NFL Playoff Picture: 10 Teams Most Suited for Playoff Football
As we head into the final week of the NFL regular season, nine teams have punched their ticket to the dance—leaving just six teams fighting for the final three invitations.
In the NFC, the Cowboys and the Giants square off in Week 17 in a true elimination game, with the winner advancing to the playoffs.
In the AFC, the Broncos and Raiders are still fighting for the AFC West crown, while the Bengals, Titans and Jets are fighting for the last Wild Card spot.
Though none of the aforementioned AFC teams truly scare anyone, let's take a look at the 10 teams most suited for playoff football.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Technically, the playoffs begin a week early for the Dallas Cowboys as they enter their Week 17 play-in game with the New York Giants.
The winner will be crowned champions of the NFC East and open up at home with either the Detroit Lions or Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs.
Just when we thought the Cowboys were getting healthy with the return of Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray was lost for the season with a fractured right ankle.
Running back play will be an issue for the Cowboys going forward, as the oft-injured Felix Jones will likely be listed as questionable for the rest of the season.
And to add insult to injury, Tony Romo was knocked out of last week's game versus the Eagles with a right hand contusion. X-rays came back negative and Romo is expected to be ready to go versus the Giants this weekend.
Romo had 321 yards passing and four touchdowns in the Cowboys' 37-34 home loss to the Giants in Week 14.
If he can have a similar impact this weekend in New York, the Cowboys could sneak into the playoffs and ultimately prove to be a tough out in postseason play.
9. New York Giants
And in the other corner, we have the New York Giants—the home team in this week's elimination game versus the Dallas Cowboys.
Losers of five of their last seven games, the Giants remain the team no one can seem to figure out.
They inexplicably followed their 37-34 win in Dallas with a 23-10 loss at home to an inferior Washington Redskins team.
After bouncing back last week with a 29-14 win against an extremely overrated Jets team, the Giants should feel fortunate to still be in position to make the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
In fact, the winner of this Sunday's game will be the first team to ever win the NFC East with less than 10 wins.
With Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs on offense, the Giants are as offensively talented as any team in the NFL. Yet the question remains—which New York Giants team will show up on Sunday night?
8. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons seemed to be headed in the right direction up until their 45-16 loss at New Orleans on Monday night.
To make matters worse, they are likely headed back to New Orleans for a rematch in the first round of the playoffs.
Matt Ryan leads a balanced offense equipped with three major playmakers—running back Michael Turner and the receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Ranking seventh in points scored and 10th in points allowed, the Falcons are a perfect example of a team who doesn't do anything great, but does everything good.
It's always hard for one team to beat another team three times in the same season, so don't count the Falcons out just yet.
7. Detroit Lions
Does anyone want to face the Detroit Lions right now?
In Matthew Stafford's last four games, he's thrown for 1,399 yards (350-yard average) to go along with 10 touchdowns and just one interception.
Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson has totaled 13 receptions for 316 yards and three touchdowns over his past two contests.
With perhaps the league's best pass-rush and a top five passing offense, the Lions could surprise a lot of people in January.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Despite having won four of their past five games, something seems to be missing with the 2011 Baltimore Ravens, and most people seem to be pointing the finger at quarterback Joe Flacco.
Through 15 games, Flacco has just 19 touchdown passes to go along with 12 interceptions and ranks 20th in the NFL among starting quarterbacks with a 79.7 QB rating.
But as usual, the Ravens are led by a stellar defense that ranks third in the NFL in points allowed and third in total yards (second in rushing and fourth in passing).
This week's game in Cincinnati will likely determine if the Ravens will be spending the opening weekend of the playoffs at home relaxing or on the road versus the AFC West winner.
5. San Francisco 49ers
For whatever reason, no one seems to want to give the NFC's current No. 2 seed any credit for their 12-3 record.
But the fact of the matter is the San Francisco 49ers just need to beat the St.Louis Rams on Sunday to secure a first-round bye and a second-round home playoff game.
Sporting a nifty QB rating of 90.1 to go along with 16 touchdowns and a league-low five interceptions, Alex Smith has done everything head coach Jim Harbaugh has asked him to do—don't turn the ball over and win football games.
Similar to last year's Chicago Bears, the 49ers win with an elite defense, good special teams and a solid ground game.
Although this formula's proven successful in the past, will it be enough to keep up with the high-octane offenses in our top three?
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Depending on the outcome of the Ravens versus Bengals game this weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers can still secure a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Even though many consider a first-round game at Denver similar to a bye, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his high ankle sprain could use the extra week of rest.
Led by a defense that ranks second in points and first in yards allowed, the Steelers are the definition of a team suited for playoff football.
The only difference between last year's AFC champ and this year's team is the emergence of second-year wideout Antonio Brown (63 receptions for 1,018 yards)—yet another weapon at Roethlisberger's disposal.
Steelers at Patriots with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, anyone?
3. New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have won seven games in a row and along with the Patriots are the hottest team in the NFL.
With an offense that ranks first in the NFL in total yards and second in points scored, Drew Brees and company look poised to make their second trip to the Super Bowl in the last three years.
The question remains, will the Saints be able to go on the road and defeat the 49ers and the Packers in back-to-back weeks?
2. New England Patriots
With a win at home against the reeling Buffalo Bills this week, the Patriots will secure home-field advantage in the AFC.
Although there are plenty of questions surrounding the Patriots defense (and rightfully so), many refuse to acknowledge the fact that New England ranks 15th in points allowed—the only defensive statistic that truly matters.
So enough with the "they have the last-ranked defense in the NFL" argument! Defensive yards allowed means absolutely nothing.
Do you know the only other team giving up at least 400 yards per game on defense? The Green Bay Packers.
Last I checked, this team is led by Tom Brady and is one of only three teams in the league averaging more than 30 points per game.
So if you want to beat the Patriots in the playoffs, you'd better be able to outscore them (unless you are the Steelers).
1. Green Bay Packers
Who else could it be?
A team well on its way to historical greatness led by a quarterback having arguably the best season in NFL history.
Aaron Rodgers' current 122.5 QB rating ranks first all time, while his absurd 7.5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (45 touchdowns and six interceptions) is well ahead of Tom Brady's 6.25:1 ratio during his magical 2008 season (50 touchdowns and eight interceptions).
Winners of 20 of their last 21 games and with home-field advantage already locked up, it's hard to imagine anyone other than Green Bay representing the NFC in the Super Bowl for the second straight year.
I can already see it now. Aaron Rodgers versus Tom Brady for the title of best quarterback on the planet—oh yeah, and another ring.