Saturday, July 20, 2024

Ranking NFL teams currently in the playoff picture: Eagles, Chiefs still looking super, don’t give up on 49ers

Now that we are about halfway through the 2023 NFL season, it’s about time we start paying attention to the playoff picture. We have teams like the Detroit Lions running away with their division crown, and then others like the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints who are vying for positioning in the wide-open NFC South.

Below, we will rank the NFL teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. It’s important to note that these are not “power rankings.” For example, just because the Kansas City Chiefs suffered a bad loss last week doesn’t mean they will fall out of the top five when it comes to their status as Super Bowl contenders. Now, let’s take a look at these 14 teams through eight weeks.

14. Minnesota Vikings (4-4, 2nd in NFC North)

The Vikings won three straight games to get back to .500, only to have quarterback Kirk Cousins tear his Achilles against the rival Green Bay Packers in Week 8. An incredibly tough break. I think Joshua Dobbs is a solid pickup, but whatever optimism we were feeling about the Vikings recently has now faded. 

13. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3, 2nd in AFC North)

The Steelers have won three out of their last four games despite working with what has been a very inconsistent offense. Diontae Johnson has really stepped up, as he’s caught 15 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown over the past two games. It almost feels like this team shouldn’t be 5-3, but Mike Tomlin is one of the best in the game and then this defense is feisty with a capital F.

Pittsburgh just finds a way to get it done. The Steelers have eight straight wins in one-score games, and are the only team in the Super Bowl era to have a winning record through eight games despite being outgained in every contest. They have five comeback victories this season, and four of Kenny Pickett’s 13 career passing touchdowns are go-ahead scores in the final five minutes of regulation. 

The Steelers aren’t some pushover, but they also don’t look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Need to score more points for that. 

12. Atlanta Falcons (4-4, 1st in NFC South)

It’s interesting, as Atlanta now finds itself atop the NFC South, but is still making a quarterback switch … at least for this week. Personally, I think this is the right decision. Desmond Ridder leads the NFL with 12 turnovers this season, and all you have to do is go back and look at how he performed vs. the Tennessee Titans compared to Taylor Heinicke.

I thought the Falcons defense was one of the most underrated storylines in the league up until last Sunday. The unit entered the matchup with Tennessee ranked No. 3 in yards allowed per game, but then Will Levis showed up and completely eviscerated the secondary in his first-ever NFL game, throwing four touchdowns en route to a 28-23 victory. I think Heinicke can spark this offense, and maybe team as a whole. But I don’t see the Falcons as a legitimate contender to hoist the Lombardi when it’s all said and done.

11. Cleveland Browns (4-3, 3rd in AFC North)

We are halfway through the season and still don’t know what to think about the Browns. We know the defense is one of the best in the league, but have no idea about the offense. Deshaun Watson is dealing with a nagging shoulder injury, and it’s not exactly like he was tearing apart defenses in the games he has played in. But, Cleveland does have the No. 2 rushing offense through eight weeks despite losing Nick Chubb.

The Browns rank first in the NFL in opponent third-down percentage (28.3%) and total defense (260.0 yards per game). Expect that side of the ball to continue to carry Cleveland. 

10. Seattle Seahawks  (5-2, 1st in NFC West)

Don’t look now, but it’s the Seahawks, not the San Francisco 49ers, who reside in first place in the NFC West. I like the makeup of the offense, although it’s been inconsistent, but the defense has been impressive. Since Week 4 the Seahawks have the No. 1 scoring defense, the No. 2 defense in yards allowed per game and are No. 1 in sacks. Now, that defense has added Leonard Williams in the middle, and has a rising star in Devon Witherspoon, who leads the NFL in yards per attempt allowed and is the third-highest graded corner by PFF.

Sunday provides a great test for this Seahawks team, which travels to Baltimore to take on the Baltimore Ravens

9. Buffalo Bills (5-3, 2nd in AFC East)

The Bills are talented enough to rebound after a tough start, but they haven’t looked too great over the past few weeks. They allowed the Buccaneers to stick around last week, were upset by the inferior New England Patriots the week prior, barely got by the New York Giants in Week 6 and were upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. Injuries on the defensive side of the ball have hurt, but Rasul Douglas could be a great trade deadline addition.

The slow start will easily be forgiven if the Bills upset Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals on “Sunday Night Football” this week. Buffalo has lost five of its last seven against Cincinnati, and suffered a tough 17-point defeat to the Bengals in the divisional round of the playoffs last year.

8. Detroit Lions (6-2, 1st in NFC North)

I got a ton of hate for listing the Lions as “pretenders” following their horrific performance against the Ravens in Week 7. It was just one game, but immediately going down 28-0 and tying the largest halftime deficit in NFL history by a team with the best record in the league this late in a season is going to raise some questions. 

Detroit got back on track against the lowly Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night behind Jahmyr Gibbs‘ breakout performance, but it wasn’t the beatdown it probably should have been. The Lions were so much better than this Raiders team that recorded just 157 yards of total offense. Detroit is still a good squad and undoubtedly the best in the NFC North, but I wanted the Lions to make a move for a defensive back at the trade deadline. Can they contain explosive offenses? The Week 10 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers will be a fun one to watch.

7. Dallas Cowboys (5-2, 2nd in NFC East)

The Cowboys have the No. 2 scoring offense in the NFL, the No. 3 defense in yards allowed per game and No. 4 scoring defense. Dallas has won two straight games after the embarrassing defeat that came at the hands of the 49ers, and have a chance to really raise some eyebrows against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. By the way, Dak Prescott has won his last three starts vs. Philly.

