The NFL is heading into the final weekend of the regular season, as teams are jockeying for playoff positions. Some have already clinched a berth to the postseason, while others are fighting for their playoff life this weekend.
The bigger question is which team will take the momentum of making the playoffs and begin a Super Bowl title run.
Let’s go over every projected wild-card team’s title chances:
The experts feel the deficiencies of the New England Patriots will be exposed come playoff time, as the Baltimore Ravens look like the lone team to stand in the way of the Pittsburgh Steelers making a return trip to the Super Bowl.
This week, their main goal is to win the division and gain a week of rest for their injured players. QB Ben Roethlisberger needs time to recuperate from all of his ailments, so he can become more mobile and efficient in the pocket.
The Steelers defense hasn’t played up to their high standards, but they have been much better in recent weeks.
Surprisingly, they’re dead last in takeaways with 14, and the lack of creating turnovers could end their playoff run against a hot offensive team.
Memo to the NFC: Be afraid of the Detroit Lions. Be very afraid.
They aren’t a running team, as head coach Jim Schwartz relies heavily on the arm of QB Matthew Stafford to lead them to victory. The Lions are a definite pass-first team, but they will need to run the ball more effectively in cold-weather playoff games.
If the Lions could average between 10-15 more yards rushing, then that would open up the middle of the field for WRs Calvin Johnson and Titus Young.
The defense has been outstanding at pressuring the quarterback and creating turnovers, but their one weakness has been stopping an effective running attack. The Lions Wide 9 defensive alignment puts the ends on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackles, and their job is to rush the quarterback.
Ideally, the Lions want to gain an early lead that forces the opposition to abandon the running game and pass the ball more.
The Atlanta Falcons offense has been very bland and predictable all season, as they will have to avoid making the big mistake if they want to advance in the playoffs.
RB Michael Turner is a workhorse, but he can be stopped if a team forces him to run laterally. The Falcons have too many complement wide receivers who lack speed to stretch the defense.
The Falcons defensive scheme is predicated on the front seven getting a push off the line of scrimmage that causes a disruption in the backfield, while the secondary plays in a simple coverage behind them.
Too often this season, an average offensive line has neutralized their defensive front, as the quarterback slices through a vulnerable DB quartet.
They will need someone to stand up and not be afraid to hit someone if the Falcons are going to advance in the playoffs.
To make the playoffs, the Cincinnati Bengals must take care of their own business by winning out and not relying on other teams for help. The fans are hoping QB Andy Dalton and WR AJ Green can lead this young squad for a fun ride in this year’s playoffs, as their future definitely looks bright.
The offense is relying heavily on the young quarterback, who has completed 60 percent of his passes this season. Dalton loves connecting with his two big targets (Green and TE Jermaine Gresham) deep downfield, as each run precision routes and both can catch the football in heavy traffic.
The loss of WR Jordan Shipley will hurt because he was a great option in their short passing game.
Quickly, questions arose on the status of Mark Sanchez still being the future of the franchise. The fans question if he a product of bad play-calling or bad decision-making.
The Jets coaching staff must simplify the offense to better utilize Sanchez’s skills and position the wide receivers to make big plays. Their defense is over-rated, as they lack a big, physical safety who can patrol the middle.
It’s the same old story for the Oakland Raiders; too many penalties coming from their best players. At times, you have to shake your head at the way they have played on the field. The Silver and Black have too much talent on their roster not to make the playoffs.
The return of S Michael Huff will give the defensive secondary a much-needed upgrade, as he will roam the middle and help double-team fast receivers downfield.
For an extended playoff run, the Raiders must have RB Darren McFadden return to the lineup. His speed is a perfect complement to Michael Bush’s rugged running style.