First, we all can agree that the NFL is a quarterback driven league and every team but the New York Jets and the Green Bay Packers have a playoff tested quarterback. The league is all about passing so when breaking down the playoffs the passing game is not the key to who will win.
There are a few things teams need to win in the playoffs. The teams that make it to the end will have a solid overall defense, a good running game, a dominate pass rusher, a big play and go to receiver, and a good kicking game.
Overall defense: Teams have to make stops and force turnover to win in the playoffs.
Running Game: Teams must have to balanced on offense and able to be physical late in games to run time off clock with a lead and control time of possession.
Pass rusher: Teams need a player to put pressure on the quarterback and force double teams to open up opportunities for teammates.
Go To Receiver: Teams must have a player to get a first down when they need a big first down.
Big Play Receiver: Teams must stretch defenses for the running game and provide quick strike opportunities off turnovers and for momentum changing scores.
Kicking: In a close game teams must have a field goal kicker who can make field goals to win the game.
The reason the passing game does not matter is because eight of the top ten teams in passing are in the playoffs. Nine of the 12 playoff teams are in the top 15 of passing. Only the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens are in the bottom of the league in passing.
So here is a breakdown of the stats for each team and why they will move on in the playoffs. Then my picks from Wildcard weekend to the Super Bowl.
Defense Team: 20th ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 28th Ranked overall rushing team
Pass Rusher: Darnell Docket tied for 23rd in sacks
Go To Receiver: Larry Fitzgerald 7th in receptions
Big Play Receiver: Larry Fitzgerald 30th in plays 20 yards are more
Kicking: 29th ranked field goal team
The Cardinals can throw the ball as well as any other team in the playoffs. What most people seem to forget is that Arizona found a running game on their way to the Super Bowl last season.
As a team Arizona can defend the pass well with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who is second in passes defended. The defensive line can disappear in games and this could be a problem if teams can handle Docket one on one.
The Cardinals are minus five in give away/take ways this season which is a problem. Arizona has had problems fumbling the ball and throwing interceptions with double figures in both stats.
Arizona’s main health concern is with wide receiver Anquan Boldin but they made a playoff run with him injured last season. The success of this team will fall on the running game and rookie Chris Wells.
If the Cardinals cannot muster some form of a running game they will find an early exit in the playoffs. There is no way a team can win in the playoffs turning the ball over and no running game.
Arizona seems to show up and play when they feel like it and this regular season problem could be their doom in the playoffs. In their six losses only two were by less than seven points.
Good news for both the Cardinals is that as long as they can keep games close they have a chance to win with Kurt Warner at quarterback. The bad news is the kicking game is not good.
The Cardinals could make another playoff run but with their mentality to show up a week and then disappear makes them a one and done playoff team at best. The running game and the kicking game could doom this team in the playoffs.
Defense Team: 9th ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 7th ranked overall rushing team
Pass Rusher: DeMarcus Ware tied for 7th in sacks
Go To Receiver: Jason Witten tied for 9th in receptions
Big Play Receiver: Miles Austin 2nd in plays 20 yards or more
Kicking: 25th ranked field goal team
The Cowboys do all the little things you like come playoff time. They get pressure on the opposing teams quarterback and Mike Jenkins is 6th in passes defended. So while they do not get a lot of interceptions they do protect against the pass.
Dallas is only plus one in the give away/take away category so the cowboys do not have to win the turnover battle to win the game. The Cowboys are as healthy as they can be heading into the playoffs as well.
One thing to worry about for every team is problems that plagued a team in the regular season popping back up in the playoffs. For Dallas that is a letdown in the defense.
Four of the five Cowboy losses are by seven points are fewer. In every game Dallas loss they were in the game heading into the fourth quarter.
The worst loss this team had was a 10 point loss to the Green Bay Packers on the road. As long as the defense keeps playing they have in their last two games which were shutouts of the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles this team will be fine.
If the defense plays well and the game is close do not put your money on the Dallas field goal team. The Cowboys have already fired one kicker and signed another who was cut for missing field goals.
As long as Tony Romo plays well and does not throw more than one interception a game the Cowboys will be fine. The bigger worry is running backs holding on to the ball.
The Dallas running backs have actually turned the ball over more than Romo with ten fumbles to eight interceptions. Ball security will be paramount for the Cowboys running backs to stay balanced and wear down defenses.
