Playoffs! Yes, the 2016 NFL regular season has finally concluded with the road to Super Bowl 51 officially underway. Which playoff team has the best chance of winning the Lombardi Trophy? Let’s rank the 12 playoff teams.
- New England Patriots (14-2)
New England looks unbeatable right now. Quarterback Tom Brady has arguably never looked better despite being 39. Brady has 25 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions in 12 games. Missing 4 games due to the deflategate suspension was the best thing that could have happened just as I predicted. The Patriots running game has also been really explosive. LeGarrette Blount ran for over 1,100 yards and a franchise record 17 rushing touchdowns. The Patriots have been explosive offensively going 5-0 even without Gronk. This hasn’t been the best defensive unit Bill Belichick has ever coached but they do lead the NFL in points allowed (15.6 points allowed per game). Somehow this defense got better after trading Jamie Collins. New England seems like a safe bet to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
2. Dallas Cowboys (13-3)
Dallas has been the surprise of the NFL this season. I picked the Cowboys to win the NFC East this year but I didn’t see a 13-3 season to go along with it. Dallas has been led by rookie 4th round pick Dak Prescott who should be the MVP of the league. Prescott has shocked the NFL landscape. I had him pegged as a better version of Tim Tebow in my combine notes. Of course, a lot of credit has to be given to the best offensive line in football. Ezekiel Elliot allows Dallas to really control the tempo of the game limiting possessions for the opposing team. Dallas has even been a lot better than expected defensively ranking 5th in points allowed (19.1). Rod Marinelli has this defensive line grooving while linebacker Sean Lee is the best player you never heard of.
3. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
It’s all about the offense in Hotlanta. The Falcons have had the 15th best offense in NFL history this past season scoring 502 total points. There isn’t a better play caller in the NFL than offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Matt Ryan has his best group of weapons yet in Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Mohammed Sanu, Justin Hardy, etc. The Falcons also have a great rushing attack with the two-headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The best news for Atlanta is they will be playing in a dome for their entire playoff run so weather won’t be an issue. Atlanta’s defense is very mediocre but they do have Vic Beasley who leads the NFL in sacks (15.5). The Falcons are the last team anyone wants to see in the playoffs because they know it’s going to be a shootout.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
Ben Roethlisberger will be looking to add his 3rd SuperBowl ring to his legacy. Unlike Steeler teams of the past, this one relies heavily on their offense. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown simply make it impossible for teams to double team them. Bell has been the league’s best back leading the NFL in total scrimmage yards. Pittsburgh’s defense ranks 9th in points allowed (20.2) and has gotten key contributions from unlikely heroes such as Javon Hargrave. Pittsburgh looks like New England’s toughest test.
5. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)
Losing Earl Thomas may be too much for Seattle to overcome but they won’t be a tough out. Seattle was the only team to get the better of Tom Brady this season. The leading rusher on the team was Christine Michael who has since been released and claimed by Green Bay. For Seattle to return to the Super Bowl it is going to have to be a team that is carried by Russell Wilson. The Seahawks defense has been good this year limiting opponents to 17.9 points per game ranking 2nd in the NFL. Bobby Wagner led the league with 155 total tackles.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
There is an argument to be said that the Chiefs can’t possibly win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith. He would be the worst one to win a championship since Trent Dilfer in 2000. Overcoming the loss of Jamaal Charles has been easier than expected with the emergence of Tyreek Hill and Spencer Ware. Hill, in particular, has helped his team win in more ways than one scoring 12 touchdowns on offensive and in the return game. KC has a pretty complete defense as well posting terrific pass rushers in the form of Justin Houston and Dee Ford and elite defensive backs with Eric Berry and Marcus Peters. Andy Reid has taken a team to the Super Bowl in the past (Philadelphia 2006), there is no reason he can’t do it again with this loaded Chiefs team.
7. New York Giants (11-5)
The Giants are one of those teams that just needs to get in the playoffs. The playoff version of Eli Manning tends to be much better than regular season Eli which possesses the Giants are very viable Super Bowl contenders. Unlike teams in the past, this one really struggles to run the ball. However, 1 big play by Odell Beckham is sometimes all that they need to win. This Giants team has a dangerous defensive unit thanks in large part to offseason signees Janoris Jenkins, Oliver Vernon, and Damon Harrison. That trio has turned New York into a defensive juggernaut. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was also the leader of the defense when New York won a title in 2008.
8. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
Anytime you have Aaron Rodgers, you feel like you have a chance. Green Bay has been on firing winning 6 straight games to close out the regular season. The Pack will need 4 more to win a championship. There is some cause for concern in Green Bay. Injuries have hampered the secondary as a number of cornerbacks have found themselves on injured reserve. The defense as a whole hasn’t been very good either. For the Packers, they need Aaron Rodgers to play lights out in every game. To do that he is going to need some help. Ty Montgomery has done a nice job lately filling the void at running back rushing for 6 yards a carry. Jordy Nelson, DeVante Adams, and Geronimo Allison have found chemistry with Rodgers in the passing game. The last time Rodgers won a Super Bowl was as a 6 seed. There is no reason he can’t shock the world and do it again.
9. Oakland Raiders (12-4)
I have lost a lot of faith in Oakland after watching quarterback Derek Carr go down for the season. The Raiders chance at winning a Super Bowl probably went right down with him. Carr would have been my MVP had he finished the season healthy. Now the Raiders will turn to 3rd string quarterback Connor Cook after the backup Matt McGloin was injured in week 17. This is a young Raiders team that is probably a year away from truly being contenders. They have some young talent in the form of Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack, and Karl Joseph. This team did go 12-4 for a reason. The defense will probably hold them back during the playoff run as they rank near the bottom of every category.
10. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
Miami will be led by Matt Moore until Ryan Tannehill is healthy enough to return. Moore has played fairly well in Tannehill’s absence throwing for 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in 4 games. His QBR has actually been better than Tannehill’s which means Dolphins fans shouldn’t have any reason to panic. Jay Ajayi has been the real difference maker on offense recording 3 games of 200 rushing yards. The reason Miami found themselves in the playoffs has been the change in culture that Adam Gase brought with him. He is a no-nonsense coach who has the team outperforming expectations. The Dolphins do have some talent on defense including Ndamukong Suh, Kiko Alonso, and Tony Lippett. Miami did beat Pittsburgh earlier this season, maybe they can do it again.
11. Detroit Lions (9-7)
Detroit was able to sneak into the playoffs after a 9 win season. In 8 of the team’s wins, they were trailing at some point in the 4th quarter. Matthew Stafford also hasn’t been the same since tearing ligaments in his fingers. They also rank 30th in rushing yards per game making this a one dimensional team. Detroit should be able to keep up offensively if Matthew Stafford plays well, but their defense hasn’t played well lately. The Lions actually have a negative -12 point differential on the season winning a number of close games.
12. Houston Texans (9-7)
The Texans have been by far the worst team in the postseason. Houston has a -49 point differential on the season which is worse than a number of teams that missed the playoffs. The Texans are fortunate to play in a terrible AFC South division. Both Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler are horrible which begs that question of why Bill O’Brien isn’t getting more recognition. J.J. Watt is even out for the season. The Texans do have a pretty solid defense but not one that can mask the mistakes of the horrible quarterbacks.