NFL Playoff Picture: Ranking the Best Teams Knocked out of Contention
We started with 12 teams this NFL postseason and now we are down to just four.
We have seen eight fan bases join the rest of the NFL in looking forward to the beginning of the next season in hopes that next year will end better. Some of the NFL's best teams have been knocked out of the playoffs.
While most of the focus will remain on the final four, it is always nice to look back and see what could have been for the fallen eight.
They may not capture the Super Bowl title this year, but that doesn't mean they weren't elite teams.
Here is my power ranking of the teams knocked out of this year's postseason.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
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The Cincinnati Bengals were certainly one of the NFL's biggest surprises this year.
Everything appeared to be crashing down on the Bengals with Carson Palmer threatening to retire if he wasn't traded. However, the emergence of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green gave the Bengals just what they needed to get the organization back on track.
Even in the tough AFC North, Cincinnati managed to find their way in to the playoffs. The defense had a great season this year and a young offense spells a bright future for the Bengals.
However, they simply weren't ready this year.
The Houston Texans were able to easily dispose of the Bengals while starting their third-string quarterback, T.J. Yates. While the Texans' defense was the key to this game, it still proved that Cincinnati wasn't ready for a deep playoff run yet.
They have some great years ahead of them, but for now they are just another victim of the NFL postseason.
7. Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos were another great story this season, but for a much different reason.
After getting off to a poor start, Tim Tebow took over as the starting quarterback. You all know the story from there.
"Tebowmania" ensued and so did the media frenzy. Tim Tebow instantly became one of the most polarizing players in the NFL. He also led the Broncos on a great streak that won them the AFC West, even after a rough finish to the season.
The Broncos then went on to pull off a huge upset in the wild card round against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Once again the highlight play was Tebow making a huge throw to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime to win the game.
Unfortunately for Broncos' fans that is where the success ended.
Denver was annihilated by the New England Patriots in the divisional round and that is where the magic ended.
We'll have to wait until next year for another round of Tebow time.
6. Atlanta Falcons
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It is tough to figure out the Atlanta Falcons.
They have a great quarterback in Matt Ryan and one of the league's best running backs in Michael Turner. They have a great duo of wide receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White as well as a veteran tight end in Tony Gonzalez.
The defense is more than solid, but not dominate. However, with all of the talent on the rest of the team they should be able to overcome some of the flaws they had on the defensive side of the ball.
At times they look like they have the potential to be one of the league's most elite teams, but the rest of the time they just live in the shadow of their division rival New Orleans Saints.
However, they barely put up a fight against the New York Giants.
Only putting up two points in the first round of the playoffs isn't going to go very far when trying to prove that you belong in the postseason.
I still believe the Falcons will continue to get better, but they need to prove they can make a deep run in to the playoffs before I call them elite.
5. Houston Texans
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The Houston Texans' exit in the postseason wasn't entirely due to the level of their play.
The loss of starting quarterback Matt Schaub was a huge blow to their chances at making the Super Bowl this year. Not only did they lose Schaub, but immediately loss Matt Leinart as their backup. When you have to turn to your third-string quarterback for a playoff run, expectations should be lowered.
The Texans do have a lot to look forward to.
They have one of the best defenses in the NFL with Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. He implemented the 3-4 defense and it did wonders for Houston. A tough defense can cover many flaws on the offensive side of the ball.
Houston still has one of the best rushing attacks in football as well as one of the league's premier receivers in Andre Johnson.
The Texans will get Schaub back under center next year and I see them having the same level of success they did this year. They may have had a string of bad luck this year, but don't count them out in the long term.
4. Detroit Lions
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The Detroit Lions have come a long way.
I remember the days of Matt Millen as their general manager and the majority of their fans wearing paper bags on their heads. I remember Joey Harrington as their starting quarterback and a 0-16 season on their resume.
Now they have one of the elite passing offenses in the NFL and are well on their way to establishing themselves as an annual contender.
The Lions are forced to live in the shadow of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. They are a great team now, but have to continue to improve their rushing attack and their defense. Fortunately, for the people of Detroit, they are not far off from patching those holes.
The Lions were knocked out by another elite offense, the New Orleans Saints.
I imagine before long we will see the Lions making a deeper run into the postseason.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Pittsburgh Steelers came up short in the Super Bowl last season and followed that up with a first round disappointment this year against the Denver Broncos.
While the loss to Denver was a heartbreaker, it doesn't reflect on the Steelers' actual level of talent.
The Steelers were missing Rashard Mendenhall as well as several players on defense. Not to mention Ben Roethlisberger was hobbled down the stretch and it was clear it impacted him in the postseason. His inability to roll out of the pocket and make throws on the move really hurt his game.
Pittsburgh is still one of the top teams in the NFL.
They have an elite defense that only seems to refuel every single year. Ben Roethlisberger is a proven winner and has the weapons to go score for score with most offenses in the NFL.
As much as some teams may hate to hear it, the Steelers are still a great team and not going anywhere anytime soon.
2. New Orleans Saints
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Heading in to their divisional round matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, it appeared that no defense on earth could stop Drew Brees.
He was coming off a record-breaking season and carried that momentum right in to the postseason. When he was matched up against Alex Smith, many believed that the 49ers would not be able to keep up offensively with the Saints.
As we know, Smith and his 49ers proved those critics wrong and defeated the Saints.
Like many of the teams on this list, the Saints will be back next year. Drew Brees is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league and has a slew of weapons at his disposal.
The postseason will focus on building up that defense that allowed Alex Smith to drive down the field and win the game as time was ticking off the clock. You may not need an elite defense to win a Super Bowl anymore, but it was clear New Orleans didn't have enough to even get there.
Expect that offense to be as dangerous as ever next year, but look for the defensive upgrades the Saints will pursue in free agency and the draft.
1. Green Bay Packers
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The Green Bay Packers were the best team in the NFL all year long.
Until an upset by the Kansas City Chiefs, many expected the Packers to run the table in the regular season and make an attempt at an undefeated season. Even after that loss to the Chiefs, Aaron Rodgers and company were considered the cream of the crop.
With home field advantage and one of the best passing attacks in football, the Packers were a popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
However, they ran into the fire of the New York Giants.
The Giants were able to slow the Packers offense and exposed the holes in Green Bay's defense. The Packers defense didn't have an answer for Eli Manning and the Giants receivers. It was one of the only times all year where Aaron Rodgers really looked human.
Fortunately for their faithful fans, Green Bay will be just as dangerous next year as they were this year.
The Packers have to improve the holes in their defense that the Giants were able to expose. There is no doubt that Rodgers will be MVP caliber again next year, but adding a new weapon in the running game would do wonders for that offense.
The dreams of a back-to-back championship run were dashed, but as one of the elite teams in the NFL, the Packers are far from done.