Dolphins Sneak in, Bears Get First Pick, and the 49ers Dominate Again

The final NFL Power Rankings are here ahead of Wild Card Weekend. For the teams missing out on the NFL playoffs, we look into their future. What work needs done to rebuild their front offices or rosters? For teams making the playoffs, what kind of form are they bringing to the dance? And what impact have injuries had on various teams?

Wild Card Weekend NFL Power Rankings: Tier 5 | Full Rebuild Mode (Need QB)

32. Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts have a ton of questions to answer in the offseason. While Chicago was a worse football team, doing more than enough to earn the top pick in the draft, they land in a tier higher. The season is over for teams in Tiers 3, 4, and 5, and the Bears appear to have their franchise QB in hand already.

Jim Irsay has at least publicly given Chris Ballard a vote of confidence, but Ballard absolutely must hit on whatever quarterback he drafts. They must also nail their head coaching hire, because Ballard won’t get a chance to help hire another one.

31. Houston Texans

Lovie Smith has reportedly met with the powers that be concerning his future as the Texans’ head coach, which most likely means he’ll be the team’s second straight one-and-done hire. If that’s the case, he gave the front office a flip of the bird with the final touchdown drive and two-point conversion that won the game and pulled the Texans away from the top pick.

Houston has played some good football over the past five weeks. They played Dallas and Kansas City well before beating the Titans. They were blown out by Jacksonville but then came away with their second win in three weeks to end the season.

Houston has some young defensive talent and a talented running back. A franchise-level passer would add some intrigue to a lifeless franchise.

30. Atlanta Falcons

Without being in the building, it’s impossible to know how the front office feels about Desmond Ridder. However, the draft capital Atlanta used on him should not keep them from drafting a QB prospect they deem is more talented. Atlanta doesn’t need to draft a QB, but they do need to keep their options open.

Atlanta hung in the NFC South’s putrid division race for a long time, but their roster is still some ways away from being a contender, even in a lackluster division. They still need to add pieces defensively, although it appears Arthur Smith can create a rushing attack out of thin air, which will only help when they do finally receive competent QB play.

29. Las Vegas Raiders

The only team more poorly constructed in the NFL might be the Arizona Cardinals. However, the Cardinals have their franchise quarterback, and the Raiders are about to part ways with theirs. The Raiders’ offensive line is a horror show. They’ve spent money on high-profile talents, but have a frightening lack of depth and role players.

MORE: Will the Raiders Trade Derek Carr?

Their defense needs a complete rebuild on the back end if they want to run Patrick Graham’s defense. However, Las Vegas isn’t short on cap space heading into the offseason, and if Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels play their cards right, they could build the roster with some core role players.

28. New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints are in a difficult spot heading into 2023. They’re deep in the salary cap hole with no quarterback of the future within their sight. Their defensive unit turned things around in a big way down the stretch this season, but they never had the consistent offensive output to truly engage with the Buccaneers for the division.

With Sean Payton looking to return to coaching, it will be fascinating to see whether he returns to coach in New Orleans, and if not, what kind of compensation the Saints can receive for him. With so much uncertainty surrounding an aging roster, it’s tough to imagine Payton would want to leave retirement for a rebuild.

Tier 4 | Rebuild Mode (Have QB)

27. Chicago Bears

The Bears are set up well for the future. They have the first pick in the draft and nearly $120 million in cap space to improve their roster. While Chicago’s passing attack still leaves much to be desired, and Justin Fields must continue to grow as a passer, he’s already one of the most exciting players in the NFL.

With $100 million and an offseason for Luke Getsy to create a rushing attack to maximize every piece of it, Chicago could see a Jaguars-esque elevation in wins and losses next season should Fields grow along with better-surrounding talent.

With the top pick, many will argue Chicago could, and maybe should, draft a QB. And the Bears would be smart to leak that they’re leaning that direction to add to the value of that first overall pick.

26. Arizona Cardinals

Few teams are in worse condition heading into 2023. Kyler Murray will miss most, if not all, of next season after tearing his ACL. Arizona will likely be looking for a new head coach and general manager, and their entire roster is in shambles outside of wide receiver.

The Cardinals are losing their best defensive lineman, leaving only Budda Baker as a legitimate difference-maker on the defensive side of the ball. Whoever is hired for the job should have the green light for a long-term rebuild, which could relieve some of the stress of trying to do too much too quickly, and making rash decisions along the way.

25. Denver Broncos

With the way that Russell Wilson played in 2022, many might question whether the Broncos have their QB, but there’s no denying it. Wilson’s contract makes him the Broncos’ QB, and Denver must do everything within their power to create an environment where Wilson can succeed.

