Image by CBS NFL

By Bryan DeArdo/CBS NFL

It should be no surprise that ranking the NFL’s four remaining teams is even harder than choosing where to order pizza for an upcoming Super Bowl party. The 49ersRavensLions and Chiefs each possess rosters that have been good enough to get them to the brink of the big game. 

Last week, I ranked the eight remaining teams ahead of the divisional round. The results were mixed. My top-two teams — the 49ers and Ravens — rewarded my faith in them with wins. The Texans also “rewarded’ my decision to rank them last after they failed to score a point in the second half of last week’s 34-10 loss in Baltimore. 

Unfortunately, my lack of faith in the Chiefs came back to haunt me. Kansas City managed to beat Buffalo, which I had ranked one spot ahead of it. The Lions, whom I ranked seventh, also proved me wrong after beating a Buccaneers team I tabbed as the sixth-best team remaining. 

So, what did last week teach me? Not to doubt Mahomes and the Chiefs, whose championship mettle may be able to make up for their lack of talent relative to the rest of the remaining field. Last week also compelled me to give the Lions more credit despite their penchant for allowing lots of passing yards. I also am starting to warm up to the fact that the Ravens may have the NFL’s best roster despite a few flaws. 

With last week’s games behind us, here are my new rankings of the top-four teams still left. Let’s see how well this one ages when the dust settles late Sunday night. 

1. Baltimore Ravens

Alright, I’ve accepted the fact that a team without a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver may be the league’s best-remaining team. But what the Ravens may lack in individual statistics, they have more than made up for in depth. 

Baltimore’s depth at the skill positions has been the secret sauce this season under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Five Ravens caught at least three touchdown passes during the regular season, led by perennial Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews. Rookie Zay Flowers finished first and second on the team in receiving yards and touchdown catches during the regular season, respectively. 

Solid would be the best word to describe the Ravens’ offensive line. The unit has been good in pass protection and has been even better in run support. The latter was on display last week when the Ravens rolled to 229 yards on 42 carries. 

Obviously, the glue of the Ravens offense is quarterback Lamar Jackson, the likely league MVP. Jackson’s versatility this season has meant more than just his ability to make plays with his arm and his legs. More so, it’s been Jackson’s ability to adapt his game to whatever the Ravens need him to do in order to win. Sometimes, that means deep passes like the ones he completed during Baltimore’s Week 2 win in Cincinnati. Other times, like Saturday, Jackson was asked to complete short passes in an effort to offset Houston’s pass rush. 

Defensively, there is not much that needs to be said about the group in Baltimore. The unit is stellar and has been all year, especially the front seven, led by linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike. The secondary has also been a strength, led by emerging safety Kyle Hamilton

You can’t talk about the Ravens without mentioning Justin Tucker, arguably the greatest kicker in league annals. His presence is just one reason why the Ravens top this list.

2. San Francisco 49ers 

Unlike Baltimore, the 49ers had to fight tooth and nail to beat a Packers team that was riding high after upsetting the Cowboys a week earlier. The 24-21 nail-biting win could suggest that the 49ers are certainly beatable, because, well, they are, especially if Deebo Samuel is physically compromised.

That might be true, but the come-from-behind win was also an example of the 49ers’ resilience. Sometimes, talented teams get by for far too long on talent alone, and when they are finally pushed, they don’t know how to respond. Two teams that come to mind are 1983 Washington and the 1997 Packers, defending champions who were dethroned by hungrier teams. 

I also took two other notable things away from the 49ers’ most recent win. They won despite not receiving big stat lines from either Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk. That speaks to the depth the 49ers have on an offense that features the NFL’s best running back in Christian McCaffrey and one of the game’s best tight ends in George Kittle. San Francisco also possesses a strong offensive line that continues to be anchored by future Hall of Fame tackle Trent Williams

The other notable takeaway was the 49ers’ ability on defense to force Jordan Love into throwing two picks when he tossed just one interception during his previous nine games. The 49ers were able to do so by throwing different looks at Love while taking away anything downfield. At the center of this destruction was 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who secured both giveaways.

The 49ers’ roster is loaded, but ultimately, their Super Bowl hopes may very well rest on quarterback Brock Purdy, who struggled with his accuracy last week. Purdy will have to play better this week if the 49ers are going to get past the Lions. 

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