Welcome to the NFL playoffs: Mini previews for all 14 teams, and how each can win

  • ESPN.com national NFL writer
  • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

Fittingly, an unprecedented 2020 NFL season remained unsettled until the 256th and final regular-season game. Washington’s win on Sunday night clinched the NFC East division title (with a losing record, no less) and locked in the 2020 playoff field.

The league expanded its postseason to 14 teams this season, meaning only the No. 1 seeds — the Chiefs in the AFC and the Packers in the NFC — will get first-round byes. The other 12 teams will compete in a six-game wild-card weekend that opens in just six days.

Our playoff primer previews those matchups and takes a broader look at what each team must do to reach Super Bowl LV next month in Tampa Bay, along with their updated chances via Football Power Index (FPI). Odds and game lines are via Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.

AFC

1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)

Super Bowl odds: +180

Reason for hope: Let’s not dig too deep here. By some measures, quarterback Patrick Mahomes played better in 2020 than he did in either his 2018 MVP year or in leading the Chiefs to Super Bowl LIV last season. He set career highs in QBR (82.7), yards per game (316) and completion percentage (66.3%). Quarterbacks drive the playoffs, and no one in the AFC has a better one than the Chiefs.

Reason for concern: The Chiefs have struggled to put teams away in the second half, especially since a Week 8 thrashing of the Jets. Their ensuing seven games have all been victories, but they have come by an average of 3.7 points, and none has been by more than six. Two required fourth-quarter comebacks. An optimist would argue the Chiefs are battle-tested for the kind of close games they could encounter in the postseason. On the other hand, top teams that struggle to put opponents away face a heightened risk of a postseason upset.

X factor: Running back Le’Veon Bell. Rookie starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire is dealing with hip and ankle injuries, but even if he were not, Bell’s veteran presence and flexibility would still be a significant boon for a playoff run. He has been used relatively sparingly since joining the Chiefs in Week 7, getting fewer than 10 touches in seven of nine games. But it wouldn’t be shocking to see him and the Chiefs shift into a higher gear in the postseason.

First game: The Chiefs are the only AFC team to have a wild-card bye week, and they will face the lowest remaining seed in the divisional round. That could be the Titans, Ravens, Browns or Colts.

2. Buffalo Bills (13-3)

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