The Worst Postseason Matchup for Every Potential Playoff Team
For each NFL team that has a realistic shot at the postseason in 2012, there exists at least one other team that would provide problems in a matchup. Another way to pose this topic is to question what specific opponent would serve as "Kryptonite" for every potential playoff team.
We will look at what each of these potential playoff teams does well, and what areas they are vulnerable in. Borrowing a page from Coach Bill Belichick, we will analyze which teams have the ability to neutralize the strengths of each team, thus arriving at which teams we believe will be the worst possible matchup.
For the purposes of this presentation, we will include every team with at least a .500 record after the games on Thanksgiving are concluded. That means we will cover 16 teams, even though there are obviously only 12 playoff berths available.
For all the 4-6 and 5-6 teams, the odds are against them running the table to reach a final record of 10-6. What is sad is that a 10-6 record isn't an iron-clad guarantee that teams will be included in the postseason.
We will begin with the .500 teams and work our way up to the teams with the best records: the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans.
All statistics and team rankings posted were current entering Week 12 games and are courtesy of ESPN.com. The red-zone offense and defense rankings are provided by TeamRankings.com.
Presentation Legend Explained
For every potential playoff team, we conducted research on where they stand in most key categories for team offense and team defense.
We will list the areas in which each team does very well, which means they rank in the top 10 of the NFL as of the start of Week 12 action.
You will also see where teams don't do very well, which translates to a ranking in the bottom 10 of the NFL.
For some teams, these lists will be relatively short, which means they are considered an average team (ranked from No. 11 to No. 22) in most categories. For other teams, the things they do very well will be quite long, but that also helps to explain why they have such a good record and stand a good chance to go far in the playoffs.
Warning to Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons fans: In the episode this week of Showtime's Inside the NFL, they came up with a statistic that out of the last five teams that began the season 9-1, none of them wound up progressing to the Super Bowl that year.
Texans and Falcons fans can only hope that their team will be able to break that streak.
Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)
What the Bengals do very well: The Bengals are No. 11 in pass offense and No. 3 in sacks in the NFL.
What the Bengals don't do very well: Cincinnati has been struggling to convert on third downs. They are ranked No. 30 in the NFL by converting on only 31 percent of their opportunities.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a young team that continues to battle in hopes of reaching the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in decades.
Historically, the Bengals have not fared very well with the AFC North bullies located in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Against these two key division rivals, the Bengals have lost nine straight games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh combined. Obviously, facing either team in the playoffs would not be a favorable matchup.
AFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: Besides Baltimore and Pittsburgh, a poor matchup would be any team with a good pass defense that excels at protecting its quarterback against the pass rush. The best example of that AFC team would be the Houston Texans.
New Orleans Saints (5-5)
What the Saints do very well: The Saints do a good job of preventing sacks (No. 7), converting on third downs (No. 5), committing fewer turnovers (No. 8) and capitalizing in the red zone (No. 1). They also have the No. 2 pass offense in the NFL, which vaults up the overall offense to be No. 5. They score a high number of points on offense (No. 4) by averaging 28.7 points per game.
What the Saints don't do very well: New Orleans is surprisingly struggling to generate a good ground game (No. 26), are still ranked dead last in overall defense and in rush defense. The pass defense isn't much better (No. 31) and they give up almost as many points, 27.3, as they score (ranked at No. 27). In addition, they aren't very good on defense in the red zone (No. 27).
New Orleans has an interesting balance of things they do well, and areas that they are dreadful in. The defense has six weeks to try to get their act together and start limiting the yardage and points allowed if they expect to get into the postseason.
NFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: The worst NFC opponent would be a team with a good red-zone defense and a strong pass defense. A strong overall offense that can take advantage of the Saints' porous defense would make it very tough to beat them. The team, interestingly enough, that meets those checkpoints is NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons.
New York Giants (6-4)
What the Giants do very well: The Giants give up the fewest sacks in the NFL and are ranked No. 2 in creating turnovers. Their turnover margin of +11 is No. 4 in the league. Their passing attack is ranked No. 9 and they score 26.7 points per game (No. 7).
What the Giants don't do very well: New York still has issues with the pass defense (No. 25) and they also struggle with their red zone offense (No. 26).
The annual November swoon for the Giants is almost over, as they are looking to get back to a winning streak when we flip the calendar to December. One team they don't necessarily match up well with is the Green Bay Packers, so don't be surprised if the Giants' losing streak continues this Sunday.
NFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: Any NFC opponent that can rush the passer well and has a strong pass defense could be a potential problem for the Giants. If they have a strong passing attack as well, that would also be another issue. The teams that best fit that description would be Seattle and Atlanta.
Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
What the Vikings do very well: The Vikings have the No. 3 rushing attack in the NFL, thanks to Adrian Peterson. That is the only major category in which they appear in the top-10.
What the Vikings don't do very well: Minnesota has the No. 30-ranked pass offense. When it comes to converting on third downs, the Vikings come in at No. 25. The third down defense isn't much better at preventing first downs (No. 24). Minnesota has only created 12 turnovers all year (No. 24) and they have a negative turnover margin of -3 (No. 23).
With only one top-10 category, that illustrates the point that the Vikings, right now, are an average team in most measurable areas compared to the best teams in the league. They live and die by what Peterson can produce on a weekly basis and the health of Percy Harvin. They still need more weapons on offense.
NFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: If the Vikings face a stout run defense in the playoffs, that can shut down Peterson and force Christian Ponder to throw, that would not be favorable game for Minnesota. If the team has a strong passing attack, it would be even worst. The best examples in the NFC are Tampa Bay and Green Bay.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4)
What the Buccaneers do very well: The Buccaneers have the No. 10 overall offense in the NFL. They are No. 9 in rushing and No. 4 in average points scored with 28.7 points per game. Their rush defense is No. 1 in the NFL and very good at protecting Josh Freeman (No. 3 in sacks allowed). They have only turned the ball over 11 times (No. 6) and are also No. 6 in turnovers created by the defense.
Tampa Bay enjoys a +9 turnover margin, which you guessed it, ranks No. 6. They are converting 66.6 percent of their red zone opportunities, which is good for No. 3 in the NFL.
What the Buccaneers don't do very well: Tampa Bay has only 17 sacks so far (No. 25). They only convert 33.9 percent of their third downs on offense (No. 24) and also allowing too many third downs to be converted on defense (No. 24). Despite the strong run defense, their pass defense is dead last in the NFL, which pulls down their overall defensive ranking (No. 29).
Tampa Bay is one of the most surprising teams in the 2012 season. It was an eye-opener to see them ranked so high in red zone offense and overall offense. Since they are the best at stopping the run, it is natural that teams will want to throw on them instead. Their rankings result in a screaming need to upgrade the pass rush as soon as possible.
NFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: A team that is tough against the run and has the kind of passing attack to take advantage of the Bucs' secondary could give them fits. The best NFC example is Green Bay. Another team could be Dallas, but after they lost on Thanksgiving it is hard to project them as a playoff team now.
Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
What the Seahawks do very well: The Seahawks have the No. 6 run offense in the NFL, to go along with the No . 3 overall defense in the league. Their pass defense is also ranked No. 3 and they give up just 16.1 points per game (No. 2 ranking). Seattle is No. 5 in sacks and they are stingy at allowing their quarterback to be sacked (No. 10). The red-zone defense is ranked No. 2 in the NFL.
What the Seahawks don't do very well: Seattle has some trouble getting off the field at times, as they allow 40.6 percent of third downs to be converted (No. 23). The overall offense is No. 26 due to having a weaker passing offense which is ranked dead last in the NFL. The Seahawks average 19.8 points per game (No. 24).
Yes, the Seahawks have some flaws, but any team that has a defense this good and can run the ball in cold weather in the postseason can be a scary team to face.
NFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: A difficult matchup would be a team that can stop the running game and keeps the chains moving by converting a high percentage of third downs. The best example of that would be Green Bay.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
What the Steelers do very well: The Steelers have the No. 1 overall defense in the NFL. They are No. 4 in rush defense and No. 1 in pass defense. Pittsburgh gives up just 19.0 points a game, which ranks them No. 5 in the league. The offense is No. 2 in converting on third downs. The offense has only turned the ball over 12 times this year, good for No. 8. The red zone defense is ranked No. 5 in the league.
What the Steelers don't do very well: Pittsburgh has only made 18 sacks this year (No. 23). The defense has created only nine turnovers (No. 30).
It is difficult to knock the Steelers' inability to create turnovers when the defense in general is so dominating across the board in most key categories. The biggest issue will be keeping Ben Roethlisberger healthy and trying to get Troy Polamalu back and ready to compete for the playoff run.
