So, who’s heading to the Super Bowl? As NFL Playoffs begin TODAY, Chiefs are favourites but Aaron Rodgers’ Packers are in with a shot – and don’t forget Tom Brady… here’s how every team is shaping up for post-season
- The NFL playoffs begin this weekend ahead of the Super Bowl on Feb 7 in Tampa
- Kansas City Chiefs are favourites to retain the title they won in Miami last year
- Green Bay Packers lead the NFC and the New Orleans Saints are contenders
- Tom Brady will be hopeful he can lead the Buccaneers to a home Super Bowl
- Sportsmail assesses the chances of the remaining 14 teams in the post-season
It is crunch time once again in the NFL as the playoffs finally get underway this weekend.
The NFL has managed to navigate through multiple coronavirus shutdowns and empty or half-empty arenas since the season started in September but now all eyes are focused on the Super Bowl in Tampa on February 7.
In the AFC, Kansas City Chiefs have once again been unstoppable with Patrick Mahomes maintaining his form from the past two seasons while in-form Buffalo Bills present some danger to their hopes of retaining their title.
Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City Chiefs are the favourites to retain their Super Bowl title
Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium will play host to Super Bowl LV on February 7
Meanwhile Aaron Rodgers has been inspired this season in leading Green Bay Packers to the post-season and the veteran quarterback is the favourite to land the MVP award.
New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks and Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers all harbour Super Bowl ambitions though and it promises to be a fascinating few weeks in the NFL.
Here, Sportsmail assesses each team’s chances ahead of the Wild Card round this weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs – 11/5
Green Bay Packers – 9/2
New Orleans Saints – 15/2
Buffalo Bills – 7/1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9/1
Baltimore Ravens – 9/1
Seattle Seahawks – 12/1
Pittsburgh Steelers – 22/1
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
The defending champions are the heavy favourites to go back to Florida and retain the title they won against the San Francisco 49ers in Miami last year.
Mahomes has silenced any doubters who thought he could not maintain the standards that saw him win the MVP award in 2018 and the Super Bowl 12 months ago.
He has been sensational and taken Andy Reid’s Chiefs offense to new heights with wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce his two biggest weapons.
The Chiefs also bolstered their running game by adding the experienced Le’Veon Bell with highly promising rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire struggling for any momentum because of hip and ankle issues.
Their impressive 14-2 record saw them finish top of the AFC standings and secure one of only two elusive byes through the wild-card round.
The Chiefs will then go on to the play the lowest remaining seed in the divisional round, which would give them a match-up against any of the Titans, Ravens, Browns or Colts.
Nobody would bet against seeing Mahomes lift another Vince Lombardi trophy in Tampa next month.
Mahomes has silenced any doubters who thought he could not maintain his recent standards
2. Buffalo Bills (13-3)
Momentum is key going into the NFL playoffs and that is exactly what the Bills have going into the post-season.
After being beaten by the Chiefs way back in week six, the Bills have been superb and won every single game apart from one to the Arizona Cardinals in week 10.
Powered by quarterback Josh Allen, who has played himself into MVP contention, and his relationship with standout receiver Stefon Diggs, the Bills play high-tempo football and led the NFL in scoring over weeks 7-16 with an average of 30.7 points per game.
But it was only 12 months ago that the Bills suffered a devastating playoff loss in their game with the Houston Texans. Up 16-0, they eventually lost 22-19 in overtime after a crazy passage of play.
The Bills start their post-season campaign against the Indianapolis Colts, who possess dangerous running back Jonathan Taylor, in the wild-card round and have the added boost of being able to play in front of 6,700 fans.
Josh Allen (right) has been sublime in recent weeks for the Buffalo Bills and could be the MVP
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
The Steelers started the season off superbly and went 11-0 before falling to an unlikely defeat by Ron Rivera’s Washington Football Team.
Led by experienced quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has made 21 playoff starts during his career, the Steelers have plenty of experience at the helm which is always useful in the bright lights of the post-season.
On the other side of the ball, TJ Watt is a defensive powerhouse and has the ability to turn his side’s fortunes around almost single-handedly.
Despite their terrific early form, the wheels have come off in recent weeks and, aside from a comeback win over the Colts, the Steelers have looked far from a team who could make it to the Super Bowl.