Defense can be finicky year-over-year, but Denver has a lot of quality pieces that are young and under contract on the defensive side. Patrick Surtain II is probably the best cornerback in the NFL, and they’ve found some pass-rushing firepower with a few names making a consistent difference in that arena.

Nailing their coaching hire is imperative, and it sounds like Denver knows that, considering they are reportedly targeting Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh.

24. Tennessee Titans

As Kevin Byard put frankly, “A lot of questions have to be answered with this franchise, so we’ll see what happens over the next few months.”

There is an out on Ryan Tannehill’s contract that would free up quite a bit of money against Tennessee’s cap, making his future unknown as we head into the offseason. However, since he is under contract, the Titans remain in the fourth tier. They also have no indication that Malik Willis is ready to be a starter, or even play consistent snaps, at the NFL level.

But Tennessee’s offensive woes were less about QB play and more about the crumbling surroundings around the quarterback. They need help on the outside at receiver, and their offensive line disintegrated, hurting both the run game and the passing attack. Todd Downing hasn’t proven to be a positive force for the offense, either.

A defense that started strong fell apart as injuries mounted. There are many fine pieces on the defense, but the Titans need to remain healthy, and the new general manager must not whiff in free agency the way Jon Robinson did.

23. Los Angeles Rams

For now, the Los Angeles Rams remain at the top of the fourth tier, but there’s no guarantee at the moment that Sean McVay will return for his seventh NFL season as a head coach. If he doesn’t, there’s probably a way Los Angeles can give a playoff push one last heave before blowing things up to rebuild in 2024.

But McVay isn’t the only name that might not return next season. Aaron Donald has already flirted with retirement, and he can’t have a very pleasant taste in his mouth with the way 2022 went after winning the Super Bowl a season ago. Getting Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp back healthy will be important, but the Rams must find a way to revamp the offensive line and add depth at receiver.

Tier 3 | Close

22. Cleveland Browns

With the way the Browns’ season played out, they shouldn’t feel any buyer’s remorse over Deshaun Watson’s contract yet. With the way Jacoby Brissett played to begin the season, one would have assumed the Browns were in a good spot record-wise upon Watson’s return. It was their defense that let them down this season.

But that doesn’t mean Cleveland fans can’t feel a bit queasy about what they witnessed from Watson in his six starts. There’s no sugar-coating it. Watson was not good. Not playing for 700 days definitely showed, but there was also very little tangible improvement from week to week.

But it’s still early in the process, and he will have his first full offseason in three years, which should provide hope for the Browns’ offense in 2023.

21. Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers showed marked improvement under Steve Wilks. In 12 games as the Panthers’ head coach, Carolina won six, despite trading away their best player and starting many underwhelming quarterbacks.

MORE: 5 Panthers Head Coach Candidates

Carolina still doesn’t have their franchise QB, but they also don’t need any sort of rebuild. They need to get their coaching hire right. That could be Wilks or someone else, but they have a decent roster aside from the missing piece at the most important position in sports.

If the Panthers get that right, they could end up being the NFC South favorite heading into 2023.

20. Washington Commanders

The Commanders put together a surprisingly good season, all things considered. There was a ridiculous amount of turmoil surrounding the franchise, and their gamble on Carson Wentz paid like a losing betting slip.

Still, the Commanders were competitive up until Week 17, and their talented defense finally played up to the standard we’d set for them.

In the end, Washington couldn’t get the quarterback play to elevate their offense to a playoff level. Martin Mayhew and the coaching staff will be tasked with finding a suitable player at quarterback during the offseason. The Commanders have the pieces in place to be competitive, should they figure out that position.

19. New York Jets

Speaking of figuring out who will play QB in 2023, the New York Jets, ladies and gentlemen!

Zach Wilson has been the farthest thing from “it,” and Mike White is certainly not the answer. Jimmy Garoppolo makes all the sense in the world for New York while they slowly try to find their long-term future. He’s been around Robert Saleh, and Mike LaFleur was his passing game coordinator in San Francisco for multiple seasons.

New York is very close. Their defense is incredibly talented, and they have more than enough pieces on offense to be trouble in the AFC East. They simply need better QB play, and Garoppolo could bring them that.

18. New England Patriots

Bill Belichick was arguably the best and worst thing for the New England Patriots in 2022. Once again, the Patriots’ defense overachieved relative to their talent on paper, finishing inside the top 10, despite allowing yet another ridiculously talented cornerback to walk. While New England could still use another outside cornerback, they have plenty of pieces elsewhere to replicate their defensive production in 2023.

But making Matt Patricia the offensive coordinator was never a good idea, and their lackluster offense is all the evidence needed to make a change before 2023. Bill O’Brien has been linked to the job, which makes a ton of sense, considering he spent a chunk of his coaching career in New England and has recently been with Nick Saban in Alabama.

