NFL Playoff Picture: The Top 25 Questions Heading into the NFL Playoffs

Ross ColemanAnalyst IDecember 31, 2010

NFL Playoff Picture: The Top 25 Questions Heading into the NFL Playoffs

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    In the words of Jim Morrison, "This is the end."

    That's right, the end to the 2010 NFL regular season is upon us. With just one game left for each team, it is time to start looking ahead to the second season. 

    With nearly every spot locked up, we have a very clear playoff picture to start dissecting.

    These are 25 questions that we hope will be answered over the next couple of playoff weeks. 

    As always, we want to hear from you. What are your answers to these questions? Let us know.

25. Will Tampa Bay Sneak In?

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    Background: Tampa Bay currently sits at 9-6 (along with Green Bay and the NY Giants) and if they were to win while the Packers and Giants falter, the Bucs would be playoff bound as the second Wild Card team.

    That would be three NFC South teams in the playoffs. Not too shabby.


    Prevailing Wisdom: With Tampa playing at New Orleans this week, Green Bay taking on Chicago and the Giants heading to Washington, it looks like the Bucs don't have a very good chance. 


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Outlook not so good.

24. Will Jacksonville Sneak In?

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    Background: Just a few short weeks ago the Jaguars were in full control in the AFC South. All they needed was a win over the Colts to win the division and clinch a playoff spot. However, the Colts spoiled that plan and now the Jags are on the outside looking in. 

    Now Jacksonville needs an Indy loss to have a chance of getting in. 


    Prevailing Wisdom: Indianapolis has just Tennessee standing in their way, while Jacksonville has a trip to Houston as a possible stumbling block. All four teams will likely be highly motivated to pull out Week 17 wins. However, betting against Peyton Manning is never a good idea.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Don't count on it.

23. Will Seattle Pull Out the NFC West Crown?

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    Background: For Seattle, it's pretty simple. Win and you're in. 

    The Seahawks have a Week 17 showdown with division leading St. Louis. The winner heads to the playoffs, the loser heads home.


    Prevailing Wisdom: Seattle has been a great home team this year and St. Louis has struggled on the road. However, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is battling a hip injury, but he will start. 

    Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has had a stellar rookie season and seems to play his best when St. Louis needs a win.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Reply hazy, try again.

22. Are the Giants the Biggest Disappointment?

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    Background: After Week 9, many people were singing the praises of the NY Giants. Most thought they could possibly be the best team in the NFL. However, after a 6-2 start, the Giants have dropped four of their last seven to fall out of the playoffs.

    Despite all that, they still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs with a win at Washington and a Green Bay loss to Chicago. 


    Prevailing Wisdom: Even if they make the playoffs, this looked to be a team on the rise. They have a solid quarterback in place and one of the better defenses in the league. So what happened? Why aren't they headed to the playoffs?

    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Without a doubt.

21. Are the Packers a Sleeper?

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    Background: Prior to this season, the Green Bay Packers were getting a lot of publicity as a possible Super Bowl team. However, a rash of injuries and the resurgence of the Chicago Bears have the Packers fighting to get in.

    As it currently sits, the Packers have the six seed in the playoffs. But if last week's game against the Giants was any indication of what this team can do, Green Bay looks like a force to be reckoned with.


    Prevailing Wisdom: The Packers' biggest weakness right now is in the running game. Without feature back Ryan Grant, Green Bay has had a tough time finding someone to carry the ball consistently. Other than that, the defense is stellar, Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and he has plenty of people to catch the ball from him.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Ask again later.

20. Do the Saints/Colts/Packers Need a Running Game?

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    Background: The Saints, Colts and Packers have all struggled to run the football this year. However, all three teams have made up for it by having outstanding passing games. That has been great for the regular season, but it seems like teams need to be able to run the ball at least a little bit during the playoffs.


    Prevailing Wisdom: The prevailing wisdom is that unless the passing game is great and can keep from turning the ball over, then yes, you need a consistent running game.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: As I see it, yes.

19. Is Peyton Manning the Most Dangerous Player in the Playoffs?

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    Background: Peyton Manning will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Whether you like him or not, it is an undeniable fact.


    Prevailing Wisdom: This year, Manning and the Colts have struggled to stay in the playoff hunt. But now that they are likely in, I would be terrified to play against the future hall of fame player. But is he the MOST dangerous?

    There are a few guys that I would be more scared of.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Very doubtful.

