NFL Power Rankings, Divisional Round: Browns rise after biggest win since franchise reboot

Super Wild Card Weekend is in the rearview, and only eight teams remain alive in their quest for the Lombardi Trophy.

Yes, we've reached money time now -- and it only makes sense in this absurdly bizarre NFL season that the Cleveland Browns are one of those eight teams still Super Bowl eligible.

Here at the Power Rankings, we trim our countdown from 32 to 14 and study where the NFL's best teams stand with three weekends of football to play. Have I mentioned the Cleveland Browns fall under the category of "NFL's best teams"?

Yep, this is gonna be a weird year. Buckle up.

Rank
1
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs
14-2

Previous rank: No. 1


By the time Patrick Mahomes takes the field for Sunday's divisional round matchup against the Browns, the reigning Super Bowl MVP will have gone 20 days between live snaps in game action. That's quite the break, but we have evidence that Mahomes won't go full Big Ben when the Chiefs get back to work. Last season, Mahomes missed two weeks with a knee injury, only to return and throw for 446 yards and three touchdowns in a last-minute loss at Tennessee. Mahomes is, well, different. The Chiefs are in very good hands this weekend ... and for the next 12 to 15 years beyond that.

Rank
2
Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills
14-3

Previous rank: No. 2


The Bills won their first playoff bout in 25 years -- just barely. The Colts gave the home team all it could handle and more in a game that came down to literal inches on a pair of clutch boundary catches by Buffalo rookie Gabriel Davis and several critical failures by Indianapolis in the most crucial moments. Josh Allen exorcised the demons of last January's playoff meltdown with another star performance, and the defense got the final stop after faltering on back-to-back Colts TD drives in the fourth quarter. This wasn't as easy as it was during Buffalo's dominant close to the regular season, but things are always different when you get to this stage. "It's been a long time since Bills Mafia has been able to celebrate like this," Allen said postgame. A quarter century, to be exact. 

Rank
3
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers
13-3

Previous rank: No. 3


Aaron Rodgers hasn't just been brilliant in his 16th season. He's healthy, too. "I definitely feel as good as I've felt after a season in ... I can't even remember," Rodgers said last week. "So that's a big positive, especially at [age] 37." Add in a bye week of rest, and Rodgers represents the face of terror for opposing defenses -- even one as special as the unit the Rams will trot out this weekend. Los Angeles already had its way with one Super Bowl-winning quarterback, wiping out Russell Wilson and the Seahawks on Saturday, but Rodgers is a different beast -- especially in his building. In eight games at Lambeau this season (seven of them resulting in Green Bay wins), Rodgers completed nearly 72 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 122.4 passer rating. If the Rams can shut down Rodgers, they can stop anybody. 

Rank
4
1
Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens
12-5

Previous rank: No. 5


"It's the best run I've ever seen by a quarterback." That's how Ravens coach John Harbaugh described Lamar Jackson's 48-yard score on Sunday, the turning point in Baltimore's 20-13 win over the Titans in the latest playoff showdown between bitter AFC rivals. The Ravens trailed 10-3 as Jackson dropped back to pass on the fateful play; when he didn't spot an open receiver, he darted through the trenches and found open space. That's when Jackson reminded us what makes him unique in the sport. Five Titans defenders were in hot pursuit of Jackson at that point, approaching the QB from every angle. It didn't matter -- the reigning league MVP was simply too fast for any of them on his gallop to the end zone. Jackson did more than beat the Titans: He incinerated three years of storylines about his postseason futility.

Rank
5
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints
13-4

Previous rank: No. 4


It wasn't quite the cakewalk we all expected it to be, but the Saints handled their business against the Bears, setting up their third trip to the Divisional Playoffs in the past four seasons. Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara were all finally together on the field again, but it's become increasingly clear that a Brees-led attack doesn't pack the same punch it once did. Still, the offense remains proficient enough, and it's complemented by a defense that's as good as the Saints have ever had during Sean Payton's tenure in New Orleans. This is a well-balanced, well-coached team that has some unfinished business in Brees' final (?) season before retirement. Up next: The most hotly anticipated showdown between 40-something quarterbacks in NFL history.

Rank
6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12-5

Previous rank: No. 6


Chase Young did the talking. Tom Brady did the work. Brady was sharp in his 42nd career playoff game -- and first without Bill Belichick -- throwing for 381 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-23 win over the Washington Football Team. Brady is in a groove right now: Since Tampa Bay's Week 13 bye, the veteran has thrown 14 touchdowns against a single interception over five straight wins. Compare that to the four games before the Bucs' bye, when Brady tossed eight TDs against seven picks in a 1-3 stretch. A well-protected Brady is attacking defenses at every level, and the trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown is simply too much for opposing secondaries. Throw in that extremely flattering George Blanda side-by-side graphic, and life is pretty good for the G.O.A.T. right now. What else is new?

Rank
7
5
Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams
11-6

Previous rank: No. 12


Brandon Staley's star is on the rise. The 38-year-old defensive coordinator cooked up game plans that gave Russell Wilson fits all season long, culminating in Saturday's 30-20 win over the Seahawks at Lumen Field. The Rams held Wilson to just 174 passing yards and a 40.7 percent completion rate that tied the second-lowest mark of his career. Jalen Ramsey largely neutralized DK Metcalf, and the L.A. front four punished Wilson, who was sacked five times and pressured on 43.8 percent of his dropbacks, per NFL Research. Even more impressive? The Rams continued to harass the Seahawks QB even after Aaron Donald was forced out of the game with a rib injury in the third quarter. Donald's status -- as of Monday, he appears on track to play through torn rib cartilage -- is a major factor moving forward, but the Rams play defense better than any other team still in the hunt. They're not to be underestimated ... not anymore.

