NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Why each team could win Super Bowl LIII

cowboys-leighton-vander-esch-celebrates-with-jaylon-smith

Dallas Cowboys linebackers Leighton Vander Esch (55) and Jaylon Smith (54) celebrate a defensive play against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of the NFC wild-card game, in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. (Ron Jenkins/AP)

The 2018 regular season is in the books, but Sportsnet’s NFL Power Rankings aren’t going anywhere.

Ahead of every round of the playoffs, we’ll rank each of the remaining teams from best to worst.

This week is the Divisional Round, but we’re putting a bit of a twist on the rankings: The 2018 post-season feels more wide open than any in recent history, so we’ve listed one reason why each remaining team could win Super Bowl LIII.

1) New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Why they can win the Super Bowl: Boom & Zoom

Drew Brees is obviously the most important piece of the puzzle for the Saints, but it’s their dynamic backfield that differentiates them from the rest of the field. In Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara – hilariously and appropriately dubbed “Boom & Zoom” last season – New Orleans has the perfect combination of power running and high-octane playmaking.

On their own, these are game-changing running backs. Together, they can carry the Saints to a title.

2) Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
Why they can win the Super Bowl: Patrick Mahomes

With the NFL’s now-indisputable MVP under centre, there’s always a chance for fireworks when the Chiefs take the field. From wrong-handed first downs to no-look throws, Mahomes has dropped a lot of jaws in his second season, but the 23-year-old is more than just trick plays. He’s the real deal.

With the K.C. backfield in flux – Damien Williams appears to have risen to the No. 1 spot following Kareem Hunt’s release – and a bottom-10 defence that struggles most in the passing game, the Chiefs will be leaning on their young play-caller to make a run.

If we’ve learned anything from his 50-TD, 5,000-yard season, it’s that Mahomes is up to the task.

3) Los Angeles Rams (13-3)
Why they can win the Super Bowl: Aaron Donald

The Rams offence has garnered most of the attention in Los Angeles, and rightly so: Sean McVay, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley have blessed NFL fans with some of the most entertaining games of the season so far. But the team’s best player actually plays on the other side of the ball: soon-to-be two-time defensive player of the year Aaron Donald.

In all likelihood, the Rams are going to put up points. It’s also a good bet that L.A.’s defence will give up their fair share, something Wade Phillip’s unit has been wont to do this season. And it’s in tight, high-scoring game when the NFL’s sack leader (Donald dropped QBs 20.5 times this season) will be leaned on to make a game-changing play.

There aren’t many defensive players who can change a game the way Donald can, and he’ll be vital to any playoff push the Rams make.

4) Los Angeles Chargers (13-4)
Why they can win the Super Bowl: Road-field advantage

You’ve probably heard this already, and if not, you’re bound to hear it in the lead-up to Sunday’s game against the Patriots in Foxboro: the Chargers have not lost a road game this season when they’ve travelled by plane. The Chargers have lost just once away from home in 2018, and that came in L.A. against fellow La-La Land squad, the Rams.

The Chargers are 8-0 (seven road games, plus a win in London) outside of L.A., enough of a sample size that you’ve got to admit there’s something to their road success. And that will be crucial to the Chargers’ run at a Super Bowl title, because as 12-4 wild cards they’ll have to win three road games to represent the AFC in Atlanta.

Philip Rivers and company travel to New England this weekend to take on the Patriots, the only team in the NFL to go 8-0 at home this season. Something’s gotta give.

5) New England Patriots (11-5)
Why they can win the Super Bowl: Bill Belichick

There are those out there who believe Tom Brady has taken a step back this season, and Rob Gronkowski is surely just a shadow of his former self. Even the Patriots defence has given fans some reason for concern.

But we can never ever count this team out because of its head coach. Belichick remains the best game-planner in the NFL. He will find your favourite team’s biggest weakness and exploit it to the point of capitulation.

Father time is undefeated, and we’re starting to see that on the field in New England. But with Belichick at the helm, the Lombardi is always within reach.

6) Indianapolis Colts (11-6)
Why they can win the Super Bowl: Protected Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck’s comeback season is an incredible story: the former No. 1–overall pick had not played a regular-season snap in the NFL for 615 days when the Colts took the field in Week 1 against the Bengals, and this time last year Luck doubted whether he’d ever play football again.

Now, after a stellar regular season, he’s leading the Colts to a divisional clash with the AFC’s top-ranked team.

Luck has always been a dangerous QB, but behind the best offensive line in the NFL, No. 12 has been nearly unstoppable. The Colts allowed just 18 sacks all season long – the best in the league – and at one point Luck attempted 237 straight passes without being dropped. In Saturday’s win over Houston, Luck wasn’t sacked and was hit just four times.

Behind an offensive line like this, Luck and Reich have the ability to beat any of the remaining playoff teams on any given day.

7) Dallas Cowboys (11-6)
Why they can win the Super Bowl: NFL’s best young LB duo

Jerry Jones has made plenty of questionable roster decisions throughout his tenure, but two of his most risky in recent memory are paying off in spades: Jaylon Smith, a 2016 second-rounder who suffered a potentially career-ending injury in his final college game, and Leighton Vander Esch, taken with a 2018 first-round pick many thought should’ve been used on a wide receiver.

Now that duo is the driving force behind a Cowboys defence that has given us plenty of reasons to believe it’s championship-calibre.

Smith and Vander Esch have been doing it for most of the season but had a coming-out party on a Thursday night against New Orleans, halting the Saints’ 10-game win streak in stunning fashion.

The Cowboys defence has kept rolling since, and their two young linebackers have fans of America’s Team believing this is one that can make a deep run.

8) Philadelphia Eagles (10-7)
Why they can win the Super Bowl: Belief

We could look at Doug Pederson’s relationship with Nick Foles here as a game-changer for the Eagles, or a dramatically improved defence from the one that got pummelled almost two months ago in New Orleans, but what makes the defending champs so scary is the fact they’ve been here before — and the belief they can do it again.

We’ve seen wild-card teams with similar swagger do damage in past playoffs – the 2007 New York Giants and 2010 Green Bay Packers come to mind – and Sunday’s “Double Doink” for the win in Chicago will only fuel Philadelphia’s resolve.

The Eagles face their toughest test of the season this weekend in New Orleans, and in all likelihood this run comes to an end Sunday evening. But if Philly can get past the Saints, anything is possible.

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