Every Potential NFL Playoff Team's Biggest Concern
As the playoff picture in the NFL continues to become clearer (kind of), it's time to look at the flaws of each team looking to advance into the postseason.
These flaws are either facets of the game an opponent can expose, or in some cases, these can be self-inflicted wounds.
This is a division-by-division look of what should be the biggest concern of each playoff-hopeful team.
Update: Both the Houston Texans and New England Patriots have been added.
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Green Bay Packers (9-4)
Concern: Consistent running game
The Packers were able to rush for 140 yards against the Detroit Lions, but games like that on the ground have not come easily for Green Bay. It also helps that Detroit is 20th in rush yards allowed per game. Against teams like the Bears, Seahawks and 49ers, yards on the ground may be a little tougher to get.
Chicago Bears (8-5)
Concern: Offensive Line
The Bears have had trouble all season keeping Jay Cutler on his feet—he had to leave the game against Minnesota with a neck injury—which, with how Jason Campbell has played this season, is not in the offense's best interest.
Chicago ranks 31st in Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, and the only way the Bears can win in the playoffs is keeping Cutler on the field—especially since the historic defensive scoring from the beginning of the season has slowed down.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
Concern: Offense outside of Adrian Peterson
It's been proved this season Adrian Peterson is not human. He can carry the entire Vikings team to a victory when the rest of the offense does very little.
Quarterback Christian Ponder tallied 91 yards passing in the victory against the Bears. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, a should-be top-50 trade contender, had as many receptions as I did against the Bears (note: I am not a professional football player).
Even as it seems impossible at the moment, some teams will be able to stop Peterson, and it will come down to the rest of the offense to win games.
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Atlanta Falcons (11-2)
Concern: Running the ball
Matt Ryan started the season on fire, but has come back down to earth in the past few weeks. The running game started cold and has frozen over. Atlanta ranks 28th in rushing offense, averaging only 86.9 yards per game—including all 35 yards on 11 combined carries from Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers against the Panthers.
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New York Giants (8-5)
This could be just "defense" in general, but the run stopping has been slightly better than the secondary. The Giants have been able to force a lot of turnovers, but when the defensive backs aren't catching the balls, opposing wide receivers are catching them for big chunks on yardage.
This also brings a burden on the defensive line, who need to get a consistent pass rush to help cover up the holes in the secondary by not letting opposing quarterbacks have time in the pocket.
The linebackers also need to tackle a little better.
Come to think of it...
New concern: Defense
Washington Redskins (7-5)
Of course, the main concern should be Robert Griffin III's health, but it seems his knee will be fine after having to leave the game against Baltimore.
Washington is giving up 289.3 yards through the air to opposing quarterbacks. Giving up yardage like that will put too much on the shoulders of Griffin and the offense who have had to outscore their own defense to win games this season.
Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
Concern: Running the ball
The Cowboys average almost 300 yards passing per game this season. They also average less than 80 rushing yards per game. Even Michael Turner thinks Dallas needs to run the ball better.
Tony Romo has been a good—not great—quarterback this year, but absolutely no run support leaves Romo to have to do too much. Making Romo do too much has yet to end well for the Cowboys.
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San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1)
Concern: Progression of Colin Kaepernick
The 49ers might be the most complete team in the NFL, and luckily for San Francisco, they don't have to play the Rams again this season.
If Kaepernick can get through the next two games—at New England and at Seattle—unscathed, then the Niners will be in great position to make a deep playoff run.
Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
Concern: Richard Sherman's suspension appeal
Sherman's appeal for his four-game suspension has been scheduled for Dec. 14. Four games after the 14th would involve Sherman missing Seattle's first playoff game, if the suspension is upheld.
Fellow cornerback Brandon Browner was also suspended, but did not appeal, letting his suspension last only the last four games of the regular season to allow him to return for the playoffs.
Seattle's secondary has been incredible this season, and a loss of Sherman and Browner at the same time could be a major blow, as the Seahawks could still have a chance to win the division by winning out, along with a 2-2 record by the 49ers.
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Baltimore Ravens (9-4)
Concern: Getting Ray Rice the ball
The Ravens were aware this was their biggest concern when they fired Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator. Cameron will be replaced by Jim Caldwell.
With Cameron, Rice was prone to disappear from the game plan for lengthy stretches of time during games, despite the whole "being Baltimore's best offensive player" thing.
Giving the ball to Ray Rice more not only benefits Rice—it takes the ball out of Joe Flacco's hands, which benefits everyone.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6)
Left guard Willie Colon is likely out for the season, Troy Polamalu has been in and out of the lineup, the defense clearly misses cornerback Ike Taylor, and Ben Roethlisberger has to continue to be an injury concern playing behind the current offensive line.
A healthy Steelers team is a dangerous one to play, but we have yet to see a healthy Steelers team.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
Concern: Whatever happened against the Cowboys
The Bengals came into the game against the Cowboys as one of the hottest teams in the league. Dallas was then able to hold them to one touchdown and four field goals.
A.J. Green only had three catches on eight targets, and the Bengals were only 4-of-11 on third downs.
The previous four weeks show Cincinnati is capable of much more than this and if they want to make the playoffs, they have to play like it.
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Houston Texans (11-2)
Concern: Running Arian Foster too much
Through 13 games this season, Foster has carried the ball 20 more times and for less yardage than he did in the 13 games he played last season. His per carry average has dropped from 4.4 to 3.9 in one season.
Foster is on pace to carry the ball 367 times this season, which would be 40 more carries than his career high set in 2010.
Houston cannot afford to have their best offensive player burning out before the playoffs start.
Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
The Colts are 20th in passing yards allowed per game, 19th in rushing yards allowed per game and 31st in total defensive DVOA.
The defense has been about as bad as Andrew Luck has been good on offense, which leads to shootouts like the 35-33 game against the Lions, and teams like the Patriots putting up 59 points.
The Colts still have to play the Texans twice in the regular season, which will be a good test for how playoff-ready this defense may be.
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New England Patriots (10-3)
The addition of Aqib Talib has certainly helped, and if the Patriots defend like they did against the Texans there won't be as much to worry about.
New England still ranks 29th in passing yards allowed per game. With games remaining against San Francisco, Miami and Jacksonville, that may not be a big problem for the rest of the regular season, but will be a concern against better passing teams in the playoffs.
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Denver Broncos (10-3)
Concern: Running the ball?
Statistically, the Broncos are only 20th in rushing yards per game. Denver averages about 106 rushing yards, and with Peyton Manning at quarterback that's really all they need.
The Broncos are sixth in offensive passing yards per game, seventh in passing yards allowed per game, sixth in rushing yards allowed per game and second in overall team DVOA.
With those stats, the Broncos are probably fine with technically being at the bottom of the league in rushing.