The Cowboys might not have won a playoff game since 1996 but do not worry about that. This franchise has a history of winning in the playoffs longer than this losing streak.
Good news for Dallas is that teams who have swept regular season opponents have meet 19 times in the playoffs. The winner of the sweep has won 12 times and only lost 7 times.
The one reason I am high on the Cowboys is the year after the San Francisco 49ers passed Dallas for the most Super Bowl wins this franchise came back to tie them the next year. Now the Pittsburgh Steelers have six Lombardi Trophies to the Dallas’ five.
Do not sleep on this team tying the Steelers up after this post season. The league is always better when the Cowboys are winning and winning championships. The Cowboys just like the New York Yankees, Dallas, has the same love them or hate them mentality.
Green Bay Packers
Defense Team: 2nd ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 14th ranked overall rush team
Pass Rusher: Clay Mathews tied for 11th in sacks
Go To Receiver: Donald Driver tied for 27th in receptions
Big Play Receiver: Greg Jennings tied for 11th in plays 20 yards or more
Kicking: Tied for 6th ranked field goal team
The biggest question for this team might be Aaron Rodgers starting the first playoff game of his career. Rodgers has been an MVP candidate for most of the season but the pressure is always cranked up in the playoffs.
The Packers running game has come on at the right team down the stretch but has not been dominating all season. Rushing yards will be hard to come by in the playoffs and the lack of a running game all season could come back to haunt Green Bay.
The strength of this team is in give away/take away were they are plus 22 the best in the NFL. Anyone wanting to beat the Packers will have to protect the ball and not give Green Bay a short field to work with.
In pass defense the Packers can rest easy with Charles Woodson in the secondary. Woodson is second in the NFL interceptions and tied for eight in passes defended.
Green Bay has only had one loss by more than ten points but as stated above the Packers might not want to meet up with Minnesota again in the playoffs. Green Bay goes and Rodgers goes and he goes as well as the offensive line does.
The Packers have fixed their offensive line problems from early in the season but if anything in the regular season dooms this team it will be poor offensive line play. Green Bay must protect Rodgers if they hope to make a Super Bowl run.
The Packers should be fine in a close game with Mason Crosby kicking field goals. This team overall has the potential to make it far in the playoffs.
A team with a strong pass rusher and defensive line could end their season if their offensive line woes resurface. One of the top three teams in the NFC at the end of the season but has to go on the road to make it to Miami.
Defense Team: 6th ranked overall team defense
Rushing as a Team: 13th ranked overall rush team
Pass Rusher: Jared Allen 2nd in sacks
Go To Receiver: Sidney Rice tied for 12th in receptions
Big Play Receiver: Sidney Rice 5th in plays of 20 yards or more
Kicking: Tied for 10th ranked in field goals
Minnesota has been a Super Bowl favorite since Brett Favre joined this team after retiring for the second time. There have been bumps along the way but the Vikings do have the number two seed in the NFC playoffs.
The pass defense could be the only big question mark on this team. The defensive line gets plenty of pressure but when they do not the secondary is weak for the Vikings. No Minnesota player is in the top 20 in passes defended or interceptions.
Offensively this team will go as far as Brett Favre takes them. As long as Favre does not turn the ball over Minnesota will be in every game. Overall the Vikings are plus four in give away/take away.
Adrian Peterson might be one of the top running backs in the league but as a whole the Minnesota running backs have turned the ball over more than Favre has. The Vikings ball carriers have to protect the ball if they hope to make a Super Bowl run.
Minnesota has been in every loss this season but one against the Carolina Panthers. Their other three losses were by ten points are less.
The Vikings regular season problem that might come back in the playoffs is the rift between Favre and the coaching staff. This could split the team and cost them a chance at the Super Bowl.
To beat Minnesota teams need to harass Favre and not let him have time in the pocket. Plus teams must contain Peterson in the running game.
Minnesota has a very sound kicking game and does not have to worry when it comes down to field goal to win games. As long as they are in the playoffs they know they will play in domes the whole way.
This team could be playing in Miami but with a 40 year old quarterback and a less than stellar secondary a loss in the second round would not be surprising. A final run for Favre to the Super Bowl should not surprise either.
Defense Team: 25th ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 6th ranked overall rush team
Pass Rusher: Will Smith 5th in sacks
Go To Receiver: Marques Colston tied for 27th in receptions
Big Play Receiver: Marques Colston tied for 6th in plays of 20 yards or more
Kicking: 19th ranked field goal team
For the first time in franchise history the Saints are the number one seed in the NCF playoffs. A spot they have never been in with home field advantage though out the playoffs.
