NFL Playoff Picture: Teams You Don't Want To Face In the 1st Round
With the NFL playoff picture starting to shape into form, we are starting to get an idea of what teams will be entertaining us in this year's NFL postseason. Veteran teams like the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers should be feared by early opponents, as should others for other reasons.
The playoff picture isn't completely settled yet, but there is enough already confirmed that we have a good idea of who are going to be the most dominant teams and should have a cake walk in their first game.
Teams heading into a matchup with any of the following teams in the first round should be concerned, as they are already walking into a world of trouble.
New Orleans Saints
If the NFL season finished today, the New Orleans Saints would be playing NFC South foe the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the NFL playoffs. With the possibility that the Falcons beat the Saints tonight on Monday Night Football, they could move above the Detroit Lions in the standings and save themselves from this dreaded matchup.
Nobody should want to face Drew Brees and the Saints in the opening round of the NFL playoffs, especially if the Saints jump the San Francisco 49ers in the final standings to claim the second seed in the NFL playoffs.
Brees has led the No. 1 pass offense all season, throwing for 331.4 yards per game. Their defense has been relatively strong as well, but allowing nearly 22 points per game cannot change in order for the offense to be able to have the cushion to win in the playoffs.
Against possible first-round opponents, they are 2-0—with a third game coming tonight against the Falcons.
The Saints did get upset by the Seattle Seahawks in the first Wild Card Round of last year's playoffs, but don't expect to see a repeat performance. The Saints will be at home in their first game in the playoffs this year. At the Superdome, the Saints are 6-0 this season. Don't expect things to change.
It remains to be seen how Ben Roethlisberger's health will be come playoff time, but it is usually safe to assume that the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback will do whatever he has to do to get on the field this NFL postseason.
Any team that draws the Steelers in the first round are in trouble, as this 11-4 Steelers team is a group of veterans who just know how to win. They were in last year's Super Bowl, and despite losing, they put up a great fight against the Green Bay Packers just a season ago.
This season, the Steelers have been on a roller coaster ride. They have defeated teams like the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals, but they also have been handled by teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. So if we learned anything, this team isn't as elite as they once were.
Still, they are a strong veteran team that should be feared—even if they are on the road in the first round.
Currently, the Steelers are drawing the Denver Broncos. While the Broncos have seen some incredible success under quarterback Tim Tebow, one would have to assume that the Steelers' veteran hard-nosed defense would have no problem stopping the dual-threat quarterback.
The Steelers are only allowing 172.2 passing yard per game—best in the NFL—so a player like Tebow, who already has a hard enough time moving the ball through the air, will likely have a hard time getting past the Steelers.
If your team draws the Detroit Lions in the first round of this year's NFL playoffs, you should be scared. Yes, this is that same Lions team that has been the laughing stock of the NFL for quite some time, but they are now ready to get you back for scrutinizing them over the years.
This season, the Lions have been one of the most ferocious teams on defense, being led by a strong defensive line that includes Ndamukong Suh. There is always the chance that Suh could lose his cool and get ejected from a game, but for the time being, he remains the opposing team's biggest threat to both their pass and rush attacks.
The Lions have gone 10-5 this season, and they are looking like a team that can go up against anyone. They are going to be a wild-card team this offseason, so they will be drawing either the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, New Orleans Saints or San Francisco 49ers. It will most likely be one of the NFC East teams, one of which they have played this season.
The Lions defeated the Cowboys back in Week 4, pulling out a miracle come-from-behind victory out in Dallas. The Lions have yet to face the Giants this season, but they remain the likely opponent following the injury that quarterback Tony Romo sustained in last week's game.
The Lions are looking dangerous on offense, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. This the first season where Stafford has really been healthy, and he is living up to his No. 1 overall pick potential. The Lions offense is churning on all gears right now, and if their defense keeps it up as well, they will be one difficult team to beat despite their lack of playoff experience.
New England Patriots
You cannot eliminate Tom Brady and the 12-3 New England Patriots—ever. The Patriots have been one of the most consistent teams over the years, losing only 11 games over the last three seasons.
This season, the Patriots are once again atop the AFC, and they are in position to run the table with home-field advantage throughout the postseason. With a win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 17, the Patriots will claim the AFC and have home-field advantage.
If the Patriots manage to do so, they won't necessarily have an easy first playoff matchup, as they could draw the Pittsburgh Steelers. Considering the Steelers are pretty battered up, the fact that they have to play one game before playing the Patriots certainly puts them at a disadvantage.
The Steelers did defeat the Patriots early on this season, but there is a difference between the playoff and regular season Patriots. The Patriots tend to not make mistakes twice in a row, so don't expect them to let the Steelers to get away with a victory twice in one season.
The other team the Patriots could draw is the Cincinnati Bengals, or whoever claims the last spot in this year's playoffs. That could be between the Bengals, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans or the New York Jets, who come in by a long shot.
In all likelihood, the Patriots would draw the Bengals, who will be going up against a Houston Texans team that is hurting badly after losing quarterback Matt Schaub.
The Patriots have not played the Bengals this season, but it doesn't seem likely that rookie quarterback Andy Dalton would out-duel Brady in a playoff game. Crazier things have happened though.
Green Bay Packers
Despite a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15, don't expect Aaron Rodgers and the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers to let off anyone easy in their first-round playoff match. They will show the world why they have been the most dominant team in the NFL since last year's playoffs.
This season, the Packers are 14-1 with home-field advantage already locked up, which gives them a bye in the first round. They may decide to rest their starters against the Detroit Lions in Week 17, but then again, it is a divisional game, and they may want to show the Lions who are the champions.
It is actually interesting considering what the Packers will see as their best approach to the Lions game this Sunday. While they likely won't throw the game, as benching their starters puts them in a better position to lose and allows the Lions to slip into the No. 5 spot. While the Packers could still land the Lions in their first round, they may draw the Atlanta Falcons—pending what happens tonight in their game against the New Orleans Saints.
The Packers could just as easily land the Saints if they slip to the No. 5 seed, where they will be facing whoever wins the NFC East. It really is a tough situation to figure out for the Packers, but they shouldn't fear any team. That being said, they likely will not worry about strategizing who they will play in the first round.
The Packers are looking like they are ready to run the table once again, so look for them to walk out of the first round with yet another victory on their season.