NFL Playoff Picture: The Biggest Flaw of Every Projected Playoff Team
With just one week left in the regular season, the playoff picture has crystallized.
The entire AFC field is set, while the NFC field still has a lot left to be determined.
Every team in the NFL has at least two losses, and parity seems to be at an all-time high. Even the best teams have key issues at hand.
In the postseason, these weaknesses are likely to be exposed by better teams, and they could turn out to be fatal to the respective franchise's Super Bowl hopes.
Here are the biggest flaws of each projected playoff team.
Biggest Flaw: Lack of an Explosive Running Game
It's time for everyone to start believing in the Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta currently boasts the best record in the NFL, at 13-2.
The passing game is absolutely phenomenal. Matt Ryan has emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are perhaps the NFL's most explosive receiving corps.
The defense isn't spectacular, but it forces big mistakes at crucial times and manages to contain explosive offenses.
The Falcons demise could be their running game.
If Matt Ryan fails to find his groove during a playoff game, the team could struggle mightily.
Michael Turner is a shell of his former self, as he possesses subpar speed and dwindling strength. Even behind a solid offensive line, he is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry.
Jacquizz Rodgers is a solid backup, but he is also averaging under four yards a carry.
Matt Ryan has been able to perform despite a below-averaging running game all season, and the Falcons hope this can continue throughout the playoffs, where the Boston College product has struggled in the past.
Green Bay Packers
Biggest Flaw: Inability to Protect Aaron Rodgers
The Packers are one of the most dangerous teams in the NFC, as they are led by the best quarterback in the league and an underrated defense that is just starting to regain some health.
Green Bay's offense is close to unstoppable, despite a subpar running game. Aaron Rodgers has a slew of talented receivers in his disposal, including Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, who is expected back by the time the playoffs hit.
However, Rodgers has to be on his feet to hit all of these wideouts. And keeping A-Rod off the ground has been quite a challenge for the Packers all season.
The Green Bay offensive line has been horrendous all year. Rodgers has been sacked an astronomical 46 times this season, which is second most in the league behind just Philip Rivers.
The fact that Rodgers is a mobile quarterback with good pocket presence makes that number even more dumbfounding.
Green Bay's Achilles heel could be facing a team with a steadfast pass rush in the playoffs, such as the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers or Chicago Bears.
San Francisco 49ers
Biggest Flaw: Boneheaded Mistakes from Colin Kaepernick
It's hard to find flaws with the 49ers. Despite their resounding loss to the Seahawks this past Sunday, they are still one of the favorites in the NFC.
The 49ers rank in the top six in the NFL in rush offense, rush defense and pass defense. Their entire defensive unit is phenomenal, and has the ability to shut down any offense in the league.
However, young quarterback Colin Kaepernick could lead to the 49ers' demise.
Kaepernick is a solid player with a bright future, but his inexperience could lead to some killer mistakes in the postseason.
The Nevada product has limited his mistakes thus far, but he has cost the 49ers a win; one against the Rams earlier this season, as his boneheaded mistakes led to a crucial loss against an inferior opponent.
Kaepernick could easily lead San Francisco to the Super Bowl with his dynamic playmaking ability, but he could also just as easily cost the 49ers a chance at the Super Bowl with boneheaded mistakes.
Biggest Flaw: Awful Pass Defense
Robert Griffin III has sparked a renaissance in D.C., and as a result, the Redskins are a game away from claiming their first NFC East title in the Mike Shanahan era.
With the dynamic Griffin III under center, as well as the bruising Alfred Morris leading the rushing attack, Washington's offense has transformed into one of the NFL's most potent.
Washington's front seven is also a terrific bunch, as they rank in the top five in the league in rush defense.
However, the Redskins have one major fault in their awful pass defense.
Washington's secondary has been absolutely dominated by decent passing attacks this season. The unit currently ranks 30th in the league in pass defense.
The Redskins weakness could be fatal, as the NFC playoff field boasts the explosive aerial attacks of the Packers and the Falcons.
