One round of playoffs is in the books, and we all received the necessary reminder that nobody knows anything.
Embrace the insanity of the NFL playoffs. You'll live longer.
NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Wild Card Round Power Rankings.
Previous rank:*No. 1*
The best hope for the Titans*on Saturdaymight be a rustyRavens* ofense. When Lamar Jackson* andCo. take the field for the Divisional Round, it will be their first live action of consequence in 20 days. Still, we've seen too much greatness from Baltimore's attack to expect a letdown. The avens becam the first team in NFL history to average 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards per game. The offense feels slump-proof because of its versatility -- stop Baltimore in one area, there is an equally strong second option. And when the Raens are huming on both ends? That's when you get the blowouts that became increasingly common on their schedule this season. One situation to watch: In Week 16, MarkIngram left the tadium in a walking boot after suffering a strained calf against the [Browns(http://www.nfl.com/teams/clevelandbrowns/profile?team=CLE). Ingram is on track to return, but it remains to be seen how close he'll be to 100 percent.
Previous rank:*No. 3*
George Kittle emerged as a superstar this season, and you get the feeling a huge performance in the playoffs could turn the tight end into a household name. On Saturday, watch how Kittle affects the game even when he's not being targeted as a pass catcher. His blocking ability is inching toward legendary status -- he truly is the evolutionary answer to Rob Gronkowski (Kittle would make a better pro wrestler, too). On the other side of the ball, the 49ers could get a huge lift on defense with the potential return of Kwon Alexander. The linebacker has been out since Halloween with a pec tear, the same injury that J.J. Watt successfully returned from in the Wild Card Round. Alexander is a tackling machine in the run game, which just so happens to be the biggest weakness of San Francisco's defense. The Niners surrendered more than 100 yards on the ground in all but four games this season.
Previous rank:*No. 4*
The Chiefs will be rested and ready for their Divisional Round matchup against the Texans, but you wonder if their previous matchup with the AFC South champions lingers. Houston rolled up 472 yards of total offense in a 31-24 win at Arrowhead in Week 6. That was the low-water mark for the Kansas City defense, which steadily improved as the season wore on. Keep an eye on the trenches in this game: The Texans' offensive line struggled mightily to protect Deshaun Watson*against the Bills,surrendering seven sacks and several more pressures. Kansas City, despite an offseason personnel overhaul, knows how to get to the quarterback. Look out forFrank Clark*, the pricey offseason addition who surged after a slow start. In his final eight games of the regular season, Clark piled up seven sacks, 11 QB hits, nine tackles for loss and three passes knocked down.
Previous rank:*No. 5*
The concept of a Revenge Game is nebulous at best, but do you think Aaron Rodgers remembers the last time the Packers met the Seahawks in the playoffs? The 2014 NFC Championship Game, a.k.a. The Worst Loss In Packers History. Five years later, the rosters are vastly different (where have you gone, Brandon Bostick?) and -- perhaps most importantly -- this game will be played at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers is "tired" of talking about the Packers' clunky offense, but it remains hard to believe that Green Bay finished 18th in yards per game this season with Rodgers healthy and on the field for 16 games. We have four months of evidence suggesting that the Packers are a mediocre offensive team. That will put a mountain of pressure on Mike Pettine, whose defense might have to go on a major heater to stop the Packers from making more than a cameo in these playoffs.
Previous rank:*No. 11*
Good for Kirk Cousins. The Vikings quarterback entered Sunday's wild-card matchup against the Saints with a 6-30 career mark against teams with winning records. The Can't-Win-The-Big-One reputation was stuck to the man like Gorilla Glue, but that all fell away with two massive throws in overtime: a 43-yard rainbow strike to Adam Thielen to put the Vikings at the goal line and -- three plays later -- a perfectly placed fade ball to Kyle Rudolph for the game-winner. Hot Take Specialists can continue to move the goal posts on Cousins if they wish, but he remade his image on the strength of that scoring drive. Now the question becomes whether Cousins and the Vikings can ride that wave of euphoria to the deeper reaches of the postseason. We've seen it happen before, to lesser teams. The Vikings went from dead-men-walking to legit-champion-contenders overnight. Sports are funny like that.
Previous rank:*No. 9*
How was your weekend? Probably not as good as the one enjoyed by Mike Vrabel, whose Titans might have ended the greatest American sports dynasty of the past 50 years. They did it with a sub- Marcus Mariota level performance from Ryan Tannehill, who completed just eight passes for 72 yards in a 20-13 win over the Patriots. That's not sustainable production at the quarterback position, but the Titans have an outlier in Derrick Henry, who has morphed into peak Earl Campbell in his contract year. Against the Patriots, Henry accounted for 204 total yards and a touchdown, including a late first-half touchdown march in which he gained all 75 yards for Tennessee. Henry has an astounding 67 touches in the past two weeks, an unheard-of workload for a running back in the modern NFL. The Titans will need more balance to beat the Ravens*this Saturday*, but last Saturday will stand as a stunning display of Henry's might.
