NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Chiefs, Eagles, Bengals, and 49ers
We are on to Championship Weekend, and the San Francisco 49ers take on the Philadelphia Eagles while the Cincinnati Bengals play the Kansas City Chiefs.
And then there were four. The Divisional Round of the playoffs is in the rear view and we are looking ahead to the AFC and NFC Championships. The Philadelphia Eagles have looked like the best team in the league all season and are set for a showdown with a San Francisco 49ers who are on a 12 game winning streak heading into next week. The Chiefs survived an injury scare to their franchise quarterback and downed the Jaguars while the Bengals cruised to their second straight AFC Championship to set up a rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs.
1) Philadelphia Eagles, last week 1
Jalen Hurts shut the doubters up real fast on Saturday night as he led Philly to a 38-7 spanking over the New York Giants. If there was one question mark surrounding this stacked Philadelphia team it was surrounding their quarterback. It seems silly now doesn’t it?
The cause for concern didn’t come out of thin air. Hurts suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out for Week 16 and 17. Philly went on to lose both of those games, but the defense kept the team in both of those loses, to the Cowboys and the Saints. In times where Hurts brings calm and poise to the team late in the game, Garner Minshew couldn’t pull through late in the game.
Hurts came back from his injury in the final week of the season and went up against a Giants team that sat all of their starters with nothing to play for. Hurts was pedestrian at best, but the Eagles still jumped out to a 19-0 lead and cruised to the one seed in the NFC.
His Week 18 performance may not have convinced the world that he was back to his best, but the Divisional Round game against the Giants told us all we needed to know about the status of his shoulder. He went 16/24 for 154 yards and two TDs, and his numbers weren’t better only because the Giants couldn’t stop the Philly run game. They went for a total of 264 yards on the ground, some of those were Hurts runs where he showed that he’s ready to take hits to that sore shoulder.
The Eagles have home field against the Niners, and I think they are slight favorites against going into next week.
2) San Francisco 49ers, last week 3
Go ahead and say the Niners got lucky. Go ahead and say Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense didn’t show up. Go ahead and say Brock Purdy wasn’t ready for the spotlight. That’s not going to change the fact that San Francisco has won 12 straight games and from top to bottom, Kyle Shanahan has the most talented team remaining.
The offense wasn’t clicking like we have seen it click for the Niners for most of the season, but that’s the luxury of having a defense like Demeco Ryan’s defense. Christian McCaffery, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle may be the killers on the offense side of the ball, but the real killers are on the San Fran defense unit.
The Cowboys defense was built to stop a team like San Fran. They stuff the run, the secondary shuts down the middle of the field and they like to keep tight ends quiet. That is Brock Purdy’s bread and butter. The Cowboys defense knew that and did their best to contain him and the run game. What Dallas couldn’t do is figure out a way to score against the Niners top rated defense.
They allowed just one touchdown against the Cowboys high powered offense, and picked off Dak Prescott twice. When this team is firing on all cylinders they are almost impossible to beat, but even when they aren’t they have enough weapons to squeak out a win like they showed against Dallas.
The Eagles are a totally different story. They will have to be perfect on both sides of the ball to bring down the top seed in the NFC.
3) Cincinnati Bengals, last week 6
There was a point in the season where we doubted the Bengals. There was a point in the season where Joe Burrow looked average. There was a point where conversations about a return to the Super Bowl turned into speculation on if the Bengals were even capable of making the playoffs.
We can look back and laugh at those second guesses of Joe Burrow, Zac Taylor and the Benglas. Cincy has won 10 straight games since those concerns were a topic of conversation, and Joe Burrow looks as good if not better than he looked last season.
On Sunday, they went up against a Bills team seemed destined for the Super Bowl. They were one of the top teams in the league, and they were riding the wave of emotion ever since Damar Hamlin was rushed off the field after suffering a cardiac arrest in Week 17.
It was far from an easy match up, on the road in a snowy Buffalo, but the Bengals made it look like a walk in the park. They were up 14-0 before the Bills’ fourth offensive snap. Burrow had two touchdowns, but it was the run game that took control of the game in Orchard Park. Joe Mixon had 105 of the Bengals 172 yards on the ground and the defense stifled the Bills offense.
The Bengals have been inconsistent playing 60 minutes of football. There are times they are either terrific on offense, or their defense has to come in and save the day late. On Sunday afternoon, they showed just how dangerous of a team they can be when they play a complete game.
This is a team that seems to be getting better as the season goes on, and if they improve on their performance in the Divisional Round, they are very likely to reach the Super Bowl for the second straight year.
4) Kansas City Chiefs, last week 2
Patrick Mahomes has a severely sprained ankle. That’s the headline coming out of Saturday Night’s Divisional Round game. That’s the reason they have dropped to the fourth and final spot on this list.
Everything that the Chiefs have accomplished in the last six seasons can be attributed to the Patrick Mahomes. He has led Kansas City back to the glory days and he’s done so with his patented brand of perfectly placed passes and dazzling dances in the backfield as he improvises KC into the the end zone, but will he be able to do that this weekend on a bummed ankle?
On Saturday in Arrowhead, the Chiefs jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead with Mahomes doing what he alway does. Let’s give credit to Chad Henne for leading the longest drive of the Chiefs right after Mahomes went down with a severe ankle injury. The KC QB2 plugged in and to his team 96 yards down the field and scored a touchdown right before the half.
Mahomes was heroic in his return, although he limped through the rest of the game visibly bothered by the lingering injury. The Jags pulled within three early in the fourth quarter, but Mahomes came through in the the clutch, bummed ankle and all.
How the Bengals vs. Chiefs game plays out will depend on the health and mobility of Patrick Mahomes. If he can’t move around the pocket like he usually does the KC offense takes a huge hit. I have loved the Chiefs all season long, and would have them much higher on this list if Mahomes was 100%, but his injury makes them the most vulnerable team going into Championship Weekend.