Ranking Every NFL Playoff Team Heading into Divisional Playoffs

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IJanuary 6, 2014

Ranking Every NFL Playoff Team Heading into Divisional Playoffs

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    Four games down, seven more to play.

    Welcome to the 2013 NFL postseason. After one weekend, we’ve already seen three road teams prevail, and the lone home club to win had to rally from a 28-point deficit to win a game by one point.

    Of course, those four teams, the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers, now have a game under their belts in these playoffs.

    So here’s a look at the remaining eight teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy and where they rank from long shot to favorite to win Super Bowl XLVIII.

    As a reminder, we’re including where each team ranks in terms of total offense and defense this season, as well as points scored and allowed by each club. Each team’s win-loss record (including playoffs) is listed as well.

    Which one of these eight has enough to win it all? We’ll soon find out.

8. Indianapolis Colts (12-5)

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    Defeated Chiefs 45-44 in AFC Wild Card Playoffs

    Offense: 15th

    Defense: 20th

    Points Scored: 391 (T-14th)

    Points Allowed: 336 (9th)

    Obviously, it takes more than just luck to overcome a 28-point third-quarter deficit to win any football game.

    Then again, having a lot of Andrew Luck always helps.

    The second-year quarterback overcame three interceptions by throwing for 443 yards and four touchdowns as the Indianapolis Colts rallied from a 38-10 third-quarter deficit to stun the visiting Kansas City Chiefs, 45-44.

    “He kept telling us, even at 38-10, ‘We’re going to win this game’,’’ said left tackle Anthony Castonzo to Bob Kravitz of IndyStar.com.

    “Andrew kept saying, ‘Stay with me, stay with me,’” added right tackle Gosder Cherilus. “He willed us to this win.’’

    The teams combined for 1,049 total yards, the most ever in a postseason game, and the 89 points made it the third-highest-scoring playoff game in league history.

    Along with his four scoring passes, Luck was also Andrew-on-the-spot when teammate Donald Brown fumbled on his way to the end zone. The alert quarterback grabbed the ball and lunged into the end zone for a touchdown that narrowed Kansas City’s lead to 41-38 early in the fourth quarter.

    Luck’s 64-yard scoring toss to wideout T.Y. Hilton with just over four minutes to play and the subsequent PAT gave the Colts the lead for good.

    So what does this mean going forward as Pagano’s team prepares to take on the New England Patriots in the divisional playoffs? The Colts did give up 44 points and 513 yards of total offense.

    However, one thing is for sure (we think). A team that committed a league-low 14 turnovers during the regular season can’t afford to give up the football four times again and still expect to win.

    Can they?

7. San Diego Chargers (10-7)

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    Defeated Bengals 27-10 in AFC Wild Card Playoffs

    Offense: 5th

    Defense: 23rd

    Points Scored: 396 (12th)

    Points Allowed: 348 (11th)

    So the No. 6 came up with consecutive win No. 5.

    The San Diego Chargers, owners of a 5-7 record after 12 games this season, closed the regular season with four consecutive wins and opened the postseason with a 27-10 upset of the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Marvin Lewis’ team did not lose a home game during the regular season. But Mike McCoy’s team came up big despite being down 10-7 at halftime. The Chargers outscored the host Bengals 20-0 in the second half.

    “We asked a lot of our defense today and they came up with three big turnovers,” said San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to Joe Kay of the Associated Press (via ABC News). “We didn't turn it over, which is always big in the playoffs.”

    The Bolts actually wound up with four takeaways, three at the expense of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Now McCoy and his club clash with the top-seeded Denver Broncos, who lost just once at home in 2013...to the Chargers.

    Armed with a five-game winning streak and increased confidence, this San Diego team knows it can win in the Mile High City. The Chargers are 4-1 in their last five games at Denver.

    Let the intrigue begin.

