The NFL playoffs are nearly upon us, and the time has come from contenders to separate themselves from the pretenders. Some teams have shocked the football landscape this season and have managed to place themselves in a prime position for a postseason berth. Despite these teams' strong play throughout the regular season, glaring holes and inexperience will cost them when the playoffs roll around.
After racing out to a 5-0 start, the Lions have come crashing back to earth. The young team has lost five of their last eight and have shown that they are not true contenders this season. A lack of discipline by the defense and inconsistent play from the offense are the major reasons for Detroit's recent troubles.
The Lions will still claim a postseason spot due to a manageable schedule and the collapse of the Chicago Bears. However, Jim Schwartz and company are too inexperienced and undisciplined to compete with conference elite like the Saints and Packers.
Detroit have an extremely talented roster, and they should be able to contend for years to come. This season, however, will end in an embarrassing loss that highlights the team's weaknesses.
With the struggling Raiders facing an extremely difficult schedule, the Broncos will be able to swoop in and claim a postseason berth. Tim Tebow has been lights out in Mile High all year long, and he has quickly turned the Broncos into the hottest team in the league.
Denver's defense has been absolutely terrific the last few weeks, as they have held four of their last five opponents to thirteen points or less. However, the defensive unit is yet to play an elite offense like those that will be in the postseason.
The offense has been awful for three quarters in most of Denver's games, before miraculously pulling it together late. In the postseason, however, a subpar offense will not be able to pull off stunning comebacks after three quarters of awful play.
The Broncos are likely to play either the Ravens or the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh possess electrifying offenses that are too quick and physical for the Denver defense to handle. The elite AFC North squads also boast two of the game's best defenses. Both units simply would not allow Tebow to drive down the field to win it in the final few minutes.
Tebowmania will come to an abrupt end in in the first round of the postseason.
The 49ers have been the feel-good story of the 2011 season. First-year head coach Jim Harbaugh has managed to gel a talented roster and turn them into NFC West champions.
San Francisco's defense has been phenomenal, as they have not allowed a single rushing touchdown this season. The passing defense can struggle at times, though.
The offense, however, has been inconsistent, as they have failed to produce at key times in games against the Ravens, Cardinals and Cowboys. Alex Smith is just a game manager, not a franchise quarterback. The 49ers rely on their star running back Frank Gore the majority of the time, but this has shown to be ineffective against solid run defenses.
In the postseason, the Niners lack of balance and consistency on offense will cost them, as they will not be able to keep up with the elite passing offense the NFC possesses. Expect an early exit for the surprising 49ers.