NFL Playoff Picture: 12 Teams, No Favorites

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NFL Playoff Picture: 12 Teams, No Favorites
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A season filled with surprises, undefeated teams, disappointments, and some really bad football franchises will be wrapping up in the next three weeks.

The standouts are pretty obvious in the NFC; the New Orleans Saints are 13-0 and the 11-2 Minnesota Vikings, led by the 40 year-old Brett Favre, have been very impressive through 14 weeks.

In the AFC, there is has been one dominant football team, the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, also 13-0.

I find a lot of problems with these three teams, and reasons why all of them could get upset during the post-season.

These teams have their first-round byes pretty much sewn up. The question being brought up by ESPN and other major media outlets is; when should they rest their stars?

My answer is different for each.

What team has the most to lose by playing their starters?

 

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

I think the Minnesota Vikings would be best sitting down Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson as soon as possible.

If they can clinch their bye in the next week, I would recommend that Favre and Peterson play little in week 16 and not at all in week 17. They could extend the rest to injured cornerback, Antoine Winfield and wide receiver, Percy Harvin as well.

Their key to success has been their ability to run the ball effectively while stopping the run on defense. Adrian Peterson has not looked like himself over the past weeks. His inability to break free at the line of scrimmage has been very noticeable and NFL critics now consider him the second best back in the NFL behind Chris Johnson. 

On top of that, Chester Taylor has looked like the more effective tailback between the tackles. There is an outcry in talk radio for the Vikings to integrate Taylor into the offense beyond just third down situations.

I would be very hesitant to give Taylor more carries at this point because I still feel that Peterson can take it to the house on any carry.  He just needs a little rest to get his legs back underneath him and refocus his attention on what he was successful doing in the past.

What team has the most to gain by playing their starters?

 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Peyton Manning has been a measure of consistency throughout his career in the NFL.

He has a new head coach this season.

He is really his own offensive coordinator on the field. 

If anyone could take a break and come back in top form it would be him.

I'm more worried about his on the field chemistry with Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. Both are very critical to their success. Denver took away Wayne and forced him to throw to his secondary options and they picked him off three times as a result. 

Although the Colts are undefeated, they do not stay there by playing like the 2007 New England Patriots.  If head coach, Jim Caldwell decides to sit down Manning too early, I think he is asking for trouble in their Divisional Play-off game. 

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WILD CARD CONTENDERS

This year just feels like one in which somebody coming from Wild Card Weekend could make it to the Super Bowl. With surprise resurgences from Denver and Green Bay during 2009, it gives the division winners plenty to worry about beginning in early January.

The Broncos have defeated the Bengals, Patriots, Chargers and Cowboys in very tight games. They also have lost to the Redskins, Steelers, Ravens, Chargers, and Colts.

An injury to Kyle Orton played a significant part in two of their losses. A halftime lead was squandered against the Redskins following his injury. They spotted the Chargers a 21-point cushion before bringing Orton into the game.

They are a very interesting team when their offense is clicking. If the offense can score points off turnovers the defense has been creating, the Denver Broncos could easily pull a couple of upsets.

The Green Bay Packers are a very interesting team moving forward. If you take away the two losses to "Brett Favre," Green Bay is 9-2. 

They have started to run the ball very well with Ryan Grant. That aspect of their offense was completely missing in 2008 and was so critical to their NFC Championship run in 2007.

They seem to have found it again which compliments Aaron Rodgers who has played very well all season.

The defense has been very stout, led by All-Pro cornerback, Charles Woodson. It would be no surprise for the Pack to travel to Arizona or Philadelphia and come out on top.

 

THE BEST OF THE REST

Among the division winners not getting a bye to the Divisional Play-offs, there are many good teams.

The Super Bowl runner-up, Arizona Cardinals, have played well enough in games to get back there again this season. They laid an egg on Monday Night Football in San Francisco, but really did not look or play like themselves.

If you toss that game out, there is a lot to like about the red birds.

The Philadelphia Eagles were in the NFC Championship game last year and have a decent shot of getting back there again.

Winning road games in Minnesota and New York during last years play-offs was impressive, but the loss of Brian Dawkins will prove to be a big off season mistake in about a month.

I am not a fan of either the New England Patriots or Cincinatti Bengals for a number of reasons; for instance, the latest locker room tussle in Boston and the manner of which the Vikings easily dismantled the Bengals in week 14.  I like both AFC Wild Card Winners to upset them on their home fields.

If it turns out to be Denver and Baltimore or Denver and Miami, I would suspect that both games will be very close. I lean towards the underdog in both games.

No matter how you feel the play-offs will turn out, the fact is any team that gets in can win it, and it is going to be a very fun start to 2010.

 

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