Week 16 proved to have large implications on the 2013 NFL playoff picture, with several teams locking up spots in the postseason. As of now, five of the six spots in the AFC are all set, and two of the six spots are clinched in the NFC.
In particular, three teams not only clinched postseason berths, but also looked pretty good doing it. Let’s take a look at what teams are heading into the postseason full steam ahead, and what questions, if any, surround them as they journey forward in the season.
Tom Brady’s Patriots are flying high coming off a dominant 41-7 blowout performance against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. With the Miami Dolphins losing their game against the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots clinched their fifth straight AFC East title, giving Tom Brady an unprecedented 11th division title.
Tom Brady commented after the game on winning the AFC East, “They're all special. It's hard to come by, and this team's really fought hard all year. We've earned it. Eleven wins in the NFL's not easy, and to win a division title's not easy.”
Brady’s numbers weren’t eye-popping in the win, but the Pats ran for 142 yards on 34 carries. However, most importantly, it was the Patriots’ much-improved play on defense. They forced four turnovers on the day and dominated the Ravens offense, snapping a six-game streak of giving up 24-plus points. Can the defense step up like this in the playoffs? If so, New England may be finding itself in the Super Bowl.
The Broncos cruised to an easy victory over the Houston Texans, 37-13. The obvious takeaway from this game was Peyton Manning’s record-setting performance, passing Tom Brady for the most touchdowns thrown in a single season with 51.
The Broncos have been the most explosive offense in the NFL this season. With Eric Decker catching two TDs in the victory over the Texans, Denver became the first team in NFL history to have five different players with at least 10 touchdowns (Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas).
Obviously, we know the Broncos' offense will lead them in the playoffs, but if they want to reach the Super Bowl, the defense is going to have to step up. Making that much more difficult is the news that star linebacker Von Miller is out for the season with a torn ACL. In only nine games this season, Miller has amassed 33 tackles, five sacks and three forced fumbles. Losing by far its best player on defense, how will Denver play without him? Its Super Bowl hopes will rely on how the defense recovers.
The Colts are coming off one of their most impressive wins of the season, a 23-7 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, at a raucous Arrowhead Stadium. They put together a complete game combination that could prove scary for future playoff opponents.
Andrew Luck was extremely efficient with 242 yards and a touchdown, Brown and Richardson combined for 122 yards rushing and the defense was able to force four turnovers. If Indy can continue to play at the same level, it should be considered a legitimate title contender.
If it can win next Sunday against Jacksonville, that would give Indy three wins in a row, fueling serious momentum heading into the playoffs with a probable rematch with the Chiefs.
Will the Colts be able to maintain their current level of play and momentum? If so, we may witness a deep playoff run by Andrew Luck and company.