Unless Robert Griffin III can play safety, the Redskins could be headed towards an early playoff exit.
Biggest Flaw: Struggles Away from Qwest Field
The Seahawks recent dominant streak has not just billed them as NFC West contenders for years to come, but as clear Super Bowl contenders this season.
The defense, with a young and playmaking secondary and a ferocious and dominant front-seven, is one of the best in the NFL, and the offense, led by dynamic rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and beastly running back Marshawn Lynch, is emerging as one of the NFC's most dangerous.
That brutal combination on both sides of the ball, along with a loud stadium with insane fans, has made Seattle unbeatable at home.
The Seahawks have beaten the likes of the Patriots, Packers, Cowboys and 49ers at home this season.
Unfortunately for Pete Carroll and company, the Seahawks will likely enter the playoffs as a wild-card. This means they will have to hit the road in January, where they have been a shell of themselves this season.
Seattle is just 3-5 on the road this season, with their only wins coming over the lowly Panthers and Bills, and the free falling Bears.
Russell Wilson is just not the same quarterback away from Qwest Field, and the defense fails to make the same game changing plays as it does at home.
Seattle has to learn to win on the road if they are to make a postseason run this season.
Biggest Flaw: Horrific Passing Game
With demi-god Adrian Peterson pounding it up the middle for chunks of yardage and an underrated defense that always seems to make big plays, the Vikings have miraculously won nine games.
Minnesota stands just a win away from the postseason. However, if they do make the playoffs, they have some serious flaws to overcome.
The Viking's passing game is not just bad, it's horrific. The team ranks dead last in the league in passing yards per game.
Christian Ponder has failed to improve in his sophomore season, as he suffers from poor decision-making, inaccuracy and bad pocket presence.
The absence of Percy Harvin doesn't help him either, as Ponder has no dynamic receiving threats to get the ball to.
The Vikings' lack of a passing game has led many teams to stack the box to stop AP from running wild, and it has seriously hindered the great running back's upside at times.
Unless Minnesota can add a second dimension to their offense, they have no chance of making a run in such a talented NFC field.
Biggest Flaw: Lack of an Explosive Passing Attack
The Texans may boast the best record in the AFC, but they certainly aren't the most dangerous team in the playoffs.
Despite having an oft-dominant defense and explosive rushing attack, Houston falls short in one major area; the passing game.
Matt Schaub is a decent quarterback, but he certainly won't be confused for Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady anytime soon.
In fact, Schaub has been thoroughly outplayed by Rodgers and Brady this season when matched up against them, and as a result, the Texans have dropped both contests.
Arian Foster can carry the load at times, but when he fails to get going, like last week, the Texans offense has been awful.
Schaub does not possess the talent to be matched up in shootouts against elite quarterbacks, and with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the same playoff field, that's a scary thought for Texans' fans.
The Denver Broncos have no major weaknesses, and this makes them the scariest team in the AFC heading into January.
The team has won ten consecutive games, including convincing wins over fellow AFC playoff teams Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.
Many argue that the Broncos can not beat anyone elite, but this argument is flawed by the fact that the Broncos weren't united as a team through the first few weeks of the season, leading to hard-fought losses to New England, Houston and Atlanta.
The Broncos have one of the best passing games in the league with Peyton Manning and explosive receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas.
Knowshon Moreno has also emerged as a solid runner in the Denver backfield.
The defense of the Broncos is also terrific, and one of the most underrated in the entire league. The unit is comprised of a solid front seven that can rush the passer consistently, and an experienced ball-hawk secondary that can make a big play at any given moment.
The team currently ranks seventh in the league against the pass and third against the run.
Denver may be behind the Houston Texans in the standings, but no team should be feared more in the AFC playoffs.
New England Patriots
Biggest Flaw: An Easily Exposed Secondary
The Patriots are more of a complete team than they have been in years, and that is scary to comprehend considering they are a Super Bowl contender every season.
Even without Rob Gronkowski, the passing game is one of the most explosive in the league.