CeeDee Lamb has 275 receiving yards in his last two games, Brandin Cooks has caught touchdowns in back-to-back weeks after failing to catch one in the first four games of the season, Micah Parsons leads a group that has the highest pressure rate in the NFL (48%) and then DaRon Bland already has the most pick-sixes in a single season in team history with three. Bland and fellow cornerback Stephon Gilmore actually rank 1-2 in completion percentage allowed this season, as the loss of Trevon Diggs hasn’t completely crippled the defense.

Keep an eye on the Cowboys. 

6. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-2, 1st in AFC South)

The Jaguars have won five straight games, and are 11-2 in their past 13 regular-season contests. That’s tied with the Chiefs for the best record in the NFL since Week 14 of last season. The Jaguars are also tied in having the best against-the-spread record (6-2). If you don’t care about gambling, this statistic basically means this squad has been “better than expected” almost every week. 

I have faith in Doug Pederson, Trevor Lawrence and the playmakers such as Travis Etienne, but questions remain about the defense. Jacksonville statistically has the second-worst pass defense in the league, but it didn’t exactly show against the anemic offense of the Steelers, a struggling Derek Carr and Gardner Minshew. But there’s no arguing they’ve done good enough. I expect to have a better understanding of this team after their Week 10 matchup against the 49ers. 

5. Miami Dolphins (6-2, 1st AFC East)

The Dolphins have not registered that statement victory yet, but it could come this Sunday against Kansas City. The Dolphins have the No. 1 offense in yards per game, No. 1 passing offense, No. 1 rushing offense and have scored more points than any other team in the league. Tua Tagovailoa leads the NFL in passing yards (2,416) and passer rating (108.8). He could become the youngest player to lead the league in passer rating in back-to-back seasons since Johnny Unitas did so in the late 1950s. 

Then there’s Tyreek Hill, who is in the midst of a career year. Through eight weeks, he leads the league with 1,014 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Hill’s 126.8 receiving yards per game put him on track for 2,155 receiving yards, which would break Calvin Johnson’s single-season record of 1,964 receiving yards. 

The Dolphins defense is statistically middle of the pack, but with Jalen Ramsey back, Vic Fangio should be optimistic about how this unit can perform down the stretch. 

4. San Francisco 49ers (5-3, 2nd in NFC West)

The 49ers have taken a serious tumble in power rankings, but I’m not going to overreact. This 49ers team is the second in NFL history to lose three straight games after a 15-game win streak. Brock Purdy has thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions during this losing streak. He threw just two interceptions in his first 10 regular-season starts. The second-year signal-caller is still a young quarterback, and with Kyle Shanahan and the kind of offensive weapons he possesses, I’m sure San Francisco will bounce back after the bye. Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel should be back as well. 

3. Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 1st in AFC North)

The Ravens have won three straight games, but have done so in very different ways. Justin Tucker’s six field goals carried Baltimore to victory over the Titans in London, Lamar Jackson then handed the Lions what was a historic beatdown and last week, the Ravens defeated the Arizona Cardinals in very “meh” fashion. 

Lamar is obviously one of the most explosive playmakers in the league who commands the No. 3 rushing offense, and the Baltimore defense ranks No. 2 in yards allowed per game and No. 1 in scoring defense. This defense is still underrated in my opinion. It leads the NFL in sacks with 31, and is top three in pass defense, 25-plus-yard plays allowed, opponent red zone touchdown percentage and yards per play.

The bottom line is that if you somehow manage to get into a shootout with the Ravens, I think the offense can keep up. If you’re playing a gross, sloppy game in the rain, I have just as much faith the Ravens can win that game too. 

2. Kansas City Chiefs (6-2, 1st in AFC West)

I pay no attention to the Chiefs’ loss to the Denver Broncos. Patrick Mahomes had the flu and it was about time Denver registered its first win over the league’s best quarterback. If you want to argue that Sunday’s loss proved the Chiefs have some questions at wide receiver, well, I’ve been saying that since Week 1. Kansas City should have considered being buyers at the trade deadline. Ultimately, Brett Veach  decided not to, so we’ll see what happens. 

The Chiefs offense still ranks No. 4 in the league in yards per game, but what I love about the Chiefs this year is how the defense has performed. The unit ranks second in the NFL in points allowed per game (16.1), which is actually on pace to be the best scoring defense Andy Reid has ever had in his career. We’ll see how it fares against the explosive Dolphins.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (7-1, 1st in NFC East)

I’m not too worried about Jalen Hurts‘ knee injury, but it’s worth keeping an eye on how willing he is to scramble. It’s interesting, as Philly has gone three straight games without 100 rushing yards, but A.J. Brown is crushing it. He’s second in the NFL with 939 receiving yards, and has recorded 127 or more receiving yards in six straight games, which is an NFL record. 

Philly has the No. 3 offense in yards per game and No. 3 scoring offense. I don’t think anyone has questions about the offense, even after recording multiple turnovers in three straight games for the first time since 2020, but the defense has some question marks, as it allows the seventh-most passing yards per game. The trade deadline addition of Kevin Byard should help with that. I think it’s fair to say the Eagles are on upset alert against the Cowboys this week. It’s the second career matchup between Dak Prescott and Hurts, and the former has won his last three starts vs. this division rival. Whatever happens on Sunday, the reigning NFC champions are still legitimate contenders. 

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