NFL Playoffs: The Pretenders and Contenders of the 12 Remaining Teams
As the playoffs are set to start next week, all 12 teams will be chasing the same goal: Winning the Super Bowl. But, what teams really have a legitimate shot to get there? Which teams are simply just pretenders and will be exposed early in the playoffs?
Some teams are definitely contenders, but others are not so clear. Which teams could you possibly see in February? Find out here.
1. New York Jets: Pretenders
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Yep, although Rex Ryan might not think so, the Jets aren't going anywhere.
They still do the same things well that they did last year, they run the ball well and play good defense. Well, according to the stats they play good defense.
Ever since Tom Brady and the Patriots absolutely embarassed the Jets 45-3 on Monday Night Football, I have had doubts about their defense. Giving up 38 points against one of the worst offenses in the league in Chicago only made me have more doubts.
I still don't trust Mark Sanchez at all, and I expect to see the Jets get beat by the Colts Saturday, ending their Super Bowl hopes.
2. Green Bay Packers: Contenders
The Packers snuck into the playoffs with an ugly win vs. Chicago this week, but a win is a win, and Green Bay is starting to shape into maybe the scariest team in the NFC.
Aaron Rodgers has had another magnificent season, passing for just under 4,000 yards despite missing a game while leading his team to the playoffs. Rodgers is really starting to become one of the elite quarterbacks, if he has not already.
Green Bay seems to just do it all, starting with their offense. They rank in the top-10 in points, total yards, and passing yards. Their only weakness seems to be their running game, but teams have proved that you can win in the playoffs with just a great passing game.
I expect the Pack to win next week in Philadelphia and end up representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. Yes, this means I think they will win in Atlanta.
3. Baltimore Ravens: Contenders
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The Ravens don't really jump out at you as a flashy team, especially when it comes to offense. Their offense is average at best, but Joe Flacco has shaped into a very good NFL quarterback and has proven he can win playoff games the past two years.
Ray Rice is also a valuable weapon for their offense, and an elite running back. He once again ran over 1,000 yards this season, getting 1,220 total. He only had five touchdowns, but that is in large part because Willis McGahee gets touches at the goal line.
The Ravens also, as usual, have a very good defense, as they are among the league leaders in total yards and points allowed.
The Ravens have experience all around, and while they aren't the favorites, they have been here before and it shoudn't shock anyone if they make a run deep into the playoffs.
4. New Orleans Saints: Contenders
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I don't love the Saints' chances, as it is extremely difficult to repeat in this league, but you can't count the defending champs out.
Like the Colts, they don't pose the same threat as they did heading into last year's playoffs, but they are still a very good team. They are fourth in the league in total defense, extremely impressive, and sixth in the league in total offense.
Drew Brees delivered another very good year, as he threw for 33 touchdowns and over 4,600 yards. He did throw an alarming 22 interceptions, though.
The Saints need to be able to hold onto the football and find some success in the running game to make another deep run, something that they are very capable of.
5. Kansas City Chiefs: Pretenders
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The Chiefs have had an excellent turnaround season this year, but I don't expect them to go anywhere this January. Nevertheless, making the playoffs should be a great accomplishment for this young team with a bright future.
I really don't think Matt Cassel can come through against the Ravens. He is very inexperienced, having never played a playoff game, and we don't know what to expect. Ray Lewis and the rest of the veteran Ravens defense should have their way with him.
Even though Jamaal Charles is a great running back, I don't expect him or Thomas Jones to do much at all against a stingy Ravens defense.
The Chiefs will not serve as a threat this postseason.
6. Seattle Seahawks: Pretenders
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The Seahawks are barely even pretenders. They're not pretending anything. The team went 7-9 to get into the playoffs and are clearly going to be outmatched by New Orleans on Saturday.
Put it this way: Their best ranking in any of the major defensive or offensive categories is 19th. They rank 23rd in points, 28th in total yards, 19th in passing yards, 31st in rushing yards, 25th in points allowed, 27th in total yards allowed, 27th in pass yards allowed and 21st in rush yards allowed.
