It’s the NFL Playoffs, and postseason football is almost an entirely different sport in comparison to the regular season. It’s a battle of wits, game-planning and preparation. The mental fortitude and togetherness of teams are what bring the best of the best glory during this part of the year. The statistics that we track of who is deemed “best” can’t even properly quantify who is in the best shape to win. There are far more human elements that come into play- someone with a 99 overall rating on Madden may be feeling like a 72 on any given day, and vice versa. 

So, how can we judge the intangibles that stats and numbers don’t tell us? There are so many aspects that go into the team makeup and mindset as we’re now whittled down to 8 remaining teams. Let’s create 7 different categories that numbers from the regular season don’t tell us, such as trust, coaching, confidence, or narrative motivations, give each team a score in each category on a scale of 1-10, and give them a total score. These are impalpable aspects of the game that separate someone from being a Super Bowl Champion or a playoff bust.

Kansas City Chiefs

Trust in Coaches: 9/10

Momentum: 9/10

Team Health: 8/10

“Nobody believes in us”/Chip on Shoulder: 6/10

Star Player Clutch Factor: 10/10

Playing in Elements: 8/10

Big Game Experience: 10/10

Score: 60/70

The Chiefs have been a bit of a roller coaster this season just because of the ceiling that we all know they’re capable of, which is the most explosive offense in the NFL. At the beginning of the season, when defenses were playing Cover 2 and forcing Mahomes into mistakes or making them play conservatively, it put more pressure on their defense, which was at a historically bad pace. However, the defense has since recovered since they got Frank Clark back and turned back into that dynamic team and won 8 out of 9 to end the year. Big Ben even christened them the “Best team in the AFC” given their dominance these past three seasons in the Mahomes era, and as long as Kansas City has their home crowd, Andy Reid, and Mahomes throwing to Tyreek Hill and Kelce, it might not matter how poor the defense is. While they’ve never been able to run it all season and their offensive line crumbled in the Super Bowl, this Chiefs team isn’t as all-powerful as years past, but their experience in big games and the ceiling that Mahomes can hit as potentially the best player in football still makes them one of the best teams left in the postseason.

Los Angeles Rams

Trust in Coach: 8/10

Momentum: 7/10

Team Health: 6/10

“Nobody believes in us”/Chip on Shoulder: 5/10

Star Player Clutch Factor: 7/10

Playing in Elements: 5/10

Big Game Experience: 7/10

Score: 45/70

The flashy, star-studded, top-heavy Rams throttled the inexperienced Cardinals in the first round, but while they ended the year 6-1, they won a lot of those games with Matthew Stafford looking ugly. While it may be perceived as winning games no matter the circumstance, it felt like they’ve been a more vulnerable team lacking momentum. The Rams are a bit of a hodge-podge, different group every single playoff run they go on, because they make so many splashy, big-time trades that each team is a different iteration of the Sean McVay machine. They’re the opposite of the “nobody believes in us” team, because when you already have the perceived glitz and glam Hollywood team and you add Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr., and Von Miller, you’re expected to bring home a Super Bowl or it’s a bust. However, Matthew Stafford exercised some demons and got his first ever playoff win, Sean McVay is still highly-motivated to prove he isn’t just a regular season coach, and the health of the team is slowly moving in the right direction as they’ve got Cam Akers back and Stafford looks more like himself. They might have to win on their star power alone.

Buffalo Bills

Trust in Coach: 8/10

Momentum: 9/10

Team Health: 10/10

“Nobody believes in us”/Chip on Shoulder: 7/10

Star Player Clutch Factor: 8/10

Playing in Elements: 10/10

Big Game Experience: 7/10

Score: 59/70

The Bills look like they have their mojo back. They thrashed their longtime division rival in the opener 47-17 and looked as complete as possible on both sides of the ball, which was a bit surprising

Photo: Rich Barnes / USA TODAY Sports

given their lackluster performances at certain points in the year given their expectations. They played a PERFECT game, with no punts or turnovers. We saw them get to the AFC Championship last year only for their reliance on Josh Allen’s miracle-working capabilities fall short, but this year, they could potentially make the leap. OC Brian Daboll created a game plan perfect for shutting down the Patriots, and Sean McDermott built the team off of strong defense ever since he got there in 2017, and they’re playing like it. They’re seen as one of the favorites to win it all, but they’re aware of how many times the Bills have fallen short in the past and want to finally bring glory to Buffalo given how much the team means to the city and the fans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Trust in Coach: 8/10

Momentum: 6/10

Team Health: 4/10

“Nobody believes in us”/Chip on Shoulder: 7/10

Star Player Clutch Factor: 10/10

Playing in Elements: 6/10

Big Game Experience: 10/10

Score: 51/70

The Bucs are the reigning Super Bowl Champions, so their 2021-22 season operation has somewhat functioned similarly to a dominant NBA team- cruise through the regular season to develop chemistry, then absolutely lock in for the games that matter. That might be seen as sleep-walking and created a lack of momentum to end the year, but they demolished a Philadelphia team that didn’t look like it deserved to make the postseason. The defense is finally healthy, but the Tom Brady “death by giving you 1000 paper cuts” type of offense was still fully-functioning despite injuries to the offensive line, no Leonard Fournette or Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown putting on a circus two weeks ago. They’re banged up and a shell of themselves, and they’re seen as a team fighting dysfunction, but that could be all the intrinsic motivation Tom Brady needs to psych himself up into the ageless wonder that he’s been for two decades as he’s inevitably crushed every other teams’ dreams.

