In the NFL, you are only as good as your last game. This week starts the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs and that saying rings more true than ever. Win and you are one step closer to the Lombardi Trophy; Lose and it is back to the drawing board for another season.
Twelve teams are fighting for the honor, but only two will make it to the big dance, and only one will win it all. How elite is your team?
#12 Indianapolis Colts – The Colts made it to the playoffs with an interim coach and a rookie signal caller. Though, skill is a huge factor in the comeback from a miserable 2011 season, so is luck. No, I’m not talking about the man, though he is a big reason for their success, I mean the good fortune of the team. There were a few games where the team was beaten by teams like the Jets and humiliated by the Patriots and barely eked out wins over Tennessee, Detroit, and Kansas City. Of the teams left in the playoffs that they met earlier in the season, the Colts have been outscored 151-119.
#11 Baltimore Ravens – Baltimore clinched their division, but did not stand alone at the top of the standings in the AFC North. The Bengals finished with the same record, but were not in division talks to a middle of the schedule slump. However, in the Ravens last five games, the team only picked up one win in five games. Their defense has been feeling the effects of injury and age throughout the season and Joe Flacco is possibly one of the most inconsistent players at the quarterback position in the NFL. Their Wild Card matchup against the Colts could prove to be very trying the purple and black.
#10 Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings finished the season strong, winning four of their last six games. Let’s face it, though, if Adrian Peterson wasn’t in the equation, this team would have been lucky to finish 20th in the NFL standings. The team is ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yards and their defense struggles against opposing quarterbacks. If teams can find an answer for the beastly play of A.P., the Vikes won’t stand a chance with these heavy hitters.
#9 Washington Redskins – This team clawed and fought their way to the top of their division in the NFC East. They proved to be tough and resilient behind a rookie quarterback/running back combo that looks to cement Washington in the top of the standings for years to come. However, they are still ranked 20th in passing yards and the defense is ranked 30th in the NFL against the opposing teams’ passing offense. They will have a tough matchup against the Seattle Seahawks in the first round that may prove to be detrimental to the young offense.
#8 Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals came alive in the second half of the season, winning seven of their last eight games decisively and earning a place in the playoffs that no one thought was possible. In the beginning of the season Cincinnati’s defense struggled to get anything done and it was all offense in every matchup. However, now the tables have turned and the defense has been incredible scoring a touchdown in the past three weeks against opponents and the offense has looked lackluster as the season has dragged on. That will have to change against an explosive Texans defense if the Bengals want to get their first postseason win under Marvin Lewis. Last year at this time, Cincinnati was placed in the same position against the same team and got blown out; no one in the Queen City can handle a déjà vu appearance.
#7 Houston Texans – Houston’s record, alone, should have them ranked much higher in the playoff rankings, but these standing aren’t based just on record. The Texans have not looked like the same team that started the season 12-1. Since week 14, the Texans have dropped three of their last four matchups and were shocked by 42-14 loss in New England during a Monday Night appearance. Their matchup against the Bengals on Saturday won’t cut them any slack either. The Bengals defense has been strong against the run and has excelled in the pass rush. If the Texans can’t get back to early season form, they may end up with an early exit from the Playoffs.
#6 Green Bay Packers – The Pack is back in another postseason run, but they struggle in many areas on the field. They are ranked 20th in the league in the ground attack and their defense (ranked 17th against the run) will have their hands full for the second week in a row against Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings. Aaron Rodgers will be forced to carry this team through the air if they hope to advance very far in these Playoffs.
#5 Seattle Seahawks – Who would have ever thought at the beginning of the season, led by a small rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson that this team would have an 11-5 record and be poised for playoff greatness? Against teams that are in the playoffs, the Seahawks have a record of 4-1 and two of those teams sit above them in the standings.
#4 San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers took the second seed spot in the NFC and have a much needed bye this week. They have won five of their last seven, including a big win in Foxboro against the Pats in week 15.
#3 New England Patriots – Even thought the Patriots lost to the 49ers in December, I am still ranking them one spot higher than San Fran. Here are my reasons: The Patriots have won 9 of their last 10 matchups, they smacked Denver, Indianapolis, and Houston around, all of their early season losses came by just two points or less, and they made a comeback for the ages against the 49ers, scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter alone before meeting their demise at the end of the game. Oh and did I mention, this team has Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the Playoffs.
#2 Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons took the NFC’s top spot despite losing twice in their last four games of the season. Atlanta showed their weaknesses as the season progressed, but with the extra practice time and home field advantage should be able to hold their own for the first time in the NFL postseason.
#1 Denver Broncos – Who is this man, Peyton Manning? Is he human? Machine? The Broncos have not lost a game since October 15th when in New England when the Patriots showed Manning, once again, that they had his number in Gillette Stadium. He and the team have won 11 straight to finish out the season and Big Brother Manning is playing better than ever. Could Denver be Super Bowl bound?