Mason Crosby and the Weakest Link of Each Playoff Contender

Jesse Reed@@JesseReed78Correspondent IDecember 4, 2012

Mason Crosby and the Weakest Link of Each Playoff Contender

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    Mason Crosby could easily cost the Green Bay Packers a playoff win in 2012, given the way he's been kicking, and he's the team's weakest link.

    Every team has one—that one aspect or player that makes you cringe every time the game is on the line. 

    Follow along as we take a look at the weakest link of all 16 teams with legitimate playoff hopes. With one month left in the regular season, these may determine the fate of your favorite team.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Weakest Link: Christian Ponder

    Christian Ponder surprised a lot of folks early in the year, throwing four touchdowns and zero interceptions during his first four games.

    Since then, however, Ponder has regressed to play about as well as he did in his rookie season.

    He has a tendency to make a couple of bone-headed decisions in just about every contest, and his 11 interceptions in the past eight games has been a big reason the team has lost its momentum.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Weakest Link: Secondary

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers feature the NFL's worst passing defense.

    It's been a major issue for the Bucs all season long, and the loss of Aqib Talib to the New England Patriots in a mid-season trade and the suspension of Eric Wright for four games has only exacerbated the problem. 

    As good as Josh Freeman and his offense have become, the team's secondary always seems to let opposing teams back into the game. 

Dallas Cowboys

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    Weakest Link: Offensive Line

    Tony Romo can be his own worst enemy at times, but his offensive line hasn't been giving him any help this season. Romo has been sacked 28 times this season, and if not for Romo's uncanny ability to avoid pressure, that number would be much higher.

    Furthermore, and perhaps more of a concern, is the fact that the Cowboys haven't been able to run the ball. For the season, the Cowboys have managed just 82.4 yards per game (No. 30 in the NFL) and only six rushing touchdowns (No. 25 in the NFL). 

Washington Redskins

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    Weakest Link: Secondary

    The Washington Redskins haven't been able to stop teams from making big plays through the air all season long. 

    They rank No. 31 in the NFL in passing yards allowed, giving up 301 per game, and are ranked No. 29 in the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed, giving up 23. 

    As good as Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and the Redskins offense are, it's tough to win when the defense allows so many yards and points.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Weakest Link: Andy Dalton on the Road

    Given the Cincinnati Bengals' 7-5 record, they will need to win playoff games on the road to advance.

    That's a big problem, as Dalton isn't nearly as effective on the road as he is at home. 

    This season, Dalton has thrown 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions in six road games. This is a sharp contrast to the 13 touchdowns and five interceptions he's thrown in six home games. 

    Dalton also struggled in the playoffs last season in Houston, throwing zero touchdowns and three interceptions against the Texans. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Weakest Link: Health

    The Pittsburgh Steelers looked like Super Bowl contenders midway through the 2012 season, even without Troy Polamalu to lead the defense. 

    Then, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown got injured, and the team hasn't been the same since.

    If this veteran team can somehow manage to get into the tournament and get healthy, it'll be dangerous.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Weakest Link: Russell Wilson's Inexperience

    The Seattle Seahawks don't have many weak links.

    If Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman don't win their appeals and have to serve four-game suspensions, then the secondary will be open to exploitation.

    Operating under the assumption that they are innocent until proven guilty, the Seahawks next-biggest concern is that Wilson isn't an experienced quarterback. He was confounded by the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7, and he'll be faced with elite defenses when the playoffs come around—if they get in, that is.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Weakest Link: Defense

    If not for Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts would likely have a record of 3-9, or worse. 

    Luck has led five game-winning drives already in 2012, and his ability to come back late in games is already at an elite level. 

    It's just a shame that he has to do so on such a regular basis.

    The Colts defense is in the bottom half of the league in some key statistical categories:

    - No. 24 in scoring defense, allowing 25.5 points per game.

    - No. 20 in pass defense, allowing 240.4 yards per game.

    - No. 22 in run defense, allowing 122.6 yards per game.

Chicago Bears

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    Weakest Link: Offensive Line

    The Chicago Bears won't go anywhere in the playoffs without Jay Cutler.

    Through 12 games, the Bears have allowed 36 sacks—the fourth-worst mark in the NFL. 

    We saw what happened last season when Cutler couldn't go. And from what we've seen from Jason Campbell this season, he won't be able to keep the Bears on the winning path if he's called back into duty.

