Super Bowl 2014: Teams with Most Pressure to Make It to MetLife Stadium

Brian Mazique@@UniqueMaziqueCorrespondent IIIJanuary 4, 2014

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 22:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos calls a play during the first half of the game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

"You play to win the game." Former NFL head coach, Herman Edwards spoke those words in one of the most infamous and hilarious sports rants in history. As funny as it was, it is one of the most basic and true concepts in sports.

At the end of the day, it's all about winning. Whether it's the game, the division, the conference and ultimately the Super Bowl; the goal is hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy on a podium, with confetti in the air.

If that's not the primary focus, there's a problem in the organization.

All 12 teams headed to the postseason obviously want to play in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. However, for three teams, anything less than a trip to the sport's biggest game would symbolize a massive failure.

A re-examination of personnel could be in order should they fall short. 


San Francisco 49ers

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers talks with Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orle
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

After losing Super Bowl XLVII and advancing to the NFC championship game the year before, the team enters the postseason on a six-game win streak. For all intents and purposes, this really should be the Niners' year. 

If it's not, there will be legitimate questions about Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh's ability to win the big game. Kaepernick played well in last year's Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens. He threw for 302 yards, ran for 62 and had a touchdown pass.

Even with that performance, Kaepernick still questions whether there was more he could have done. On that crucial 3rd-and-goal play on the Ravens' 5-yard line with under two minutes to play, Kaepernick wasn't going to get the play off in time and head coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to burn a timeout.

In July 2013, Kaepernick told Sports Illustrated's Peter King he still isn't quite over what he sees as a missed opportunity.

I constantly think about it. I replay it. I rehash it. What could I have done better? If I got everybody up and got them set quicker, we wouldn’t have had to worry about the play clock. The way the play looked to me, I don’t feel there was anybody that was going to stop us from getting in the end zone... It looked like it could have been a walk into the end zone.

There was a linebacker coming over the topRay (Lewis)but I just don’t feel that was something that was going to matter.

That one play didn't cost the Niners the game, but this is the type of pressure Kaepernick puts on himself to succeed.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

He plays for a franchise that is used to succeeding and stacked with a history of past greatness at quarterback. Because he also supplanted Alex Smith as the starter when the former No. 1 overall pick was injured—but playing his best football—much is expected of Kaepernick.

Harbaugh doesn't have much more slack to play with. He has the type of personality that people tolerate because he's successful. If the Niners are no longer ascending with the immense talent they have, Harbaugh will come under fire.

There was already talk that he was out-coached by his older brother John Harbaugh in last year's Super Bowl. 

Chase Stewart of Football Perspective fell short of blaming Jim for the loss, but he does point out a less-than-perfect performance from Harbaugh in last year's big game.

Jim Harbaugh made several strategical errors that hurt his team, but I’m not going to blame the loss on him. The 49ers had some bad penalties and wasted key timeouts, usually the sign of a poorly coached team. But I’m still not going to blame him for the loss.

If the Niners fail to reach the Super Bowl—or have to settle for runner-up status again—the entire season will be deemed a flop.


Denver Broncos

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos in action against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum on December 29, 2013 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With the best record in the AFC, a first-round bye, a record-setting offense and a Hall of Fame quarterback, the Broncos are primed to at least make it to the Super Bowl.

Jeff Darlington of broke down the expectations awaiting the Broncos back in April 2013.

This is a team built with some of the best football minds in the game; some of the best personalities and players and evaluators of talents. It is a team that has all of the chemistry and the makeup to become one of the great championship squads we've ever seen. And that's part of the reason the expectations are going to be so high.

Going 13-3 with a high-powered offense didn't do anything to curtail this concept.

Peyton Manning is the engine that makes this team special. His presence alone affects his team's bottom line as much as any player in the league.

As the postseason approaches, Manning told the New York Daily News' Gary Myers:

“This is why you work hard in the offseason, this is why you lift weights and have the offseason programs, to give yourself an opportunity to play in the postseason.

That's so true, but the fact of the matter is, at 37 years old, the amount of offseason programs in Manning's future are few. Of every team considered a legitimate Super Bowl threat, the Broncos have the slimmest window of opportunity to attain the goal.

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 12:   Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos prepares for their game against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 12, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

That's the price of having so many eggs in such a gifted, but worn basket. 

When Manning calls it quits, the chances that the Broncos snap back and immediately become a major threat aren't high. While the offense set a single-season record with 606 points scored, the defense allowed the 11th most at 399.

The roster is good, but nothing special without Manning.

This is why Denver must win with No. 18 under center. If it doesn't, there is no telling when it will have another serious shot at winning it all.


New England Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 13:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots wlaks past head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots against the Houston Texans during the 2013 AFC Divisional Playoffs game at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2013 in Foxbor
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Sure the Patriots have endured tons of injuries and player absences this season, but as long as they have Bill Belichick on the sidelines, and Tom Brady under center, the football world expects greatness.

For the most part, the duo and an ever-changing supporting cast has delivered.

Though the team hasn't actually won the Super Bowl since 2004, the Patriots have finished with the best record—or tied—in the AFC East in each of the last 13 years. In 2008 and 2002, they missed the postseason due to tiebreakers.

That's truly amazing.

Despite such a marvelous run, the Patriots organization also has to start to think about life after their future Hall of Famer under center has moved on.

Brady is 36 years old. Once he has reached his end as an NFL player, there is no guarantee the Pats will find another player like him to take the reins. The immortal Hulk Hogan is even trying to give the Pats a push.

New England is not a perfect team this season. Brady doesn't have a ton of playmakers to get the ball to, and the run defense is ranked 30th in the NFL.

Brady Getting His Y.A. Tittle on
Brady Getting His Y.A. Tittle onJim Rogash/Getty Images

One could probably think of at least two Patriot teams in the last five years that looked better on paper.

That said, they finished 12-4 and earned a first-round bye. Brady and Co. have already proven they can beat the Broncos, though the thrilling overtime win in Week 12 was at Gillette Stadium.

Any postseason meeting between the two would take place in the Mile High City. 

Still, a veteran team and coaching staff like the Patriots has to know that given the opportunity, they have as good a chance as any to beat Denver at home.

Now, they just have to get it done.


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