The Patriots also need more from Mac Jones. To compete with the Bills’ and Dolphins’ high-powered offensive attacks, they’ll need to find ways to make Jones as efficient as possible.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers

It makes no sense that the Pittsburgh Steelers finished with a winning record in 2022, but it’s going to be damned difficult to predict they’ll break Mike Tomlin’s streak next season, considering the teams he’s fielded over the past two seasons.

At this point, it feels foolish to write off the Steelers. Even though many believed they needed to rebuild, Pittsburgh’s organizational culture appears to be unmatched. The United States has landed on the moon more often than the Steelers have changed coaches since 1969. NASA stopped the program in 1972.

That type of continuity is unheard of. And, amazingly, they’ve struck gold with each coach in the past five decades.

16. Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions were so close, but they couldn’t quite sneak their way into the playoffs. What Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell are building looks on a path that the Lions have never seen before. They’ve built the trenches on offense and defense and are very close to building a legitimate contender in the NFC North.

With the sixth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them draft their QB of the future. Jared Goff played well in 2022, but he’s not the Lions’ future at the position. This league requires a level of playmaking outside of structure that Goff simply cannot bring.

If Detroit can improve on the defensive side of the ball heading into 2023, they could be a real problem in the NFC.

Wild Card Weekend NFL Power Rankings: Tier 2 | The Playoff Field

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers’ first unit wasn’t incredibly sharp against the Falcons on Sunday. However, they were locked into ther fourth seed and were without Mike Evans, who left the game very early with an illness. The regular season is unimportant for Tom Brady, and his performance a week ago against Carolina was a glimpse of what he can still bring in a 60-minute contest when he’s locked in.

Tampa Bay beat Dallas in Week 1, and has to feel good after the Cowboys looked sloppy against Washington in Week 18 as they battled for the NFC East crown. There’s no doubt Tampa Bay will try to find ways to bully Trayvon Mullen or Nahshon Wright, opposite of Trevon Diggs.

14. Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks weren’t supposed to be here. They weren’t supposed to be on the cusp of a playoff birth in 2022. They were supposed to be picking inside of the top five, with their own first-round pick. They still get a very high pick, but it comes from Denver instead.

However, the Seahawks’ fate is up to the Packers and Lions on Sunday Night Football. If Detroit can beat Aaron Rodgers, Seattle will be the seventh seed in the NFC playoffs. If Green Bay wins, Seattle narrowly misses out on the dance.

13. Miami Dolphins

Things are not pretty in Miami. Without Tua Tagovailoa, their offense has been non-existent. Injuries on the offensive line haven’t helped. While their defense has played well over the past two weeks, those performances have come against underwhelming offenses.

MORE: Miami Dolphins’ Plan For Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater Ahead of Bills Playoff Game

Facing Buffalo is not what the Dolphins wanted to see. Tagovailoa’s long-term health is more important than a playoff game. However, we are naive to think that the Dolphins would keep him off the field should he clear concussion protocol.

Without Tua, Miami has a microscopic chance of success against the Bills on the road.

12. Baltimore Ravens

Like the Dolphins, the Ravens are walking wounded into the playoffs. Baltimore’s receiving corps may as well not exist at this point, and there’s no guarantee we’ll even see Lamar Jackson in the playoffs, which would almost certainly end the team’s season in the Wild Card round.

With Jackson on the field, anything is possible. The Ravens defense has played well in the back half of the season, and Jackson is arguably the most dynamic player in the NFL when healthy. However, the Cincinnati Bengals have a case as the best team in the NFL since Week 3.

11. Green Bay Packers

The Packers have a simple assignment on Sunday Night Football. If they beat the Lions, they are in. Green Bay has come roaring back from 4-8 to 8-8 and in control of their own playoff destiny.

10. New York Giants

The Giants clinched a playoff berth last week and decided to bench their most important starters in Week 18. New York has been unimpressive for a playoff team by most analytical measures. After starting the season 6-1, they finished it 3-5-1 in games they actually attempted to win.

Daniel Jones has earned the right to another season, although it would behoove the Giants to get a long-term deal done with him to give them some more financial freedom than the franchise tag would. Brian Daboll hasn’t turned Jones into Josh Allen yet, but Jones did show marked improvement this season, particularly in taking care of the ball and using his legs as a weapon.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars were always the best team in the AFC South. It just took them some time to figure out how to win. Doug Pederson has changed the culture in Jacksonville immediately. Trevor Lawrence has also shown tremendous growth under Pederson, which is exactly what Shad Khan and Trent Baalke banked on when they hired him.

The Jaguars willl host the Chargers at home on Wild Card Weekend of the NFL playoffs, pitting two of the more physically gifted passers in the NFL against one another. In the end, the game will come down to whether Jacksonville’s defense can hold up and whether they can take care of the ball in the red zone. They have what it takes to make for one of the better matchups of the weekend.

