When the NFL decided to add the seventh playoff team in each conference last year, the idea was to have as many teams as possible still alive in mid-December for a chance to make the playoffs.
The plan worked.
Take a look at the battle for the final spots in both the AFC and NFC playoff chases and you will see the version of parity that Pete Rozelle always craved when he helped make this league into the power that it is now. The thinking was that with more fans still vested, the better it was for the game and for the TV ratings and the league’s coffers. With three weeks left in the regular season, there are four teams eliminated from the playoffs. That’s it.
What’s even better, and truly indicative of the parity, is that there are 22 teams with records of 7-7 or better. Only one division has been clinched with three weeks left.
It’s the way most of us like it.
It also makes doing these weekly Power Rankings a real challenge. Five of the teams in the top-10 lost last week, which has shook up the top a bit this week. The Green Bay Packers stay at the top of the rankings this week, but they had to hold off a late Baltimore rally to win Sunday — against a backup quarterback no less.
The Kansas City Chiefs are up to the second spot this week after all the losses by teams ahead of them and they have taken over the No. 1 seed in the AFC. After all the talk about how the Chiefs were in trouble earlier in the season, they’ve righted things in a big way. At 10-4, they have looked like a real Super Bowl contender the past month of the season.
With three weeks left, however, things can change in a hurry. Just ask the Arizona Cardinals. Ten days ago they were in the top spot in the NFC. Now after two straight losses, with a bad one this past Sunday to the Lions, they are now staring at the possibility they will be a wild card team.
The league is as wide open as it’s ever been heading down the stretch. That’s what’s the NFL wants most, fans engaged right to the end. It looks like they have their wish.
It wasn’t easy at Baltimore, but they found a way. They have a nice hold of the top spot in the NFC. The defense didn’t play well against Baltimore.
They have ripped off seven consecutive victories to put that early-season play well behind them. The defense has been outstanding.
The offense still didn’t click against the Giants, but the running game did. They still need to get Dak Prescott going.
It wasn’t easy against the Seahawks, but they found a way. The defense came up big in that game. Can Cooper Kupp be stopped?
They never have answers for New Orleans with Tom Brady. The receiver injuries are concerning going forward, especially losing Chris Godwin for the year.
They rallied to make it interesting at Indianapolis. They now essentially play for the AFC East crown against Buffalo.
They beat up the Panthers, but their division-winning hopes will be decided by this week’s game at New England. Lose, and it’s a wild-card road.
In two weeks, they’ve gone from the top seed in the NFC to a team searching for answers. Losing to the Lions the way they did isn’t a good look for a playoff team.
They just don’t score enough with all the offensive injuries. The good news is they might have Derrick Henry back for the playoffs.
That was a tough loss to the Chiefs, but they are still have the look of a playoff team. Justin Herbert is special.
That was a big-time victory on the road against Denver, thanks to the defense. Now they face a key division game against the Ravens.
They showed who they were in beating the Patriots Saturday night, which is a physical, tough, run-based team. They will need more from Carson Wentz, though.
Playing the way they did against Green Bay without Lamar Jackson and so many others is a testament to this group. Tyler Huntley played a heck of a game, but they need Jackson back this week against the Bengals.
It’s time to give Jimmy Garoppolo credit for playing good football. He makes this team dangerous if they do get into the playoffs.
They kept their playoff hopes alive by beating the Titans. They face an enormous game this week against the Chiefs in Kansas City.
Winning at Cleveland keeps their playoff hopes alive. That was a big-boy drive by Derek Carr to lead team to the game-winning field goal.
Losing to the Bengals and then having Teddy Bridgewater go down was a tough day for Denver. Their playoff hopes are slipping away.
Competing against the Raiders with a third-string quarterback and so many players out because of Covid is a good sign. But they might have to win out to get into the playoffs.
They kept the Bears around Monday night, but found a way. They face a tough closing stretch of the season to try and lock up a playoff berth.
With six straight victories, they are in the playoff hunt. They made it interesting against the Jets and have to play better than they did in that game this week against the Saints.
Their running game is going wild right now and it has them back in the playoff race. Jalen Hurts played well against Washington.
That was an impressive showing at Tampa in beating the Bucs without Sean Payton. That defense was sensational.
Trying to win a division game on the road is tough any time, but it’s almost impossible with a quarterback picked up off the street. That’s what Washington faced Tuesday and their playoff chances are almost gone because of it.
So much for making a playoff run. Losing to the Rams Tuesday night pretty much ends their chances. What changes are coming now?
Their playoff hopes were all but dashed in losing to the 49ers. They have to get better in a lot of spots heading into next season.
They just don’t do enough on offense. The offseason should be spent fixing the line.
Justin Fields did some things against the Vikings that offer encouragement for the future. He’ll be doing it for a new coach next year. They need to hire a guy to develop him.
They have to be encouraged by the play of Davis Mills at quarterback the past two weeks. He’s making things interesting in terms of a future decision.
They have won two games, tied one, and were in a bunch more. That’s a good job of coaching by Dan Campbell. Beating Arizona the way they did was impressive.
The injuries have decimated this group this season, but they haven’t played very well either. They will make changes. Count on it.
They competed at Miami, but they are too limited in terms of what Zach Wilson can do. The defense has issues as well.
So it didn’t matter who was coach of this team. This year is a complete waste in terms of the growth of Trevor Lawrence. The next coach has to be all about him.