2011 NFL Playoff Preview: The New England Patriots and Some Other Teams
83 percent of the teams in this postseason have the look of a second-round loser or what you might find in a Nevada truck stop bathroom. Just how it's always been. Just how the NFL wants it.
Anybody can win on Any Given Sunday (mostly because everybody's just so-so).
But that's okay in January when the number of games and teams dwindle each week and the competition and intensity increases until the cream rises. Eventually, we'll see who the one good team is this year - although we already have an indication who that team is.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: the New England Patriots. They are the ones the gods are smiling on, the ones with the brains and brawn and horseshoes. They have the playoffs surrounded like barbarians at the gate.
The Lombardi Trophy and all of the shimmering glory that comes with it is theirs to lose.
But that old, true cliche: on Any Given Sunday...the New England Patriots will probably win. That's how it goes, right?
Yes, someone could get hot, such as the 2007 New York Giants. Maybe the Jets put all of their immense talent and schemes and swagger together. Maybe Michael Vick recaptures what made him a one-man army earlier in the season. Maybe Matt Ryan or Aaron Rodgers announce their presence with authority.
On Any Given Sunday...the New England Patriots will probably win.
12. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle is lost, a condemned barnacle that happened to attach itself to the playoff ship through no fault or achievement of its own. They don't know how they got here and they don't know how to stay. Hopefully they will be gone soon enough.
However, they just might have a puncher's chance at Qwest Field, with the protection of their homefield and their home fans. FootballOutsiders.com rates Qwest Field as the premier homefield advantage in the NFL by a wide margin and the Saints have proven capable of laying an egg this season. Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett will have to control the ball and the clock to take the burden off of the Seahawks quarterback, whoever that poor bastard ends up being.
Please don't win, Seattle. Do the decent thing for once and just go away.
Most likely outcome: With any luck, drowned in a sea of failure.
11. Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles is a high-speed chase, an imminent danger that must be accounted for and defended every down. Unless Todd Haley is inexplicably and stubbornly giving the ball to Thomas Jones, who had 2.7 yards per carry less than Charles on 15 more carries this year. If Kansas City wins a game or two in the postseason, it'll be because Charles touches the ball at least 25 times/game.
In addition, Kansas City's X-Factors are Dwayne Bowe and their defense, both of whom have been dominant and non-existent at points of this season.
Bowe had a streak for the ages with 13 touchdowns in seven games during the year, before ending the season with eight catches, 124 yards, and no touchdowns in his last four games—excluding a virtuoso performance against Tennessee. The Chiefs defense held opponents to less than 300 yards six times this season and gave up more 380 yards four times.
Kansas City only beat one playoff team this year, the aforementioned terrible Seattle Seahawks. The Chiefs most impressive win this season was probably their 21-14 week one over the San Diego Chargers, a team that beat them 31-0 just four weeks ago.
KC is probably just too green and inexperienced to handle what the playoffs offer.
Most likely outcome: A hard-fought loss to Baltimore where Jamaal Charles touches the ball less than 13 times.
10. New York Jets
Andy Marlin/Getty Images
The Jets attempted to turn Mark Sanchez into a real-life NFL quarterback this year, throwing the ball 132 more times than last year, yet their passing game only increased from 31st to 22nd in the league.
This had an affect on their run game falling 24 yards a game and from first in the NFL to fourth. Not that big of a drop-off, actually. And New York's defense also fell from first in yards allowed and points allowed to sixth and third, respectively. Not that big of a drop-off, actually.
So, this team is still very similar to last year's team that made an improbable AFC Championship run.
Even with a sub-standard year from Darrelle Revis and a fatiguing LaDainian Tomlinson, the Jets possess the tools—a running attack, riotous defense, and an improved Sanchez—to make another deep push into January. They also did beat New England and Pittsburgh this season - though those were their only two wins over playoff teams.
The Jets postseason starts in Indianapolis against Peyton Manning and co. If they win there, then they'll have to travel to New England.
Their uphill climb seems just a little too steep this season, for this team, to make another improbable playoff run.
Most Likely Outcome: Rex Ryan comforting himself with videos of his wife's feet after a second-round loss. Or first-round loss. Either way, Rex is watching videos of his wife's feet.
9. Indianapolis Colts
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More than ever, the Colts rest on Peyton Manning's broad, fascist shoulders.
fas-cist: a person who is dictatorial.
See? It works.
Who in the NFL is more dictatorial than Manning, besides the head coaches, 96 percent of whom would frighten Mussolini. But Peyton Mussolini is a dictator on the field, with this no one can disagree. He has absolute power, unrestricted authority over his offense and his players. He and he alone is the reason the Colts can't be counted out of any game. With a Terminator sense of what's around him, Manning is able to put his receivers and the ball in opportunities for success.