8. Los Angeles Chargers

It was shocking to see the Chargers’ most important players playing throughout the course of a game that had no bearing on their playoff seeding. What benefit did playing them have that would outweigh the risk of injury to Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, or Keenan Allen?

It doesn’t help that they didn’t play particularly well, either. A lackluster performance against the Broncos doesn’t exactly inspire confidence heading into their matchup against the Jaguars. The Chargers haven’t ran the ball much this season, and they haven’t been particularly good at it when they have. Jacksonville has defended the run well this season, which could make the Chargers one-dimensional in their matchup.

7. Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings took care of business against the Bears, which gave the Vikings’ starters a chance to hang out on the sideline and relax.

Minnesota gets to look in the mirror on Wild Card Weekend. The Giants have been a watered-down version of the Vikings all season. Both teams have achieved a lot in the win column but have done so in less-than-dominating fashion.

After their Week 17 drubbing against the Packers, the Vikings can breathe a sigh of relief that San Francisco took care of business against the Cardinals. Minnesota can feel good about their chances against New York.

6. Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys played against the Washington Commanders as if they didn’t want to have the one or two seed in the NFC. Dallas’ worst games of the season come at each bookend, and that won’t give an already pessimistic fanbase any hope for a legitimate playoff run. But at least the fans won’t have to see Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the playoffs, either.

Instead, they’ll get the greatest quarterback of all time, who two weeks ago had by far his best performance of the season. Mike Evans went berserk, and the Cowboys will trot out Trayvon Mullen opposite of Trevon Diggs. Dallas will need a much cleaner offensive performance if they want any chance to beat Tampa Bay.

Tier 1 | Conference Championship Contenders

5. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals didn’t play their cleanest contest against the Baltimore Ravens, but it was clear that they were the better team. Baltimore’s defense hung in there despite being overmatched at cornerback. Cincinnati scored off the first two Ravens turnovers, and that was enough.

Cincinnati has been one of the best teams in the league since Week 3, when they started getting their offense together. Joe Burrow’s growth has been outstanding to see, and the Bengals’ run game has been much more efficient than it was a season ago.

Simply put, the Bengals are a better team than they were a season ago when they made an improbable Super Bowl run.

4. Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills probably have a higher ceiling than any team in the NFL, but they also have larger ebbs and flows in their play. Their secondary isn’t playing as well as we’re accustomed to seeing when everyone is healthy, which could make their playoff run more difficult.

Josh Allen is outrageous, and having Stefon Diggs around certainly doesn’t hurt. If Gabe Davis gets back to his more consistent self, the sky is the limit for this offense. The only thing that can really stop the Buffalo offense is themselves. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that happen in stretches this season, and they won’t be able to beat the Bengals and the Chiefs playing sloppily.

3. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are the top seed in the NFC and were the best team in the NFL for most of the season. However, it’s impossible to argue with the form San Francisco is entering the playoffs with.

This week, Jalen Hurts returned from injury in a game that Philadelphia needed to secure the top seed, but he wasn’t particularly sharp. Getting the bye is a massive win for Philadelphia, who can now allow Hurts’ shoulder another week to recover, which he’ll need, given his physical play style.

All things considered, the Eagles and 49ers are clearly the cream of the NFC crop and should meet one another in the NFC Championship Game.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have the best player on the planet. Honestly, it feels weird to believe that a team starting Brock Purdy is better than one starting Patrick Mahomes, but that is a testament to how good Purdy has been and how insanely talented and well-coached the 49ers are offensively and defensively.

Mahomes has been the league MVP this season. Many believed we’d see a statistical regression from him after losing Tyreek Hill, but that was far from the case. In fact, the Chiefs’ 0.274 dropback EPA and 0.179 overall EPA were both improvements from 2021.

Kansas City’s defense is also peaking at the right time. It’s still not as good as Buffalo or Cincinnati, but as good as those offenses are, they don’t have Mahomes and Andy Reid. And they have to go through Kansas City to make it to Arizona.

1. San Francisco 49ers

It’s hard to put into words how impressive the San Francisco 49ers have been during their 10-game winning streak. They have completely dominated opponents in most games, and somehow got even better offensively when they were forced onto QB3.

Mr. Irrelevant has proven to be the exact opposite. He’s taken the 49ers’ passing attack to new heights. Meanwhile, their defense has been the league standard as well.

The 49ers’ 49.9% DVOA since Week 10 is 20% higher than the Chiefs, who are second. It’s natural to keep waiting for the Purdy ball to drop, and to see the last pick in the draft come crashing down to earth. But it doesn’t seem like that’s even in the realm of possibility, given the way he’s played.

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