They have lost four of their last five games, hardly ideal preparation for the playoffs, and take on the Browns, who beat them last week, in the wild-card round.
Pittsburgh Steelers started off the season superbly but their form has been woeful recently
4. Tennessee Titans (11-5)
Many didn’t expect the Titans to reach the AFC Championship Game last season but they ran the Chiefs close after beating the Patriots and Ravens during the playoffs.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has a pair of superb offensive weapons in running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver AJ Brown, who allow him to manage and dictate the flow of a game.
Henry is a special breed of running back and has gone for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns, the most among his position in the NFL. Brown, meanwhile, has the ability to pull off special plays when his team need him, as seen on several occasions this season.
However, the Titans often find themselves in high-scoring shootouts and questions remain about their pass defense. Cornerback Malcolm Butler fortunately helps the cause in that department but things could still do with tightening up.
Up first is a repeat of last season’s divisional round game against the Ravens, which promises to be a special match at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
Titans running back Derrick Henry is one of the NFL’s best and could spark a Super Bowl run
5. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
It was only 12 months ago that Lamar Jackson was waltzing towards the MVP award and the Ravens were favourites alongside the Chiefs to win the AFC.
But the wheels came off in dramatic fashion against the Titans in the divisional round. The Ravens fell behind early on and couldn’t recover.
Momentum is definitely on the Ravens’ side this time around. They have ended the regular season with five wins in a row and Jackson looks back to his best, leading the offense to the most points in the NFL since week 13.
It will be fascinating to see if the Ravens have the psychological capacity to shrug off their loss to the Titans last year and get the job done this time around.
A slight bonus for John Harbaugh’s side is kicker Justin Tucker, who has the ability to stick the ball through the posts from around 60 yards. Get him into range late on and Tucker could be a decisive on Sunday.
Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson have hit top form just in time for the NFL post-season
6. Cleveland Browns (11-5)
Much to the relief of everybody in Cleveland last week, the Browns finally ended the NFL’s longest playoff drought with victory over a second-string Steelers team.
The first year under Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has been successful and they boast one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL with threats everywhere.
Running back Nick Chubb is fit again after a length lay-off this season and he scored his 12th touchdown of the season in that huge win over the Steelers.
Question marks remain over quarterback Baker Mayfield and it remains to be seen how he will cope under the spotlight of the playoffs.
Up first for them is the Steelers so the game plan is clear. Just repeat what you did a week ago and the Browns will have their first playoff victory since 1994.
Nick Chubb and Cleveland Browns ended the NFL’s longest playoff drought last weekend
7. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The Colts have arguably the toughest wild-card game as they travel to Buffalo to take on the in-form Bills.
After a slow start to the season as they took time to realise who their best running back was, Taylor has cemented his place as the No 1.
He scored a sublime 45-yard touchdown to secure the Colts’ playoff place against Jacksonville last week and has hit form at just the right time.
Quarterback Philip Rivers can be erratic at times and you just cannot afford needless turnovers in the playoffs so it will be interesting to see how he performs under the added pressure.
The Colts defense has been solid all season and they will need to be at their best if they are to slow down the frightening Bills offense. This could be one of the games of the weekend.
Colts running back Jonathan Taylor has been excellent in recent weeks in his rookie season
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
Aaron Rodgers may be 37 but he has been the best player in the entire NFL this season and has conducted the Packers offense beautifully so far.
Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams are the strongest pairing in the league and Adams has produced 115 receptions, 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns so far this season.
Many will assume if you stop Adams then you stop the Packers but that would be foolish to disregard running back Aaron Jones.
He may not get as many plaudits as Adams but Jones is still integral to how the Packers play and is healthy once again going into the crucial part of the season.
Like the Chiefs, the Packers have the added bonus of a bye in the wild-card round meaning they can put their feet up this weekend. Waiting for them in the divisional round will be either Washington, the Buccaneers, Rams or Bears.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been superb this year and favourite to be named MVP
2. New Orleans Saints (12-4)
Sean Payton has assembled arguably the most complete roster in the NFL in Louisiana.
