Welcome to the first ever #SuperWildCardWeekend. The defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs have a bye, as do Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Still, the opening weekend of the NFL's expanded postseason hardly lacks storylines.
Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills finished the season on a six-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 229 to 110 over that period. Though Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs enter the postseason as the odds-on favorites to win Super Bowl LV, there is a real feeling that Allen and the Bills could be the biggest threat to a repeat in Kansas City.
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to be heating up at the right time, as they finished the season on a four-game winning streak, scoring 91 points in their final two contests. Though it may not be an enviable task to have to deal with Chase Young, the Buccaneers seemingly drew a pretty good matchup as they'll open the postseason against the Washington Football Team.
Drew Brees and the Saints finished the regular season at 12-4, and many believe that regardless of what happens this postseason, the 13-time Pro Bowler will retire at its conclusion. Still, the bigger storyline facing the Saints at the outset of the postseason is whether running back Alvin Kamara will return from the COVID-19 list. If you'll remember, he scored a whopping six touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day, his last game. The good news for the Saints is that wide receiver Michael Thomas, the reigning Offensive Player of the Year, will be back this weekend.
The Cleveland Browns haven't had much time to enjoy their first postseason berth since 2002. An organization that's dealt with COVID-19 issues for the last few weeks learned early in the week that they'll be without head coach Kevin Stefanski when they travel to face the division-rival Steelers in Pittsburgh Sunday evening.
That's just a sampling of some of the storylines heading into what should be a wild postseason.
As we enter what should be one of the most interesting postseason weekends in NFL history, let's rank all the remaining teams in the field:
1. Kansas City Chiefs
For much of the 2020 season, it felt like the Chiefs were borderline bored with the regular season. Even still, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill all had monster seasons and the Chiefs went 14-1 in games where they played their starters. You better believe that an Andy Reid-coached team will be ready to flip the switch when they return from their bye week.
2. Buffalo Bills
If not for "The Hail Murray," the Bills would have won 10 games in a row to finish the season. That said, it might actually be more impressive that Sean McDermott's team rebounded from such a devastating loss to turn in six consecutive victories heading into the playoffs. McDermott and Brian Daboll have created a tremendous culture in Buffalo, one where it feels like the Bills have a very real chance to make a Super Bowl run with Josh Allen at the helm.
3. Green Bay Packers
For the second consecutive season, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers went 13-3 and will have a first-round bye. This time around, the postseason runs through Lambeau Field, one of the few places that presents a real home-field advantage even without fans. Rodgers and Davante Adams are playing at an even higher level than what they were a season ago, and the duo of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon began to form a dominant one-two punch on the ground late in the season. Are the Packers overwhelming favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl? No, but certainly they are the most likely representatives.
4. New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton did a pretty incredible job leading the Saints to a 12-4 record, despite Drew Brees missing four full games and Michael Thomas essentially being lost for the entire regular season. Still, you worry about whether Alvin Kamara will be available - and at full strength - for the team's Wild Card matchup with the Chicago Bears this weekend. Beyond a game the Saints should win with relative ease this weekend, it will be interesting to see if Brees is capable of going throw-for-throw with some of the NFC's elite quarterbacks, especially in games that will be played outdoors.
5. Tennessee Titans
That the Titans finished with the NFL's 28th ranked defense during the regular season is pretty alarming, and in a conference where they'll have to get past Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, it may ultimately be the undoing of Mike Vrabel's team. Still, Derrick Henry is the great equalizer. Henry ran for 2,027 yards during the regular season, and led the team to upsets of the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens with historically-dominant performances last January. Henry, Ryan Tannehill, A.J. Brown and Corey Davis could easily lead the Titans on a playoff run where they win a couple shootouts. Eventually, the Titans defense will probably catch up with them, but by that time, they may have won a playoff game or two.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For all the ebbs and flows of Tom Brady's first season in Tampa Bay, the six-time Super Bowl Champion tossed 40 touchdowns in 2020 and led the team to a 4-0 record in the final month of the regular season. Though Mike Evans' status is uncertain for the postseason opener because of a knee injury, four-time All-Pro Antonio Brown had 11 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the season finale, so you get the sense they'll be able to get by The Washington Football Team.
7. Baltimore Ravens
You still wonder about their ability to play from behind, but the Ravens won five straight games to finish the regular season by recommitting to running the ball down the throats of opposing teams. If Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards help the Ravens to jump out to an early lead, they may not give it up. The problem for the Ravens? They'll have to face Henry and the Titans, who upset them in Baltimore during the AFC Divisional Round playoffs last January, and defeated them again in overtime in late-November.
8. Seattle Seahawks
After a blazing-fast start to the regular season, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' offense cooled off dramatically in the second half of the season, scoring more than 30 points just once in the final eight games of the season. While Pete Carroll's defense rounded into form over the same period, there is a reality that if the Seahawks are going to make a Super Bowl run, it's going to be because of No. 3.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
After starting 11-0, the Steelers lost three consecutive games, and had to come back against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16. Not playing in Week 17 should do Ben Roethlisberger, 38, some good, and one of the sport's elite defenses should be enough to get past a Cleveland Browns team that has been crushed by COVID-19. Still, it feels hard to imagine this offense having enough firepower to compete in a loaded AFC.
10. Los Angeles Rams
For whatever flaws he may have, the Rams chances to win this weekend would certainly improve if Jared Goff is able to return from thumb surgery in time to play the division-rival Seattle Seahawks. Still, whether it's Goff or John Wolford under center, it's not hard to imagine Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey turning in such dominant performances that the Rams are in position to win a 20-17 game late.
11. Indianapolis Colts
For as great of a storyline as it would be for Philip Rivers to be at the forefront of a Super Bowl run in what may be his final NFL season, if the Colts are going to upset the Buffalo Bills and make any sort of Super Bowl run, it's probably going to be because of their running game. Rookie Jonathan Taylor ran for 253 yards in Week 17, and - assuming a shoulder injury doesn't prevent him from playing - he may need a similar performance Saturday afternoon to extend the team's season.
12. Cleveland Browns
The Browns are back in the postseason for the first time since 2002, though it doesn't appear that they'll get a fair shake in what is seemingly a winnable game against the division-rival Steelers. This is the third week that COVID-19 issues have prevented the Browns from consistently being in their facility, and the cherry on top is that head coach - and playcaller - Kevin Stefanski will be out this Sunday. An upset victory isn't impossible, but it will likely take special performances from Nick Chubb and/or Kareem Hunt.
13. Chicago Bears
At 8-8, the Bears snuck into the postseason, thanks to the addition of a seventh Wild Card spot in 2020. While that may have saved the jobs of general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy, it's still difficult to imagine Mitchell Trubisky leading the Bears into New Orleans and defeating the Saints, even if Alvin Kamara doesn't play.
14. Washington Football Team
Even as the Philadelphia Eagles rather blatantly tried to lose in Week 17, The Washington Football team struggled to pull out a 20-14 victory to clinch the NFC East title. As excited as fans of the franchise should be the Chase Young appears to be a generational talent and Washington seemingly has a bright future under Ron Rivera, the idea of them upsetting Tom Brady and the Buccaneers seems far-fetched.