National Football League

In Full Confidence

December 28, 2020

By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL analyst

There are 14 playoff spots in the NFL this season, and heading into the final weekend, only a single seed is locked in.

The Kansas City Chiefs will be the AFC's top seed. We know that much. And seven teams have clinched playoff spots. But there's still so much to be decided in Week 17.

The NFL does drama better than any league – especially if you throw in how the Trevor Lawrence Sweepstakes came to an end. I love it.

It all left me wondering ... just how confident should we be in each team's ability to head to the Super Bowl? Here's a look at the top eight teams in each conference, in order of their current playoff positioning, as well as my confidence in them on a scale of 1-5.

(All odds via FOX Bet.)

AFC

1 seed: Kansas City Chiefs
Confidence level: 5/5

The Chiefs have failed to cover seven straight games, winning each by less than a touchdown.

The good news for Kansas City, though, is simple. They are winning — and now have secured the coveted top seed in the AFC. Two wins in the playoffs, and they are back in Tampa.

I’ve been consistent in my worry about the Chiefs' lackluster play at times over the last two months, which is the opposite of their regular season finish from a year ago, where they dominated their foes. This season, they have given up big leads and had multiple long stretches of games where they looked disinterested and/or just didn’t play well.

I do worry this could catch up to them in the playoffs but it hasn’t seemed to matter so far. The Chiefs are the clear favorites in the AFC (-143 to win the conference, per FOX Bet).

2 seed: Pittsburgh Steelers
Confidence level: 2.5/5

What a win for the Steelers in Week 16. Down 24-7 against the Colts in the second half, and they scored 21 unanswered to claim a 28-24 victory.

It was the best half of football the Steelers offense has played in months. They were forced to kick it into high gear to catch up, and it worked. Ben Roethlisberger was launching the ball downfield, receivers were hauling it in, and it appeared for 30 minutes the Steelers offense was running smooth.

However, 30 minutes of good offense doesn’t get the confidence meter running high. Mike Tomlin will likely rest as many starters as possible next weekend in a meaningless game; the Steelers did not get a proper bye this season.

Can the offense carry this over into the postseason? I’ll have to see it to believe it.

3 seed: Buffalo Bills
Confidence level: 4/5

The Bills have to feel great where they are positioned, as they are ascending at the right time. The Bills already beat the Steelers (but lost to the Chiefs). Josh Allen has made an historic jump in his third season, and you have to feel confident with him under center. And a defense that started slowly has turned the corner lately.

The AFC East division winners for the first time since 1995 have to be excited. 

4 seed: Tennessee Titans
Confidence level: 2.5/5

The Titans looked out of sorts against the Packers in the snow, and I’m not sure there’s a major takeaway from the loss other than their defense continues to struggle. They can’t rush the passer or stop anyone on third down. Those are closely related.

While their offense is legit, when you can’t stop anyone, you have no shot to win in the playoffs. 

5 seed: Miami Dolphins
Confidence level: 1/5

If the Dolphins continue with their bizarre quarterback rotation, there should be low faith in this Miami team to do much in the postseason.

Tua Tagovailoa isn’t bad, but the offense looks bad with him. On the telecast Saturday night, Kurt Warner mentioned Tua is still learning what "open" is in the NFL. This is just one reason the offense struggles, but it’s important.

When the Dolphins need to come from behind, they insert Ryan Fitzpatrick, who understands what "open" is in the NFL. And when Fitz enters the lineup, the offense transforms into a high-powered machine.

No matter how well Fitzpatrick plays, though, Flores refuses to start him. I believe this is coming from upstairs. The front office wants to see Tua, and Flores wants to win games. Anyway, I do not have faith in the Dolphins unless Fitz is starting. 

6 seed: Baltimore Ravens
Confidence level: 4.5/5

The Ravens have won four in a row, with only the Browns game being close. They are playing some good ball right now and peaking at the right time. Lamar Jackson is accurate in the passing game again and, after a few slow weeks after his return from COVID-19, he has been running the ball so well again.

The Baltimore defense is always good, and moreover, the Ravens are in the opposite of the position they were last season. No one believes in them, and they can play the spoiler in the playoffs. No one wants to see this team in the postseason.

7 seed: Cleveland Browns
Confidence level: 2/5

The Steelers clinched the AFC North with their victory against the Colts, but it shouldn’t be forgotten the Browns blew it themselves, losing to the Jets.

Yes, the Browns were without any experienced wide receivers and their two best linemen. That does not excuse their game plan and how the defense played, which continues to be an issue. And with their loss to the Jets, the Browns did not clinch a playoff spot, either.