The Steelers' offense is basically an average unit this year. They don't do any one thing especially well, but they have a balanced attack that could play well in the postseason, combined with the tough defense to back them up.
AFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: Teams that can challenge their defense with a balanced attack on offense and has the ability to put some pressure on Big Ben. The best examples of that are New England and Houston.
Since the Steelers have lost the last three straight games to Baltimore, that could be another matchup that could be tough for the Steelers to win.
Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
What the Colts do very well: The Colts have the No. 4 overall offense in the NFL. They have the No. 8 pass offense and are No. 4 in converting on third downs.
What the Colts don't do very well: Indianapolis has turned the ball over 19 times (No. 25) and the defense has created the fewest turnovers in the league with just six. Their turnover margin of -13 is No. 30 in the NFL. The red zone defense is ranked No. 26, which is the same rank for how many points they allow on defense (26 points per game).
For the Colts to rank so high with their overall offense, to convert so many third downs and to have a winning record is all thanks to rookie sensation Andrew Luck. Luck shows great poise and maturity on the field and takes an aggressive approach in trying to throw the ball down the field whenever he can.
Yes, he can get in trouble sometimes with turnovers, but he will continue to learn rapidly on the job and eliminate those mistakes in the future. The Colts have been riding on an emotional roller coaster with Chuck Pagano's fight to conquer leukemia.
AFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: A strong pass defense and a defense that is good at preventing third down conversions would not be a favorable match up for the Colts. The best examples would be Pittsburgh, Denver and Houston.
The recent blowout loss to the Patriots also made a statement that the Colts would prefer not to see Tom Brady in the playoffs either.
Chicago Bears (7-3)
What the Bears do very well: The Bears have the No. 10 rushing offense, have the No. 5 overall defense in the league and the No. 8 rush defense. They only allow 16.5 points per game, which is No. 3 in the NFL. Their 28 sacks ranks them No. 5 in that category. The defense is No. 2 in preventing conversions on third down. With 30 turnovers on defense, the Bears lead the league in that category. Their +12 turnover margin is No. 2 in football. The red-zone defense is ranked No. 3.
What the Bears don't do very well: Chicago is giving up way too many sacks, 34 total, which ranks them at No. 31. The red-zone offense is ranked No. 25. The overall offense is ranked No. 30 because the Bears have the No. 31 pass offense in the NFL.
The Bears' defense has been responsible for winning some of those games this season, and it will be up to the defense to see how far they can carry the team this year.
The Bears have a number of flaws that will probably be exposed in the playoffs, as we witnessed when they played San Francisco. If a team can shut down their running game, then the sacks on Jay Cutler will start piling up. The Bears have to upgrade their offensive line. It is a high priority.
NFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: A team that has a strong defense against the run and takes good care of the ball would make for an interesting game. The best examples are Green Bay, Tampa Bay and San Francisco.
Green Bay Packers (7-3)
What the Packers do very well: The Packers are scoring an average of 26.3 points per game, No. 9 in the NFL. The defense is allowing 20.7 points, which is No. 10. The Packers have amassed 33 sacks, which is No. 2 in football. They convert 42.1 percent on third down (No. 8) and the defense is No. 9 in preventing third down conversions. The offense has turned the ball over nine times (No. 2). The turnover margin of +7 is No. 8. Green Bay's red-zone offense is No. 2 while the red-zone defense is No. 10.
What the Packers don't do very well: Green Bay has allowed 29 sacks, which is No. 29 in the NFL. The rushing attack is ranked at No. 24.
It is noteworthy that areas the offense does well in (third down conversions, scoring averages and having success in the red zone) are also areas the defense is performing very well in. Playing well on both sides of the ball bodes well for the Packers' chances to advance in the postseason.
With so many sacks allowed and the news of the hip injury to Bryan Bulaga, has to be a concern for the Packers going forward.
NFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason match up: A team with a strong pass rush, that can also protect their quarterback well would be a prerequisite for a difficult match up. Other keys would be having a good pass defense. The closest team that matches that description is Seattle.
If Colin Kaepernick is starting for San Francisco, his mobility would result in adding the 49ers to the list with Seattle.
Denver Broncos (7-3)
What the Broncos do very well: The Broncos lead the entire NFL in sacks with 35. At the same time, they are No. 3 in preventing Peyton Manning from getting sacked. The offense converts 43.5 percent of third downs (No. 6) and the offense in the red zone is ranked No. 5. The Broncos have the No. 3 overall offense in the league thanks to a passing attack that is No. 5. They average 30.1 points per game, which is No. 2 in the NFL. The overall defense is ranked No. 6 and the rush defense is No. 5.