On defense, they rely on the end-rush of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to provide pressure and force turnovers. Injuries and attrition hurt the Colts during the season, forcing them to win their last four games just to make the playoffs. They are worn-down, beaten-down by what the NFL season can do.
Manning should be able to get them out of the first round, but anything after that would be a January Surprise.
Most Likely Outcome: A second-round shellacking in Pittsburgh.
8. Green Bay Packers
That's a chipmunk resting on Aaron Rodgers' lip, which is a form of animal abuse really. Where's PETA when you need them?
The only reason the Packers are ahead of Indianapolis on this list is because they're in the wide-open NFC, a conference with no clear-cut number one or number two team. Any team in the NFC could make the Super Bowl and it wouldn't be too surprising.
Save Seattle making the Super Bowl, which would rival the second-coming of Christ in the surprising department.
Green Bay is a solid all-around team, with Clay Matthews and B.J Raji rushing the passer, Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson covering passes, and Aaron Rodgers passing to a plethora of open receivers. They're a brick house, with one broken window: running the ball.
Green Bay gave up the second-least points this year, fifth-least yards, and had the second-most interceptions. They scored over 27 points eight times this year, as well.
The Packers only beat three playoff teams this year; the Jets (at the height of their offensive stuggles), Philadelphia in week one when Kevin Kolb started, and Chicago in the last week of the season. Green Bay has the talent to win the NFC, but it's more likely that their injuries and the possibility of three playoff road games will keep them out of the Super Bowl.
And it doesn't matter how the season ends for Green Bay anyway, since their fans will just point to their injuries as an excuse for anything that goes wrong; playoff loss, stolen bicycles, broken condoms, China, all of the world's problems can be blamed on Packers' injuries.
Most Likely Outcome: Outgunned in Philadelphia.
7. Philadelphia Eagles
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Michael Vick was a militarized tank this season, rumbling from town to town, leaving destruction and chaos and victims in his wake. Armed with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin on the outside, and able to deploy LeSean McCoy whenever it suits him, Vick and the Philly juggernaut can score at any time from anywhere.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Eagle defense was decidedly average this season, ranking 15th in both opponent passing and rushing yards. Their starting safety was just lost for the season and their middle linebacker is questionable for their first playoff game, though maybe they'll get him loaded on PCP and send him out there.
So Philadelphia will need to win shoot-outs to get far this year and it might work for a game or two. Ask the '98 Vikings or '07 Patriots if that wins a Super Bowl.
Then there is the perplexing Andy Reid; a prodigious team architect who has turned his roster over again and again, from defensive-oriented to offensive-oriented, with wins in each incarnation. Yet, everybody knows he will make several in-game coaching blunders at some point, costing himself and the Eagles.
Or maybe this is his year, Philadelphia's year, to break through from contending also-ran to champion.
Most Likely Outcome: Several in-game coaching blunders from Reid costing himself and the Eagles in Chicago.
6. Chicago Bears
Chicago's great equalizer, their biggest weapon—after Devin Hester in the open field—is Soldier Field. The opposition always has trouble in Soldier Field, in that weather, on that turf, especially in the playoffs.
They have Vick Kryptonite with Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs. Their defense is definitely back to being one of the elites in the NFL, a smothering, pressurized force that strangles most offenses.
When they have the ball, Chicago needs to remember that Matt Forte is the best player on their offense, someone who needs to touch the ball as much as possible.
Sooner or later though, the three-headed Cerberus of Jay Cutler, that offensive line, and Mike Martz will cost them their Super Bowl shot. Either Martz will revert to his pass-happy desires, the offensive line will collapse like an accordion or Cutler will do his best Jeff George impersonation.
Maybe they will join forces to cause havoc like the Three Stooges, one calamity after another.
Most Likely Outcome: An NFC Championship Game defeat.
5. Baltimore Ravens
It is hard to tell what holds Baltimore back more these days: Joe Flacco or unimaginative, vanilla play-calling. Maybe a pass defense allowing the 21st most yards a game.
But any team with Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, and Ed Reed can't be counted out. Those are four horseman of the apocalypse, marauders ready to terrorize. Their will can overcome the mistakes their teammates will make; the Ravens' defense was up and down this season, but did finish with the third-least points allowed.
Their offense was up and down as well, but they have the talent to make noise. Flacco has had great games this season throwing to Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason, with Mason and Todd Heap taking turns as the security blanket. Ray Rice can also take command of a game either by receiving or rushing, and he'll have to do just that for the Ravens to win in January.
No team wants to play Baltimore, but can Baltimore put it all together?
