As the NFL playoff picture unfolds, the multitude of contenders will be dwindled down to just 12 teams that will grace the postseason. Only two of them can and will make it to Super Bowl XLVII.
Those are the facts. As good as every team might be, it all matters how they match up against the teams they will face in the postseason.
Current streaks and cohesion on both sides of the ball are also strong indicators of how well a team will perform in the postseason.
Don’t count anyone out, but here are a few of the teams with the best odds to make it to the Promised Land. This season, that holy ground is the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
New England Patriots
A team with Tom Brady at the helm should never be discounted from making a postseason run to the Super Bowl. That’s why it’s hard to do so here.
New England is running the ball better than it has in recent memory thanks to a plethora of able and willing backs in its stable. That has helped relieve some of the pressure off of Brady and the team’s injury-riddled passing game.
With Rob Gronkowski getting healthy at the right time, New England will be one of the most potent offensive teams in the AFC during the playoffs.
Defensively, the team has serious concerns in its secondary, although the big-play potential of its corners has helped make up for the big plays it gives up on a weekly basis.
Bill Belichick and his staff can mask deficiencies as well as anyone, but could meet problems in the playoffs.
Like with Brady, Peyton Manning is a proven winner who doesn’t shy away from tough situations. He rises to them and puts his team on his shoulders.
Manning hasn’t been asked to do that this season, despite his impressive resurgence after missing all of 2011-12 due to neck surgery.
The Broncos have a tough defense that’s anchored the team during its nine-game winning streak. That unit is allowing just 91 yards per game on the ground (second in the NFL) and 216.1 yards per game through the air (eighth in the NFL).
Offensively, the Broncos are relatively balanced and have run the ball pretty well. Losing Willis McGahee for the season hurt, but Knowshon Moreno has stepped in nicely, rushing for over 100 yards in back-to-back games leading up to Week 16.
Atlanta is a virtual lock to snatch a first-round bye from the field. All it will take is one more win and the Falcons will clinch that bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Despite some poor performances at home, Atlanta is still unbeaten when playing under the roof of the Georgia Dome.
Matt Ryan has one of the best complements of weapons as anyone else currently in contention. The explosive potential of Julio Jones and the sure hands of veterans Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez make this team’s offense capable of moving up and down the field against any defense.
If teams take away the pass, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers are certainly capable of creating offense on the ground. Although, they have struggled to do so at times this season.
Defensively, the Falcons are not a top-tier unit. That’s probably because they tend to play down to their opponents and give up yardage, but holding to keep teams out of the end zone.
The Falcons will be a tremendously tough team to beat in the playoffs if they can continue that. Posting a couple of impressive performances like their Week 15 shutout of the New York Giants wouldn’t hurt, either.
San Francisco 49ers
With Colin Kaepernick at quarterback the San Francisco 49ers have emerged as more than a powerful rushing team that plays stout defense.
Kaepernick isn’t a game managing quarterback. Instead, he makes plays with his legs and arm that opens up the running game that has made the team so successful in recent memory.
San Francisco has struggled with teams that can pressure the quarterback, although Kaepernick adds a new element that will help it overcome that.
All in all, San Francisco is the best overall team destined for the playoffs. Its defense’s ability to keep teams out of the end zone and its offense’s ability to control the tempo of the game makes it a dangerous postseason team.
With Alex Smith at QB, people wondered whether the 49ers could stage a comeback if they fell down on the scoreboard early. With Kaepernick in there, the chances of them falling too far behind aren’t as high.