The running game, led by second-year man Stevan Ridley, has also emerged into a dangerous complementary threat. In fact, New England ranks 8th in the NFL in rushing yards.
On the defensive front, the Patriots front-seven matches up with the best of them. Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes and rookie Chandler Jones have reinvigorated the rush defense and pass rush.
However, the secondary is where New England's problems lie.
The team currently ranks an abysmal 29th in the league in passing yards allowed. The secondary has been exposed by a handful of quarterbacks this season.
Colin Kaepernick tossed four touchdowns against the Patriots just a week ago. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns in a close game in New England in Week 10. Joe Flacco passed for 382 yards and three touchdowns in a Ravens win over the Pats in Week 3.
The secondary has let many teams climb back into games against New England, as they simply cannot stop a decent passing attack.
With a handful of elite quarterbacks and explosive wideouts in the AFC playoffs, this flaw could end up being fatal to Bill Belichick and company.
Biggest Flaw: Lack of an Elite Quarterback
Injuries have taken a toll on the Ravens, but they have still managed to keep their head above water and claim their second straight AFC North title.
Baltimore dosen't do a lot of things well, but they manage to not be awful in any area.
They currently rank 13th in the league in passing, 15th in rushing, 17th in pass defense and 24th in rush defense.
While the run defense is a problem at the moment, it will greatly improve once Ray Lewis is back on the field making plays.
With Baltimore not being special in any given area, it is crucial that they have a quarterback that can carry the team through tough stretches and lead them to wins.
While Joe Flacco has proved he is a winner, he is not the type of signal-caller who can carry a roster filled with flaws by himself.
The fifth-year pro is a solid NFL quarterback, but he isn't going to put up 300 yards and three touchdowns on a consistent basis.
Flacco struggles with accuracy at times, and he can be flustered easily when facing a lot of pocket pressure.
Unless someone else can pick up the slack for the Ravens, they won't be able to make a run again this season.
Biggest Flaw: Turnovers
It's a miracle that the Colts have managed to clinch a postseason berth, not just because they were the worst team in the NFL last season, but because they have so many flaws throughout their roster.
Their run defense is horrific, currently ranking 30th in the NFL. The pass defense can be scorched by capable pass defenses, and the run offense only ranks 22nd in the league.
However, the Colts have managed to overcome these deficiencies on the arm of rookie phenom Andrew Luck.
Luck has already broken the single season record for a rookie quarterback with over 4,150 yards. He has been tremendous in the clutch, leading Indianapolis to several close wins this season.
However, Luck's ball control has become an issue, and in the playoffs, teams will make him pay for his mistakes.
Luck has thrown 18 interceptions this season, as well as fumbling nine times. Indianapolis currently ranks among the bottom of the league in turnover differential with a -14 ratio.
Great teams make the most of every possession and don't give up the ball to the opposition. To be a legitimate contender, the Colts have to stop turning the ball over.
Biggest Flaw: Lack of Receiving Options Outside of A.J. Green
The Bengals, although ripe with inexperience, could be a real threat in the postseason this year.
The team seems to do everything well. They rank in the top half of the league in every major statistical category.
Their defense is highly underrated, and it boasts perhaps the best defensive player in football, in Geno Atkins.
The offense is heavily reliant on Benjarvus Green-Ellis in the running game, as well as the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green connection in the passing game.
However, if Green is shut down by an opposing quarterback, the explosiveness of the offense takes a substantial hit.
Without Green consistently getting open, Dalton doesn't have the targets to move the chains.
Jermaine Gresham is a decent tight end, but he can be covered over the middle by a large safety or speedy linebacker. Mohammad Sanu could develop into a solid threat, but he is too young and raw at the moment.
Andrew Hawkins is lightning quick and can make big plays after the catch, but he has been too inconsistent this season.
Cincinnati has to pray that the talent of A.J. Green wins out in battles against top-notch cornerbacks and double coverage, or their offense could be at a standstill.
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