It’s the time of year that every professional football fan waits for: the NFL playoffs.
Whether your team is in or out heading into Wild Card Weekend, it’s hard to deny the excitement that the coming weeks will bring. This will be the most intense football of the year as teams fight for their proverbial lives to have a shot at the Super Bowl.
There’s an idea around the sporting world that defense wins championships, but it’s not hard to believe that offense is what fills the seats in the stadium. Certainly there’s a ring of truth to that: With rules in the NFL increasingly favoring the offense, it is those players who have more freedom to make spectacular plays to wow fans.
With that in mind, what type of offensive spectacles do fans have to look forward to in the coming elimination rounds? Which teams will play lights-out football, and which will put up less impressive numbers?
Keep clicking to find where the offense from your favorite contender ranks.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have combined to accomplish something that it was hard to believe a rookie duo could accomplish: They brought their struggling team to the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
Unfortunately for the Cincinnati Bengals, the regular season is over and their offense is the weakest of what remains.
The combination of Dalton to Green has been well scouted, and sheer athleticism can only take a wide receiver so far before defenses are able to neutralize him. Jerome Simpson has stepped up as a pretty good second receiver option, but it is clear that Dalton’s first choice is almost always A.J. Green. Defenses won’t be fooled.
Cedric Benson managed to put together a 1,000-yard rushing season despite serving a one-game suspension in October due to his behavior during the NFL lockout. Still, with just an average of 3.9 yards per carry on the ground he isn’t enough of a threat to give the offense much of a boost.
The Denver Broncos had one of the most talked about offenses this year as they made the transition from Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow in the middle of the season.
So far, that switch has proved to be a poor choice from the perspective of statistics, but a good one when it comes to finding wins for the Broncos.
While it is true that Tebow has been able to find increasing success throwing the ball, much of the team’s real offense has been generated on the ground between Tebow and running back Willis McGahee. Thanks in large part to those two players, the Broncos are number one among the playoff teams for rushing yards per game.
Unfortunately, all of those rushing yards have not translated well to points on the board. The Broncos rank dead last when it comes to the average points scored.
The San Francisco 49ers found solid success in the NFC this year, ending on a high note with a win to bring the team to an unexpected 13-3 record.
Much of that success was due to their stingy defense. The offense pretty much hung on for the ride and put up just enough points to stay competitive in the game.
That kind of play might cut it in the regular season, but in the postseason all bets are off.
With a mediocre quarterback and no outstanding options at wide receiver, the 49ers will ask standout running back Frank Gore to shoulder the offensive load in the playoffs and hope that he can help them muddle to enough points to eke out wins.
Ray Rice may be one of the most explosive running backs in the league, but no matter how hard the Baltimore Ravens wish he cannot be a one-man offense.
Rice is the team’s leading running back and the team’s leading wide receiver. His 16 combined touchdowns during the regular season accounted for almost half of the team’s overall touchdown production.
Joe Flacco is a serviceable quarterback, but he is simply not one of the elite. He’s got a good supporting cast to spread the ball to, but he can’t quite seem to connect with any of them to form the special bond that is necessary between a quarterback and his No. 1 receiver.
The Pittsburgh Steelers tend to fly under the radar as one of the more underestimated high-octane offenses in the NFL. Although the team is known for their defense first, they have quietly put together a solid cast of talent on the other side of the ball as well.
It’s too bad that they’re limping into the playoffs.
Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall will miss the playoffs thanks to a torn ACL, and Pro Bowl starting center Maurkice Pouncey will sit out with an ankle injury. Those are two key positions that no team wants to rely on backups for at do-or-die time.
Worse, Ben Roethlisberger is also injured with a high ankle sprain—the same injury that has already sidelined Pouncey. High ankle sprains aren’t your average ligament tear; they hurt and cannot be effectively splinted to ease the pain of every step.
Big Ben may be able to play for the entire game, but he’ll be far from 100 percent. The entire Steelers offense is built around Roethlisberger’s athleticism and pocket presence. Take away his mobility and the team’s starting running back, and you’ve got the shell of an offense remaining.
One of the more pleasant surprises in the NFL during the regular season was the reemergence of the New York Giants passing game behind Eli Manning.
