The 2021 NFL playoff picture is still rounding into form: a new team just took over the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the battle for wild card spots remains wide open, and we’ve still got four weeks of regular-season action to shake things up. But which current postseason candidates are best positioned to win it all? Which of the 14 teams presently set to advance to the playoffs should be favored to not only reach the Super Bowl but claim the Lombardi Trophy?
Here’s our ranking of title contenders entering Week 15:
14. Washington (6-7)
Taylor Heinicke brings the requisite spunk and even has playoff experience (remember his battle with Tom Brady in 2020), but they’re lacking depth due to COVID-19 and injuries, and they’re already too prone to costly offensive slip-ups.
13. 49ers (7-6)
Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo have what it takes to enter the dance, especially if Deebo Samuel and the run game stay busy. When push comes to shove, though, they still feel like they’re biding time for an offensive expansion in 2022.
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12. Ravens (8-5)
Never, ever say never with Lamar Jackson. But the Ravens are often saved by his athleticism, and he’s now banged up as part of a lineup already battered by injuries.
11. Titans (9-4)
If Derrick Henry actually returns in time for a playoff run, they have the potential to be the nasty, feisty spoiler of the postseason. But their “D” has been hot and cold, and Ryan Tannehill’s been far more mistake-prone this year.
10. Cowboys (9-4)
Do you really trust Dallas to go deep in January? Dak Prescott’s regression post-calf injury is also cause for concern, as is a banged-up line. But they have the play-makers on both sides of the ball to surprise.
9. Chargers (8-5)
Justin Herbert. He’s the reason they could make noise against literally any opponent. He’s also the reason they could drop out, considering how much L.A. puts on his shoulders.
8. Bills (7-6)
If the Chargers demand much of Justin Herbert, then we don’t even know how to describe the Bills, who have asked Josh Allen to dominate in the run and pass game. They can score on anyone, but they’ve yet to string together big wins since October.
7. Colts (7-6)
If they can survive their next two (vs. Patriots, at Cardinals), they’re gonna be one of the most underrated contenders in the AFC. They’re built to win January football, with Jonathan Taylor and an efficient Carson Wentz working in tandem with a stingy “D.”
6. Rams (9-4)
Matthew Stafford may well have some Lions left in him, but if the Rams get him on a good day (and maybe keep incorporating Sony Michel), they’re in good shape. The defense just needs signature moments from Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, too.
5. Cardinals (10-3)
Yes, they lost to the Rams at home in a chance to retain the NFC’s top seed. Yes, Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury need to stay sharp in crunch time. But talent-wise, they’re still absolutely loaded across the board.
4. Chiefs (9-4)
They’re riding a quiet six-game win streak even though Patrick Mahomes has only shown spurts of his MVP-caliber self. That speaks volumes about Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, which has been all over the ball for weeks.
3. Patriots (9-4)
This just feels like destiny after Tom Brady waltzed out of New England and into another ring in 2020. Mac Jones still has to prove himself on the big stage, but Bill Belichick is perfecting the art of efficient dependence on the ground and defense.
2. Buccaneers (10-3)
You’re betting against Tom Brady? The Bucs have laid a couple eggs — or threatened to — several times. Their defense has proven vulnerable. But TB12 is still at the top of his craft, and their offensive balance is as good as it gets.
1. Packers (10-3)
Would there be a more fitting cap to the Aaron Rodgers saga than a Lombardi for No. 12? He’s playing MVP ball for a team that’s still got big names on the mend, and Matt LaFleur is both underrated and motivated to get over the hump.