RotoPat Ranks The Postseason Field



Note: EPA stats are via Ben Baldwin's indispensable RBSDM.com.

14. Miami Dolphins

Point Differential: 14th
Points Per Game: 11th
Offensive EPA: 7th

Defensive EPA: 24th
Dropback EPA: 26th
Run Game EPA: 7th

The Dolphins played the Bills to a pair of regular season standstills, winning one of the games of the year in Week 3 before losing a Saturday prime time thriller in Week 15. So how are they the weakest team in the entire field? Injuries, injuries, injuries. Injuries, as in plural, at quarterback, preventing wunderkind coach Mike McDaniel from working his big-play magic with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Injury at running back to Raheem Mostert, removing the most plausible passing-game fallback plan. Injuries all along the offensive line, rendering the chances of success remote even were Mostert and Tua Tagovailoa to play. Throw in a pass defense that was leaky and shootout prone all season, and you have a team with no shot at stopping the best squad playing on Wild Card weekend.

13. Baltimore Ravens

Point Differential: 8th
Points Per Game: 19th
Offensive EPA: 17th

Defensive EPA: 14th
Dropback EPA: 22nd
Run Game EPA: 8th

The Ravens are the only surviving team with injury issues to rival Miami's, but unlike the Dolphins', they are more lived-in. The Ravens haven't gotten a full Lamar Jackson start since Week 12 but still managed to go 3-3 without him. Of course, they averaged 13 points per game in the process, with Tyler Huntley looking significantly less dangerous than he did as a 2021 spot starter. Not exactly how you want to head into the postseason, but unlike the Dolphins, the Ravens at least have a semi-plausible path to victory. This is a run-based offense healthy in the backfield, with a dual-threat quarterback bound to have a big day on the ground at some point. Perhaps everything will fall into place in the running game while the defense holds Joe Burrow in check for the third time in as many 2022-23 meetings. Burrow averaged 216 yards passing while posting a 2:1 TD:INT total across the sides' two regular season encounters. Even that likely wouldn't be enough, but the “stranger things have happened” principle applies here.

12. Seattle Seahawks

Point Differential: 12th
Points Per Game: 9th
Offensive EPA: 13th

Defensive EPA: 26th
Dropback EPA: 19th
Run Game EPA: 26th

Whereas the Dolphins and Ravens at one point had 2022 ceilings, that was never the case for the Seahawks. They ended the year how they began: As a mediocre team overachieving by being adept at winning rock fights. Two such dates with the backup-quarterback starting Jets and Rams are what got them into the tournament in the first place. The Seahawks check in ahead of the Dolphins and Ravens because, unlike their AFC counterparts, they are at least fielding an actual offense. Coach Pete Carroll has also been something of a Kyle Shanahan Achilles heel, going 8-4 against his younger, more lauded division rival. Of course, two of Shanny's victories came this season, with the Niners winning with Trey Lance/Jimmy Garoppolo under center for Game 1 and Brock Purdy for Game 2. Save for maybe quarterback, there is no position where the Seahawks have a clear advantage. Perhaps seventh-round rookie Purdy has saved his first real meltdown for the playoffs, but anything short of a five-alarm Purdy fire will leave the Seahawks with long upset odds.

11. New York Giants

Point Differential: 16th
Points Per Game: 15th
Offensive EPA: 9th

Defensive EPA: 28th
Dropback EPA: 20th
Run Game EPA: 30th

One of four playoff teams with a negative point differential, the Giants might be the postseason's ultimate “how did they get here?” squad. Daniel Jones threw 15 touchdowns in 16 starts. The defense got roasted by the run and was only marginally better against the pass. Beyond Saquon Barkley, the “weapons” are nonexistent on offense. Nevertheless, they almost beat their Wild Card opponent on Christmas Eve and lost by more than one score only three times all year. Unlike the Vikings, the Giants rarely broke bad. The problem is, they win only one kind of game: Close. The G-Men scored more than 30 points in 1-of-9 victories. That number was 4-of-13 for the Vikes. The Giants can't win a shootout. They have to bring the Vikings down to their level. If they can do so, they might sneak into the Divisional Round. That would be as far as their run goes.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars

Point Differential: 7th
Points Per Game: 10th
Offensive EPA: 8th

Defensive EPA: 12th
Dropback EPA: 17th
Run Game EPA: 6th

If ever there was a “young team.” The Jags' 9-8 division title featured losses to the Texans, Colts and Broncos — each of whom earned a top-five draft pick — and wins over the Cowboys, Lamar Jackson-led Ravens and, yes, Wild Card opponent Chargers. Hyper impressive in their Week 15 overtime victory over Dallas, they almost missed the postseason after barely outlasting Josh Dobbs' Titans in Week 18. Strong against the run, the Jags are leaky vs. the pass. The Chargers don't run, attempting the fifth fewest rushes in football. The Jags' biggest strength is ineffable: Maybe Trevor Lawrence will take over a game. Or maybe he'll miss the easiest touchdown throw in NFL history as his team barely advances. The Jags' wild hair upside is matched by their face-plant downside. Exciting, but not the stuff surprise championship runs are made of.