6. New Orleans Saints (12-5)

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    Defeated Eagles 26-24 in NFC Wild Card Playoffs

    Offense: 4th

    Defense: 4th

    Points Scored: 414 (10th)

    Points Allowed: 304 (4th)

    If you listened to the chatter this past week, you would have thought that the New Orleans Saints had never won a road game of any kind since entering the NFL in 1967.

    Now Sean Payton’s Saints, off a 26-24 victory over the Eagles at Philadelphia in the Wild Card Round, look to make it two in a row as they head to Seattle to face the Seahawks for the second time in seven weeks.

    As for the first road playoff win ever for the franchise in six tries, the accomplishment was summed up by the Saints’ head coach.

    Payton to Larry Holder of the Times-Picayune:

    I said at the beginning of the week when we made light of a few things, what really is going to matter was the result. ... We understand that, that stereotype that sometimes comes with a team that plays inside. We can't change that. We kind of like the environment we play in. We traveled pretty well tonight.

    That they did. The Saints held the league’s No. 1 rushing attack to 80 yards and answered with 185 yards rushing of their own.

    Keep in mind that this is a team that gave up the fourth-fewest yards in the league.

    The Saints are in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years and know how to win a championship, as they did in 2009-10.

5. New England Patriots (12-4)

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    Offense: 7th

    Defense: 26th

    Points Scored: 444 (3rd)

    Points Allowed: 338 (10th)

    If it’s the NFL playoffs, it must be the New England Patriots.

    Bill Belichick’s team is in the postseason for a fifth consecutive year, tied for the longest current streak in the league. Dating back to 2001, the Pats are in the playoffs for the 11th time in 13 seasons.

    While those first three trips in 2001, 2003 and 2004 all resulted in Super Bowl wins, there’s been a championship drought for the league’s reigning dynasty.

    However, these current Patriots have been playing the kind of football that used to result in nail-biting Super Bowl victories. New England has won seven of 11 games decided by seven points or less. And for all of quarterback Tom Brady’s struggles this season, only the Denver Broncos (606) and Chicago Bears (445) have scored more points than the Pats (444) in 2013.

    Defensively, it has been another rough year for this club. Even minus defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, the team has managed to hold its own.

    It is worth noting that the Pats have won their last two games by a combined score of 75-27. And the five times that the team has reached the Super Bowl since 2001 came in the years when Belichick’s team had a first-round bye.

    And this Saturday night at Foxborough, they’re hoping for a little bad Luck when the Indianapolis Colts come calling.

4. San Francisco 49ers (13-4)

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    Defeated Packers 23-20 in NFC Wild Card Playoffs

    Offense: 24th

    Defense: 5th

    Points Scored: 406 (11th)

    Points Allowed: 272 (3rd)

    For the second straight year, the San Francisco 49ers began the season with a win over the Green Bay Packers.

    For the second straight year, the Niners also brought the Packers’ season to an end.

    Jim Harbaugh’s club snapped a 20-20 fourth-quarter tie with a 33-yard field goal on the final play of the game to edge the Packers at Lambeau Field, 23-20, in the Wild Card Round.

    The victory was the Niners’ seventh in a row overall and earned them a rematch with the Panthers at Carolina on Sunday afternoon. Back in Week 10 at San Francisco, the Niners failed to score a touchdown in a 10-9 loss to Ron Rivera’s team.

    And that’s been the trend for Harbaugh’s team this season. When they’ve won, they have had few problems lighting up the scoreboard. When they lose, they've lost without much of an offensive showing.

    All told, the 49ers have averaged exactly 30 points per game in 13 victories while totaling a mere 39 points in four losses.

    Still, they haven’t lost in nearly two months. Sunday’s victory featured another strong Colin Kaepernick performance against the Packers. The three-year pro ran for 98 yards on seven carries and threw for 227 yards and a score (one interception) despite barely completing 50 percent of his passes (16-of-30).

    However, he and the San Francisco offense held the ball for the final five minutes of the contest, setting up kicker Phil Dawson for the game-winning points.

