NFL Playoff Picture 2014: Biggest Potential Pitfall for Each Remaining Team

Brian MaziqueCorrespondent IIIJanuary 12, 2014

Dec 22, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) grabs his right knee against the Houston Texans during the first half at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into Sunday's divisional playoff games, six teams still have their Super Bowl hopes alive. While they all obviously have their strengths—otherwise they wouldn't have made it this far—they also have weaknesses that could spell an end to their run.

Here's a look at the potential fatal flaw of every team remaining in the playoffs.

 

Seattle Seahawks: Penalties

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 12:  An official picks up a penalty flag during a game between the St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field December 12, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. Seattle won 33-13. (Photo by Jay Drowns/Getty Images)
Jay Drowns/Getty Images

Per NFLPenalties.com, the Seahawks are the most penalized team in the NFL. It hasn't cost them just yet, but with two games remaining until they accomplish their goal of winning a Super Bowl, their lack of discipline could come back to bite them.

Whether Seattle faces the San Francisco 49ers or Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game, it will see another stellar defensive squad.

Regardless of the opponent, the game figures to be a low-scoring and close affair. A costly penalty could be the difference between winning and losing.

 

Carolina Panthers: Underdeveloped Passing Game

November 4, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) celebrates with Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) after catching a touchdown pass against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODA
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Against teams with stout run defenses like the 49ers and Seahawks, the Panthers may be unable to depend on their run game so heavily. In the regular season, they ranked just 29th in the NFL in passing. 

The team's leading receiver was tight end Greg Olsen. Veteran Steve Smith seems to have lost a step and isn't the big-play threat he used to be. Carolina may not have the deep threats necessary to keep teams from loading the box against it.

 

San Francisco 49ers: Passing Game

Jan 5, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) attempts to make a catch as Green Bay Packers cornerback Davon House (31) defends during the first quarter of the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lambeau
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers and Panthers are very similar; thus, they have the same potential pitfall. The 49ers were 32nd in the NFL in passing yards during the regular season.

That said, San Francisco is less likely to stumble in this area because of the return of Michael Crabtree. The dynamic wide receiver's presence has ignited the offense.

San Francisco is averaging 214.1 passing yards per game since Crabtree's return, which is up from 200 yards per game while he was out with an Achilles injury. Most of all, as Dylan DeSimone of Bleacher Report points out, the Niners have been real good since their star wideout came back:

 

San Diego Chargers: Pass Defense

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 22:  Wide receiver Rod Streater #80 of the Oakland Raiders is brought down by strong safety Marcus Gilchrist #38 of the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 22, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Ge
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Though the team has been better in this area lately, it is still a concern as it heads into a third meeting with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Through the regular season, the Chargers were ranked 29th in pass defense.

The Chargers were able to dial up a few well-timed blitzes in the second meeting with the Broncos. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), they blitzed Manning 13 times. He was sacked once, threw an interception and only completed five passes.

While that was a successful strategy in Week 15, you can bet the Broncos will have made adjustments to rekindle the fire they lit in Week 10 against the Bolts.

Manning went for 330 yards and four touchdowns in that one, with two of them coming against the blitz. Which outcome will we see on Sunday?

 

Denver Broncos: Pass Defense

The Broncos have had a similar issue as their opponents. Their pass defense was ranked 27th this season.

As low as that ranking is, the Broncos have shored up this area in recent weeks. They haven't allowed 200 passing yards since Week 13. Most of this came with the help of elite pass-rusher Von Miller.

But he's done for the season with a torn ACL, so getting pressure on the quarterback could become a problem. Thus, the Denver pass-defense issues could return. 

Per Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, executive vice president of football operations John Elway said this after Miller went down:

This is another bump in the road for us. Obviously Von is a big part of that defense, but I think that we were able to win six games when he wasn't available, so we'll have to pick it up for him. I feel bad for Von, because Von has done a lot of work to get back to where he is and was starting to hit his stride late in the year.

 

New England Patriots: Run Defense

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 24: Running back Montee Ball #28 of the Denver Broncos carries the ball against the New England Patriots during a game at Gillette Stadium on November 24, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

New England has combated their inability to stop the run by committing extra players to the box, but some teams have had success with play-action passes as a counter. Andrew Luck hit two huge passes against the Patriots on Saturday in those situations.

The Patriots run defense was ranked just 30th in the NFL. They were one of eight teams that allowed 2,000 yards rushing in 2013.

It helps that the Pats have adopted a ball-control offense of late, but with teams like the 49ers, Seahawks and Panthers potentially waiting in the Super Bowl, they could face a team that specializes in their weakest area.

 

Follow me. Sports are what I do.