Green Bay Packers

Trust in Coach: 8/10

Momentum: 10/10

Team Health: 10/10

“Nobody believes in us”/Chip on Shoulder: 8/10

Star Player Clutch Factor: 10/10

Playing in Elements: 10/10

Big Game Experience: 10/10

Score: 66/70

This postseason feels like it’s the Packers’ to lose. They’ve got the reigning MVP and likely back-to-back winner playing with the angry spite of a thousand suns at quarterback, the best home field advantage at Lambeau Field throughout, and they’re now only getting healthier; All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari is finally back for the first time all season, along with Lineback Za’Darius Smith and All-Pro defensive back Jaire Alexander will be back from a shoulder injury. They finished 13-4, but the only huge mistake we’ve seen them make was week 1 when they were a completely different team. After having lost the NFC Championship two years in a row, and this potentially being Aaron Rodgers last year with the team if he wants out, they still are playing with everything to prove to finally get it done. 

Tennessee Titans

Trust in Coach: 9/10

Momentum: 10/10

Team Health: 7/10

“Nobody believes in us”/Chip on Shoulder: 9/10

Star Player Clutch Factor: 6/10

Playing in Elements: 8/10

Big Game Experience: 8/10

Score: 57/70

The Titans are the #1 seed that doesn’t even feel like the #1 seed at all, and they know they’re perceived that way. Just last week Ben Roethlisberger said the CHIEFS were the best team in the conference despite the Titans beating them earlier in the season 27-3. Mike Vrabel has fed off of this underdog mentality in his fourth year as the Titans coach, taking them to the postseason for the third year in a row now. They can run the ball down your throat in the cold, and the road to the Super Bowl goes through Nashville. They’ve got momentum on their side, ending the year with 4 out 5 wins and an extra week to rest off the bye. The problem is that they’ve been one of the most-injured teams all season, and we have no idea what Derrick Henry will look like coming off of his gruesome broken foot. We also haven’t seen Ryan Tannehill be able to single-handedly take over a game when he needs to, so the star power is lacking on the team. They’ve always just found a way to win with the guys they’ve got and bullied everyone else.

Cincinnati Bengals

Trust in Coach: 4/10

Momentum: 9/10

Team Health: 8/10

“Nobody believes in us”/Chip on Shoulder: 7/10

Star Player Clutch Factor: 8/10

Playing in Elements: 9/10

Big Game Experience: 6/10

Score: 51/70

After years of getting knocked out in the opening round, the Bengals got their first playoff win since TEXTING existed, and Joe Burrow looked as cool as possible doing it. We’ve become so accustomed to the Bengals fizzling out and looming around mediocrity that the win for a team with a franchise quarterback in just his second year was monumental. They may be young and inexperienced, and Zac Taylor looks like a head coach with a deer in the headlights the majority of the games he’s coached, the makeup and build of the team with improvements on the defense and Burrow’s ability to just take over games with his competitiveness has overpowered any of the decision-making flaws they’ve had along the way. They finished the year with big wins against the Chiefs, Ravens, and Broncos heading into the playoffs, and now getting over the hump with their first postseason win, they’re playing with house money in terms of expectations.

San Francisco 49ers

Trust in Coach: 9/10

Momentum: 8/10

Team Health: 7/10

“Nobody believes in us”/Chip on Shoulder: 8/10

Star Player Clutch Factor: 6/10

Playing in Elements: 6/10

Big Game Experience: 9/10

Score: 53/70

The NFL playoffs are a battle of wits, and we saw that when the 49ers had a gameplan from Kyle Shanahan that just came out and outsmarted the Mike McCarthy-coached Cowboys in every way. The offense is full of 5-tool weapons that maximize all of their potential- they’ve used several different running backs all season and even have the most versatile athlete in football, Deebo Samuel, who is just as explosive of a rushing threat as he is a receiver. Their coach gets the most out of every player, they’re a wild card that fought their way into the postseason by finishing the year 7-2, and many still have the 2020 Super Bowl loss fresh on their mind. Jimmy Garoppolo is pretty much playing with house money at this point. He’s been seen as the weak point of the offense and the reason they lost that Super Bowl, so the 49ers traded up to draft his replacement, Trey Lance. He’s got nothing to lose now: he can just ball out and take the job back from Lance for a while longer, or he’s proving his worth to other teams down the line, and it’s put a chip on his shoulder. They lost their best defensive player, Nick Bosa, to an injury, but the Niners are riding a lot of momentum as they take on Green Bay.

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