    Now the Panthers are on deck. And speaking of Dawson, Harbaugh’s club will obviously need him kicking PATs instead of field goals this time around.

3. Carolina Panthers (12-4)

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    Offense: 26th

    Defense: 2nd

    Points Scored: 366 (18th)

    Points Allowed: 241 (2nd)

    In the previous four seasons (2009-12), an NFL team had opened the season 0-2 or worse a total of 30 times, and none of those clubs rebounded to make the playoffs.

    For the first time since 2008, a team that opened the season 0-2 would go on to reach the playoffs. And not only are the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, they are NFC South champions.

    Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton threw nearly twice as many touchdown passes (24) as interceptions (13) and also ran for 585 yards and a team-high six rushing touchdowns. The third-year pro also showed a touch for the dramatic, rallying his team to fourth-quarter wins against the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.

    With all due respect to Newton, it’s the Carolina defense that deserves the most attention.

    Ron Rivera’s team led the NFL with 60 sacks and gave up a league-low 21 overall touchdowns. And only the Seattle Seahawks (231) allowed fewer points than the Panthers (241) in 2013.

    Carolina’s game plan is portable. And Newton and his teammates have won three straight and are 11-1 in their last 12 games after a 1-3 start. Not bad for a team that was a combined 13-19 the previous two seasons.

    But now they face a 49ers team that has won seven straight games overall. And while the Panthers got the best of this team in Week 10 at San Francisco by a 10-9 score, Carolina will have a lot more on its mind this time around.

2. Denver Broncos (13-3)

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    Offense: 1st

    Defense: 19th

    Points Scored: 606 (1st)

    Points Allowed: 399 (22nd)

    We’ll soon find out if one of the greatest offensive performances in football history will culminate with a championship trophy.

    Prior to 2013, there were seven instances when a team scored at least 540 points in a season. None of those clubs went on to win a Super Bowl title.

    So can All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos buck the trend? Their 606 points scored are not only the most in one season in NFL history, but their 76 touchdowns were also the most ever by a team.

    Manning threw for 5,477 yards and 55 scores, both league records, and served up three or more touchdown passes in 11 of his 16 outings.

    However, John Fox’s Broncos will only go as far as their much-maligned defense will take them. The Broncos did limit the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders to 13 and 14 points, respectively, in their final two games.

    Denver allowed 399 points, 110 more than it allowed in 2012 (289) when it also finished 13-3 and was bounced at home by the Baltimore Ravens in double overtime, 38-35.

    The pressure is certainly on Manning and Co. to get it done this season. It’s hard to bet against them, but they are certainly far from a sure thing. And now they must deal with a San Diego Chargers team that beat them in Denver last month.

1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)

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    Offense: 17th

    Defense: 1st

    Points Scored: 417 (T-8th)

    Points Allowed: 231 (1st)

    The pieces are certainly in place.

    Now we’ll see if the Seattle Seahawks can make good on expectations and bring a Super Bowl championship to the Pacific Northwest.

    Pete Carroll’s club finished tied for the best record in the league and continued to impress even in defeat. For the second straight year, each of the team’s losses was by seven points or less.

    Seattle scored 417 points, the most by the club since their Super Bowl campaign of 2005. Second-year quarterback Russell Wilson threw 26 touchdown passes for a second straight season. And hard-charging Marshawn Lynch paced the league’s fourth-ranked ground attack.

    Last season, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the NFL for the first time in franchise history. Apparently, they were so enamored with their accomplishment that they managed this feat for the second straight year. In fact, Carroll’s club gave up fewer points in 2013 (231) than last season (245).

    Last but not least, Seattle led the NFL in takeaways (39) and turnover differential (plus-20). Carroll’s squad totaled a league-high 28 interceptions, eight of those by Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman, tops in the NFL.

    It’s hard to imagine this talented squad isn’t going to be the hardest out of them all in the playoffs.