With the NFL Playoffs beginning this Saturday, SportsNak called upon their newest writer Zach Weisleder, to get you primed and ready for what looks to be an exciting next few weeks. With key injuries and lots of inexperience within some of the teams, there is a lot to discuss. Here are Zach’s NFL Postseason Power Rankings, beginning with the….
- New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are entering the 2017 postseason without long time clutch contributors Rob Gronkowski and Jamie Collins. Rob Gronkowski, who underwent surgery for a ruptured disk in his back, is by a large margin the best player at his position in the NFL. Jamie Collins, regarded by many as one of the most consistent linebackers in the NFL, was traded earlier in the year to Cleveland due to a contract dispute. Ever since the departure of these two players, nobody affiliated with the NFL in any way could have pictured the Patriots ending up with a stunning 14-2 record. Ever since Collins was traded, New England’s defense has been noticeably better, and since Gronkowski got injured, the patriots have gone 8-0. Despite these two crucial absences to their lineup, the Patriots are as scary as ever. Tom Brady, at 39, is playing the best football of his entire career, and can make anyone around him elite. With Legarrette Blount running the ball as effectively as he has in his career this season, Martellus Bennet serving as an adequate replacement for Gronk, and solid receiving options – Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd – I only picture big offensive blowouts courtesy of Tom Brady. Defensively, the Patriots are only ranked 16th in DVOA (Determine Value over Average), but it is the playoffs now, and we all know that Bill Belichick will create a gameplan that will work effectively against any opponent that knocks on New England’s Door. Over the last seven games of New England’s regular season, they only allowed an impressive 12 points per game. The Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, and Houston Texans stand no chance against the New England Patriots. The Raiders and Dolphins have backup quarterbacks, and Brock Osweiler has been awful for the Texans. Although the Steelers and Chiefs seem like threats with such impressive final stretches to close out the year, those two teams don’t seem nearly as elite as New England, especially in the postseason. It appears to be an easy road to the Super Bowl for New England, and I cannot see any matchup with an NFC team that the Pats are underdogs in when they get there.
- Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott is in the midst of one the most surprising rookie quarterback campaigns in NFL history. The Dallas Cowboys now have the most balanced offense in the NFL through brilliant drafting. Center Travis Frederick, Left Tackle Tyron Smith, and Right Guard Zack Martin are three offensive linemen that have all been drafted since 2010. These three players are massive contributors to one of the greatest offensive lines I have ever seen. Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant, and probable Rookie of the Year candidate Ezekiel Elliott have all been drafted since 2010, and are three nightmares for any opposing defense. The Dallas Cowboys have dominated the time of possession battle in almost every matchup this season. If the Dallas Cowboys can continue to do so, I see no reason why they cannot reach the Super Bowl. In the last 15 seasons, the NFL has seen historic playoff runs fuelled by star running backs such as Pierre Thomas (New Orleans Saints) in 2005, and Marshawn Lynch (Seattle Seahawks) in 2014, who both played key roles in their teams Super Bowl wins. Ezekiel Elliot is a workhorse, and behind that offensive line, he is arguably the best running back in football. This season, we have seen Dak Prescott shine in almost every critical situation late in games. Not being able to know if he can do this in the playoffs is a huge reason as to why I can’t put this team ahead of the Patriots. Dak Prescott has no playoff experience, and that alone gives me more reason to believe that Tom Brady will be more successful. Tom brady knows how to win playoff football, and is as hungry as ever. The Cowboys are a team that rarely turns the ball over, and their offense can win games for them for that reason. A first round bye in the playoffs, followed by a manageable schedule that follows it, I see this Dallas Cowboys team having a real shot at winning the NFC. Although their defense has been much better than last year, it would have to have a performance for the ages if Dallas wants to take down a balanced powerhouse such as New England.
- Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh, led by the awesome trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown, seem to have an easy path in the playoffs…Until the AFC championship game. I do think that the Kansas City Chiefs are a tough matchup for this Pittsburgh team, but I can’t imagine Marcus Peters and Eric Berry being able to win the battle against Pittsburgh’s offense. Over the past two Steeler playoff runs, Le’Veon Bell has been absent due to injuries. There is no question in my mind that Big Ben has the talent to dominate opposing defences with his endless targets. The Steelers also boast one of the more balanced defences in the league. Pittsburgh’s offense has the ability to compete with Brady’s offense, but Ben Roethlisberger will not win in Foxborough. Home-field advantage for Tom Brady is enough for him to secure this AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Steelers will play against Jay Ajayi this weekend, and although he torched them the last time these two teams met, I see Le’Veon returning the favour and this big win, and this team’s momentum will propel this Steeler team to the AFC championship game.
4. Green Bay Packers
If you would have asked me how I felt about the Green Bay Packers playoff chances six weeks ago, I would’ve told you that there was no they had a chance of even making the playoffs. Thankfully for me, nobody asked me that question. Ever since Aaron Rodgers told the media that his squad will “run-the-table”, he has been on a remarkable six-game run that has carried his team into the playoffs. Over the past six weeks, the NFL has seen Aaron Rodgers dominate the game more than I can on my Playstation. Rodgers has thrown for 15 touchdowns, and has added a rushing touchdown over this six game stretch. Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams are two receivers that have 12+ Touchdown receptions this season, and can help guide this team to a deep playoff run if they show up. Ty Montgomery has turned a busted running game into an above average one for the Green Bay Packers. At the end of the day, the New York Giants, led by a historically dominant quarterback in Eli Manning, who has had a ton of success against the Pack and the Pats in the postseason will not have the edge this Sunday. The Giants will be taken down if Aaron Rodgers continues this dominant stretch. If Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, and Ty Montgomery can continue to serve as reliable options for Aaron Rodgers, this teams potential is endless.
- Seattle Seahawks
Although Jimmy Graham has shown signs of brilliance this season, losing Max Ungar a couple of seasons ago destroyed an offensive line that once dominated in Seattle, especially during their Super Bowl runs. Having no Earl Thomas gives me too many reasons to believe that the odds are heavily stacked against them to come out of the NFC. With Earl Thomas, this Seattle team is capable to carry an inconsistent offense into the Super Bowl. Even without Earl Thomas, I have more confidence in the Seahawks than in the Falcons because of experience, and everyone is aware of Russell Wilson’s ability to carry a team and make any game an interesting one. Matt Ryan deserves to win MVP this year, but I see Wilson and Seattle’s offense being too much to handle for Matty Ice and the dreadful Falcons defense when they square off. Seattle has a ton of playoff experience, and they may make me regret putting them at No. 5 on my list.
- Atlanta Falcons
This regular season, the Atlanta falcons has shown the NFL arguably the best offense in the league. There is one problem, the defense is horrible. Matt Ryan has won 11 games this year thanks to the best play of his career, and terrific performances from Julio Jones and Atlanta’s running backs. Out of every team in the playoffs, this Atlanta defense has the second worst DVOA (determine value over average), and if Matt Ryan doesn’t have a perfect game, or show up when his team needs him most, Atlanta’s season can be over before it starts. Opposing defense’s need to prepare for the most balanced and scary offensive team in the postseason, but Atlanta’s defense is far too weak for me to have this team higher on the list. This team has been rolling, and I think that this bye week may hurt them more than help them.
- Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid knows how to be successful in today’s NFL. The Kansas City Chiefs are entering the 2017 postseason with a 12-4 record, a division title, and a ton of momentum after taking advantage of a Derek Carr injury to gain a first week bye. This defense has won the Chiefs so many games this year, but their offense has struggled mightily. Alex Smith’s offense is leading the NFL with 33 turnovers, and this tendency to turn the ball over could prove deadly in their potential divisional matchup against a frightening Steelers offense. This alone could be enough to send the Chiefs home early. Defensively, Eric Berry and Marcus Peters are two players that have shut down opposing teams wide receivers all season, but they will be assigned a daunting task. Ben Roethlisberger has been on a tear lately, and with a healthy Le’Veon Bell, and the best Wide Receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown, this Steelers offense a force to be reckoned with. Unless Alex Smith and his offense wins the turnover battle, and the Chiefs defense proves worthy of the task, this game will belong to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- New York Giants
The loss of Jason Pierre-Paul is a big reason why I have the Giants so low on these playoff rankings. In the past, I have witnessed the New York Giants, led by Eli Manning, take down two incredible New England Patriots teams in the Super Bowl. Even without Pierre-Paul, the Giants have an elite pass rush and secondary. In order to be successful in the postseason, you must be balanced on both sides of the field. Eli Manning is entering the postseason after a very mediocre season, and has no running game to support him when the Giants passing game is struggling. In the past, when Eli has proven doubters wrong, he had running backs such as Ahmad Bradshaw and clutch wide receivers such as David Tyree to bail him out when the team looked finished. Going into these playoffs, Eli doesn’t have a running game to use, and Odell Beckham Jr. has to be inhuman in order for this team to shock the football world. The Giants pass rush will not be able to do what the Broncos pass rush did to Tom Brady last year, and I am certain they won’t even make it that far. With the way Aaron Rodgers has been playing, I don’t see the Giants advancing. Experience can outweigh skill in many situations, and luckily for Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers has both.
9. Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford has silenced a ton of critics this season after carrying a team with no running game or defense into the playoffs with an eye-opening 9-7 record. The Detroit Lions simply do not have a target for Stafford that can give them a chance against the Seahawks at CenturyLink field, where Seattle hasn’t lost in over a decade in the playoffs. I don’t see this game being close, even if Calvin Johnson was playing in it. Although there are plenty holes in the Lions roster, they can beat Seattle if Matthew Stafford’s consistent care of the football (only five interceptions all year) continues, and if their late-game success is present on Saturday. I’ve watched almost every Lions game this year, and although Matthew Stafford isn’t an MVP candidate on paper, he is as clutch as any quarterback in the fourth quarter, and he proved that this year. Matthew Stafford has lead an incredible seven fourth quarter comebacks this season. This Lions team may not be the most talented, but certainly doesn’t give up when Matthew Stafford is behind center. If this game can be somewhat close in the fourth quarter on Saturday, the Lions are in it.
- Miami Dolphins
It is so unfortunate how quickly the Miami Dolphins went from one of the hottest teams in the league to almost a sure first round exit against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Adam Gase finally figured out how to create an offensive scheme in which Ryan Tannehill could thrive and win in. Unfortunately, Matt Moore will have to play this game instead. The last time Pittsburgh and Miami clashed, Jay Ajayi caught Pittsburghs defense off guard and exploded for 204 yards, 104 more than Pittsburgh usually allowed on the ground this season. Jay Ajayi has had three 200+ yard rushing games this year, but Pittsburgh will be going into this matchup prepared. I can’t see Ajayi replicating this performance this time around, and even if he does, I see a dominant Steelers offence winning this game. Expect Le’Veon Bell to have more than 10 carries this time around.
- Oakland Raiders
After seeing the punishing defeat at the hands of the Broncos in Week 17, it is pretty clear that the loss of Derek Carr will allow Oakland to have a longer offseason than expected. Oakland still boasts an incredible offensive line that can allow Connor Cook to have limited pressure in the pocket. This Oakland Raiders team has a defense that can potentially carry them to a win over the Texans, but that will be it. The winner of Oakland and Houston will be brutally victimized by the New England patriots the following game. After losing Derek Carr, and now the division, Oakland’s faithful fans have now turned from overjoyed to depressed. Winning one playoff game isn’t exactly how they expected this season to turn out 3 weeks ago. If Amari Cooper can once again torch a mediocre Houston secondary, expect this game to be over quickly.
- Houston Texans
You might as well start the search for a new quarterback in Houston. I never felt confident in Osweiler as a starter, and $72 million dollars for him may end up being the worst contract in NFL history. Oakland’s defense should torch Osweiler. Brock Osweiler simply cannot throw the football, run the football, or make smart choices on the field. Houston also will be playing without their best player, and best defensive player in the NFL, JJ. Watt. No Watt, no win for Houston, it is that simple. DeAndre Hopkins has been invisible this season, and I think it is crazy that Bill O’Brien is on the verge of being fired after taking a subpar team to the playoffs for two straight seasons. If Hopkins can reappear this Saturday, this game could be a little closer than most think. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.
Do you agree with Zach? Disagree? Let him know in the comments section below!
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