The key to this team is Drew Brees, who is the field and emotional leader of New Orleans. The Saints love to pass to open up the run and this season has had an effective run game to go with their explosive passing game.
New Orleans defense is the one weakness of this team but in the secondary Darren Sharper was tied for first in interceptions in the NFL and tied for 16th in passes defended. The Saints must get pressure with their defense and force turnovers.
The Saints were plus 14 in give away/take way this season and the turnovers lead too much of their success. New Orleans has been in close games when their defense struggles.
The offense of the Saints is the bell cow of this team. The only way to stop it is to put a ton of pressure on Brees. If he has time to throw the ball and the running game is working this team is hard to stop.
New Orleans did not show many regular season reoccurring problems except for letdowns on defense and against the Dallas Cowboys trouble protecting Brees. If the Saints do not get turnovers and their offense sputters they are beatable.
A close game could end this team’s playoff run with the problems they have had in the kicking game. A field goal to win a game is the only glaring weakness of this team.
The bad news for the New Orleans is that no team has ever lost their last two games and won the Super Bowl. The Saints have lost their last three.
Do not expect home field advantage to help New Orleans in the playoff either. Two of the Saints three losses came in the Superdome.
Offensively this team has a good chance to make it to Miami. Defensively they have a chance to be a one and done team.
Defense Team: 12th ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 22nd ranked overall rush team
Pass Rusher: Trent Cole 6th in sacks
Go To Receiver: Brent Celek tied for 22nd in receptions
Big Play Receiver: DeSean Jackson tied for 9th in plays of 20 yards or more
Kicking: 1st ranked field goal team
Still there are some questions about this team like the lack of a running game and Westbrook coming off a concussion putting the load on rookie LeSean McCoy. The Eagles are a passing team and could need the running game to advance far in these playoffs.
Philadelphia has no problems putting the ball in the air with Jackson, Celek, and rookie Jeremy Maclin. The only problem is if McNabb has an off day throwing the ball or teams take away the passing game.
The Eagles struggle when their deep passing game to Jackson and Maclin is not effective. That puts pressure on a defense that has been good but not great.
Philadelphia started the season playing good defense but as the season wore on injuries have forced backups in to action. The Eagles need the offense to control the ball and not keep them on the field for most of the playoffs.
To help the defensive line the Eagles will need Sheldon Brown tied for 12th in passes defended and Asante Samuel tied for first in interceptions to play big. This would help a Philadelphia team that was plus 15 in give away/take away.
The offensive line of the Eagles has also been hit hard by injuries and needs new starters to jell quickly. Keeping clean pocket for McNabb is paramount if this team is going to finally win the Super Bowl.
This team had no real questions pop up during the regular season until late with injuries. The only question mark will be if Michael Vick sees playing time in the playoffs.
The playoffs are all about being physical but this team has lost some of that with the finesse offense. They also have to play the Dallas Cowboys for the third time in these playoffs bad news for the Eagles.
This team has all the tools to go far in the playoffs and make it to Miami but not if injuries and lack of a running game derail this team. If they beat Dallas this team could go all the way. If they don’t win at Dallas look for changes in the offseason to either the coaching staff or at quarterback.
Defense Team: 3rd ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 5th ranked overall rush team
Pass Rusher: Trevor Price tied for 32nd in sacks
Go To Receiver: Ray Rice tied for 19th in receptions
Big Play Receiver: None in the top 40 of NFL standings
Kicking: Tied for 22nd ranked field goal team
The Ravens will go as far as their defense and running game can take them. Baltimore is not going to scare anyone with their passing game.
Joe Flacco is good enough to win games with his arm but has no receivers to help him out. If forced to pass he will look to running back Ray Rice out of the back field and Derrick Mason at wide out.
This defense is aging and this could be one of the last few runs left in it. As long as linebacker Ray Lewis is on the field the heart of this defense will always be in games.
Running backs Rice and Willis McGahee provide a good one two punch in the running game. Baltimore will have a chance as long they can run the ball.
This team’s only regular season problem was the lack of a passing game. Tight end Todd Heap has come on as of late and could be a big plus if teams crowd the line to stop the run.
