Which Team Should Every NFL Contender Want to Avoid in the Playoffs?

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2020

Which Team Should Every NFL Contender Want to Avoid in the Playoffs?

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Matchups mean everything in the NFL playoffs, which is why we regularly see underdogs go on surprising runs and favorites flounder.

    Last year, the wild-card Tennessee Titans made it to the AFC title game because their run-heavy formula matched up well against the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. Had the 14-2 Ravens faced a different opponent during the divisional round—they lost to Tennessee again in Week 11 of this year—the entire postseason may have unfolded differently.

    Even the best teams have a potential matchup that they should hope to avoid in the postseason this year, and that's exactly what we're going to dive into here. We'll examine the top 10 Super Bowl contenders—based on the latest odds from DraftKings Sportsbook—and the one opponent they should each hope to miss during the playoffs.

    Since we're using Super Bowl odds as a guideline here, don't fret if your favorite team isn't listed. If it makes the postseason, it's going to have a chance. We'll also be limiting potential matchups to two teams maximum, since it's obvious that every team in the AFC should want to avoid the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs, for example.

    These 10 contenders are listed worst to first in terms of Super Bowl odds.

Latest Super Bowl Odds

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Green Bay Packers 21-4

    New Orleans Saints 7-1

    Buffalo Bills 9-1

    Seattle Seahawks 10-1

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-1

    Baltimore Ravens 14-1

    Pittsburgh Steelers 22-1

    Tennessee Titans 28-1

    Los Angeles Rams 30-1

    Indianapolis Colts 33-1

    Miami Dolphins 60-1

    Cleveland Browns 60-1

    Chicago Bears 66-1

    Arizona Cardinals 75-1

    Dallas Cowboys 100-1

    Washington Football Team 100-1

    New York Giants 150-1   

Los Angeles Rams

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Team to avoid: Green Bay Packers

    The Los Angeles Rams have dropped two straight and three of their last five. They shouldn't feel good about facing any opponent in the postseason right now, except for perhaps the winner of the NFC East.

    The Rams definitely shouldn't feel good about the prospect of facing potential MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay appears capable of matching points with anyone in the conference, while the Rams lost to the then-winless New York Jets two weeks ago.

    If the Rams do get into the postseason, they may have to play without starting quarterback Jared Goff. He suffered a broken thumb in Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks and underwent surgery Monday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    If Goff cannot return for the playoffs, Los Angeles will be forced to lean on backup John Wolford, who has never seen regular-season action heading into Week 17.

    Does anyone believe that Wolford can outduel Rodgers at Lambeau Field in the postseason? The Rams probably don't, either.

Tennessee Titans

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    Team to avoid: Baltimore Ravens

    The Tennessee Titans narrowly defeated the Baltimore Ravens back in Week 11, but they should not at all be eager for a rematch. With Lamar Jackson returning to MVP form, Baltimore is capable of fielding a balanced offensive attack, which Tennessee has struggled against.

    On Sunday, the Titans had no answers for a Green Bay Packers team that ripped off 200-plus yards both through the air and on the ground. Tennessee was forced to get away from its run-early, run-often approach and got shredded 40-14.

    The Ravens have produced at least 150 passing and 150 rushing yards in each of their last three outings.

    The Titans haven't been good against either the run or the pass this season—they rank 28th against the former and 20th against the latter—and they've largely masked their defensive deficiencies by leaning on Derrick Henry and the ground game.

    That could be a significant problem against the Ravens and their ninth-ranked run defense.

    A Titans-Baltimore game could turn into a run-heavy back-and-forth shootout. While that isn't necessarily ideal for any team in the postseason, it could be downright disastrous for the Titans.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Team to avoid: Kansas City Chiefs

    Thanks to some timely defensive stops and an epic comeback led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers stopped their losing streak at three games Sunday. They rallied against the Indianapolis Colts in the second half and eked out a 28-24 victory that helped them clinch an AFC North title.

    However, one bounce-back performance doesn't mean that Pittsburgh has solved its offensive woes. The Steelers still failed to top 100 rushing yards for the fifth straight game and have not looked like an offensive juggernaut at any point this season.

