Each week during the regular season, we compare all 32 teams using our Football Relativity tool. But now that the season has ended, we’re winnowing down our list of teams from 32 to the 12 playoff qualifiers. You can see where teams fell on last week’s comparison here; note that the 1 level in this week’s comparison is equivalent to the 4 level in last week’s, since we’ve dropped 20 teams out.
10 – New England Patriots – The Patriots finished out a 14-2 regular season by whipping the Dolphins on Sunday. They have earned home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, and they’re going to be the favorites to make the Super Bowl from the AFC.
9 – Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers – The Falcons rebounded from Monday night’s loss to the Saints by thumping the Panthers and earning the NFC’s No. 1 seed. They are a complete team that plays quite well at home. The Steelers beat the Browns handily Sunday to clinch the AFC North title and earn a first-round bye that will help injured players – especially Troy Polamalu – rest up.
8 – Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints – The Ravens and Saints are both dangerous teams that must go on the road this weekend. The Saints have a much better draw, traveling to Seattle and one of the weakest playoff teams in memory. The Saints aren’t nearly as dangerous as they were last year, in large part because they haven’t been consistent at all running the ball, but Drew Brees and the passing game should still make it at least into the second round. The Ravens have a much tougher draw, traveling to Kansas City to take on an upstart Chiefs team. Baltimore’s offense has played well, and Joe Flacco has had success going on the road in the playoffs, but the Ravens’ defense must play better than it has most of the season to stop Dwayne Bowe and his cohorts.
7 – Chicago Bears – The Bears, who won the NFC North, claimed a first-round bye. They’ll be a tough out at home in the second round.
6 – Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles – All three of these teams have potent offenses, and that makes them dangerous. The Eagles and Packers will face off in the wild-card round, and Green Bay needs to avoid the kind of shootout that they lost in Arizona in last year’s playoffs. Aaron Rodgers can put up big numbers, but our money’s on Michael Vick at home if it comes down to who scores last. But the Packers’ defense is better than the Eagles’ D, and if Clay Matthews and crew can create a turnover or two, Green Bay could escape with a road win. The Colts’ offense has been less consistent, at least until the running game sparked the last couple of weeks, but they still have more pop than the Jets, whom they host this week. Peyton Manning’s playoff record isn’t sterling, but the Jets provide a matchup he should be able to handle.
5 – Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets – The Jets won their final game, and they proved last year that they didn’t need a ton of momentum to make a playoff run. But their opener in Indianapolis is far tougher than the trip to Cincinnati last year. Worse, neither the Jets’ defense nor their running game is nearly as dangerous as it was in 2009. The Chiefs lost to Oakland in their season finale, but Kansas City has played well at home all season, and QB Matt Cassel has put up big numbers without making a lot of mistakes. If he can do that this week against the Ravens, he’ll find some soft spots in Baltimore’s secondary.
4 – none
3 – none
2 – none
1 – Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks became the first 7-9 team ever to qualify for the playoffs, and so it’s no surprise that they live several levels below the rest of the playoff field. Give them credit for beating the Rams at home to clinch a postseason berth, especially with backup QB Charlie Whitehurst playing, but 16 points won’t be nearly enough to get it done against the Saints this weekend. When Seattle has lost this season, it has lost big, and we expect another example of that trend Saturday.