts
4. New Orleans Saints (12-4) - DN 2, UP 13
Week 17 Result: W, 33-7 at Panthers
No running backs, no problem for the Saints. They still demolished the Panthers even after all of their backs were ruled out due to Covid contact tracing. It will be a big story to follow on whether Alvin Kamara will be able to play in the first round, but I think New Orleans will win either way. Brees has been without some of his top weapons for much of the season, but it hasn't seemed to hinder his team as a whole. It could be his last season in the league, so he'll do everything in his power to go out on top.
Up Next: vs. Bears
5. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) - UP 3, DN 2
Week 17 Result: W, 26-23 at 49ers
Russell Wilson was right up there in the MVP conversation in the first half of the season, but Pete Carroll switched to a more conservative offensive attack down the stretch for whatever reason. They've still won games, and their defense is much better than they were in week 1. Will Seattle switch it back up in the postseason and let Wilson sling it? I don't know, but they have a rubber match coming up in the first round against their division foe, Los Angeles, which is certain to be a close game.
Up Next: vs. Rams
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) - DN 3, NC
Week 17 Result: L, 22-24 at Browns
Pittsburgh was everyone's top team about five or six weeks ago, but they hit a slump to finish the season. They would have lost their last five if not for a big comeback against the Colts two weeks ago. The good news for them is that they almost defeated the Browns last week without several key starters, and that's the team they'll facing in the first round of the playoffs. If Big Ben shows up and they can get the run game going a little bit, their defense is capable of winning games in the postseason.
Up Next: vs. Browns
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) - UP 6, UP 6
Week 17 Result: W, 44-27 vs. Falcons
Like the Bills, it seems that the Bucs are getting hot at just the right time. They won their last two games of the year by a combined score of 91-34. With serious offensive weapons finding a groove, a defense capable of creating big plays, and a first round matchup against the NFC East champion, Tampa is definitely capable of make a Super Bowl run in Tom Brady's first season with them.
Up Next: at Washington
8. Tennessee Titans (11-5) - UP 1, UP 1
Week 17 Result: W, 41-38 at Texans
Tennessee's offense is no joke, but they can't stop a runny nose on defense (especially in Tennessee, where allergies are horrendous). There are no easy matchups in the AFC playoffs this year, and the Titans have a tough first round opponent in Baltimore, who they beat in overtime a few weeks back. Derrick Henry finished the season with 500(!) more yards than the next highest rusher in the league, and they will rely on him in the postseason as much as they can. I expect this to be the tightest game of the weekend, where the winner is truly a toss-up in my opinion.
Up Next: vs. Ravens
9. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) - UP 1, DN 4
Week 17 Result: W, 38-3 at Bengals
Speaking of the Ravens, they fall just below the Titans in my ranking simply due to their head to head loss. However, I actually think Baltimore is a slightly better team because of their defense. Baltimore won their last five contests to clinch a wild card spot, and they've looked utterly dominant down the stretch. Lamar Jackson is a quarterback no team ever wants to see in the postseason, and the Ravens will be out for revenge for what Tennessee did to them last season.
Up Next: at Titans
10. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) - UP 1, UP 2
Week 17 Result: W, 28-14 vs. Jaguars
The Colts have a tendency of building a lead and letting off the gas, and it nearly came back to bite them in their final game before their defense stood strong and Jonathan Taylor capped off the day with a long touchdown run. Although they are missing their starting left tackle, Indianapolis is running the ball all over anyone right now and Philip Rivers is throwing the ball just well enough to keep the defense honest. It's possible that they get a first round upset, but with how Buffalo is playing right now, I wouldn't consider it likely. They could have avoided this situation by just beating the Jaguars in the opening week, as that would have given them the division title. If they continue to run the ball effectively and their defense can pressure Josh Allen and force him into some mistakes, it'll be anyone's game.
