Pretenders and Contenders: AFC Edition
Now that we are heading into the playoffs, I determined which teams can be seen as a threat to win the Super Bowl, and which teams are just playing dress-up and pretending to compete. This also serves as a power rankings list for AFC playoff teams to indicate where each team lands overall.
7. Indianapolis Colts
- Record: 11-5
- Wild Card Matchup: @ Bills, Saturday 12:05 PM
The Colts have been one of the quieter 11-win teams the league has seen in recent memory. With a solid defense, great run game, and veteran QB, they have managed to squeak out a multitude of close games throughout the year. Unfortunately for them, they drew a first-round matchup against the hottest team in the league in the scorching-hot Buffalo Bills. It is almost a guarantee that their season will come to an end this Saturday, but don't get it confused—the Colts were a very competitive team throughout the 2020 season.
6. Cleveland Browns
- Record: 11-5
- Wild Card Matchup: @ Steelers, Sunday 7:15 PM
When I was first laying the groundwork for this article, I originally had the Browns at the number four spot. That was until a poor performance in which they nearly blew their chances at the playoffs. On Sunday, the Browns struggled against a Mason Rudolph-led Steelers team, only winning by a near margin of two points. While I love the Browns and believe that they can cause problems with their electric run-game, this past week proved to be of concern for them. I would also like to congratulate the Browns organization for ending their 18-year playoff drought. Let's see if they can manage to extend it by a week with an upset against a division foe—the fully-loaded Pittsburgh Steelers.
5. Tennessee Titans
- Record: 11-5
- Wild Card Matchup: vs Ravens, Sunday 12:05 PM
Headlined by Derrick Henry, this is a Titans team that has somehow managed to win games despite their horrid defense. The 2,000-yard rusher has paced an offense that has had to outmatch their opponents in nearly every game this year. Their offense ranks fifth in total yards and second in rushing yards. On the flip-side, the Titans' defense ranks fifth in yards given up and 10th in points allowed. While they may be able to crank out a few wins on the back of Derrick Henry, their defense is what's holding them back from seriously contending for a Super Bowl. Once they play a top-tier offense, such as the Bills, Ravens, or Chiefs, they will struggle mightily. It's a shame, because when paired with an impressive defense, a Derrick Henry led offense is nearly impossible to defeat. There's always next year, right?
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
- Record: 12-4
- Wild Card Matchup: vs Browns, Sunday 7:15 PM
I was one of the Steelers' biggest critics during this season. In my opinion, they were very overrated and labeled as something they were not. Are they a good football team? Yes. Do they have a stellar defense? Yes. But should they have been labeled as a Super Bowl team? NO. I understand the argument here, but during the middle of the season, they lost linebacker Devin Bush and edge rusher Bud Dupree. When you pair their losses on defense with their newfound inability to run the ball, it makes for a disaster, which we saw during the latter half of the year. The Steelers are a complete "wildcard" in these AFC playoffs and can make it as far as the conference championship game, but they are no real threat to bring the Lombardi trophy back to Pittsburgh; I would be shocked if they beat the Chiefs.
3. Baltimore Ravens
- Record: 11-5
- Wild Card Matchup Matchup: @ Titans, Sunday 12:05 PM
The Ravens showed some major struggles throughout the season, but they managed to figure it out just in time for the playoffs. Aside from the Browns, their five-game win streak included all teams below .500; however, it gave the Ravens the confidence they needed heading into the playoffs. Lamar Jackson is still the reigning MVP and is capable of willing his team to victory on any given Sunday. I know that I may catch some flack for having the Ravens above the Steelers, but truth be told—I fully believe the Ravens would advance if they met each other in the playoffs.
2. Buffalo Bills
- Record: 13-3
- Wild Card Matchup: vs Colts, Saturday 12:05 PM
The Bills are the hottest team in the entire NFL right now, and that is largely thanks to a breakout year from QB Josh Allen. A hot start was matched by an even hotter finish for the third-year QB out of Wyoming, as we saw him lead this Bills team to their first division championship in 25 years. Josh Allen has entered the same stratosphere as Mahomes, and he looks to further prove his worth this postseason. This is another team that made the jump from pretender to contender recently. With an above-average defense and Josh Allen playing as a top-three QB, the Bills can make some noise and potentially knock off the Chiefs in Arrowhead. As a football fan, I would be disappointed with anything other than a Chiefs vs Bills AFC Championship game. I'm all for a Josh Allen-led Bills team representing the AFC come February.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
- Record: 14-2
- Wild Card Matchup: BYE
I mean, is this even a question? The Chiefs have been rolling this year and look even better than their former Super Bowl selves. They enter the playoffs as the Super Bowl favorites, and I don't see any reason why that shouldn't become a reality. The trio of Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce is near impossible to stop; it will be too much to handle for opposing defenses. In fact, if the Chiefs do end up losing, it will be because they beat themselves rather than another team outplaying them—a true rarity. With a bye week and home-field advantage throughout the entirety of the playoffs, the Chiefs going for a repeat seems all too likely. I don't just love the Chiefs to repeat—I expect it to happen.