And Then There Were Eight: Evaluating the Remaining NFL Playoff Teams

Jack Meyer, Online Editor-in-Chief

After multiple COVID-19 scares, tight award races and jaw-dropping performances, the National Football League regular season has ended and the playoffs have arrived. Following a brand-new “Super Wild-Card Weekend” that featured 12 teams playing rather than the traditional eight, the time has come for four star-studded showdowns in this year’s American Football Conference and National Football Conference Divisional Rounds. Here are the remaining eight teams in this year’s postseason, and what it will take for them to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. 

LOS ANGELES RAMS (10-6, #6 seed in NFC)

The Los Angeles Rams have had a rather turbulent season. From starting off 5-2 and being considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders to giving the New York Jets their first win of the season, the Rams have had their fair share of ups and downs. This has been no exception for quarterback Jared Goff, who underwent surgery on his thumb near the end of the season. Goff planned to sit out in their Wild Card matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, but a head injury to backup quarterback John Wolford led to Goff playing through his injury and closing the game out. 

Despite the hardships they have faced, the Rams upset the Seahawks and move into the NFC Divisional Round. Defensive end and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald has provided steady leadership for the Rams, while rookie running back Cam Akers has broken out for two 100+ yard games in his last four outings, providing a spark to the team’s offense. The Rams have shown time and time again that they will not go down without a fight.

MVP: Aaron Donald

X-FACTOR: Cam Akers

THE PANTHER’S PREDICTION: NFC Divisional Round Loss VS Packers


CLEVELAND BROWNS (11-5, #6 seed in AFC)

Browns fans have waited for this day for a long time. After securing their first playoff berth in 18 seasons, the Browns continued to make franchise history, winning their first playoff game since the 1994 season and their first road playoff game since the 1969 season. The fact it came against their division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, simply added a cherry on top. With defensive end Myles Garrett leading the charge and one of the deadliest running attacks in the NFL with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the backfield, the Browns have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. 

Despite having 11 wins, the Browns have scored 408 points and given up 419 points this season, making them the only playoff team to have a negative point differential. They also now have to face off against the league-best Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round, where many project their postseason run may end. However, Browns have seen the odds stacked against them before, and this year they have already defied expectations. The only question now is how high they can go. 

MVP: Myles Garrett

X-FACTOR: Baker Mayfield

THE PANTHER’S PREDICTION: AFC Divisional Round Loss VS Chiefs


BALTIMORE RAVENS (11-5, #5 seed in AFC)

Coming off of a season where they held the best record in the league and their quarterback won the league MVP, many believed that the Ravens had failed to meet expectations this season after losing their division to the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the Ravens did something this season that they failed to do last year: they won a playoff game, and against the same team that sent them home last year. One year after being torched on the ground by Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, the Ravens held him to 40 yards on 18 carries to help win Lamar Jackson the first playoff game of his career. 

Although Baltimore has statistically regressed from their impressive performance last season, they still have shown they have what it takes to make some noise in the playoffs. Jackson rushed for 136 yards and one touchdown against the Titans, mirroring some of his MVP-worthy performances from 2019. Jackson cannot do it all by himself, but if the Ravens can return to their dominant play-style of yesteryear, the league may need to watch out. 

MVP: Lamar Jackson

X-FACTOR: Marquise Brown

THE PANTHER’S PREDICTION: AFC Divisional Round Loss VS Bills


TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (11-5, #5 seed in NFC)

The Buccaneers may have the highest expectations for a five seed in recent NFL history. The roster boasts nearly unlimited talent on the offensive side of the ball, with six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady at quarterback and a receiving corps that consists of Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski, who have a combined total of 16 Pro Bowl appearances between them. They have also received numerous contributions from Ronald Jones on the ground. 

The Buccaneers have also had a stellar defensive season as well, giving up the least rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in the league this season. With their strong offense and top-notch run defense, the Buccaneers could look to make their first Super Bowl run since the 2002 season, depending on how much gas the 43-year old Brady has left in the tank.