Up Next: at Bills
11. Cleveland Browns (11-5) - DN 4, UP 5
Week 17 Result: W, 24-22 vs. Steelers
The Browns made the playoffs this season for the first time in 18 years. And then, in typical Browns fashion, their facility was shut down on Tuesday to Covid cases. I won't take anything away from what Cleveland has done this season. Baker Mayfield played very well and they surprised a lot of people, including me. Unfortunately for the Dawg Pound, their postseason hopes may be crushed before they even get started this year.
Up Next: at Steelers
12. Los Angeles Rams (10-6) - DN 6, DN 2
Week 17 Result: W, 18-7 vs. Cardinals
Even with Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp out in week 17, the Rams were able to win and clinch a playoff spot with a guy named John Wolford under center. Goff is likely going to miss LA's playoff game, which has to be really disappointing for Rams fans. Los Angeles proved they can win behind their defense, but that will be a tough test against a Russell Wilson led offense.
Up Next: at Seahawks
13. Miami Dolphins (10-6) - DN 1, UP 8
Week 17 Result: L, 26-56 at Bills
Here we are, our highest ranked team that missed the playoffs. After a very good season for the Dolphins they'll be left with the sour taste of a 30-point loss in their mouths over the offseason in a game in which they could have clinched a playoff spot. Yet, at 10-6, three games ahead of the team with the worst record in the playoffs on the NFC side, they finish on the outside looking in. Personally, I think they win at least one more game if they leave Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and let Tua Tagovailoa sit for his first season, but it's clear that Miami's front office is already planning for the future. That future looks pretty bright for an organization that hasn't had any success in forever.
14. Washington Football Team (7-9) - UP 5, UP 6
Week 17 Result: W, 20-14 at Eagles
Alex Smith came back from a terribly gruesome leg injury that almost killed him, Ron Rivera beat cancer, and the newly named Washington Football Team fought internal strife and media chaos to win seven games and clinch the NFC East title. There are a lot of reasons to root for this team, and even though they aren't likely to advance past the first round, I'm glad they made it to the postseason in Rivera's first year. He's truly turned that organization around and there is a lot to look forward to in the coming years for fans of the Football Team, especially given how awful the other teams in their division are right now.
Up Next: vs. Buccaneers
15. Chicago Bears (8-8) - UP 12, UP 1
Week 17 Result: L, 16-35 vs. Packers
This is the lowest ranked playoff team on the list, and it's been a rollercoaster of a season for Bears fans to say the least. After a very strong start to the season, by about the midway point, I thought Chicago was one of the worst teams in the league, mainly due to their lack of a quarterback. However, they notched some wins down the stretch and thanks to the Rams' victory over the Cardinals in week 17, they were able to clinch the NFC's final wild card spot. Their reward? A trip to New Orleans to take on the somewhat depleted, yet still red hot Saints. It'll likely be one and done for da Bears, but at least they get to watch their team in the postseason for only the second time in the last decade.
Up Next: at Saints
16. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) - NC, DN 5
Week 17 Result: L, 7-18 at Rams
Arizona could have made it into the playoffs with a win in their last game, and they appeared poised to do so when it was announced they'd be facing a backup quarterback. However, Kyler Murray also went down with an injury early and missed nearly the entire game before coming back about midway through the fourth quarter to attempt a comeback to save Arizona's season. Unfortunately, he could not make up the deficit and the Cardinals missed the playoffs in what was expected to be a promising season early on. The Cards have a lot of young talent and a young head coach, and should be able to find more wins next year.
17. Minnesota Vikings (7-9) - NC, UP 12
Week 17 Result: W, 37-35 at Lions
While the Vikings are ranked only one spot below the Cardinals, their path to this spot was much different. Minnesota was one of the worst teams, by far, in the entire NFL to start the season. Nothing was working on offense and their defense was getting torched. However, no one knows what happened, but something must have clicked about a third of the way into the season. They ended up being one of only three teams to defeat the mighty Packers, and could have found their way into the postseason if they had only gotten off to a little bit better of a start. Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, and Adam Thielen will all return next year, and rookie Justin Jefferson appears to be the next superstar receiver to take Stefon Diggs' place. The Vikings could make some noise next season if their young defense develops.