Most Likely Outcome: A brutal loss in a brutal game filled with brutality
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons win football games, somehow, someway.
It might be with Michael Turner one game, Matt Ryan the next, then it's Roddy White (one of the most unappreciated players in the league), and their attacking defense the next. It might be a blowout or a nail-biter but they win, someway, somehow.
Now let's see them do it in the playoffs against playoff teams.
In the first half of the season, they needed a Garrett Hartley missed field goal to win in New Orleans, and then beat Cincinnati, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Arizona. In the second half of the season, when their stock kept rising and rising, they beat: Baltimore and Green Bay (which they deserve credit for), Tampa Bay (twice), Seattle and St.Louis, and Carolina (twice).
Not the most impressive list of wins.
Matt Ryan only completed 62.5 percent of his passes; Michael Turner has had only 3.5 yard per carry the last five games; their pass defense is 22nd in the league; their offensive line had played at very pedestrian level lately; and they just lost at home to New Orleans, removing the idea they are unbeatable in the Georgia Dome.
They've earned the right to be near the top of the NFC favorites and the right to be doubted.
Most Likely Outcome: An exposing loss
3. New Orleans Saints
Last year was a fairytale for the New Orleans Saints and their fans, so I'm told. And now a word from our sponsor.
This year has been rockier for them, with the "year-after" bug and some inconsistent, Favrian play from Drew Brees. More after these messages.
But they are still the champs.
Going into Atlanta and beating a dominant home team showed they still have it in them. The Saints have their warts, namely a very inconsistent run game, Reggie Bush's injuries, a middling run defense, and an inability to create turnovers like last season. But every team in the NFC has their warts; not every team are the defending champions.
Until they're knocked off, which is very possible in this crap game of an NFC playoffs, the Saints deserve to be called the favorites.
We'll return after these messages.
Most Likely Outcome: The opposite of this, probably
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
"Top 5 Reasons Pittsburgh Can Win the Super Bowl and Reclaim the Title of Most Loathed Franchise":
5) Rashard Mendenhall. He can pound away at a defensive line for 3, 3, 5, 4, 3-yard gains or break a 20-yarder and he gets better and stronger as the game wears on.
4) Mike Wallace. He can stretch the field as well as any receiver in the game right now, keeping the middle of the field unoccupied for Hines Ward and Heath Miller.
3) James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. They are mercenaries on the edge of the field, prepared to change the game with their own hands on any play.
2) Troy Polamalu. When he's healthy and playing, Pittsburgh's defense is the best in the league hands down. From the offensive backfield to the defensive backfield, he's everywhere, disrupting and defending every and anything the offense tries to do.
1) Ben Roethlisberger. How long have we been saying he has a horrible offensive line in front of him, forty years? And he still goes out there, taking a beating while avoiding more beatings, and wins. He might throw for 350 yards or 150 yards, but he wins.
They're a talented, experienced, hungry team that can beat anybody. But...
Most Likely Outcome: An epic game that ends with a loss in Gillette Stadium
1. New England Patriots
Multiple Choice: Who Will Be Angrier When the Patriots Win The Super Bowl?
a) The opposing team in the Super Bowl
b) Peyton Manning
c) Randy Moss
d) People who live near Boston transplants
e) Nobody, because the Patriots are America's Team
If you answered (e), go lock yourself in a port-a-john and let me fill it with milk and honey before pushing it down a hill.
But it's going to happen. This team is set up to win this year.
An offense with multiple, complimentary, and versatile players, like Russian nesting dolls, navigated by a hall of fame quarterback in his prime and who hasn't thrown an interception since mid-October. A defense full of young, productive players who improve with each snap.
A special teams that can kick, punt, return, and cover better than most. Plus-28 turnover margin. They whupped Chicago at Soldier Field in the snow, embarrassed the Jets, beat the Chargers in San Diego, got the job done against Baltimore and Indianapolis, and cleaned the Steelers' clock.
And Bill Belichick as Commander-in-Chief, an omnipotent creature that shares many similarities to Richard Nixon. After being tutored under legends (Bill Parcells and Dwight Eisenhower), Nixon and Belichick both failed in their first stops (Cleveland and the 1960 Presidential election) then succeeded (New England and the 1968 Presidential election) through duplicitous means before being undone by technology (videotape and audiotape).
That is where the similarities stop though. Poor Tricky Dick was run off. Belichick is lucky to get a chance for redemption. In a more sensible age he would've been ostracized and ignored for the rest of his days.
Then again, we have seen this movie before.
On Any Given Sunday...
Most Likely Outcome: Hundreds of millions of pissed off people because their team didn't cover