9. Los Angeles Chargers

Point Differential: 11th
Points Per Game: 13th
Offensive EPA: 16th

Defensive EPA: 19th
Dropback EPA: 10th
Run Game EPA: 29th

One of the year's most inscrutable squads, the banged-up Chargers foundered as Justin Herbert played through his early-season rib issue before finally surging after getting healthy(er) in December. Then came Week 18. For reasons known only to him and the great beyond, coach Brandon Staley played his starters in a meaningless finale and was rewarded with a Joey Bosa groin tweak and Mike Williams back aggravation. Although Bosa appears ready for the postseason, Williams has yet to resume practicing. Without Williams, an offense that features one of the lowest average depths of target in the entire league — only Matt Ryan and Daniel Jones averaged fewer air yards per attempt than Herbert — has no down-field passing threat to speak of and a one-dimensional attack that posted the third fewest rushing yards. Despite their strong talent base, the Chargers don't have enough ways to win to make a four-game Lombardi run.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Point Differential: 25th
Points Per Game: 25th
Offensive EPA: 20th

Defensive EPA: 11th
Dropback EPA: 12th
Run Game EPA: 12th

*Beats vaguely good team once* The Bucs are back, baby! It was hard not to feel this way if you watched Tom Brady and Mike Evans finally re-heat their down-field connection in a must-win Week 17 victory over the Panthers. Brady had by far his best game of the year, and Evans became the first player in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first nine campaigns. The explosion came after the Bucs vowed during the week to drop their unsuccessful run-game dalliance and just air it out and be aggressive. They were aided by baffling single-coverage looks from the Panthers' Jaycee Horn-less defense, but the Bucs at least proved they can still take advantage of a good situation. There won't be many of those during the NFC playoffs, including in the Wild Card Round against an inconsistent but star-laden Cowboys squad. The Bucs will essentially need to be a different team than they were for 90 percent of the regular season. With a still-strong defense and the greatest player of all time under center with Evans and Chris Godwin at his disposal, it is within the range of outcomes. It's just not the most likely result for an aging group that is lucky it played in the second worst division.

7. Minnesota Vikings

Point Differential: 15th
Points Per Game: 8th
Offensive EPA: 18th

Defensive EPA: 16th
Dropback EPA: 21st
Run Game EPA: 14th

Making the playoffs with a negative point differential isn't cool. After all, four teams did it this season. You know what is cool? Making the playoffs with a negative point differential at 13-4. What in the name of the 2010 Seahawks is going on here? The Vikings didn't lose often, but when they did, it was big. Margins of defeat of 17, 37, 11 and 24. The first two to playoff teams, the third to the 9-8 Lions and the fourth to the 8-9 Packers. When they won, it was invariably a squeaker. Kevin O'Connell's squad triumphed by more than one score twice, with the second coming against Nathan Peterman in Week 18. “Luck” comes to mind, but I suppose you have to have a certain level of competence to even be in position to get lucky. That is going to be the Vikings' Cinderella formula. Try to hang around for 60 minutes and see if they can execute better in winning time. That's a high-wire approach, but one the Vikings implemented better than anyone in 2022.

6. Dallas Cowboys

Point Differential: 5th
Points Per Game: 4th
Offensive EPA: 10th

Defensive EPA: 2nd
Dropback EPA: 4th
Run Game EPA: 4th

The Cowboys contain multitudes. They entered Week 18 with an outside shot at earning the NFC's No. 1 seed … then got annihilated by a Commanders team giving a rookie quarterback his first career start. They beat the Bengals … with Cooper Rush under center. They beat the Eagles … who were starting Gardner Minshew. They finished second in sacks but watched their quarterback lead the league in interceptions in only 12 games. They never established a consistent No. 2 pass catcher but placed two runners in the top 22 for rushing. They had an elite defense with only one truly elite player. “There's a lot going on here” might as well have been tattooed on Mike McCarthy's forehead. You look at this roster and feel like any outcome is possible. Then you replay the games in your mind and know there's no real chance they outlast the 49ers and Eagles. It's a bizarre group. It would take a bizarre January to get Dallas to Arizona.

The Big Five Super Bowl Contenders

5. Cincinnati Bengals

Point Differential: 6th
Points Per Game: 7th
Offensive EPA: 5th

Defensive EPA: 8th
Dropback EPA: 7th
Run Game EPA: 13th

The Bengals are a would-be Super Bowl favorite in search of a break or two. They certainly didn't get one in the NFL's post-Damar Hamlin seeding adventures. Someone was going to get the short end of the stick in an impossible situation. It was the Bengals, who went from having an outside shot at the No. 1 seed to almost certainly not seeing a home game beyond the Wild Card Round. It would have been a scary sight for the opposition. The Bengals have not lost since Halloween, beating the Chiefs and Bucs in that timespan. They have an elite offense and opportunistic defense, one led by the master of adjustments, Lou Anarumo. If there's a flaw, it remains the offensive line. The absorber of 41 sacks, Joe Burrow posted zero “clean sheets,” and was taken down at least twice in 11-of-16 appearances, including each of his last three. Josh Allen went down 33 times in 2022. Patrick Mahomes, 26. Making matters worse was the late-season loss of RT La'el Collins. As was the case last season, the Bengals' line is a real problem. As was the case last season, it can still be overcome by a superstar quarterback and play-making defense. The Bengals belong in a “big five” of Super Bowl contenders with Kansas City, San Francisco, Buffalo and Philadelphia.