He has thrown for 29 touchdown passes and almost 5,000 yards so far this year, spreading the ball around to a potent set of receiving options. Of particular note is rookie Victor Cruz, who has clicked with Manning to become the team’s leading receiver and one of the most explosive receivers in the NFL.
On the running side of the ball, things have been a little bit more disappointing. The Giants can’t seem to get it going on the ground, thanks in large part to injury.
Without the running game, the Giants are basically an exciting one-dimensional offense.
With quarterback Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart out for the year, it may be hard to conceive that the Texans are still at the middle of the pack offensively.
While Andy Dalton of the Bengals has made news as a second-round rookie leading a playoff team, T.J. Yates—a fifth-round draft pick now in charge of the Houston Texans—has been an object of no bearing.
The truth is, the two are statistically very similar. Dalton has had more time to prove himself, but Yates has showed a pretty steady improvement to become at least serviceable under center.
Running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate don’t need much more than a serviceable quarterback behind them to shine on the field. Together, they comprise perhaps the most potent running back tandem in the NFL. For that alone, the Texans get a big boost in the offensive power rankings.
The Atlanta Falcons have made a pretty decent name for themselves as one of the most balanced teams in the league. They have a good amount of talent on offense and on defense, which has allowed the team to mostly keep an even keel throughout the season.
Perhaps most importantly, the Falcons have good balance between their passing and rushing attacks. The team splits their passing and running plays almost in half, forcing opposing defenses to play both options with equal honesty.
There’s plenty of star power in the receiving corps to make spectacular plays happen, and Michael Turner is a notoriously difficult runner to tackle. This offense will fight until the end.
The Detroit Lions may have lost the last game of the season, but they did so in a spectacular shootout on a record setting day in Green Bay.
Don’t let that loss fool you. Detroit has a lot of offense, and they know how to use it.
Most obviously, there’s the electric connection between Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Between the two of them, they have connected for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns.
That’s the production of two average wide receivers.
Not to be overlooked are Brandon Pettigrew and Nate Burleson, who have stepped up to become great secondary receiving options.
Despite a comedy of injuries at the running back position, the Lions keep on finding new faces to plug in. The matchup against the New Orleans Saints will feature Maurice Morris, who has accounted for an average of 4.0 yards per attempt on the ground and who has proved to be a capable receiving option in his own right.
Tom Brady has spent his year surrounded by an embarrassment of riches with Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Deion Branch to choose from. This is an offense whose receiving talent runs so deep that they are practically unstoppable.
Somewhere along the way, the Patriots also discovered that they have a serviceable ground game to compliment their passing offense.
The Patriots don’t pile on rushing yards like other offenses in the league, but it’s not because they can’t. Instead, it seems that they simply prefer to be one of the most obviously pass-first offenses in the league.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s working well for them. Why fix it if it’s not broken?
The defending Super Bowl champions have certainly treated fans to a season of amazing offense at the hands of MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers and his seemingly endless stable of talented receivers.
Although they have had their share of drives when the timing has been off, only the Kansas City Chiefs have been able to keep the offense consistently off-key for an entire game.
The truth of that is borne out by the Packers’ league-leading 35-point-per-game average.
What is even more amazing is the fact that they’ve managed to accomplish that without much of a running game at all. Compared to all other playoff teams, Green Bay is near the bottom of the pack when it comes to rushing yards.
Stopping the Packers offense is hard to do some of the time. Asking most defenses to accomplish that task most of the time seems to be an impossible request.
When power ranking offenses heading into the playoffs, there is absolutely no question that the New Orleans Saints are on top of the NFL world.
Drew Brees didn’t just break Dan Marino’s single-season passing record: He shattered it. While he was at it, he also broke his own single-season pass completion percentage record.
Brees would have never gotten there if it hadn’t been for his out-of-this-world supporting cast. Tight end Jimmy Graham has stepped up in a big way during the 2011 season, overshadowing Marques Colston who has also quietly put together a big season.
The Saints are clearly a pass-first team, but they have found an interesting sort of success in their running back-by-committee approach. Even a serviceable running game would be enough to support Drew Brees, and the Saints have done much better than that.
Of particular note has been Darren Sproles, who has become an explosive and essential part of the Saints offensive schemes as a receiving option and as a nimble, fast running back. He has perhaps been the missing piece that this offense has been looking for to tie everything together and to become perhaps the scariest offense headed into the NFL postseason.