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What If The NFL Playoffs Were Like The CFP?

  • The Draft Network
  • November 15, 2021
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Week 10 has nearly reached its conclusion and the NFL playoff picture appears to be as jumbled as ever before. The NFC currently houses four two-loss teams and all of them appear capable of representing the conference in Super Bowl LVI. Things are less muddied in the AFC, where the Tennessee Titans hold a two-game advantage for the top spot but things remain ever-competitive in a conference that appears to be less top-heavy than its counterpart.

The standings will certainly sort themselves out, as each passing week delivers more clarity. The league has delivered great parity thus far and that led us to ponder the intriguing scenario you see before you: What would the NFL playoff field look like if it was chosen by a selection committee? 

The College Football Playoff format has received plenty of criticism, and deservingly so, but it sure does make for a fun and healthy debate. We embarked on this journey by selecting six teams in our imagined streamlined format, ranked in order from one to six with the top four representing the ‘NFL Playoff’.

No. 1 - Arizona Cardinals (8-2)

We fought the temptation and refused to allow recency bias to creep into our evaluation. Sunday's blowout loss to a mediocre Carolina Panthers team was utterly and undeniably disappointing, but we're choosing to give the Cardinals a pass. They entered the contest without their MVP-candidate quarterback Kyler Murray, star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and top running back Chase Edmonds, all of which have avoided serious injury and will make their returns in the coming weeks.

The NFL's lone undefeated team just weeks ago, the Cardinals own two incredibly impressive convincing victories over elite teams such as the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans this season. The margin for error is getting smaller, and these rankings could look differently if we revisit them in a few weeks' time, but the Cardinals deserve the No. 1 spot as things stand.

No. 2 - Tennessee Titans (8-2)

Winners of six consecutive contests, the Titans are the hottest team in all of professional football. Sunday's narrow victory over the New Orleans Saints brought Tennessee's record to an astounding 7-0 against clubs that qualified for the 2020 playoffs. Recent wins over the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Rams strongly indicate that Mike Vrabel's Titans are more than deserving of this spot.

A lowly Week 4 defeat at the hands of the awful New York Jets can't be ignored, but Tennessee's flawless record against last season's playoff competitors aids them in the strength of schedule category. No team played a more difficult schedule throughout the first nine contests. They should get Derrick Henry and Julio Jones back in time for the postseason, a boost that should only increase their chances of making noise in January and February.

No. 3 - Green Bay Packers (8-2)

Winners in eight of their last nine contests, the 2021 iteration of the Green Bay Packers are once again considered contenders in a difficult NFC. Sunday's shutout victory over the returning Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks was incredibly noteworthy and impressive. The Packers have rounded off several significant victories throughout the first 10 contests. Their Week 8 win over the previously undefeated Arizona Cardinals was remarkable, given how short-handed they were due to COVID-related protocols.

A confusing Week 1 blowout loss to the Saints mustn't be forgotten, but the Packers followed that with seven consecutive victories. A narrow Week 9 defeat at the hands of the surging Chiefs can be relatively ignored given Aaron Rodgers' absence. The Packers will make a strong case for the top seed before the season reaches its conclusion.

No. 4 - Dallas Cowboys (7-2)

If these rankings truly fluctuated on a weekly basis, the Dallas Cowboys would make a strong claim for the top spot. Winners by a stunning margin of 40 points on Sunday, the Cowboys bounced back from a shockingly disappointing Week 9 defeat in a rather impressive fashion.

The star-studded Cowboys are built for playoff football. Currently averaging a league-high 433.9 yards of total offense per contest, Dallas' unstoppable offense places an unwavering amount of stress on opposing defenses. Quarterback Dak Prescott appears primed to capture this year's NFL Comeback Player of the Year honor and the two-headed monster of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard in the backfield has this running game playing a more effective and efficient brand of football. The Cowboys are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.


No. 5 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3)

In true committee fashion, we have reached our most controversial selection. It was an incredibly difficult decision, but we have decided to leave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of the playoffs. 

The Buccaneers are in soul-searching mode after suffering back-to-back blindsiding and dumbfounding defeats at the hands of the wildly unpredictable Saints and disappointing Washington Football Team. There's a certain amount of respect that comes with serving as the defending Super Bowl champions and that factored into why we've selected them ahead of the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens.

Writing off Tom Brady would be a slippery slope to travel down—make no mistake. Head coach Bruce Arians and his battle-tested Buccaneers will navigate through their issues and will make for a haunting opponent throughout the NFC playoffs.

No. 6 - Los Angeles Rams (7-2)

The most aggressively constructed roster in all of professional sports, the Los Angeles Rams are just on the outside looking in, partially due to a shockingly disappointing home blowout defeat at the hands of the Derrick Henry-less Tennessee Titans. Their 17-point defeat back in Week 4 to our No. 1 seed Cardinals also negatively impacts their chances of qualifying for an imagined four-team playoff as things stand, but writing off the Rams and their high-flying offense would be a fool's errand.

General manager Les Snead and owner Stan Kroenke have been steadfast in their hopes of playing in Super Bowl LVI at home inside the grandiose SoFi Stadium. The recent acquisitions of Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. improve their chances of doing so and signify a contender that will continue to get stronger as the weeks pass us by.

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