What the Broncos don't do very well: Denver has turned over the ball 20 times so far this year, which ranks them No. 27 in the league. That is the only area they have to improve on in the postseason.
With the arrival of Peyton Manning, the Broncos have improved their overall team to being dangerous on both sides of the ball. They have created 21 more sacks than they have given up (call that sack differential, if you prefer). When you have a top-three offense and a top-six defense, you become a scary matchup in the postseason, especially when they play in the higher elevation at home.
The Broncos have to hope they can tighten up the turnovers issue in the postseason, as that would represent the proverbial red flag that could dash their aspirations to play in the Super Bowl.
AFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: New England, Houston and Baltimore all have defenses that are ranked in the top-10 for creating turnovers. They offer the stiffest competition for Denver in the postseason. Currently. Houston and Baltimore would both have home field advantage over the Broncos.
San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1)
What the 49ers do very well: The 49ers have the No. 1 running game in the NFL, averaging 165.3 yards per game. The overall defense is ranked No. 2, thanks to the No. 6 run defense and the No. 2 pass defense. They only allow 13.4 points per game, which is the best in the NFL. The defense is No. 3 in preventing third down conversions. San Francisco has only nine turnovers on the year (No. 2). Their turnover margin of +6 is No. 10. The red zone offense is No. 9 while the red zone defense is No. 1.
What the 49ers don't do very well: San Francisco has allowed 28 sacks, which is No. 31 in the league. The pass offense averages 199.3 yards per game, which ranks them No. 27. Those are the only two areas that offer up any type of concern.
The 49ers have a great defense that will be an intense unit to deal with in the postseason. The mobility of Colin Kaepernick may help the team with their sack issue, but nobody knows for sure yet if he will be asked to start in the playoffs.
The biggest matchup concern for the 49ers would be to face a great run defense, which would then force them to throw the ball more than they want to.
NFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: The best run defense in the NFL belongs to Tampa Bay. Since they also have a top-10 offense, they pose a bigger challenge than most people would guess.
If they meet up in the Super Bowl, Houston has the No. 2 run defense and is a very balanced team that would result in a very interesting game.
New England Patriots (8-3)
What the Patriots do very well: The Patriots have the No. 1 overall offense in the NFL, which includes the No. 4 passing attack and the No. 5 running game. They average 35.8 points per game, which is also No. 1 in the league. The rush defense is No. 10. They only have allowed 15 sacks, which is No. 5. The offense converts 51.1 percent of third downs, which is No. 1 in football.
New England has only turned the ball over seven times, No. 1 in NFL. The defense has come up with 27 turnovers, ranked No. 2. The turnover margin of +20 is the best in football. Patriots convert 65.3 percent of their red zone opportunities, which is No. 4 in the league.
What the Patriots don't do very well: New England has the No. 30 pass defense in the NFL, which drags down the overall defensive (No. 28). The defense allows 46 percent of third downs to be converted, which is dead last in the NFL.
As you can see from what the long list of what the Patriots do very well, the offense is clicking at a very high level of efficiency. New England has racked up 190 points in the last four games, which is a ridiculous average of 47.5 points per game. They are getting contributions from the defense, special teams and of course the offense in generating so many points.
The injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman have to be a concern, but then they get Aaron Hernandez back, so the team can keep just rolling along.
AFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: The only teams that can give them a decent game right now are the teams that offer a complete game on both sides of the ball, which would be Houston and Denver.
If the Patriots do advance to another Super Bowl, they would probably like to extract some revenge on the New York Giants, but at the same time the Giants seem to have their number.
Baltimore Ravens (8-2)
What the Ravens do very well: The Ravens are No. 7 in scoring an average of 26.7 points per game. On defense they only allow 20.6 points per game, which is No. 9. They are the definition of bend but don't break. The Ravens have only turned the ball over nine times, which is No. 2 in the NFL. The defense has created 21 turnovers, which is No. 5. Their +12 turnover margin is No. 2 in football. The red zone offense is No. 7 and the red zone defense is No. 9.
What the Ravens don't do very well: Baltimore is only converting on 34.4 percent of third downs (No. 23). The running attack is No. 25, which is the same rank of the overall defense. The run defense is No. 27 and the pass defense is No. 23.