He has been without quarterback Drew Bees for most of the last two seasons now but the Saints have coped admirably in his absence and eased through another regular season schedule.
Taysom Hill has stepped up this year after Teddy Bridgewater’s departure to the Panthers and the NFL’s best utility man has been superb, slotting seamlessly into the offense.
Running back Alvin Kamara has been hit and miss this season but exploded with six rushing touchdowns in a single game over Christmas while star receiver Michael Thomas has only played in seven games but is back and ready to go.
The Saints have suffered heartbreaking losses in each of the last three post-season campaigns with two defeats to the Vikings and that controversial pass interference decision in overtime against the Rams in 2018.
Up first for them is the Chicago Bears on Sunday and the Saints are heavy favourites to progress.
Saints running back Alvin Kamara (right) tied an NFL record with 6 touchdowns Christmas Day
3. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Consistency is key in Seattle and the Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll partnership has led the Seahawks into another post-season campaign.
They sped to a 5-0 record at the start of the season and finished with wins over the 49ers, Rams, Washington and Jets to gather momentum after a shock loss against the Giants.
DK Metcalf has established himself as a top five wide receiver this season while Wilson’s, other weapon, Tyler Lockett has been impressive once again.
Having no fans in stadiums or limited crowds has definitely benefitted away teams in the NFL but the Seahawks are 7-1 on home soil this season and not many teams leave Washington state with a ‘W’.
Up first for the Seahawks is a home game against the LA Rams, who may or may not have quarterback Jared Goff available.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has led them to yet another post-season campaign
4. Washington Football Team (7-9)
Their defensive line is one of the best in the NFL and that is what Washington’s playoff hopes really rely on this weekend.
Their offense is the lowest-scoring of the teams left in the playoffs and quarterback Alex Smith is lucky to be even playing after he suffered an awful broken leg two years ago.
Running back Antonio Gibson has been one of the standout players of the season while wide receiver Terry McLaurin is yet to hit the heights he is capable of.
Up first for them in the wild-card round is Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
Rivera’s defense will need to be on point if they are to keep all of No12’s weapons quiet on Sunday.
Antonio Gibson has been a bright spark on a frustrating season offensively for Washington
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
Brady’s transition to life in Florida has been seamless after all those years in New England.
He possesses some of the best weapons in the NFL in running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II, receivers Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin and old buddy Rob Gronkowski at tight end.
Brady is a machine when it comes to the nitty and gritty of the post-season and has led his teams to 30 playoff wins and a ridiculous six Super Bowl titles.
Head coach Bruce Arians will be hoping he has a seventh up his sleeve and there is an enticing match up with Washington in the wild-card round.
Brady has been know to get flustered when defenses get in his face and attack him and that will be exactly what Washington plan to do.
Tom Brady is hoping to lead the Buccaneers to a home Super Bowl in his first season in Tampa
6. Los Angeles Rams (10-6)
Defense has been the name of the game for 34-year-old Rams coach Sean McVay this season.
They have been phenomenal without the ball this season, sitting in the top three statistically against both the pass and run.
In defensive tackle Aaron Donald they have a monster up front and cornerback Jalen Ramsey sweeps everything up in the secondary.
There are concerns over the fitness of quarterback Goff though after he was forced to have surgery on a broken finger. He’s not been great this season but the Rams defense has ensured they don’t need too many points to win games.
Another bonus for the Rams is that they have already beaten wild-card round opponents Seattle this season, before the Seahawks got their revenge a few weeks ago.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey (top) has been crucial to the LA Rams’ incredible defense this year
7. Chicago Bears (8-8)
The Bears are benefitting from the NFL’s decision to extend the number of playoff places to 14 starting from this season.
It is hard to see how the Bears will progress past the Saints in the wild-card round but if there is one hope it is running back David Montgomery.
He has been phenomenal in the final seven weeks of the season and is more than capable of breaking through tackles, moving the chains and getting into the end zone.
Question marks still linger about the future of quarterback Mitch Trubisky and a playoff run may be the only thing that saves him now.
The Bears have actually been good on the road this season, collecting five of their eight wins away from Soldier Field. But a win in New Orleans looks a step too far.
Chicago face a tricky start to the playoffs but running back David Montgomery is a threat
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