The Worst of the Best
You could not be blamed for betting against the Detroit Lions, considering they have never once made the Super Bowl. Detroit relied heavily on fourth quarter comebacks led by phenomenal play by QB Matt Stafford throughout the regular season, but have lost 3 straight entering the playoffs, and since Stafford has never looked at one hundred per cent since dislocating his finger against the Chicago in Week 14.
It is painful to put Oakland so low, but without MVP candidate Derek Carr their hopes are slim. They are now down to their rookie 3rd string QB, Connor Cook, and, despite great pass protection and capable receivers, Cook’s absence would appear to leave little hope for this team.
Miami is another team without its starting quarterback, although backup Matt Moore has certainly been effective. Londoner Jay Ajayi is having a great season for the Dolphins, and the defense has been better than one might have expected as well. However, it cannot be ignored that Miami almost lost to the Cleveland Browns early in the season, and their supreme record in the second half of the season may have had something to do with what is a fairly easy schedule on paper.
The Good but Flawed
Houston currently has one playoff win in franchise history, and lost 30-0 last year to Kansas City on wild card weekend, and had a losing record (4-6) against teams outside their division. However, this year the defense has proven themselves, despite former MVP JJ Watt’s season ending injury early this fall, and the offense has proven that without starting QB Brock Osweiler they are still able to succeed. The problem is how much can you truly expect from a team without their best player and their star QB.
It may sound bold not putting Seattle in with the contenders, but the truth is this is not the team that won the Super Bowl three years ago, nor is it the side we saw either last year or the year before. Seattle’s offensive line has struggled all season, their run game has been a mess throughout, and the ‘Legion of Boom’ is without all-pro defender Earl Thomas. Not to mention Russell Wilson recently threw a dismal five interceptions in a game against Green Bay.
The Ones No One Wants to Play
‘Big Ben’ (Roethlisberger), Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are the most dangerous and explosive offensive trio in the NFL. Bell, an MVP candidate despite missing the first three games of the season, led the league in yards from scrimmage per game (rushing and receiving yards combined). With these three players healthy, there is no defense in the league that can control the Steelers’ offense. However, their defense has yet to reach nearly the same level, and that makes them nothing more than a contender.
New York Giants.
The G-Men this year have a team comparable to their championship team in 2012. Their defense is both stout and opportunistic, and is well balanced overall. Anytime the ball is thrown his way, Odell Beckham Jr. has a chance of creating something big, and with two time super bowl MVP Eli Manning throwing him the ball, anything can happen. At the same time, since his first Super Bowl victory in ‘07, Eli Manning leads the league in interceptions, and ODB’s temperament is anything but reliable.
Green Bay Packers.
Sitting well out of a playoff spot at 4-6, amid what was looking like a seriously down season, Aaron Rodgers said Green Bay would win out the last six games of the season; and he delivered. Green Bay’s run to the playoffs was a bold statement, coming into the playoffs on one of the most impressive winning streaks of the season, beating their division rival Detroit Lions in Week 17 for home field advantage on wild card weekend.
All you need to know about the Falcons this season is they have the highest scoring offense in the NFL. Matt Ryan is having the best season of his career, any season by Julio Jones is impressive, and Devonta Freeman has been a consistent and impressive running back all season.
Kansas City Chiefs.
KC boasts the most opportunistic defense in the league, accounting for 47.5% of the teams total scoring. This is a team that won multiple games this season by scoring safeties on opposing team’s conversions, doing so even once in a season is rare, but two is a statement. With KC you never know when an interception, fumble or even a punt will be returned for a touchdown. This is a team that won’t go down without a fight.
Dallas clinched home field advantage weeks before the end of the season. Although their defensive has room for improvement, their offense is not lacking in any regard. Dak Prescott is having a historic rookie season at QB, and rookie Running Back Ezekiel Elliot leads the league in rushing yards. Having only lost to the Giants this season, they have proven America’s Team no longer needs Tony Romo to win.
New England Patriots.
The Patriots have shown they are the real deal in a multitude of ways this season, with Tom Brady boasting the best Touch Down: Interception ratio in a season ever, they went 7-0 without the immense Rob Gronkowski at tight end, tied for the most division titles in a row, and they set a record in fewest interceptions thrown by a team in NFL history. With a bye in the first round, and a divisional round game against either Miami, Houston or Oakland, we should expect to see them in the AFC championship game for a seventh year in a row.
The NFL playoffs get underway tonight (Saturday 7th January), with the Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans from 21:35 GMT.