As we enter the Divisional round this weekend and the top teams of both conferences come out to play for the first time this postseason, now is a good time to rank the remaining 8 teams from the worst to the first. Any of these are capable of pulling off a win or winning it all but some are clearly better than others on paper.
8. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks are the obvious choice for worst remaining playoff team simply based on their body of work in the regular season. Yes, their win over the New Orleans Saints was impressive but their were two factors in that game that they won’t have going forwards. The first is that they were playing at home in front of one of the loudest crowds in the NFL. As reported earlier this week, this crowd was so loud that they literally shook the Earth at one point in the game. The second was that the Saints were rendered one-dimensional due to two of their top backs being placed on injured reserve before the game. You need balance in the NFL if you are going to win playoff games and the Saints lacked that and they lost, plain and simple. The Hawks could continue to shock the world this week as they face the second worse team left in the playoffs but they it’s highly doubtful.
7. Chicago Bears: The Bears came out of nowhere this season to grab the number 2 seed in the NFC. They did it with a horrible offensive line, an erratic quarterback, and an offense that didn’t seem capable of putting up the necessary points to win games. But they also did it in a division that features the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. I give them their props for making it this far and more than likely, they will advance to the NFC Championship game, but I just can’t get behind them. In a clutch situation, I just can’t see Jay Cutler delivering for the Bears.
6. New York Jets: When the Jets are regulated to number 6, then you know just how tough the top 5 are. The Jets have all the markings of a complete team; they can run the ball, pass the ball and more importantly, they can stop opponents from doing both. What they can’t do, though, is shut their coach up. I know this gripe doesn’t adversely effect a game like, say, Mark Sanchez sailing passes over the heads of receivers that even Yao Ming would look at and say “damn, that’s to high”, but when your coach goes out of his way to give the opponents bulletin board material, then you are always facing an opponent that is wanting to beat you a little more than normal.
5. Green Bay Packers: The Packers may be the most dangerous NFC team remaining in the playoffs because they have embraced the fact that they are normally one-dimensional and made it into an art form. Give them a day like they had last week against Philly, where they actually had a running game, and you just better pack your bags and head on home, it’s over.
4. Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons were the best team in the NFC during the season BUT (and you know it was coming) they are fielding a quarterback who, for all his hype, has never won a playoff game. The playoffs are a different monster all together than the regular season. The game is faster, the hits harder, and if you lose just once, you’re done. The Falcons are the most balanced team in the NFC but lack of experience could doom them in the end.
3. Baltimore Ravens: A lack of experience is not the problem facing the Ravens, an aging defense and an inconsistent offense is. At the moment, the Ravens are playing championship level defense, but what happens if they come back to Earth in that regard? Their offense, for all the weapons and the potential for greatness, is still a mess and that lack of cohesion is their greatest weakness.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers lost their starting franchise quarterback for the first four games of the season, traded their top wideout from a season ago, and battled key injuries on both sides of the ball, yet they still finished 12-4 and earned the second seed in the tough AFC. Now they are rested, somewhat healthy and hosting the Ravens who they have owned in the recent past. All signs point to a rematch with the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
1. New England Patriots: Speaking of teams who not many thought would be good this season (I picked them to miss the playoffs…I was wrong), the Patriots defied logic to easily grab the best record in the NFL. They did it with a spackled together unit on both sides of the ball that features a heavy dose of rookies and young guys sprinkled in with a few vets in key positions. The Patriots, though, face two potential hurdles to a SuperBowl ring this season. The first is their inability to consistently run the ball, something essential in the playoffs, and the second is a big, resounding question mark concerning how these rookies and young guys will perform under the double intensity of the playoffs.
Overall, we still have a wide-open mix of potential SuperBowl champs will no one team that really stands out. Parity was the theme for this season and it continued into the postseason. This weekends games are going to be brutal and highly enjoyable.
Bring on the weekend!