In the secondary the Ravens will turn to Ed Reed and Domonique Foxworth who is tied for 23rd in interceptions. Baltimore was plus eight in give away/take away and need the defense to set their offense up on a short field.
The lack of a big play receiver puts more pressure on the running game. Teams will stack the box against the Ravens and make them prove they can throw the ball.
This team can win a playoff game but a trip to Miami might be a stretch. Do not be surprised if the Ravens are a put out in the wild card round especially if the game comes down to a field goal.
Defense Team: 4th ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 9th ranked overall rush team
Pass Rusher: None in the top 40 of NFL standings
Go To Receiver: Chad Ochocinco 26th in receptions
Big Play Receiver: Chad Ochocinco tied for 13th in plays 20 yards or more
Kicking: Tied for 17th ranked field goal team
The Bengals have not had playoff success since the 1980’s and with the deaths this team has faced this season could be the sentimental choice. Cincinnati like the Ravens will go as far as their rushing game and defense can take them.
In the passing game the Bengals do have better receivers then Baltimore. Ochocinco has to make his play match the level of this talk for this team to make a playoff run.
Cincinnati will lean on Jonathan Joseph in the secondary and is tied for fifth in interceptions and fifth in passes defended. The Bengals only problem is there is no dominate pass rusher who can pressure the quarterback.
At plus three in give away/take away the Bengals can force turnovers but do not live off of them. Cincinnati was blown out of their last game against the New York Jets and must play better.
Ochocinco can lift this team emotionally or be a distraction if this team had one problem in the regular season. Coach Marvin Lewis must keep his star wide out from being the former more than the later.
Cincinnati might be in trouble if they have to win a game with their field goal kicker. To keep this from happening Cedric Benson and Carson Palmer need to score touchdowns.
Any team that wins the AFC North has a chance to make a deep playoff run. That team will be physical on defense and running the ball.
The Bengals could win their wild card game if they are rested and hungry. They could also lose badly if they do not come prepared to play and Ochocinco wants to be the show.
A trip to Miami is possible for the Bengals. Still, history tells us Cincinnati more than likely not get out of the wild card round.
Defense Team: 18th ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 32nd ranked overall rush team
Pass Rusher: Dwight Freeney tied for 3rd in sacks
Go To Receiver: Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne tied for 5th in receptions
Big Play Receiver: Reggie Wayne 4th in plays of 20 yards or more
Kicking: Tied for 31st ranked field goal team
The Colts will go as far as Peyton Manning and the passing game will take them. Indianapolis has struggled running the ball and on defense.
The key will be if teams can keep the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands by either forcing turnovers or controlling the time of possession. Teams also have to score touchdowns against the Colts and not settle for field goals.
Indianapolis is only plus five in give away/take away but if a team turns the ball over expect Manning to make them pay with a short field. The only Colts regular season problem might be if they should have gone for a perfect season or shut it down early.
The Colts have the number one over all seed and home field all the way to the Super Bowl. They are perhaps the favorite to win it all.
In the secondary Indianapolis depends on Jacob Lacey tied for 24th in passes defended and Antoine Bethea tied for 23rd in interceptions. The Colts defense is a weakness if they cannot get pressure on the quarterback.
This team will have a Bye week to get healthy and rest as well as sitting starters the last two weeks. The Colts must run the ball better in the playoffs if they want to reach Miami.
This team can win it all or lose their first playoff game after such a long rest. The only other fear would be facing San Diego a team that has owned the Colts lately.
As long as Indianapolis is in the game Peyton will find away to win it. This team has not need to depend on their field goal kicker but with an injury to Adam Vinatieri it could be a weakness.
Defense Team: 11th ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 12th ranked overall rush team
Pass Rusher: None in the top 40 of NFL standings
Go To Receiver: Randy Moss tied for 12th in receptions
Big Play Receiver: Randy Moss tied for 6th in plays of 20 yards or more
Kicking: Tied for 10th ranked field goal team
The biggest question facing this team is how it will play without Wes Welker their go to receiver. New England will now have to find ways to get the ball into the hands of Randy Moss.
This team can run the ball effectively with several different backs carrying the load. The Patriots also have a solid defense albeit one without a big time pass rusher.
The key to stopping New England is putting pressure on Tom Brady and this surgically repaired knee. If Brady has a nice pocket with no rush he will find open receivers down the field.
The biggest regular season question is one that has haunted this team since they played the Colts. Will Bill Belichick punt the ball on fourth down in a tight game?