4. San Francisco 49ers

Point Differential: 1st
Points Per Game: 6th
Offensive EPA: 4th

Defensive EPA: 1st
Dropback EPA: 2nd
Run Game EPA: 2nd

Elite defense. Abnormally efficient offense. A road-paving offensive line. Skill corps weapons for days. A mastermind head coach. The best point differential in the league. A … seventh-round rookie quarterback? The 49ers check every single playoff box except for the most important one. Except even there they kind of do? Since becoming starter in Week 13, Brock Purdy is somehow tied for the league lead in touchdown passes (13). He threw only three picks and averaged 8.1 yards per attempt in the same timespan, completing 68.3 percent of his throws. By any reasonable measure he has been an upgrade on Jimmy Garoppolo, and yet you can't help but wait for the other shoe to drop. This player can't possibly be this good for this long, right? It's not something that's possible. But again, what Purdy has already accomplished wouldn't have been deemed possible in Week 12. It has been, including against the Seahawks in Week 15. Is Purdy simply in the right place at the right time? No man has ever been where the 49ers need Purdy to take them. He would be the first rookie backup in NFL history to win a Super Bowl. It would be the impossible. Good thing Purdy has already done that.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

Point Differential: 4th
Points Per Game: 1st
Offensive EPA: 1st

Defensive EPA: 15th
Dropback EPA: 16th
Run Game EPA: 16th

The Chiefs have the playmaker in Patrick Mahomes. Do they have enough elsewhere? That's really what it boils down to for a league-average defense and high-flying offense that overawed teams during a 17-game regular season but looks easier to defend on a one-off, island basis. Are defenses really that worried about Jerick McKinnon behind Travis Kelce? Can Kadarius Toney keep his hamstrings from popping if the Chiefs finally make him a featured player? On defense, is a unit that placed second in sacks (55) but first in aerial touchdowns allowed (33) well-rounded enough to avenge regular season losses to fellow AFC superpowers Cincinnati and Buffalo? This might sound like nitpicking, but the margins are where postseason games are won. Mahomes provides a yearly championship ceiling. He might be holding up too much of the floor this winter.

2. Buffalo Bills

Point Differential: 2nd
Points Per Game: 2nd
Offensive EPA: 2nd

Defensive EPA: 7th
Dropback EPA: 11th
Run Game EPA: 5th

Although the Dolphins are a bye by another name, they are still a game the Bills have to play. A to-do list item that doesn't allow for extra rest after a draining, emotional stretch run, and another opportunity for injury while the Chiefs heal up at home. Playing in the Wild Card Round also serves as a reminder that, though the AFC Championship Game won't be in Kansas City, it also won't be in Buffalo. The Bills seemed to regard that as their final ingredient after last year's Divisional Round near-miss in Missouri. If I'm talking about off-the-field issues being the main obstacle in the Bills' way, that's because they are. In a more fair universe, Damar Hamlin is not injured, the Bills beat Cincinnati and lock into place the final piece of their AFC-winning puzzle. Instead there are extra games and road trips, placing increased scrutiny on the Bills' issues. None has been more concerning than Josh Allen's interceptions binge. Dak Prescott and Davis Mills were the only quarterbacks to throw more. That is to say nothing of the turnover-worthy plays Allen got away with. According to Pro Football Focus, only Matt Ryan, Geno Smith, Taylor Heinicke and Zach Wilson were more careless on a per-play basis. Allen's singular play-making ability is what sets the Bills' offense apart. He can't let it become what dooms it in a tournament with zero margin for error. If Allen avoids the mistakes that plagued him during the regular season, there isn't a team in football that can match the Bills' upside.

1. Philadelphia Eagles

Point Differential: 3rd
Points Per Game: 3rd
Offensive EPA: 3rd

Defensive EPA: 4th
Dropback EPA: 1st
Run Game EPA: 23rd

The last undefeated team this season, the Eagles enter the playoffs with the league's best record. Averaging 29.3 points per game until Jalen Hurts got injured in Week 15 — end-of-season leader Kansas City averaged 29.1 — the Eagles' 70 sacks were 15 more than any other defense. No. 3 in points per game, they have the league's No. 5 rushing attack by raw yardage and No. 9 passing. You name the advanced metric, they pop in it, including No. 3 by overall offensive EPA and No. 1 defensive. Stocked with difference-makers on both lines and play-makers in the offensive skill corps and secondary, the Eagles have fewer holes than any team. They can win games more than one way. We just don't know about Hurts' health and if the late-season funk brought about by his shoulder issue can be shaken off in time for the Divisional Round. If it can, the Eagles are the Super Bowl favorite, and one with an easier path than AFC rivals Cincinnati, Kansas City and Buffalo.