Not only are they not contenders, they are just a bad football team. I do think they deserve to be in the playoffs, though, they won their division, but that doesn't mean they're going to go anywhere.
7. Indianapolis Colts: Contenders
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The Colts are surely not the same dominant team that they have been the last few years entering the playoffs, but they still are very good. Keep in mind that when the Colts won the Super Bowl in the 2006-07 season, they were the three-seed.
Yes, their defense has been bad this year, but the last few weeks they have done great stopping the run against guys like Chris Johnson and Darren McFadden, which has been their Achilles heel defensively in the past.
As far as the offensive running game, which has also been an issue in the past, they seem to have built up somewhat of a three-man attack with Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Dominic Rhodes. If they continue to run the ball well they could be very scary.
The biggest reason the Colts are contenders is still because of No. 18. If Peyton Manning is at quarterback, you can never count this team out.
The Colts have been here before and have the experience, and have a good shot to win the AFC once again.
8. Philadelphia Eagles: Pretenders
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Yes, I said it. Mike Vick and the Eagles are pretenders.
Sure, they have one of the top offenses in the league, but some concerns have surfaced. Will Vick be completely healthy after suffering an injury in Week 16 against the Vikings?
It also seems that many opposing defenses have started to figure out Vick, and he hasn't been as dominant the ladder part of the season besides that crazy fourth quarter in the Meadowlands.
The Eagles have a very average defense and have struggled against the pass at times. Expect Aaron Rodgers to light up their secondary next week in a Green Bay win.
9. Chicago Bears: Pretenders
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Personally, I think Chicago is the most overrated team in the playoffs.
It starts with Jay Cutler, probably the most inconsistent quarterback in the league. I will never trust him to win a big game, thus hurting Chicago's chances in my opinion.
Their offense as a whole is just dreadful. They can't run the ball well at all, and they certainly don't have a good passing game.
Their defense is good, but not as good as it was when they went to the Super Bowl. They stop the run very well, but are awful against the pass.
I don't think the Bears have much of a shot at all to win the conference this year.
10: Pittsburgh Steelers: Contenders
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What's not to like about the Steelers? They seem to have everything needed to win a championship.
Ben Roethlisberger's stats haven't been off the charts this season, but he hasn't turned the ball over much and has found ways to win games. He has all the experience necessary, and can be trusted in a big game situation as he showed on the final drive of Super Bowl XLIII against Arizona.
Of course, the biggest positive for the Steelers, as always, is their defense. They are once again probably the league's best defense, and you know what they say: Defense wins championships.
It seems like the Steelers are in the same situation they were two years ago. They are once again the two-seed and almost flying under the radar. Pittsburgh, with their defense and an experienced Roethlisberger, is my pick to win it all.
11. Atlanta Falcons: Contenders
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I'm not too high on Atlanta, but it's tough to call a No. 1 seed a pretender.
Matt Ryan has only lost twice in the Georgia Dome, so it's going to be incredibly tough for a team to go in there and win.
The Falcons defense is average as far as total yards go, but it's hard to pay attention to that when they are fifth in the NFL in scoring defense.
The Falcons also have one of the best scoring offenses in the league, in large part due to their two biggest weapons, Roddy White and Michael Turner. If those two and Ryan continue to play well, Atlanta is going to be hard to beat and could end up getting a ticket to Dallas.
12. New England Patriots: Contenders
The Patriots are the favorites this postseason, and it will be very tough to beat them as it always is.
Tom Brady will most likely win the MVP, and he is easily one of the best postseason performers of all-time. The Patriots seem to have an offense full of unsung heroes with guys like Danny Woodhead and Deion Branch.
The only thing standing in the Patriots way is their defense, and if they end up playing the Colts in the AFC title game, it will be very tough to stop Manning, and you can bet he wants another shot at them.
The Patriots will obviously have home-field advantage and an excellent chance to go to their fifth Super Bowl in the Tom Brady era.
These playoffs will surely be fun, and we will most definitely get a great Super Bowl matchup.