AFC Playoff Percentages: Running Through Foxboro
With a new year, the NFL crowns a new Super Bowl Champ. One lucky team—most likely the Patriots—will hoist a Lombardi trophy down in Dallas’ Jerry’s Palace. Just like everyone else, we are die-hard NFL fans here at BST, so to celebrate the beloved postseason we’re breaking down each team’s chances for their conference.
What’s unique about this NFL year is no one was a so-called "favorite" from day one. There was no dominant team or team with a target on their backs. Instead, we had a competitively balanced league with no undefeated team lasting past week four. At least, that’s how it was.
All it took was a three-part series from Mr. Tom Brady. It began with Brady torching the Pittsburgh Steelers; followed with outdueling Peyton Manning; and finishing with the most dominant Monday Night Football performance in years with the Patriots murdering the Jets 45-3. After that primetime game we found our Super Bowl favorite and the team destined to be head-hunted in January.
Without further ado I bring to you, from best to worst, my ratings for each team’s chances to come out the AFC on top.
New England Patriots (40 percent)
The greatness of Tom Brady has been cemented on this season alone. After the departure of superstar Randy Moss, the greatest deep threat of all-time, Brady lifted his game to a level unseen.
Brady has 36 touchdowns to 4 interceptions and hasn’t thrown a pick in ten games. He is the only quarterback of all time to have a better than 6 to 1 td-to-int ratio for a minimum of 300 pass attempts.
Oh yeah, and he’s done it twice. This year with a 9.00 ratio and in ’07 where he held a 6.25 ratio. I refuse to bet against Tom Brady this postseason. And how is Brady not mentioned as the greatest quarterback of all-time? Boggles my mind daily.
With all that being said there is a formula to beat the Patriots as crazy as that might seem. Run the ball effectively, limit Brady’s plays and don’t give up the big play.
I fully expect to see the Pats in Dallas playing for the Super Bowl. It’s hard to bet against the best coach in football and the best quarterback. I know their defense can be shaky, but they do create enough takeaways—second in the NFL, to overcome their flaws.
Pittsburgh Steelers (22.5 percent)
After week three this season the Steelers were 3-0 without Ben Roethlisberger. I wrote an article believing the Steelers were in 'Super Bowl' form. Do I still believe that? Absolutely.
The one thing that scares me is Brady’s 350 yard performance in a Sunday Night November game. But if someone has the ability to beat the Patriots it’s this team. Their defense constantly provides pressure on the quarterback and their linebacking core has a knack for the football.
My one concern is this team has become too passive with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm. Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall hasn’t had 20 carries or more in the last five ball games. As clutch as Big Ben can be, the Steelers need to establish the run.
Baltimore Ravens (15 percent)
Ripping off four straight wins into the postseason is always a good sign. The wins came over the Texans, Saints, Browns and Bengals. But what is the identity of this ball club? Are they a running team with Ray Rice or a passing attack featuring new acquisitions Anquan Boldin and Houshmandzadeh.
Personally, I think this team is best when Ray Rice is carrying the load. I’ve said this many times before and I still stand by this statement: Joe Flacco is a good quarterback, NOT great. I understand he has a 3-2 record with the Baltimore Ravens in the postseason but I can never picture him dawning a Super Bowl ring. When the game is on the line I don’t trust Flacco.
If you recall earlier in the year on a fourth-and-two, trying to rally a comeback, he threw the ball into the ground against the Steelers. It’s plays like those when he misses open receivers in the clutch that make me believe he’ll never reach greatness.
With all that being said I still have the Ravens with the third best percentage of advancing.
They’ll need help from their defense which has been fabulous in the last decade thanks to playmakers like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. Ed Reed can singlehandedly raise this team to the ultimate goal. Grabbing eight interceptions in only ten games speaks volumes of his hall-of-fame credibility. Once Reed gets his hands on the ball, don’t be surprised if he takes it to the house.
New York Jets (12.5 percent)
The Jets’ chances hinge on quarterback Mark Sanchez’s abilities. What Mark Sanchez will we see though? The one who makes throws with amazing precision and accuracy that defeated the Steelers. Or the Sanchez that looks like the worst starting quarterback in the league and almost got benched against the Bills.
It’s the one thing that’s always driven me crazy about him. He’s so talented but his inconsistency can nip you in the butt.
The Jets last season went to the AFC championship with a little help from dying competition, Cincinnati Bengals, and Nate Kaeding’s, San Diego Chargers, three missed field goals. Only to be dismantled by Peyton Manning and the Colts. They’ll take on Indy right off the bat and have a better chance of unseating them this time around.
The road to the Super Bowl is daunting though. Having to win three straight on the road with a trip to New England, makes it seem unlikely. I’m pretty sure we all remember how pitiful this team looked last time they were in Foxboro for a primetime contest.
Indianapolis Colts (7.5 percent)
Even if they are the third seed, these are the things I don’t like about their chances in the simplest form:
1) They’re banged up and will dearly miss Dallas Clark and Austin Collie.
2) This is Peyton Manning’s worst season of their nine year playoff run.
3) Colts’ defense has been shaky all season.
Statement three about the shaky defense might have to be revoked if they have success against the Jets.
In the last three weeks the Colts rushing defense has held Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson to under 50 yards a piece. Remember their ’06 Super Bowl run, their defense sucked all year but suddenly turned it on in the postseason, limiting Kansas City and Baltimore to single digits while picking off Brady to seal a victory in the conference championship.
Nevertheless, returning to a Super Bowl with so many injuries and an off Manning seems far-fetched.
Kansas City Chiefs (2.5%)
This is what I constantly hear:
"The run game is so good!"
"Matt Cassel doesn’t make mistakes!"
"This defense is for real!"
"They play great at home and will shock the Ravens!"
I agree with all those statements and given the competition put in front of the Chiefs it is valid. But they have not played anyone.
The opposition the Chiefs faced this season had a combined 85 wins and 133 losses. The degree of difficulty in their schedule merits them no right for me to consider them a Super Bowl contender.
Their biggest win of the season was against the Chargers in week one. Later on they faced San Diego in week 14 they were destroyed 31-0.
Yes, they didn’t have Cassel, but you’re telling me with their prolific running game they can’t muster at least a touchdown?
This is still a team that pranced through the regular season unchallenged. The same group that was dominated by double digits against the Broncos and Raiders. With Charlie Weis having one foot out the door en route to the University of Florida, this team is destined for an early-exit.
Honestly I’m shocked I gave this team a chance with 2.5%.
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