These are the best of the best [yeah, that even means the Rams and Vikings]. Of the 32 NFL teams that started the year with an eye at the Super Bowl….only 12 now have that shot. In being one of those 12 teams….each team had to done something right to get there. Yet, each team has some sort of question mark that may keep them from hoisting the Lombardi trophy. I’ll throw out some “well….but they” comments out here….neither as my indictment nor my backing of these teams in the playoffs. Enjoy!
ATLANTA FALCONS. Aside from Michael Vick….what exactly is this team? I mean, they got off to a hot start and sailed to an NFC South title and a bye. From what? Vick was noticeably lost at times in the West Coast Offense. So, Mora changed it to maximize Vick’s strengths….aka running. Still…a big hit could quickly end it all for Atlanta. Heck, they’ve had 6 games where they scored less than two touchdowns. I know this is easier said than done….but if you hold down Vick, you’ve held down the Falcons.
DENVER BRONCOS. It will all come down to Jake Plummer. Jake The Snake can look like John Elway one minute….and Ryan Leaf the next. He can pass you into and then out of games quickly. I mean…he can have big time passing yards….and also have 4 picks. Not what you want out of a playoff quarterback. Also, Denver needs consistency from its running backs. Be it injuries or fumble-it is….it is hard to figure out what you are going to get from that backfield. Oh yeah….and the Colts saw what the Broncos had to offer last week.
GREEN BAY PACKERS. So when is Brett Favre supposed to suck?? Sure, he makes those wild mistakes….but he can still make virtually any throw out there. He can move a team up and down the field and has the horses on offense to do so. But, like Plummer….he can make a horrible throw that takes you out of the game. Remember last year’s playoffs. Favre should be fine against Minnesota….but Philly?? Atlanta?? Still, it is hard to count out the Packers against those teams.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS. Yes…that offense has Manning, James, Harrison, Stokley and Wayne. But we all know that defense wins championships. You don’t NEED a dominant one…but at least one that can hold teams down. Statistically…the Colts don’t have that. They’ve played better as the season went along…but now they’ll be dealing with the best of the best in the NFL. Not to mention the Colts will be facing tougher defenses that Manning can’t just torch at freewill….which would force opponents to be one-dimensional offensively. And speaking of Manning….how will that offense fair in the elements of Foxboro or Pittsburgh? Especially with rumors of snowstorms looming. To the Colts credit…the have played the Pats, Packers, Vikings, Chargers and Broncos already this year. Too bad all of them put up some big point totals against them.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS. Hey, this year they lose the last game and still get in. But this team has problems. Randy Moss bolting the game with a few seconds left didn’t look good. The team’s flailing as the season wound down doesn’t look good either. Neither does receivers dropping passes or a suspect running game or a porous defense that let those sad Skins march all over on them. Playoff-esque?? No. And they get Green Bay up front. Great. The Vikes have a recent history of not being able to win games in non-domes. Odd for a northern team. Sure, with Moss and Culpepper…they bring mismatches right to the forefront. But, if you can get them frustrated….you’ve got them where you want them.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS. They are the Defending Champs and have two Super Bowl rings in the past 3 years. Only the St. Louis Rams, as a team, have any Super Bowl experience among the playoff participants….and that was with Kurt Warner. They play at cold Gillette Stadium…which will help them against the Colts or Chargers. However…they’ll have to play the AFC title tilt in Pittsburgh if all goes according to plan. On paper…this should be a better offensive Pats team with Corey Dillon in the backfield. Defensively, however, the team has some injury issues to deal with….mainly in the secondary. That’s not a good thing when you are staring at the Colts in the first playoff game. Heck, Miami exploited it.
NEW YORK JETS. In theory….the Jets are the most battle tested against playoff teams. They’ve played a team from these playoffs in their last 4 games [Steelers, Seahawks, Patriots, Rams]. They only won one of those games. They did go into San Diego and win….but that was on September 19. They’ll be back in San Diego…which is fine with Chad Pennington who’s dealing with media issues in New York. Those issues stem from questions about him being able to win a big game. Well…here is your chance, Chad. Try to resurrect that offense that has been stagnant of late.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES. Sad. This team was cruising along in the horrible NFC to basically skating to the Super Bowl. Then Owens gets hurt. Still…the Eagles must be the favorite to win the NFC. But, winning the big game will be dependant on if McNabb can hook up with those “sorry receivers” they’ve had over the past few years and were the excuses behind why they didn’t finish the job. Speaking of that….THREE straight NFC Championship game losses will be rammed into their heads until they actually do advance to Jacksonville.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS. They became just the fourth team to finish with a 15-1 mark. The road to the Super Bowl goes thru them…..but they have lost AFC title games in Pittsburgh before….recently in 1995, 1998 and 2002. True….Big Ben is a rookie and this is quite a different stage. But, he faced the mighty Patriots and Eagles and handed both of them losses. Another knock people may have is the toughness of their schedule. They did beat Philly and New England….both at home. They also beat the Jets….at home. But those were only current playoff teams that the Steelers have played all year. Their toughest road game…arguably at Baltimore….they lost.
ST. LOUIS RAMS. This team defies NFL convention. They turn the ball over WAAAAY too much. They pretty much have a 2-to-1 pass/run ratio. They’ll run trick plays at the wrong possible time. And coach Mike Martz is cocky enough to not care about doing it in a crunch situation. But, is any other wildcard team scarier than the Rams?? They can put up some points…and at times defend. The problem is that unless they meet the Vikings in the playoffs….they won’t get to show off that Greatest Show On Turf bonanza. Well….they could play in the Georgia Dome against the Falcons. But, that offense could get stagnant in Green Bay or Philly.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS. The odd thing about being the surprise team of the year is that no one knows how you got that good. Can Drew Brees continue his air assault? Can that defense stiffen up against these tough offenses? Can San Diego win outside sunny So Cal? Of their 8 road games…3 were in domes, and only one was in the cold….that blizzard in Cleveland [which they won]. The Chargers secondary will have to deal with some awesome receivers in the playoffs….and they led the league in passing penalties [interference, contact].
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS. This franchise has some issues. They were the trendy Super Bowl pick in September…only to limp into an NFC West title and a playoff birth. They were a two-point conversion from a back-up squad away from playing this game IN St.Louis instead of just against them. The defense has been devastated by injuries…and has been gobbled up by other NFL teams. Especially the Rams…who Seattle plays this weekend. Add to that the fact that Koren Robinson’s hands must be made out of stone…..or roids. This whole stupid Shaun Alexander 1-yard whine has really put the team in a bad light. Oh, and this team is the greatest choke artists left in the playoffs.