If we have learned anything in the past few years, it is that any team in the NFL playoffs is capable of winning the Super Bowl. The key for the fringe squads is figuring out what can be done to keep the dream of a title alive.
Last season, the Baltimore Ravens struggled toward the end of the regular season before turning things around in the playoffs. They figured out how to tackle on defense and pass block on offense to help secure a Super Bowl championship.
While the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks are among the favorites to win a title this year, according to Vegas Insider, the long shots also have a strong chance of making a run. Of course, for this to happen, it will take some specific improvements from each team.
San Diego Chargers (15-1)
The San Diego Chargers have already figured out what it will take to win games at this stage of the year: running the ball. Although quarterback Philip Rivers has had a strong year, it is the rushing attack that has carried the squad in recent weeks.
Since Week 14, San Diego is averaging 39.4 rushing attempts per game, leading to five wins in a row. Not only has this helped the offense move the football, it has taken pressure off the defense by keeping it off the field.
This is the strategy that led to the road win over the Denver Broncos in Week 15 as the offense was on the field for over 38 minutes of game time.
On the defensive side of the ball, it will take versatility and focus in the secondary. The coaching staff has to be able to vary the playbook based on the opponent, so the team can take away the deep ball for the Broncos but the short pass for the New England Patriots.
Beyond that, the players themselves have to make sure they are in the right spot at the right time to make this happen. Although this seems obvious, the Chargers have the least room for error, so every person on the field has to execute to their top ability on every play.
If San Diego can hold onto the ball and not make mistakes on defense, it can continue its surprising run to the Super Bowl.
New Orleans Saints (15-1)
On talent alone, the New Orleans Saints have the ability to win the Super Bowl. Drew Brees is among the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he is surrounded by plenty of weapons on offense. Defensively, the squad improved tremendously from last season and can compete with anyone.
However, the problem has been the team's inability to remain consistent on the road. The team went 3-5 away from home this season, and even Brees admitted that it was a problem:
According to NewOrleansSaints.com, Sean Payton believes things will not necessarily get easier after the recent win over the Philadelphia Eagles:
Each stadium presents a different environment to some degree. For our team we have a lot of young players on this team. Going to Philadelphia is one thing. Going to Seattle is another. Each can be challenging in their own ways. Certainly noise is an issue on the road with the challenges to communication it can create.
It all comes down to confidence and consistency, and the win over the Eagles will help that. Even though Brees threw two interceptions in the victory, he still came back with a strong performance late.
Additionally, the Saints cannot be afraid to run the ball since this is something that can be replicated in any weather.
However, the biggest factor in the next two games will be containment. Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton are all capable of running out of the pocket for big gains against defenses that are not careful, so the Saints have to be wary of this possibility.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loves to be aggressive, but he has to make sure his unit does not give up big plays on the ground on the way to the Super Bowl.
Indianapolis Colts (20-1)
Of the AFC teams remaining, Indianapolis allows the fewest points per game. However, the defense also struggles against the run, allowing over 2,000 yards on the season.
If Jamaal Charles did not get hurt early in the wild-card game, Kansas City might have been able to take advantage of this issue and possibly hold on to its 31-10 second-half lead.
The Colts might not be as fortunate against the New England Patriots in the divisional round or the Chargers and the Broncos in the conference championship, especially since each of these squads rank in the top half of the league in rushing.
It will be important for the Indianapolis front seven to step up on the defensive end to keep its opponents from running all day long.
On the other side of the ball, the Colts need to get back to not turning the ball over. Andrew Luck was fortunate to get away with three interceptions against the Chiefs, but this will not lead to too many more wins in the postseason.
Indianapolis only had 14 giveaways all season, which was the lowest in the NFL. If the squad can take care of the ball like this and win the turnover margin, the Colts have a decent shot of going all the way this season.
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