Did FOX Sports jump the gun on releasing NFL playoff rankings?

FOX Sports released NFL playoff rankings after week 4, and there are a few surprises even with the vast majority of the season still to be played.

Four games into the season hardly seems the time to start talking playoff picture. Most teams have barely made their way into their divisional games. Others haven’t been fully tested. Some may not have even played a competitive game. But that didn’t stop FOX Sports from releasing playoff standings after week 4.

Yes, you read that correctly. Week 4. A mere 22 percent of the way through the season. I mean, the NBA and NHL haven’t kicked off. The MLB hasn’t even started their postseason. And FOX is talking about the NFL playoffs like it’s wishing 2022 would disappear.

But now it’s out in the ether, so we might as well take a look. One easy way to evaluate its worth is against preseason predictions. Looking at the way-too-early Super Bowl odds, we see many of the usual suspects in the FOX list. Teams like the Bills, Buccaneers, Packers, and Chiefs were the favorites going into the season, and all currently reside peacefully on this FOX list. Other contenders like the Eagles, 49ers, Cowboys, and Bengals were certainly in the conversation and now look poised to make serious runs.

Which surprises are showing up in NFL playoff rankings?

But who’s missing? Preseason playoff discussions certainly involved both teams from Los Angeles. The defending champion Rams and the up-and-coming Chargers were universally considered preseason top 10 teams. But the Rams have not reclaimed whatever championship magic they were working with last season. And injuries have plagued a Chargers defense that many assumed would be one of the league’s best. Also noticeably absent are a (preseason top 10) Broncos team that hasn’t yet gelled on offense and a strong Ravens team that could easily be 4-0 but for their inability to finish games.

What about the surprises? Well, the overrepresentation by the NFC East was a bit of shocker — and with 13 games left, all three teams won’t likely be in the picture come January. But the Giants certainly have surprised fans, largely because of the stellar performance of Saquon Barkley. And when Dak Prescott went down, no one thought that Cooper Rush would go on to win three straight for the Cowboys. On the AFC side, the Jaguars are the only true surprise because of how competitive the conference was expected to be. But with a maturing Trevor Lawrence and an offensive whiz in Doug Pederson leading the now-far-less-dysfunctional squad, it’s not shocking that this talented team is competing.

Taking a step back, if ESPN can spend half of every SportsCenter, First Take, and Get Up talking NFL regardless of the time of year, why can’t FOX Sports release an objective list of playoff teams? Surely some will take issue with this premature exercise, but at the end of the day, statistics, and chatter, and power rankings mean nothing. The teams compete for playoff spots, so why not frame our conversations through this lens?

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