NFL Playoff Picture: Top Seeds That Will Receive Early Postseason Tests

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 23:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots attempts a pass during the game at EverBank Field on December 23, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Highly seeded teams are not infallible in the NFL playoffs.

Every team has a weakness—even those squads that are anointed as the league's elite.

A few of this year's upper seeds will all present formidable opponents for whichever team lines up on the other side of the field, but they won't advance without issues.

Whether it be momentum, a poor playoff track record or one fatal flaw, these three teams will face early tests in the NFL playoffs.


New England Patriots

The Patriots struggled to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, one week after losing to the San Francisco 49ers on primetime television.

Because of the loss in Week 15, I expected Sunday's game against a weak Jacksonville team to be a breeze, but that wasn't the case. With the playoffs right around the corner, that should make Patriots fans a little nervous.

New England struggled to protect Tom Brady versus the Jaguars, and Mel Tucker's group isn't even known for pressuring the backfield. That's going to be a problem for the Patriots in the playoffs, seeing as every qualified playoff team has a formidable pass rush.

The Patriots' offense will always be dangerous, but the defense still tends to give up big plays through the air. If Brady has an off game, or he's under constant siege like he was on Sunday, things are going to get interesting very quickly for Bill Belichick's team.

It's hard to bet against Brady, but New England will face a stiff challenge early on in the postseason.


Atlanta Falcons

There's just something about this team.

Maybe it's that the Falcons were tested by a handful of unworthy opponents this season. Maybe it's their poor postseason reputation. Maybe it's the dead period Atlanta went through versus Detroit Saturday night.

But it's something. Atlanta doesn't possess that killer instinct. When a team is down, the Falcons struggle to put them away and that won't fly in the playoffs.

The Falcons rely heavily on Matt Ryan and his passing targets to matriculate the ball down the field. Michael Turner and the run game are virtually nonexistent, and the defense has shown lulls throughout the season.

It all depends on which Falcons team shows up. Is it going to be the squad that handed the Giants a 34-0 defeat in Week 15, or the team that lost to the Panthers the week before?

If it's the latter, Atlanta could get bounced from the playoffs very early.


Houston Texans

The Texans have lost two out of their last three games. With a tough road trip to Indianapolis coming up in Week 17, there's no guarantee that this team won't enter the postseason in the middle of a cold spell.

There's still a lot to like about this team. Arian Foster is enjoying another excellent year in the backfield, and Houston is also very difficult to run the ball against.

However, the secondary tends to give up big plays down the field, and Matt Schaub struggles to make some of his own at times.

Houston has definitely changed since Week 11. A 43-37 overtime win over the Jaguars that Sunday raised some eyebrows, and following that performance with another slim victory in Week 12 was even more surprising.

This team is still intimidating defensively, but it's going to need some big plays from the passing game in order to go all the way.

Expect them to be challenged by a team that can air the ball out and pressure Schaub.