It is somewhat surprising that the Ravens sport a record of 8-2 when you consider they have the No. 21 overall offense in the NFL and the No. 25 overall defense. What that means is when opportunities present themselves, they know how to take advantage. That can be lethal in the postseason, since they have been there so many times in the recent past.
With the key injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, the Ravens' defense has been struggling to get off the field. They give up 388.7 yards per game, which is far more than Ravens fans are accustomed to. The pass rush only has 19 sacks, which is borderline bottom-10 range.
Another surprising issue is that even with Ray Rice, the Ravens are only averaging 99.1 rushing yards per game. That number has to go up if they want to be successful in the postseason.
AFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: The Ravens have to hope their playoff experience will help them to pick up a close win or two in the postseason. It would not be a surprise based on the research if the Ravens lost two or three more games in the regular season, which of course would impact home field advantage.
Teams that have a balanced offense and defense would be a good challenge for the Ravens. Those teams right now in the AFC would be Houston, New England and Denver.
Atlanta Falcons (9-1)
What the Falcons do very well: The Falcons have the No. 7 overall offense in the NFL. The pass offense is No. 3, averaging 292.9 yards per game. They score an average of 27.0 points per game (No. 6) and the pass defense is No. 10. The Falcons only allow 19.3 points per game (No. 6).
The offense is converting on 47 percent of third downs (No. 3) and the defense is also No. 3 on preventing third down conversions. The offense is No. 10 in turning the ball over on offense and the defense is No. 7 in creating turnovers. The red zone defense is ranked No. 6.
What the Falcons don't do very well: Atlanta is only averaging 89.2 yards per game in their running attack (No. 28). The rush defense is No. 26, as they allow 130.5 yards per game.
The Falcons have obviously excelled with their passing attack, but have sacrificed their running game in the process. That lack of balance might come back to haunt them in the playoffs. With their lack of success recently in postseason games, the Falcons will likely have home field advantage, but that doesn't guarantee them a win.
They are very good on both sides of the ball on third down, "the money down". The ability to extend drives on offense and get off the field on defense is their saving grace.
They will have to prove they can be a physical team in the postseason. If they wind up losing that first playoff game again, you might see some sweeping changes in Atlanta as a result. When Matt Ryan threw five interceptions against Arizona, that is an example of what can go wrong with a heavy pass-oriented offense. They wouldn't fare well in the playoffs if they start turning the ball over.
The game this coming Sunday at Tampa Bay will serve as a good test for how the Falcons fare against a team that is a strong physical opponent. If the Falcons lose this game, that could be a bad omen for the playoffs.
NFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: The Falcons' lack of a ground game and trouble in stopping the run would be an issue against an opponent that is more physical than they are. Teams that fall into that category would be Tampa Bay, San Francisco and Chicago.
Houston Texans (10-1)
What the Texans do very well: The Texans have the No. 6 overall offense in the NFL. The running game is No. 8 and they score an average of 29.3 points per game, which is No. 3. The Texans have the No. 4 overall defense in the league, due to the No. 2 run defense and the No. 7 pass defense. They allow an average of 18.0 points per game (No. 4).
With 27 sacks, the Texans are No. 8 in that category. They have only allowed 13 sacks, best in the NFL. The offense is No. 9 in converting on third downs and the defense is No. 1 in the league in preventing third down conversions. The offense has only committed 11 turnovers (No. 6) and the defense is ranked No. 7 by creating 19 turnovers. The turnover margin of +8 is No. 7. The red zone offense is No. 10 and the red zone defense is No. 4 in the league.
What the Texans don't do very well: Houston is the only team in the presentation that doesn't have a single category in the bottom-10.
The Texans are the most complete team in the NFL. Sure, they encountered a bit of luck on Thanksgiving with a field goal attempt that bounced off the uprights. But they found a way to win on the road against a Detroit team that was desperate for a win.
Winning two overtime games in a five-day span has never been done before in the NFL. But that is what special teams do, and the 2012 version of the Houston Texans appears to be a special team.
AFC Teams that would not be a favorable postseason matchup: The Texans have to be considered the favorites in the AFC. The only team that would offer any major threat is Denver and New England. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been there too many times before, while Matt Schaub has never been there before.
The Texans and Schaub's lack of playoff experience seems to be the biggest obstacle in Houston advancing to the Super Bowl.
Thanks for checking out the presentation.