That might be the one moment to follow this team if it does not reach Miami. A Super Bowl run will put it to rest.
In the secondary the Patriots are led by Leigh Bodden who is tied for 12th in interceptions and eight for passes defended. New England is good at protecting the ball and must force turnovers for a team that was plus seven in give away/take away.
New England has been to the top of the mountain before so a playoff run is certainly not out of the question. The problem is without Welker can they make that run.
The Patriots can go all the way to Miami if they find away to win without Brady’s favorite target. They could also lose in the wild card round if they don’t find a replacement.
New York Jets
Defense Team: 1st ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 1st ranked overall rush team
Pass Rusher: Shaun Elis tied for 32nd in sacks
Go To Receiver: None in the top 40 of NFL Standings
Big Play Receiver: Jerricho Cotchery tied for 24th in plays of 20 yards or more
Kicking: Tied for 3rd ranked field goal team
The Jets have the best two statics if they want to get wins with a rookie quarterback in the NFL playoffs. They have the number one defense and the number one rushing attack as a team.
The best way to beat the Jets will be to make Mark Sanchez make plays in the passing game. Normally rookies struggle in the playoffs and defense must stop the New York running game and put pressure on Sanchez.
The a scary static for the Jets is that as good as their defense has been they are minus two in the give away/take away department. To win the playoffs New York and not have Sanchez throw interceptions and force turnovers of their own.
The secondary has one of the best if not the best cover corners in Darrelle Revis who is tied for fifth in interceptions and first in passes defended. Revis just shuts down a team’s best receiver period.
This is a young team that needs to find a go to receiver for Sanchez and some playoff experience. A win the wild card round is not out of the question though. If the game is close the Jets have a good field goal kicker.
The Jets no matter what Coach Rex Ryan thinks are a long shot to make it to Miami. A win in the wild card and a second round appearance would be good for this team.
San Diego Chargers
Defense Team: 16th ranked overall defense
Rushing as a Team: 31st ranked overall rush team
Pass Rusher: Shaun Phillips tied for 23rd in sacks
Go To Receiver: Antonio Gates tied for 16th in receptions
Big Play Receiver: Antonio Gates tied for 6th in plays of 20 yards or more
Kicking: Tied for 1st ranked field goal team
The only team thought to have a chance to beat the Colts is San Diego. Both teams are built much the same way.
To beat the Chargers you have to force them to run the ball and take the game out of Phillip Rivers’ hands. If San Diego is allowed to give Rivers time they will find away to win.
This team has no regular season questions after they hit their stride and has won 11 straight games. This team is not as strong as it has been and might be the last time it is together before changes are made in the offseason.
San Diego is very good at forcing turnover and are plus ten in give away/take away this season. They have to keep forcing turnover and not let teams run on their athletic but not very physical defense.
Teams have to see in if LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles can still beat them. If the Chargers cannot run the ball they could be out of the playoffs early.
This team could lose after their bye week depending who they have to play. San Diego could also be headed to Miami.
The Chargers do not have a corner in the top 40 of passes defended for interceptions. This could help teams beat them in the passing game.
San Diego has lately owned the Colts and if they meet up know they can beat them. If they have to play a physical team they could have problems.
Wild Card Playoffs
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys: Dallas makes it three in a row as the Eagles long run starts to come to an end.
Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals: Aaron Rodgers gets a win in his first playoff appearance and the Cardinals have to decide where their future is at quarterback.
New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals: The Jets win the game by running the ball and playing tough defense. The Bengals know the future is bright after an emotional season.
Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots: No Wes Welker leads to an early playoff exit for Tom Brady. Ravens’ running game is the key to the win.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings: Cowboys defense gives Favre trouble the entire game and gets second playoff win since 1996.
Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints: Roof of the Superdome nearly comes off because of the noise at the Saints win. Packers can’t protect Aaron Rodgers with trouble returning in the offensive line.
Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts: Colts win a physical tough game. The Ravens make Indianapolis leave this game banged up for the rest of the playoffs.
New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers: Chargers cannot handle the physical defense and running game of the Jets. The questions about Norv Turner’s coaching ability resurfaces after the game.
Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints: Dallas makes it two in row over the Saints. Pressure Brees again as Cowboys defense becomes a force.
New York Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning plays the whole game this time as the Jets lose. Enough said.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Indianapolis Colts: Preview coming if I am right.