The NFL playoff field of 14 teams is set. Looking at the seven NFC teams and seven AFC teams as a whole, it feels like the race to make and win Super Bowl 56 is wide open.
The playoffs don’t often play out based on higher seeds winning all the games they are supposed to win, so the number attached to all championship contenders means little at this time of the year. There’s a reason a dozen teams now compete on wild-card weekend. That both increases the pressure on the favorites and makes the pre divisional-round action more compelling.
Last season, the still reigning champion Buccaneers made a successful Super Bowl 55-winning run as the NFC No. 5 seed. The year before, the Chiefs hoisted the Lombardi Trophy as the No. 2 seed. The only thing to expect in the playoffs is the unexpected.
Considering the seeds, odds, overall potential and how teams are playing going into the playoffs, here’s a special power rankings of the league’s latest postseason teams, from No. 1 to No. 14, in relation to their opening Super Bowl odds on FanDuel Sportsbook:
NFL playoff power rankings 2021
1. Green Bay Packers (NFC No. 1 seed)
The Packers (+380) deserve to be the favorites with their offensive efficiency led by likely repeat MVP Aaron Rodgers and improved all-around defense. They are overdue for a big breakthrough in three superb seasons under Matt LaFleur. The decision to have a Week 18 tuneup can help at home in the playoffs to restore the Lambeau Field mystique.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (AFC No. 2 seed)
The Chiefs (+450) seem more a lot more vulnerable with Patrick Mahomes and their defense than in their consecutive Super Bowl runs the past two playoffs. But the experience and coaching of Andy Reid cannot be discounted. They also won it all as a No. 2 behind the Ravens two years ago. The Patriots are back in the playoffs, but Mahomes and Reid are what the Patriots used to be with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick — the consistent team to beat in the AFC until deemed otherwise.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC No. 2 seed)
The Buccaneers (+750) are dealing with a ton of injuries offensively and defensively, but they also are led by the GOAT, Tom Brady. He can keep things together and even without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski are a dangerous 1-2 punch. They should also get key bodies back for the running game and defense, two things that fueled their winning wild-card Super Bowl 55 run. Brady’s got a big break by getting back up to No. 2. Even though the Packers are better equipped to solve them this time, the Buccaneers will remain a difficult out should there be a NFC championship rematch at Lambeau.
4. Tennessee Titans (AFC No. 1 seed)
The Titans (+850) have seen Ryan Tannehill break out of his passing slump tied to having legitimate wide receivers in A.J. Brown and Julio Jones back healthy and making key plays. Now there might be big-time help on the way in the form of Derrick Henry hammering once again in the power running game to further facilitate what can be an explosive offense again. Tennessee also likes to get very physical with Mike Vrabel and plays terrific situational football. Key early wins over the Chiefs and Bills also cannot be forgotten, or the sneaky home field the Titans can have with their loud crowd.
5. Buffalo Bills (AFC No. 3 seed)
The Bills (+750) felt like they were ready to displace the Chiefs when they solved them in Kansas City early in the season. But they went through their own pass-happy offensive slump with Josh Allen and also had their share of shocking defensive breakdowns. Like Mahomes, Allen seems to be back on track, leaning more on the traditional running game while the defense keeps tightening the screws, especially against the pass. Should they get another shot at the Chiefs in the divisional playoffs, nothing will come easy the second time.
6. Dallas Cowboys (NFC No. 3 seed)
The Cowboys (+1100) decided to play Dak Prescott and their healthy starters in Week 18 against the Eagles and that blowout victory should inspire confidence they can come through as a complete team in the tournament for Kellen Moore, Dan Quinn and Mike McCarthy. Jerry Jones hired McCarthy because he did have experience winning the Super Bowl with Rodgers in Green Bay. Quinn also just got a team to the Super Bowl four years ago. Watch out for Dallas getting to L.A with more ideal offense-defense harmony.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (AFC No. 4 seed)
The Bengals (+1700) got a break in the draw in facing the weary Raiders first instead of the wily Patriots. They have a mature young gun QB iin Joe Burrow who can get hot in a hurry with top-flight weapons, including Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. They also ave seen their key defensive upgrades pay off and Trey Hendrickson and the pass rush can be a bigger factor in the playoffs. The only thing that could Zac Taylor’s team back is a lack of experience. But they have the offense to beat anyone in the AFC field and already have proved their worth vs. the Chiefs from Week 17.
8. Los Angeles Rams (NFC No. 4 seed)
The Rams (+950) will be attempting to follow the Buccaneers’ lead and win it all in their homs stadium in Los Angeles. Sean McVay, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey and Cooper Kupp are four good reasons to maybe like them making a Super Bowl 53-like run. Then there’s Matthew Stafford. Everyone can see the passing talent is there, but here’s a reminder he has never won a playoff game and tends to make critical mistakes against winning opponents in the biggest of games.
9. Arizona Cardinals (NFC No. 5 seed)
The Cardinals (+2100) haven’t looked great fading behind the Rams and staying just ahead of the 49ers in the NFC West. They lost four of their final six games coming out of a bye. But one of those victories did come against the Cowboys in Week 17 and they have experience playing five of the 13 other playoff teams. There’s also the wild card of Kyler Murray, who can either carry them for a while or flame out in a third matchup with the Rams, who beat them 30-23 in Week 14.
10. San Francisco 49ers (NFC No. 6 seed)
The 49ers (+2400) are back in the playoffs after their injury-riddled Super Bowl hangover season of 2020. Kyle Shanahan has done a great job turning them back around and they have some positive elements that resemble their NFC championship run, including a reliable running game, a versatile passing game and an active front seven. But the pass defense can be overwhelmed and the immediate draw against the Cowboys doesn’t help.
11. New England Patriots (AFC No. 6 seed)
The Patriots (+2100) are limping into the playoffs having lost three of their last four games coming off a bye. One of those losses was getting ripped by the Bills 33-21 at home. The rubber match comes on the road. The Patriots beat up mostly on bad teams and the win over the Titans seems ancient. Here’s also having little belief that Mac Jones will be some transcendent rookie passer in the postseason. Belichick’s effort to get his team back on the playoffs on the strength of the defense and running game is remarkable, but it needs more than hoping for attrition to make any kind of run.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC No. 7 seed)
The Steelers (+7000) can’t be totally ignored because of Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin having the Super Bowl-winning experience, even with parts of their passing game and defense not being close to the championship standards of the past. Pittsburgh will try its best to grind past Kansas City, playing there for the second time in four games after falling 36-10 in Week 16. But in the end, unless Roethlisberger digs deep for firepower, his career will end vs. Mahomes in Arrowhead.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (NFC No. 7 seed)
The Eagles (+5500) didn’t get a great draw in needing to face the Buccaneers first, a run-heavy team with a running QB facing a stout run defense that should have its front seven mostly back together. They played the Bucs tough at home on a Thursday night in Week 6, losing 28-22. But the Eagles’ struggles against the run and covering tight ends don’t bode well for a long stay.
14. Las Vegas Raiders (AFC No. 5 seed)
The Raiders (+4100) were the last AFC team to qualify with their four-game winning streak to end the season, including two crazy wins against the Colts and Chargers in the final two weeks. It’s a nice story how Derek Carr and their defense rallied around interim coach Rich Bisaccia in a tumultuous second season in Las Vegas. But that ends in Cincinnati against a rested Burrow and Mixon leading an offense they can’t handle. It doesn’t help the Raiders played deep into Sunday night and need to play on the road next Saturday afternoon.