    If the Steelers are forced into a shootout with a potent passing team like the Kansas City Chiefs, they could be in serious trouble. They were able to come back against the Colts because the Colts stopped scoring. That isn't likely to happen against Kansas City.

    Pittsburgh's inability to run the ball is another issue. Run defense is Kansas City's biggest defensive liability—the team ranks 22nd in yards per carry allowedbut the Steelers couldn't even dream of exploiting it right now.

    The Steelers can hope to contain Mahomes, but they won't shut him down. Trying to match points with the Chiefs without the benefit of a clock-controlling ground game would be a terrifying proposition.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Team to avoid: Kansas City Chiefs

    The Ravens have gotten over the COVID-19 issues that derailed them earlier in the season, quarterback Lamar Jackson has return to his MVP form, and they've ripped off four wins in a row.

    While the Ravens should feel good about their chances against any AFC foe, the Chiefs may be the one exception. They've beaten the Ravens in each of the past two seasons, and Jackson described them as "kryptonite" after the Ravens lost to them in Week 3.

    The Chiefs offense is potent enough to put up points against a stout Ravens defense. And if they can get out to a sizable lead on the Ravens, Jackson has traditionally struggled in those situations.

    That loss to Kansas City dropped Jackson to 0-5 as a starter when his team got down by double digits.

    While the Ravens have been good at limiting opposing scoring, they rank 13th in passing yards allowed. That plays into what Kansas City does best.

    Baltimore got picked apart by Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns two weeks ago, and if not for a laughable Cleveland defense, Baltimore might not even be in the playoff mix. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are far more dangerous than the Browns.

    The Chiefs perhaps the only AFC foe that should scare the Ravens right now.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Lon Horwedel/Associated Press

    Team to avoid: New Orleans Saints

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already faced the New Orleans Saints twice this season and lost convincingly both times. There's little reason to believe that a third outing would yield vastly different results.

    Saints quarterback Drew Brees seems to have figured out how to exploit Tampa Bay's pass defense to perfection. While the Tampa defense is stout enough against the run to make the Saints one-dimensional, that hasn't been an issue in either game this season.

    New Orleans is also one of the few teams that has figured out how to fluster Brady and the rest of Bruce Arians' offense. The Saints defense forced six turnovers in its two meetings with the Bucs, and the most recent game was a 38-3 annihilation in which they held the Bucs below 200 yards of total offense.

    While the Buccaneers are a well-balanced team and potent enough offensively, they have struggled to overcome repeated mistakes by Brady. He has thrown multiple interceptions four times this season, and they lost all four of those games. Two of those were against New Orleans.

    The Bucs should feel relatively confident against anyone else in the NFC playoff field, but a third matchup with the Saints could result in their early demise.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Team to avoid: Arizona Cardinals

    It sounds strange, but the Seattle Seahawks might be most leery of facing a team that may not even make the postseason. The Arizona Cardinals have beaten Seattle in two of their last three meetings and lost by only one score in the last game.

    The Cardinals are a divisional opponent that knows the Seahawks well. Kyler Murray is also one of the few quarterbacks in the league who's dynamic and talented enough to match Wilson in the big-play department.

    In addition, Arizona has an underrated pass defense—ranked ninth in yards allowed—that can pressure Wilson and force him into making mistakes.

    When the Cardinals beat the Seahawks back in Week 7, their defense forced three turnovers that offset a whopping 572 yards of Seahawks offense. The Cardinals didn't force a turnover in the last meeting and lost by only a touchdown.

    It's usually tough when teams meet for a third time in the postseason, and this would be no exception. Knowing how to face Wilson could give Arizona a massive advantage that other teams in the NFC don't have.

    And the Cardinals have already proved once this season that they can come out on top against the Seahawks.

Buffalo Bills

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Team to avoid: Baltimore Ravens

    Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills have the offensive firepower to hang with most opponents. However, their defense is vulnerable to the run.

    That makes run-oriented teams like the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens and the Browns potential problems in the postseason. Of those three, the surging Ravens present the biggest problem.

    Not only does Baltimore feature the league's No. 1 rushing attack, but it also has quarterback Lamar Jackson rounding back into his 2019 MVP form. The Ravens' fourth-ranked scoring defense can also do just enough to keep this matchup from devolving into a total shootout.