Previous rank:*No. 7*
Years ago, in an otherwise-nondescript early-summer news desk assignment for NFL.com, I interviewed Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at an NFL Play 60 event in Los Angeles. The Seahawks had just signed Matt Flynn to a significant free-agent contract, but in my conversation with Carroll, the coach was most excited talking about a rookie third-round pick named ... Russell Wilson. Carroll, even in the June preceding Wilson's rookie season, knew he had something special in the quarterback out of Wisconsin. I thought of that chat this past summer as the coach heaped weekly praise upon D.K. Metcalf, the rookie wide receiver who took a surprising fall to late in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Carroll talked Metcalf up as an instant contributor and -- sure enough -- that's exactly what Metcalf became. The rookie had a star-making moment on Sunday, going off for 7/160/1 against the Eagles. Yep, Carroll knows a star when he sees one.
Previous rank:*No. 8*
According to the analytics site numberFire, the Bills had a 91 percent chance of beating the Texans at one point on Saturday. We imagine this was around the time Buffalo's lead ballooned to 16-0 with 21 minutes to play in regulation. But then Deshaun Watson woke from his ill-timed slumber and delivered the Jordan-like performance Dabo Swinney foretold. Watson's incredible escape in overtime, the one where he magically bounced off both Siran Neal and Matt Milano before hitting Taiwan Jones for a short pass that turned into a 34-yard gain, was the equivalent of Jordan's up-and-under against the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals: a display of natural ability that was just unfair to the opposition. A Deshaun Watson vs. Patrick Mahomes playoff showdown is about as good as it gets in the NFL right now. Mahomes has the superior supporting cast, but Watson gives the Texans a puncher's chance to change everything. Just ask the Bills.
Previous rank:*No. 2*
Saints fans can be forgiven if they've spent the past two days bemoaning Kyle Rudolph's push-off, but let's not lose sight of the bigger picture: The Vikings were the better team in Sunday's wild-card shocker at the Superdome. But how? The Saints entered the playoffs averaging 40 points per game over the previous four weeks. They were dealt some untimely injuries along the defensive line, but this remained a balanced juggernaut fully capable of making a deep playoff run. Some idiots even picked them to win the whole thing. But a different, far more vulnerable version of the Saints showed up Sunday. Drew Brees never found his rhythm in the face of a meddlesome Minnesota pass rush, Michael Thomas was held in check and Alvin Kamara seemed incapable of missing defenders. Taysom Hill appeared to be the only guy who brought his "A" game. A crushing setback for a nucleus that is running out of time.
Previous rank:*No. 6*
The Patriots' season -- and maybe their dynasty -- ended on Saturday night in a 20-13 loss to the Titans that felt very familiar. This was the same type of game New England had been playing since November, when the mirage of 8-0 gave way to a colder reality: This is an old team in need of an overhaul in several key areas. Does that include quarterback? Tom Brady again looked like a veteran whose best days are behind him, but let's not lose sight of the poor job New England did in supporting the 42-year-old. Why wasn't more effort put into finding a Rob Gronkowski replacement? How was N'Keal Harry deemed a first-round talent? How much more Sony Michel do we need to see? In retrospect, the regrettable signing of Antonio Brown makes sense. The Pats realized they were in trouble ... but it was already too late. Brady's future will dominate the headlines, but that's just the start.
Previous rank:*No. 10*
That's a loss that will stick to the ribs. You just hope it doesn't have a lasting effect on Josh Allen, who looked like a little boy lost as the game started to unravel in Houston. Allen was very clearly on tilt in the second half, making a host of bad decisions that you only see when the moment swallows up a player. It's a shame, too, because the afternoon began with Allen doing some special things. He had a 42-yard runanda 16-yard touchdown reception on Buffalo's opening possession, a reminder of his elite athleticism. Looking ahead, Allen will find himself in a position very similar to Mitch Trubisky in Chicago. Year 1 showed flickers of promise; Year 2 brought individual improvement and team success. Year 3 will be when expectations skyrocket. Is Allen up for the challenge? Will he learn from Saturday's events ... or will they define him?
Previous rank:*No. 12*
Sometimes life is unfair. Carson Wentz worked his butt off to get back to the playoff stage. He put the Eagles on his back in December, willing an injury-ravaged team to an unlikely NFC East title. And then, on a single suspect hit by Seahawks edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, it was all over. Wentz suffered a concussion, his playoff debut finished after less than a quarter. Josh McCown did his best, but Philadelphia managed just 282 yards of offense in a 17-9 loss to the Seahawks. You can argue that this Eagles season was salvaged simply by them making the playoffs, but Wentz's latest injury is plain cruel. In a way, he's back where he started as he heads toward his fifth NFL season: a talented but star-crossed passer living in the shadow of Nick Foles and the greatest Eagles team of all time. It's a burden he'll carry with him for at least another year.