18. Are Playoff Procedures Going To Change?

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    Background: By NFL rule, the winner of each division gets to host an NFL playoff game. Because of how terrible the NFC West has been this year, we might have our first ever sub-.500 division winner in a non-strike season. 

    Many people have been calling for changed rules regarding teams under .500 getting a playoff berth. However, how the NFL would change this rule would be the question. 

    Prevailing Wisdom: The prevailing wisdom is that the NFL would make a rule saying that a team has to finish at least .500 to make the playoffs. But then how would you fill the final spot? Best remaining record in the conference? What about best remaining record overall? 

    I say keep it how it is and let bad teams host playoff games just to see what could happen.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Concentrate and ask again.

17. Will Jay Cutler Have a Jay Cutler Moment?

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    Background: Jay Cutler has had by far the best season of his career. He has had his highest quarterback rating as a pro, and the Bears have locked up the NFC North. However, Cutler has had moments in his career where he has taken his team out of contention.

    If the Bears win, it will be because Cutler didn't force them to lose.


    Prevailing Wisdom: Cutler has avoided really costly turnovers for much of the season, but it almost seems like he is playing with house money. At some point I expect him to revert back to his turnover prone self.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Outlook good.

16. Can the Jets Repeat Last Year's Playoffs?

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    Background: A season ago, the Jets were 9-7 in the regular season and pretty much an after thought in the playoff race. But when the playoffs rolled around, led by an outstanding defense, a stellar running game and a rookie quarterback, the Jets made a push to the AFC Championship game, where they lost to the Indianapolis Colts.

    This year, many people were jumping on the Jets' Super Bowl bandwagon. However, after some late season struggles, few people view them as much of a contender again this year. 


    Prevailing Wisdom: The Jets are a dangerous team, but the areas that made them great last year haven't been as good this time around. LaDainian Tomlinson isn't as good as Thomas Jones was and Shonn Greene isn't as good as he was last year.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Very doubtful.

15. Are the Saints Flying Under the Radar?

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    Background: The Saints made a magical run to their first Super Bowl crown last season.

    This year, they have been out shined but many other teams, including division rival Atlanta, who looks like they will lock up home-field this week.


    Prevailing Wisdom: After a little bit of a slow start and losses to the Arizona Cardinals and the Cleveland Browns, many people seemed to forget about the Saints. Now they have won seven of eight and look to be streaking at the right time.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Yes—definitely.

14. Can the Steelers' Offense Turn It On?

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    Background: The Steelers have averaged just over 22 points a game this year, good enough for 17th in the NFL. Not exactly great numbers. They have also only gone under 22 points seven times and have lost three of those games.


    Prevailing Wisdom: In the playoffs, you need to be able to score to win games. That might sound like a simple statement, but what I mean is you will need to score a lot to win games. I just don't think this Steelers team has the weapons to pull off a run in the playoffs.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Don't count on it.

13. Is Michael Vick the Most Important Player?

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    Background: Just about a year and a half ago, Michael Vick was finishing up a prison sentence for federal dog fighting charges. Now he is in the MVP conversation after leading the Eagles to the NFC East title.

    In games that the Eagles have won, he has been outstanding. But when they lose, he has struggled with pressure and turnovers.


    Prevailing Wisdom: For the Eagles to win, Vick has to be at his best throwing the ball down field and helping to get Philadelphia some really big plays.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Signs point to yes.

12. Is Kansas City a Contender?

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    Background: Last year the Chiefs were just 4-12. They picked up Eric Berry with the fifth pick in the 2010 NFL draft and added a few other notable college football players through the draft. 

    This year, the Chiefs are currently 10-5 and have locked up the AFC West over perennial champs San Diego. While they have made strides, the question is are they contenders?


    Prevailing Wisdom: Looking at their defense, it is hard to see them doing enough to make a Super Bowl run. Yes, Kansas City leads the NFL in rushing, but aside from that, the Chiefs don't have any other units that are nearly that impressive.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: My reply is no.

11. Can the NFC West Champs Win a Game?

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    Background: The NFC West is the redheaded step child of NFL divisions right now. It is just an ugly situation.

    However, some team will have to come out of this division and host a playoff game. But the real question is not who will it be, but rather can they win?


    Prevailing Wisdom: Obviously, any team has a chance to win any game, especially at home. While I don't think the Seahawks will make it into the playoffs, they seemingly would have the better opportunity to win a playoff game. 