18. New England Patriots (7-9) - DN 4, DN 10
Week 17 Result: W, 28-14 vs. Jets
The Patriots had some really good games and some really bad games, but they never really had a chance this season after it seemed like everyone on the defense worth anything opted out of the season before it began. As such, Bill Belichick brought in Cam Newton to try to scheme a run heavy offensive attack with a mobile quarterback, something that wasn't possible in Tom Brady's 20 seasons. Unfortunately for both sides, it didn't work out too well, and I'd be surprised if Newton is back next year. Quarterback is obviously the biggest question mark in New England, but they should certainly improve next season when their defensive cast returns. With good quarterback play, they could challenge Buffalo and Miami in what could be a very competitive division.
19. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) - UP 7, NC
Week 17 Result: W, 38-21 at Chiefs
I was surprised when I saw the record the Chargers finished with after blowing so many games throughout the season. Anthony Lynn, who has now been fired, seemed to always make questionable decisions down the stretch. That head coaching job will be the most enticing opening due to the prominence of Justin Herbert in his rookie campaign. With loads of young talent on both sides of the ball, the right head coach could take this team to new heights. I'm going to go ahead and predict double digit wins for the Chargers next year.
20. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) - DN 5, DN 5
Week 17 Result: W, 32-31 at Broncos
Staying in the same division, but to a team with less optimism, I have the Raiders at number 20. They were right in the mix with the other wild card contenders a few weeks ago, but collapsed in their last several games and fell into oblivion. Now, they have to decide what they want to do at the quarterback position. Continue to pay Derek Carr a lot of money, who has been good but not great for much of his career, deal Carr and play Marcus Mariota for less money, or look elsewhere. No matter who starts at QB in 2021, Raiders fans will hope for a better end to next season than they experienced in this one.
21. New York Giants (6-10) - DN 3, UP 10
Week 17 Result: W, 23-19 vs. Cowboys
The Giants were my next to worst team for almost the first half of the season, but even without Saquon Barkley for the whole season and Daniel Jones for a few games, they were one game away from reaching the postseason. Not only did they get a few impressive wins on the season, they were very competitive in almost all of their losses. While a missed playoff trip is disappointing for Giants fans, they have to be proud of the way their team fought this season and somewhat excited to compete next year.
22. San Francisco 49ers (6-10) - DN 2, DN 8
Week 17 Result: L, 23-26 vs. Seahawks
The 49ers were ravaged by injuries early on, and they could never recover from them. Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman. All of those guys missed extended time, if not the whole season, with injuries. Playing in this year's best conference and football from top to bottom, the Niners never really had a chance to make the playoffs after rolling to the Super Bowl a season ago. They'll look to reset in the offseason and reestablish their dominance next year as a team with a formidable run game and intimidating defense.
23. Dallas Cowboys (6-10) - UP 6, DN 5
Week 17 Result: L, 19-23 at Giants
With or without Dak Prescott, the Cowboys were abysmal this season. Still, they had a chance to make the playoffs going into week 17, but were defeated by the Giants. No one knows who their quarterback will be next season, probably not even Jerry Jones. Prescott will be coming back from a gruesome leg injury, and it's unknown whether Dallas will pay him a lot of money or look for a younger quarterback on a rookie deal. They have the offensive line and skill players in place for a solid quarterback to have a lot of success, but they'll need to improve significantly on defense to have a chance next year.
24. Carolina Panthers (5-11) - NC, NC
Week 17 Result: L, 7-33 vs. Saints
Poor Carolina was without their star running back, Christian McCaffrey, all season, and it showed. With a new head coach and a new quarterback in their first year with the organization, expectations were rather low even with McCaffrey. Some people think they'll move on from Teddy Bridgewater in the offseason, but I think they'll give him another year to prove himself. With McCaffrey back and a few additional pieces on the defensive side, they should be able to show improvement in Matt Rhule's second year.