New York Giants

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    Weakest Link: Secondary

    Now that the playoffs are right around the corner, we can count on the New York Giants to stay focused each and every week—something we couldn't count on just a month ago.

    With that in mind, the team's biggest weakness is its secondary, which is an enigmatic group, to say the least.

    The Giants have forced 18 interceptions—the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFL in this department. 

    On the other hand, the Giants feature the No. 22-ranked pass defense, allowing 245 yards a game, and the secondary has allowed 19 touchdowns.

    If the Giants can continue to force turnovers, they'll make a deep run in the playoffs. If they can't force turnovers, who knows what will happen?

Green Bay Packers

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    Weakest Link: Mason Crosby

    Watching Crosby kick field goals this season is like watching Two-Face flip his coin to determine the outcome. 

    He's hit on only 15-of-24 attempts this season, good for just 63 percent.

    Sure, the team's offensive line can be atrocious at times, but Aaron Rodgers has the ability to overcome pressure more often than not.

    At some point, the Packers will be forced to let Crosby's leg determine the outcome of a game or two late in the season and in the playoffs, and we're not convinced he's up for the challenge.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Weakest Link: Greg Roman

    Roman is the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, and when he's on his game, the 49ers offense is darn near unstoppable. 

    He, along with Jim Harbaugh, have the ability to come up with brilliant game plans—most of the time. 

    The trouble starts for the 49ers when opposing defense bring a game plan that negates the one Roman drew up for the game. He struggles to make necessary adjustments. Furthermore, he occasionally gets too cute with his playcalling, like we saw in the team's latest loss against the St. Louis Rams. 

Denver Broncos

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    Weakest Link: Running Back Depth

    The Denver Broncos have gotten by so far in 2012 with a sub-par rushing attack, but they may run into trouble in the playoffs if Peyton Manning can't do it all by himself.

    With Willis McGahee out on IR (though he has been designated for a possible return), it's up to Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno to carry the load. Neither player is good enough to start under normal circumstances, but they're the guys the Broncos have to work with the rest of the way.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Weakest Link: Joe Flacco

    The Baltimore Ravens want to believe Flacco is an elite quarterback. 

    I've got some shocking news for you: Flacco is not an elite quarterback.

    Charlie Batch just beat him in Baltimore

    Charlie. Batch.

    Furthermore, if the Ravens ever have to take the show on the road in the playoffs this year, it's almost a guarantee they'll lose.

    Flacco is terrible on the road. This season, he's thrown just four touchdowns on the road in six games, while throwing four interceptions. 

    He's also been bad in the playoffs throughout his career, completing less than 55 percent of his passes while throwing eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. 

    Not. Elite.

New England Patriots

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    Weakest Link: Secondary

    The New England Patriots have featured one of the NFL's worst secondaries for the past two seasons, but the team usually gets away with it due to the ability of the offense to score points in bunches.

    Tom Brady's crew is averaging 35.8 points per game—easily the best mark in the NFL. 

    So far this season, the Patriots secondary has allowed 280 yards per game (No. 29 in the NFL) and has allowed 22 passing touchdowns (No. 26 in the NFL).

    If the Pats get involved in a dog fight against a team like the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans or Pittsburgh Steelers—teams with dominant defenses—then the Patriots secondary will have to step up.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Weakest Link: Michael Turner

    What ever happened to that firecracker of a runner who popped through holes like a rocket and turned on the burners in the open field?

    He's no longer with the Atlanta Falcons, and an old, slow running back named Turner has taken his place.

    Turner has lost a step or three since joining the Falcons in 2008. He's also lost his lateral mobility, and teams not named the New Orleans Saints have been able to box him up most of the season. 

    Turner's plodding feet won't help the Falcons once the postseason rolls around, and the team would be wise to continue incorporating Jacquizz Rodgers into the starting lineup more as the season comes to an end.

Houston Texans

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    Weakest Link: Secondary

    The Houston Texans secondary has been torched a few times this season, allowing Aaron Rodgers, Chad Henne and Matthew Stafford to throw for a combined 1,133 yards with 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

    Now that Brice McCain is out for the next six weeks or so (h/t the Houston Chronicle's Tania Gangui), this already suspect secondary will be exposed against the elite quarterbacks that it will face in the playoffs.


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