NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Wild-card round edition

Watch as the Buffalo Bills faithful gather at the airport to welcome their team back, cheering as they are finally bound for the playoffs.

The regular season is over and 20 teams have been eliminated. We’ve cut the league down to just the 12 playoff teams for our weekly power rankings, but who’s in the driver’s seat on the hunt for the Super Bowl?

Our expert panel has the goods.

As always, the panel includes editor Geoff Lowe, as well as staff writers Donnovan Bennett, Mike Johnston and Emily Sadler.

1. New England Patriots

2017 record: 13-3
Previous: 1

Despite a slight dip in form from MVP favourite Tom Brady over the last month, the Patriots are in the driver’s seat in the AFC thanks to that thrilling Week 15 win over the Steelers.

And while New England’s passing game has struggled of late, the running game has averaged 170 yards over the last two games and the defence has been stellar. (GL)

2. Minnesota Vikings

2017 record: 13-3
Previous: 4

Nobody would have picked the Vikings to go 13-3 when they lost their starting QB and running back for the season in the first month of the season. But here we are.

Mike Zimmer has delivered a Coach of the Year performance; Case Keenum is playing the QB position better than anyone else headed to the post-season (including Tom Brady); and Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are the most versatile 1-2 punch in the league.

The way the Vikings have been playing, it won’t be surprising if Minnesota becomes the first-ever host to play in the Super Bowl this February at U.S. Bank Stadium. (DB)

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

2017 record: 13-3
Previous: 3

The Steelers managed to navigate Week 17 with no major injuries, which is key as they are already the most banged-up team heading to the playoffs.

Pittsburgh still has a chance to win it all because they’re so explosive. Rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster is the first player since 2015 to have two 90-plus yard TDs in one season. The football gods need to give us an AFC Championship game with the Steelers versus James Harrison and the Patriots. (DB)

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4. Los Angeles Rams

2017 record: 11-5
Previous: 5

The Rams are well-rested after sitting most of their starters for the final game of 2017, and should be ready for a shootout when they host the Falcons — a team whose powerful offence has been somewhat dormant through most of the season. L.A.’s potent offence, led by rookie coach Sean McVay, second-year quarterback Jared Goff and MVP candidate Todd Gurley, has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. But their lack of playoff experience makes them a bit of a question mark going into the post-season. (ES)

5. New Orleans Saints

2017 record: 11-5
Previous: 9

The Saints have won seven in a row at home, have perhaps the most balanced offence in the NFC, and hold two victories over the Panthers this season. They should be feeling confident, although left tackle Terron Armstead’s health is something to monitor this week. (MJ)

6. Philadelphia Eagles

2017 record: 13-3
Previous: 2

The Eagles are in trouble offensively without Carson Wentz — they’ve averaged just 258 yards in three games since No. 11’s injury after putting up 390 a game in the 13 contests with Wentz. In his five quarters since throwing four TDs against the lowly Giants in Week 15, Foles has completed just 46 per cent of his passes with a 48.2 rating.

Philadelphia’s defence, however, is elite — especially at home — and will be the key to the Eagles’ survival this post-season without their MVP-candidate quarterback. (GL)

7. Atlanta Falcons

2017 record: 10-6
Previous: 8

We’ve only seen glimpses of what this group is capable of, yet they still managed a 10-6 record and are as talented a team as any in the post-season. The interior of the offensive line will have its hands full against Aaron Donald and the Rams’ elite D-line. Julio Jones went over 100 yards in only four games in 2017 and got into the end zone just thrice. Julio needs to go off in L.A. (MJ)

8. Kansas City Chiefs

2017 record: 10-6
Previous: 11

On paper, Alex Smith and his diverse offence should be able to easily handle the Titans, who stumbled their way into the post-season for the first time in a decade—and into Arrowhead Stadium, which is one of the toughest places to visit. Playoff football, however, has been a source of heartache in Kansas City.

The Chiefs finished the season with a four-game win streak and even had the luxury of resting their starters for their regular-season finale against the Broncos, getting a good look at their future in the process. (ES)

9. Carolina Panthers

2017 record: 11-5
Previous: 6

Looked lost at times in Week 17 in Atlanta, and they were felled twice by the Saints in the regular season. Could the third time be the charm vs. New Orleans? (MJ)

10. Jacksonville Jaguars

2017 record: 10-6
Previous: 7

Lost two straight to the 49ers and Titans to close out the regular season after clinching the franchise’s first playoff berth in a decade. This is a big-play, championship-calibre defence. (MJ)

11. Buffalo Bills

2017 record: 9-7
Previous: 13

Against all the odds, Buffalo is in the playoffs for the first time since 1999. It only seems fitting that a miracle finish in Baltimore ends the Bills’ drought after the Music City Miracle started it 17 years ago.

Now the Bills get what might be the best wild-card matchup possible with a trip to Jacksonville to take on the slumping Jaguars. If LeSean McCoy can play effectively and the defence can find a way to stop Leonard Fournette, Buffalo has a real chance to advance Sunday. (GL)

12. Tennessee Titans

2017 record: 9-7
Previous: 18

Haven’t scored more than 24 points in a game since Week 6 and went 3-4 down the stretch. Tennessee was 3-5 on the road and 4-6 against non-AFC South teams. Can they do anything to slow down the Chiefs at Arrowhead? (MJ)

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