25. Detroit Lions (5-11) - NC, DN 3
Week 17 Result: L, 35-37 vs. Vikings
The Lions did as the Lions do this year, losing games on a regular basis. They fired their head coach, Matt Patricia, in the middle of the season, but found a potential up and coming star running back in D'Andre Swift. Matthew Stafford needs to get out of Detroit and go to a winning team as his career comes to a close. He doesn't deserve to be doomed to futility for his entire career. A place like Indianapolis would likely welcome him with open arms.
26. Denver Broncos (5-11) - DN 3, UP 2
Week 17 Result: L, 31-32 vs. Raiders
Denver was probably the most forgettable team in the league this season. The most notable story about them was when they had to start a practice squad wide receiver at quarterback because all of their QBs on the roster were unavailable due to Covid contact tracing. They should get some help next season when some of their key players return from injury, but they'll need to decide whether Drew Lock is their guy going forward.
27. Houston Texans (4-12) - DN 6, DN 2
Week 17 Result: L, 38-41 vs. Titans
Houston fired GM/head coach Bill O'Brien after four games, and it seemed like he was solely responsible for running the franchise into the ground. He was practically giving away superstar talent for next to nothing in return. Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt can do only so much, and they lacked the firepower or stability to have any kind of success this year. Watt, especially, needs to find a way to get out of Houston, a city he clearly loves, and get on a winning team for once so he can have a shot at a ring before his playing days are done.
28. Atlanta Falcons (4-12) - DN 6, DN 1
Week 17 Result: L, 27-44 at Buccaneers
The Falcons hilariously found ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory several times this season. I feel really bad for the city of Atlanta, who seems to get their hearts crushed by all of their beloved teams (being a Knoxville native, I know what that's like). The Falcons have a lot of talent on offense, and they dealt with some injuries that limited their success. Matt Ryan had a solid season, but the defense couldn't stop anybody. I don't know if Atlanta will move on from Ryan or not, but they desperately need help on the defensive side of the ball.
29. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) - UP 1, DN 3
Week 17 Result: L, 3-38 vs. Ravens
The Bengals were competitive in games until Joe Burrow got hurt, and they should use all of their draft picks and capital to assemble the best offensive line possible so he can remain healthy for the remainder of his career. I hope he is able to avoid many injuries and doesn't become the next Andrew Luck due to his organization's inability to protect him in the early stages of his NFL career. Their offense is no joke with Burrow at the helm and Tee Higgins developing into a star. The same cannot be said about the defense, though.
30. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) - DN 2, NC
Week 17 Result: L, 14-20 vs. Washington
The Eagles are atrocious, and their decision to pull Jalen Hurts and the rest of their starters in their last game when they had a chance to win made me want to drop them all the way to the bottom of my list. Doug Pederson's decision in that game has seemingly fractured his relationship with his players, and Philadelphia's franchise looks like a dumpster fire only a few years after winning the Super Bowl. Their top priority in the offseason will likely be to figure out a way to get rid of Carson Wentz's massive contract after a horribly disappointing season.
31. New York Jets (2-14) - UP 1, UP 1
Week 17 Result: L, 14-28 at Patriots
Much to the disappointment of Jets fans, New York managed to win two games down the stretch to rise to next to last and as a result, will miss out on Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 draft. However, Justin Fields looked great in his last outing and could possibly be almost as good, if not better than Lawrence in the NFL. The Jets already have Sam Darnold, so their decision in the draft will be telling on who they think they're future quarterback will be. If it's Darnold, the addition of DeVonta Smith would undoubtedly improve their offensive attack next year.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) - DN 1, DN 9
Week 17 Result: L, 14-28 at Colts
And rounding out the list, we have the Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost 15 straight games after a shocking week 1 win against the Colts. Jacksonville won the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, and the rumor is that they'll soon hire Urban Meyer to be their head coach. It's to be seen whether Meyer will have success in the NFL, as the transition from college to the pros is never easy. The Jags have nowhere to go but up next season.
Written by Nick Swatson