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  • Writer's pictureStone Lexington

Updated NFL power rankings: Legacies on the line, the playoffs have arrived


Joe Flacco
 

The dust has settled, the chickens have come home to roost, and 14 teams have handled their business (mostly) en route to the NFL playoffs. Five teams clinched the remaining postseason spots available in Week 18 (Houston, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Green Bay), and each of them is thrilled to have an opportunity to claim football’s ultimate prize.


The upcoming version of the NFL’s postseason has huge stakes, especially for the quarterbacks involved. Patrick Mahomes is seeking his third Super Bowl title in five years. Soon-to-be (probably) MVP Lamar Jackson will be one of the most scrutinized players this postseason, along with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Buffalo Bills signal-caller Josh Allen.


Who will keep the magic going when Houston Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud meets Cleveland Browns legend Joe Flacco? Will Brock Purdy prove the naysayers wrong? Does Matthew Stafford have one more run in him, and will Jalen Hurts show that the Eagles aren’t as dead as people have presumed they are?


All of these questions will be answered this postseason, as Super Wild Card Weekend begins on Saturday. Below are the teams that sit atop the latest NFL power rankings.



5


Dallas Cowboys

Seeking the franchise’s first Super Bowl title since 1995, America’s most talked-about team is back in the postseason. This season’s version of the Cowboys seems to have its best chance of capturing the Lombardi Trophy since the glory days of the ‘90s. However, there could be a glaring obstacle standing in their way en route to their desired destination — the San Francisco 49ers.


For as much success as the Cowboys have had in the regular season since Dak Prescott became the starting quarterback in the 2016 season, postseason success hasn’t come as frequently. Prescott is 2-4 in his career in the playoffs, and he’ll largely be judged by how much postseason success he has moving forward. Dallas hosts the surging Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Another early exit from the postseason by the Cowboys would be disastrous.



4


Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs (11-6) hardly resemble the team that won the Super Bowl a season ago, but it’s difficult to dismiss them because of their superstar quarterback. Technically, Patrick Mahomes had his worst season as a starting quarterback in 2023, but the Chiefs’ wide receivers have to accept some culpability for his shortcomings this season.


Mahomes is the most talented quarterback that most of us have seen, and the standard he has set seems unattainable. Mahomes and the Chiefs are attempting to reach their fourth Super Bowl in the past five seasons, a feat last accomplished by Tom Brady’s New England Patriots (2014-18). Saturday evening, the Chiefs will host a Miami Dolphins team that has struggled against teams with winning records this season. One of those teams the Dolphins struggled against was Kansas City, which defeated Miami 21-14 in Germany in Week 9. If Mahomes and the Chiefs are able to get past Miami and make another run to the Super Bowl, the gap that already exists between Mahomes and the rest of the quarterbacks in the league will look like a canyon.




3


Cleveland Browns

Entering Sunday’s contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns (11-6) had already locked up the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs. The Browns rested almost every meaningful starter and fell to the Bengals 31-14 on Sunday in Cincinnati. With the Jacksonville Jaguars’ loss and Houston Texans’ victory this weekend, the Texans claimed the AFC South title and will host the Browns in the first round of the playoffs.


It will be interesting to see if one of the best stories in the NFL continues to be told when soon-to-be 39-year-old Joe Flacco walks through the postseason door once again. Since arriving in Cleveland late in the regular season, Flacco has been the veteran leader the Browns have needed behind center, and his play has been superb. In the Wild Card round, the Browns will face another quarterback who is orchestrating one of the best symphonies in the league this season, rookie Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud. Whichever team wins the matchup between these two unlikely AFC contenders will be very dangerous moving forward.






2


San Francisco 49ers

Had Brock Purdy been healthy for the duration of the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles last season, the San Francisco 49ers (12-5) believe they would have played in last year’s Super Bowl. Nevertheless, San Francisco is once again a primary contender in the NFC with a legitimate shot to reach the Super Bowl for the second time in five seasons.


While Purdy has been spectacular most of this season, it seems like he won’t get the credit he deserves until he wins a Super Bowl. Although those expectations are unfair, especially for Mr. Irrelevant, the little success he’s seen in the postseason largely goes unrecognized. In his first-ever postseason appearance last year, Purdy won two playoff games, throwing for 546 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions combined in both games. In last season’s championship game against the Eagles, Purdy left the game early in the first quarter with an elbow injury and the 49ers never recovered. If Purdy stays healthy throughout the postseason this year, the 49ers should be a heavy favorite to play in Las Vegas in February.



1


Baltimore Ravens

With the No. 1 seed in the AFC clinched and little to play for against divisional rival Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens (13-4) floundered their way through a monsoon with many of their starters resting for the postseason. With Tyler Huntley starting in place of likely NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, the Ravens fell to the Steelers 17-10 at an extremely rainy M&T Bank Stadium.


As much as football is a team sport, all eyes will be on Lamar Jackson this postseason. As dynamic and talented as he is, his playoff record reads 1-3, and he struggled mightily in the three losses. Jackson didn’t touch postseason grass last season due to injury, but he should be as confident as ever when the Ravens host whoever their opponent is in the divisional round.








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