    But if this does become a shootout—as the Ravens' Week 14 game against Cleveland did—Jackson is playing well enough to win it.

    The Titans soundly defeated the Bills back in Week 5, and Buffalo probably doesn't want to see them again. However, the Ravens are playing like a team that no one should want to face right now, and the Bills would be right to worry about hosting them in the Wild Card Round.

New Orleans Saints

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    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    Team to avoid: Seattle Seahawks

    The New Orleans Saints have lost only three games this season with Drew Brees under center. Only one of those losses came against an NFC opponent, and it was against the Packers.

    However, the Saints may be more inclined to avoid a matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.

    Russell Wilson is one of the few quarterbacks along with Rodgers equipped to beat New Orleans' third-ranked defense. Seattle is also well-balanced, ranking 11th in rushing, 14th in passing and seventh in scoring.

    The real potential issue for the Saints, however, is Seattle's defense. After being a laughingstock early in the season, Seattle's defense hasn't allowed more than 17 points in any of its last five games.

    "This defense is good, and they've shown it, and they've declared it," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told reporters after Sunday's 20-9 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

    Perhaps more importantly, the Seahawks have been stellar against the run, ranking fifth in rushing yards and sixth in yards per carry allowed. Seattle could force New Orleans to lean on a less-than-100-percent Drew Brees and the passing game, which could cause serious problems.

    The Saints currently don't have No. 1 receiver Michael Thomas, who is on injured reserve with an ankle injury. They're also at their best when they can unleash Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray on the ground.

    New Orleans racked up 264 rushing yards in its Week 16 win over the Minnesota Vikings. But it was held below 100 rushing yards in each of its two previous games, both of which were losses.

Green Bay Packers

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Team to avoid: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    The y Packers have a chance to secure the NFC's No. 1 seed in Week 17. The Buccaneers are locked into a wild-card spot.

    At first blush, the Buccaneers may not seem like a matchup that the Packers should fear. But as the Bucs proved early in the regular season, their pass rush and run defense can be a real problem for Green Bay.

    Tampa Bay has produced an impressive 47 sacks through 15 games and ranks first in rushing yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns allowed. That could make the Packers one-dimensional offensively and put a lot of pressure on quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    Tampa Bay's suspect secondary ranks 22nd in yards allowed, so if Rodgers and Davante Adams can get rolling, they could match points with Tom Brady. However, the Buccaneers offense is starting to get into a rhythm, as they showed while dropping 47 points on the hapless Detroit Lions on Saturday.

    The Packers likely wouldn't be able to use a a run-oriented, ball-control offense to keep Brady and Co. off the field. That could push this matchup into full-on shootout territory, which wouldn't bode well for Green Bay.

    In each of the Packers' three losses in 2020, the opposition has scored at least 28 points. The only game in which Green Bay didn't score at least 21 points was during a blowout loss in Week 6 to the Buccaneers.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Team to avoid: Buffalo Bills

    The Chiefs hold the NFL's best record at 14-1, and while they've won a lot of close games recently, they're still winning. With a plethora of offensive weapons such as Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins along with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, they'll have a chance to come back against any playoff opponent.

    However, the Bills are one of the few teams that might be able to go blow-for-blow with the Chiefs in a shootout.

    Like Mahomes, Bills quarterback Josh Allen is playing at an MVP level. He has weapons such as Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and John Brown at his disposal, and as a result, the Bills rank fifth in total offense and sixth in scoring.

    Buffalo's biggest weakness is its run defense. The Bills rank 23rd in yards per attempt allowed and 19th in rushing yards allowed. But with Clyde Edwards-Helaire currently out with ankle and hip injuries, the Chiefs might not be able to exploit that weakness.

    While the Bills are average at running the ball—they rank 17th in yards per attempt—Allen is a mobile quarterback who could cut through the Chiefs' own underwhelming run defense (22nd in yards per attempt allowed).

    Kansas City took it to Buffalo when these two teams met back in Week 6. However, that was with a healthy Edwards-Helaire in the lineup and before Allen and Co. hit their late-season stride. Buffalo has lost only once since then, and only because of a Kyler Murray Hail Mary.


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