Final NFL Power Rankings: Playoff field is set, coaches dropping like flies
The playoff field is set and coaches are dropping like flies. It must be the end of the year.
What's fascinating about this year's playoff field is that there are no clear-cut favorites despite some gaudy records. The New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs should be considered the favorites on paper but all three looked rough in December.
Meanwhile, Chicago has a Super Bowl defense, Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck might be the best player in the league right now, Nick Foles has led Philadelphia to a title before and New England still has Tom Brady.
This promises to be a fascinating postseason.
1. New Orleans Saints (13-3). Last week: 1.
Fentress says: The Saints are the class of the NFL but certainly not unbeatable. The clear advantage they possess over the Rams and Bears is a veteran QB with Super Bowl experience and home-field advantage. But don't shocked if New Orleans loses at any point.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4). Last week: 4.
Fentress says: Kansas City had the AFC West title and playoff home-field on the line against Oakland and left no doubt with a 35-3. KC's defense is shaky and it is without RB Kareem Hunt, but it’s going to be tough for any team to win at Arrowhead Stadium against that offense.
3. Chicago Bears (12-4). Last week: 2.
Fentress says: The Bears didn’t need to win at Minnesota but they took care of the Vikings anyway, 24-10. The win once again displayed the Bears’ dominant defense that will need to perform at a high level to overcome a spotty offense and lift Chicago past Philadelphia then likely the Los Angeles Rams and Saints to reach the Super Bowl.
4. Los Angeles Rams (13-3). Last week: 3.
Fentress says: The Rams have found their offense the past two weeks, albeit against Arizona and San Francisco. Still, those were two good tune-ups for the playoffs. The Rams have a bye to prepare for what will be a much tougher opponent in two weeks.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (12-4). Last week: 5.
Fentress says: The Chargers advance to the postseason for the first time since 2013 in what could be the final chance for QB Philip Rivers to win that elusive Super Bowl title. The Chargers will start that run on Saturday at Baltimore, which two weeks won 22-10 at Los Angeles.
6. Houston Texans (11-5). Last week: 6.
Fentress says: Houston clinched the AFC South with a 20-3 win over Jacksonville. The Texans will be a legitimate threat to Kansas City should the two teams meet. But first, Houston must contend with red-hot Indianapolis at home on Saturday. The Colts won their last meeting.
7. New England Patriots (11-5). Last week: 8.
Fentress says: New England did enough to earn a playoff bye, but the Patriots do not look like the No. 2 team in the AFC. Still, the significance of that bye was well summed up by coach Bill Belichick: "By winning today it helps us win next week." True.
8. Baltimore Ravens (10-6). Last week: 7.
Fentress says: The Ravens enter the playoffs against the Chargers as one of the hottest teams in football after winning six of seven games. But just one of those wins, at the Chargers, came against a playoff team. In fact, that’s Baltimore’s only such win all season.
9. Seattle Seahawks (10-6). Last week: 9.
Fentress says: Seattle looked sketchy in a 27-24 win over Arizona at home but that close win might pay off in the playoffs where the Seahawks’ running game and tough defense will likely lead to them being in position to steal games late. Seattle plays at Dallas on Saturday night.
10. Indianapolis Colts (10-6). Last week: 10.
Fentress says: Maybe the wild card team with the best chance to reach the Super Bowl is the Colts, who began the season 1-5 and ended it 9-1 with a win over Houston. QB Andrew Luck is back to elite form and could carry this team far.
11. Dallas Cowboys (10-6). Last week: 11.
Fentress says: The Cowboys enter the playoffs having won seven out of eight thanks mostly to a stingy defense that’s beastly against the run. That alone could give Dallas a slight edge of the Seahawks, who have the top rushing offense in the league.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7). Last week: 15.
Fentress says: The Eagles won five out of six to get into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the NFC. Along the way, Philadelphia defeated the Rams and Houston. That should give Chicago pause when the two teams meet on Sunday.
13. Tennessee Titans (9-7). Last week: 13.
Fentress says: QB Marcus Mariota has thrown just 24 touchdowns with 23 interceptions in his last 28 starts.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1). Last week: 12.
Fentress says: Steelers essentially lost division title when they fell 24-21 at Oakland a few weeks ago. That horrible loss came back to haunt Pittsburgh.
15. Cleveland Browns (7-8-1). Last week: 16.
Fentress says: Remarkable turnaround this season could be prelude to a playoff run next year.
16. Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1). Last week: 14.
Fentress says: As predicted, the Vikings grossly overpaid for QB Kirk Cousins. Must revolve team around run game and defense.
18. Atlanta Falcons (7-9). Last week: 19.
Fentress says: The league’s top WR duo, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, sadly won’t be on display duringthe playoffs.
19. Washington (7-9). Last week: 17.
Fentress says: Reports indicate that coach Jay Gruden’s job is safe.
20. Miami Dolphins (7-9). Last week: 20.
Fentress says: Miami must figure out if QB Ryan Tannehill is the answer after firing coach Adam Gase.
21. Carolina Panthers (7-9). Last week: 21.
Fentress says: RB Christian McCaffrey rushed for 1,080 yards and caught 106 passes.
21 Green Bay Packers (6-9-1), Last week: 18.
Fentress says: The Packers were booed during loss to Detroit. Now QB Aaron Rodgers, who left early with a concussion, can find his coach.
22. Cincinnati Bengals (6-10). Last week: 22.
Fentress says: Coach Marvin Lewis is out after 16 seasons with the Bengals.
23. Denver Broncos (6-10). Last week: 23.
Fentress says: QB Case Keenum posted an 81.4 passer rating after having a career-high 98.3 rating last year with Minnesota and coach Vance Joseph suffered the consequences.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11). Last week: 24.
Fentress says: QB Jameis Winston closes the season with a four-touchdown pass performance in loss to Atlanta. That wasn’t enough to prevent coach Dirk Koetter from losing his job.
25. Buffalo Bills (6-10). Last week: 25.
Fentress says: If QB Josh Allen develops, this could be a surprise team in 2019 with that defense.
26. New York Giants (5-11). Last week: 27.
Fentress says: Coach Pat Shurmur said he wants QB Eli Manning to return in 2019.
27. Detroit Lions (6-10). Last week: 30.
Fentress says: The Lions discovered their offense in the final game of the season, a 31-0 win at Green Bay.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11). Last week: 26.
Fentress says: Jacksonville closed season with ugly 20-3 loss at Houston. Coach Doug Marrone remains.
29. San Francisco 49ers (4-12). Last week: 28.
Fentress says: A few roster tweaks and the return of QB Jimmy Garoppolo could make the 49ers playoff contenders right away.
30. Oakland Raiders (4-12). Last week: 29.
Fentress says: Oakland will begin the rebuilding process with three first-round picks in 2019.
31. New York Jets (4-12). Last week: 31.
Fentress says: Coach Todd Bowles fired after four years with the Jets and a 24-40 record.
32. Arizona Cardinals (3-13). Last week: 32.
Fentress says: Firing coach Steve Wilkes after one season when his defense was solid but he was saddled with a rookie QB was just wrong.