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Contender or Pretender? Analyzing Every Playoff Team

How many of the NFL playoff teams are actually good enough to have a real shot at hoisting the Lombardi trophy?
Playoff Teams

The NFL playoffs are just a few weeks away, which means that 14 teams are soon going to begin battling for the right to host the Lombardi Trophy. While just under half the league makes it to the postseason, it’s no secret that some playoff teams aren’t as good as others. So, let’s take a look at the 14 teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today and see if they are legitimate contenders, or if their playoff visits will be short.

Note: This article is based on the playoff teams entering Week 14. Some of these seedings and the teams themselves will change over the next four weeks of action. 

Are These NFL Playoff Teams Contenders or Pretenders?


Miami Dolphins

If the season ended today, the Miami Dolphins would have the first seed in the AFC. Truthfully, it’s incredible what Mike McDaniel has done with this team in such a short period. Kyle Shanahan’s prodigy has turned Tua Tagovailoa into a franchise quarterback, while Tyreek Hill continues to establish himself as the most dangerous wide receiver of his era. The defense, while not extraordinary, is certainly talented enough to keep them in games, and this offense can go blow-for-blow with anyone.

Status: Contender

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are tied with the Dolphins for the best record in the AFC, but they hold the number two seed thanks to tiebreakers. Even if they’re no longer on a path for a bye week, Baltimore is one of the best playoff teams out there. This defense has proven its ability to shut down high-powered offenses, and Lamar Jackson is as good as ever in Todd Monken’s scheme. Losing Mark Andrews hurts, but this team has what it takes to make a deep run – especially if they land Zach Ertz.

Status: Contender

Kansas City Chiefs

You can never write off a team with Patrick Mahomes and an elite defense, especially when the playoffs start. However, the lack of offensive weaponry is a serious issue. Travis Kelce is still great, but he’s starting to show signs of slowing down. Meanwhile, Rashee Rice is the only wide receiver to show any signs of life this year. Mahomes can’t do it alone, so this team could still make a deep playoff run, but they’re not as dangerous as they normally are.

Status: Contender

Jacksonville Jaguars

This one depends on the status of Trevor Lawrence. The former first-overall pick suffered a sprained ankle on Monday Night Football, and while this isn’t a season-ending injury, it will probably limit him for the rest of the season. With Lawrence (presumably) playing at a fraction of his powers, Jacksonville will have to rely on a defense that just let Jake Browning put up 34 points. Unless Lawrence makes a miraculous recovery, the Jaguars season is effectively over.

Status: Pretender

Pittsburgh Steelers

How are the Pittsburgh Steelers 7-5? While the defense is good, the offense is atrocious and this team owes most of their seven wins to pure dumb luck. As it turns out, Matt Canada wasn’t the only problem with the offense, as the team is averaging 13 points per game since firing him. As a cherry on top, Kenny Pickett is injured, meaning that the fate of this team now rests in the hands of Mitchell Trubisky.

Status: Pretender

Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns have the best defense in football, and it’s a shame that they’re going to waste this much talent. At the end of the day, quarterback is the most important position in sports, and you’re not going to win anything with the trio of Dorian Thompson-Robinson, P.J. Walker, and Joe Flacco under center. Perhaps this defense can make them a playoff team, but the offense will keep them from being a contender.

Status: Pretender

Indianapolis Colts

First-year head coach Shane Steichen deserves all the credit in the world for getting the Colts this far. After the 2022 iteration of the squad finished the season with a top-five pick, Steichen has found a way to bring the 2023 Colts into the playoff picture without the help of their injured first-round pick. Unfortunately, however, there is a ceiling to just how good this team can be. Gardner Minshew is a fine bridge quarterback, but he doesn’t have the talent to go blow-for-blow with the elite playoff teams, and the defense isn’t good enough to shut down the high-powered passing attacks.

Status: Pretender


Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles are not as good as their 10-2 record suggests, but they’re still one of the best teams in the league. The roster doesn’t have any real weaknesses, Jalen Hurts is playing well, and the wide receiver duo of A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith is second to none. Dallas Goedert should be back for the playoff run, and this team could easily make their way to another Super Bowl appearance.

Status: Contender

San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers are the best team in football and, in this writer’s opinion, it’s not particularly close. When everything is clicking, this team is unstoppable. The defense is loaded with talent, Kyle Shanahan’s scheme and playmakers are second to none, and Brock Purdy is the perfect quarterback to execute this scheme. While Mr. Irrelevant is not the best quarterback in the league, he is capable of actually pushing the ball downfield and making plays on his own. That’s something that could never be said of Jimmy Garoppolo, which means the 49ers are in perfect position to finally get their first championship since the 90’s.

Status: Contender

Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions might not be as good as the 49ers and Eagles, but they have the pieces to make a run if everything goes right. Jared Goff is playing well in Ben Johnson’s scheme, and Amon-Ra St. Brown is an uncoverable machine. The biggest problem here is the defense, as the unit needs to make a few more stops per game if this team wants to make any type of noise in the playoffs.

Status: Contender

Atlanta Falcons

Abolish the NFC South. Every last one of those teams is terrible, and the Falcons shouldn’t be a playoff team just for being the shiniest turd. Whoever plays them in the postseason is effectively getting a free bye week.

Status: Pretender

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys might have a Wild Card spot, but that doesn’t mean they’re not one of the most dangerous playoff teams out there. Dak Prescott should be the MVP, CeeDee Lamb cannot be stopped, and the defense is loaded with playmakers. Thursday night showed that this team can win in a shootout, and the rest of the season proved that Dallas can win low-scoring games as well. Perhaps this is finally the year the team makes it out of the divisional round.

Status: Contender

Minnesota Vikings

Justin Jefferson is coming back, but that won’t matter if there’s no quarterback. Josh Dobbs is a fun story, but the journeyman quarterback is starting to play like a guy who’s been on three separate teams this year. Head coach Kevin O’Connell has openly contemplated a quarterback change, and you don’t need me to tell you that Nick Mullens is not franchise quarterback material.

Status: Pretender

Green Bay Packers

Jordan Love is…good? After starting the season with an uninspiring 3-6 record, Love has helped power this team to the playoffs, thanks in large part to an impressive win over the Kansas City Chiefs. This is the youngest team in the league, so even if they keep this up, they probably won’t be able to make it too far in the postseason. That being said, the future is bright for this organization.

Status: Pretender

Main Photo: Mark Hoffman – USA Today Sports


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