They are cutting it close. Cleveland will need to beat the Steelers to get into the dance. If not, they need help.

Outside looking in: Indianapolis Colts
Confidence level: 3/5

A gut punch loss to the Steelers leaves the Colts outside the playoffs heading into Week 17. I give Indy a three because when their offensive line is healthy, they are one of the best in the NFL. Coupled with their defense, they won’t be an easy out in the playoffs, if they make it.

The issue is Phillip Rivers, who seems to routinely make that big mistake in these big games.

NFC

1 seed: Green Bay Packers
Confidence level: 5/5

I love watching this Packers offense, especially in the snow against a poor Titans defense. Aaron Rodgers wrapped up his MVP, and the Packers get home field throughout the playoffs.

The Green Bay offense is humming right now and can score against any defense in the league. The Packers just need enough from their defense: Some stops. A few forced turnovers. They are doing that right now.

They remind me of the Chiefs from last season. Kansas City's defense wasn’t good for months, but got better down the stretch and into the playoffs. The Packers should win the conference.

2 seed: New Orleans Saints
Confidence level: 3/5

Drew Brees looked better in his second start after returning from 11 broken ribs. The New Orleans offensive and defensive lines can dominate their opponents, too.

However, the Saints have lost two straight years at home as favorites in the playoffs. They have not played their best in the biggest games.

The Saints outside the dome in late January, trying to win the conference? Nope. Not confident in that. I would not expect them to beat the Packers in the cold.

3 seed: Seattle Seahawks
Confidence level: 3/5

What are the Seahawks?

Seriously. What do the Seahawks do well? Is it defense? 

Ok, sure. They forced two red zone stops against the Rams, which turned the game toward them. But if the Packers are playing against this defense, what are you worried about?

On the flip side, Russell Wilson can be outstanding; the offense has been far from it lately. This looks very much like the offense we’ve seen the last few seasons. Boring. No creativity. Wilson trying to save the day. 

But now, he’s not letting it loose as often because he turned the ball over too much during a four-game stretch. If the Seahawks put it all together, they can be tough. But they are too disjointed right now.

4 seed: NFC East champion
Confidence level: 0/5

Do I need to explain further?

This division will be decided on the repaired leg of Alex Smith. Will his calf muscle, which was retrofitted with part of his thigh muscle to make up for the tissue loss from necrotizing fasciitis, be functional enough for Alex to play 60 minutes on Sunday.

If not, Washington is out, and the winner of Giants-Cowboys is in. Gross.

5 seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Confidence level: 4/5

Between the 30 minutes of the second half against the Falcons and the first 31 minutes of the Lions game, the Bucs scored 71 points. Yes — in 61 minutes, they scored 71 points.

In a normal offseason it takes 8-10 regular season weeks for a new offense to get rolling. Is it possible in a COVID offseason that it takes 14 to 15 weeks? It appears that way in Tampa. I believe this offense is here to stay because once a veteran group, including their head coach, start to get into a rhythm like this, they can keep it going.

I wanted to make this a 4.5. The issue: Tampa needs to win three road games. Can they do it? Of course, but that’s tough sledding. 

6 seed: Los Angeles Rams
Confidence level: 0/5

If Jared Goff has a broken thumb on his right throwing hand, the Rams have no chance. It’s that simple. 

7 seed: Chicago Bears
Confidence level: 1/5

I don’t consider it a good sign when Bears fans are openly rooting for them to win, but not win well enough for the team to extend their quarterback. How can you be confident in that setup? I know I’m not.

Outside looking in: Arizona Cardinals
Confidence level: 1/5 

Kliff Kingsbury isn’t a good coach. He is the lesser coach to every opponent they’d play in the playoffs. This team is too talented on offense to continue to sputter in key moments, especially in the red zone.

Hard pass on the Cardinals. 

One last thing ...

Tank for Trevor is officially over, as the Jaguars lost to the Bears and the Jets upset the Browns.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will have the first overall pick and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence — and I’d like to be the first to congratulate the Jaguars on the proper way to tank.

Teams tank with personnel moves, not with anything that happens between the lines. Coaches and players want to win on Sunday. Period.

The Jaguars made two moves this week that helped them directly lose against the Bears. First, they switched quarterbacks again. When you continually switch quarterbacks, no one on the offense is comfortable. The timing is messed up. The offense will not play well.

On top of that, their best offensive weapon was out with a late addition ankle injury. What a coincidence. This is how a team properly tanks. Good work, Jacksonville. 

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