MVP: Tom Brady

X-FACTOR: Antonio Brown

THE PANTHER’S PREDICTION: NFC Championship Loss VS Packers


NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (12-4, #2 seed in NFC) 

In what is likely the final season of quarterback Drew Brees’s NFL career, the Saints have looked to make a Super Bowl run since the year began. However, New Orleans has had to overcome injuries to multiple key players, including star wide receiver Michael Thomas and Brees himself. The Saints have managed to overcome these adversities and have had some legendary performances along the way. Most notably, running back Alvin Kamara recorded a six touchdown outing against the Minnesota Vikings that set a Super Bowl-era record for most rushing touchdowns in a game. 

The Saints have come up short in the postseason in the past before, such as the infamous “pass interference no-call” game against the Los Angeles Rams in the 2018 NFC Championship, the “Minneapolis Miracle” in the 2017 NFC Divisional Round and an overtime loss in the 2019 Wild Card Round, the last two of which both came against the Vikings on the final play of the game. With a talented roster and a Wild Card victory against the Bears already behind them, the Saints hope to shake off the doubters and win their first Super Bowl since the 2009 season. 

MVP: Alvin Kamara

X-FACTOR: Michael Thomas

THE PANTHER’S PREDICTION: NFC Divisional Round Loss VS Buccaneers


BUFFALO BILLS (13-3, #2 seed in AFC)

If the Chiefs did not play in the AFC, the Bills would likely be the top dog of the conference. One season after landing in Buffalo via trade, Stefon Diggs has established himself as a top receiver in the NFL, and Josh Allen has had an MVP-caliber season so far. After starting the season 4-2, the Bills went on to finish the season with a 9-1 record, with their only loss coming off of a miraculous Hail Mary by the Arizona Cardinals. The Bills also have a notorious dedicated fan base, known as “Bills Mafia,” who have fervently supported the team despite not being allowed into Bills Stadium until the postseason. 

The Bills have also awaited this season for a long time, with their last playoff victory coming in the 1995 season. Although many saw them as favorites to win the AFC East and make the playoffs, Buffalo still has surpassed expectations and risen to new heights this season. Though they face a difficult road ahead, the Bills do have a legitimate shot this season to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history. 

MVP: Josh Allen

X-FACTOR: Devin Singletary



GREEN BAY PACKERS (13-3, #1 seed in NFC)

In April 2020, the Packers shocked the NFL world by drafting a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft. Star quarterback Aaron Rodgers responded by, as Michael Jordan might say, “taking it personal.” Rodgers has thrown for 48 touchdowns and 4299 yards, establishing himself as a clear favorite to win his third NFL MVP award. His supporting cast has also shown up in big ways this year, with wide receiver Davante Adams racking up 115 catches, 1,374 yards and a league-leading 18 touchdowns. 

Additionally, tight end Robert Tonyan had a breakout season and caught 11 touchdowns, while running back Aaron Jones put forth his second consecutive 1000 rushing yard season and chipped in with nine rushing touchdowns. Although the Chiefs remain favored by most to win this year’s Super Bowl, no one will make the mistake of counting Rodgers and the NFC-best Packers out. Especially not after what happened in last year’s draft. 

MVP: Aaron Rodgers

X-FACTOR: Aaron Jones



KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (14-2, #1 seed in AFC)

Not much needs to be said about the defending Super Bowl champs. With franchise quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading the way, the Chiefs looked virtually unstoppable in nearly every game they played in this season, with only one of their losses coming with Mahomes starting (most of the team’s starters rested in the final game of the season). With Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce both placing in the top eight in the league for both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, Kansas City’s air attack has proven nearly impossible to guard at times. 

Ever since Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid hoisted the Lombardi Trophy last February, people around the league have speculated if Kansas City can go back-to-back. However, that question has slowly turned into “can anyone even stop Kansas City?” Although this year’s NFL postseason features some very talented and hungry rosters, as of right now, it appears that the answer to that question is currently no. 

MVP: Patrick Mahomes

X-FACTOR: Tyreek Hill