Rank
8
1
Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns
12-5

Previous rank: No. 9


It was, by far, the single biggest win for the Browns since the franchise rebooted in 1999. To go on the road -- to Pittsburgh, of all places -- with your COVID-19-stricken head coach watching from his basement, and lay a 48-37 pounding on a Steelers team that tormented you for decades? Victories don’t get much more satisfying than that. Credit the entire Browns team: Given the off-the-field challenges, it would have been totally understandable if they went out quietly on Sunday night. Instead, Cleveland used its unfortunate circumstances as motivation to shock the football world. A road trip to meet the mighty Chiefs will present an even bigger challenge, but we’re in house-money territory now. This Browns' season is already a success -- might as well keep winning.

Rank
9
1
Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans
11-6

Previous rank: No. 10


Arthur Smith might be the coordinator getting the head coach interviews, but Ravens DC Don “Wink” Martindale got the better of the Titans OC on Sunday. Tennessee's attack, a dominant force during the regular season, was reduced to rubble during a 20-13 loss in a tense wild-card showdown between rivals. Derrick Henry managed just 40 yards on 18 carries, while Ryan Tannehill struggled to find a groove, particularly with fourth-year wideout Corey Davis (2 targets, 0 catches), who was on the sideline with an injury when Tannehill threw the interception that doomed Tennessee in the final minutes. It’s an especially frustrating conclusion for the Titans because their much-maligned defense delivered a strong effort. If the offense was true to form, Tennessee would be preparing for the Divisional Playoffs. Instead, it’s wait till next year.

Rank
10
1
Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts
11-6

Previous rank: No. 11


There’s no worse feeling than seeing your season end on a day where you felt like you were the better team. The Colts showed no fear on the road against the surging Bills, but a failure to execute in the game’s biggest moments is how Indy fans will remember a painful 27-24 loss. The game turned late in the second quarter, when Frank Reich opted to go for it on 4th-and-goal with the Colts nursing a 10-7 lead. Philip Rivers overthrew Michael Pittman in the end zone by inches, Buffalo took over and marched 96 yards for the go-ahead touchdown to close the half. A 14-point swing. Reich was left to defend his aggressive play call after the game, but it came down to execution: Rivers made plenty of great throws on Saturday, but winning in January requires precision when it matters most.

Rank
11
4
Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawks
12-5

Previous rank: No. 7


How could the season end like this? With the offense hanging the defense out to dry? Russell Wilson and Co. couldn’t get anything going in Saturday’s wild-card matchup against the Rams, managing just 278 total yards and 11 first downs in a 30-20 loss -- the first home playoff defeat in the Pete Carroll era. It was a strange year in Seattle: Brian Schottenheimer’s offense -- which rampaged as an unstoppable juggernaut in the season’s first half -- began its downward trajectory right as Ken Norton Jr.’s defense started its ascent. If the two sides had found a way to get on the same page, this could have been a Super Bowl team. Instead, Seattle is one-and-done for the second time in three years.


UPDATE: The Seahawks announced Tuesday that they have parted ways with OC Schottenheimer following the team's wild-card loss.

Rank
12
4
Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
12-5

Previous rank: No. 8


It’s a game that will go down in infamy for the Steelers and their fans. Nearly everything in the 48-37 loss was bad, but what was the worst? Maurkice Pouncey’s errant snap in the opening seconds that spotted Cleveland seven points? The 28-0 first quarter? Big Ben’s first interception? The second? The third? The fourth? Mike Tomlin’s decision-making on fourth down? The defense’s disappearing act when the game got close? Options abound, and the truth hurts: A Steelers season that started with 11 consecutive wins ended with five defeats in the final six games, capped by a stunning loss to an undermanned Browns team that no longer looks like little brother. Said Tomlin: “We were a group that died on the vine.”

Rank
13
4
Washington Football Team
Washington Football Team
7-10

Previous rank: No. 17


Washington needed to be dominant in the trenches if it was to upset Tom Brady and the Buccaneers on Sunday. The fact that Tampa Bay's stout offensive line won that battle decisively, and the game still remained close into the final minutes, tells you everything you need to know about the performance of Taylor Heinicke. The backup quarterback delivered a gritty, memorable effort in the 31-23 loss, making plays with his arm and legs against a formidable Bucs defense. “I’ll take No. 4 any day of the week and twice on Sunday,” Terry McLaurin said. “That dude plays with no fear.” Heinicke isn’t Washington’s long-awaited franchise savior at quarterback, but he gave Ron Rivera something to think about as the Football Team ponders what to do next at the game’s most important position.

Rank
14
1
Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears
8-9

Previous rank: No. 15


The Bears entered Sunday’s playoff matchup against the juggernaut Saints with a razor-thin margin of error, so you kind of knew how things were going to play out once Javon Wims let that dime from Mitch Trubisky fall through his hands in the end zone. It was a brutal drop -- one of the worst you’ll see -- and it took the air out of the balloon for Chicago. Credit the Bears' defense for fighting for four quarters: How often do you see a goal-line stand for a team that’s down three scores with three minutes to play? Still, this remains a club that’s far from title contention as an offseason of necessary change beckons. Change at quarterback? Head coach? General manager? Nothing feels stable in the Windy City right now.


UPDATE: The Bears announced Wednesday that GM Ryan Pace and HC Matt Nagy will return for the 2021 season. In addition, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that DC Chuck Pagano is retiring.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter.

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