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Cannot predict now.

10. Is the Patriots' Defense Too Young?

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    Background: The Patriots have the best record in the NFL despite having the sixth worst total defense in the NFL. That can be attributed to a ton of young players playing their first significant time as professionals. 


    Prevailing Wisdom: The Patriots may have a young and struggling defense, but they also have just about the most effective offense in the NFL.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: My reply is no.

9. Can the Saints Repeat?

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    Background: A year ago the Saints were making their run to the Super Bowl. This year they still have many of the same pieces that led them on their way through the playoffs.


    Prevailing Wisdom: It is hard to count out any team that has Drew Brees. He is one of the best NFL quarterbacks and he has a puncher's chance in nearly every game he plays in. Do they have a chance? Yes. Will they? We'll see.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Ask again later.

8. Is Baltimore's Joe Flacco Good Enough to Lead the Ravens?

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    Background: Joe Flacco is a third year NFL quarterback that had done a decent job as the starting quarterback of the Ravens. However, is decent good enough to win a Super Bowl? 


    Prevailing Wisdom: Flacco has plenty of weapons surrounding him, but will he be able to rely enough on the likes of Ray Rice, TJ Houshmanzadeh and Anquan Boldin? 


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Better not tell you now.

7. Will Injuries Affect the Playoffs?

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    Background: NFL injuries have seemed to be a huge story this year. Lots of marquee players have missed quite a bit of time. It seems inevitable that some injuries will play some role in these playoffs.


    Prevailing Wisdom: Obviously, football is a collision sport and injuries are part of the game. At some point, someone will get hurt and it will likely have an impact on the game.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: It is certain.

6. Which Quarterback Will Step Up?

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    Background: Every team in the playoffs this year looks to have a solid quarterback that can win games. However, which quarterback will put the team on his back and lead them to a championship?


    Prevailing Wisdom: Tom Brady has taken a team that has middle of the pack experience and talent and taken them to the best record in the NFL. He appears to be the favorite, but with Michael Vick and Matt Ryan among the rest of the field, it seems silly to tab one guy as the one who will step up. 

    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Ask again later.

5. Does Kansas City Need More than One Home Field Game to Go Deep?

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    Background: The Chiefs are unbeaten at home this year. Seven of their ten wins have come within the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium. On the road the Chiefs went 3-5. If the Chiefs have any chance of making it deep in the playoffs, they would need to have a few home playoff games. However, they only get one.


    Prevailing Wisdom: If the Chiefs are to make it to the AFC championship game, they would need another home game. Unfortunately, they won't get it.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Most likely.

4. Is Atlanta the Class of the NFC?

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    Background: Atlanta needs just one more win to lock up home field throughout the playoffs and with their Week 17 game coming against the Carolina Panthers, who have the worst record in the NFL, it looks like they will be playing in the Georgia Dome throughout the playoffs.


    Prevailing Wisdom: Atlanta is clearly the most balanced offensive team in the NFC and they have an above average defense. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the Falcons to advance out of the NFC.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Most likely.

3. Can Tom Brady Improve His Legacy?

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    Background: Tom Brady is already a surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback. A fourth Super Bowl win would assuredly improve his legacy, even if it doesn't need improving.


    Prevailing Wisdom: This year, Tom Brady has had probably his most impressive season, considering how the team has been around him. The Pats don't have a top tier wide receiver or a super consistent running game. I understand BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been great, but he hasn't exactly been able to carry the team on his back. 

    If the Patriots win this Super Bowl, Brady will go down as the best quarterback in NFL history.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Signs point to yes.

2. Is There a Favorite?

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    Background: The Patriots have the best record in the AFC, the Falcons in the NFC, but neither team seems to be unbeatable. 

    Two weeks ago, the Pats struggled against a Green bay team playing without Aaron Rodgers. Last week, the Falcons lost at home to a Saints team that was struggling on offense.

    Every team seems to have a few question marks and a few reasons they won't win the Super Bowl.


    Prevailing Wisdom: The NFL playoffs are not about who is the best at the start of the game, they are about who is best at the end. On paper there are teams that don't deserve to be in the playoffs and there are teams that are almost assuredly going to win games, but more often than not, those thoughts mean nothing.


    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: My reply is no.

1. Who Will Win the Super Bowl?

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    Magic Eight Ball's Answer: Reply hazy, check back on February 6, 2011.