Ranking the NFL Playoff Teams as They Enter the Postseason
The Seahawks are favored to be first repeat Champions since 2004 Patriots
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) - The Seahawks have it all going right now with Russell playing extremely efficient football to nicely complement a very strong running attack. The Seahawks grind it out offense helps to complement the tough identity that their defense has established for this team. Seattle tackles better than any other team in football along with having two of the best pass defenders in the game roaming their secondary. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas should prove to be huge difference makers once again this postseason as the Seahawks look to reinforce that defense wins championships in the NFL.
2. New England Patriots (12-4) - The Patriots won 10 of their final 12 games to finish out the season after falling short against the Broncos in the AFC Championship game last season. With Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner playing pass coverage for the Patriots this postseason, they are the team best equipped to get the job done defensively. The balance featured by the Patriots offense is tough to match, with a combination of physical running backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray. With Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen in the running back rotation, the Patriots are able to have fresh running backs attacking the defense every time their offense takes the field. Tom Brady's favorite weapons Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are playoff veterans that are prepared to perform on the biggest stage.
3. Green Bay Packers (12-4) - As the most likely team in the NFC to take down Seattle, Aaron Rodgers and the high powered Packers' offense are ready for another deep postseason run. The Packers defense has not played great football for any significant stretches this season, but the brilliance of Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy on the offensive side of things allows them to be one of the top title contenders in the NFL this season. This postseason for the Packers could look like their run following the 2010 season where the efficiency of their offense took over with the support of an opportunistic defense.
4. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) - After a four year absence from the postseason, the Cowboys are back and ready to make some noise. With Tony Romo taking a much more mature approach to playing the quarterback position he has been able to limit late game mistakes recently. A strong running game allows the Cowboys to match up with any cold weather team in the playoffs, with plenty of star power to aid a downfield passing game. A big physical defensive front allows the Cowboys to play strong defense even though they were not able to sustain it for significant periods of time during the regular season. Do not be surprised if the Cowboys are able to pull off an upset or two in the postseason after being favored in their wildcard weekend matchup against the Lions.
5. Denver Broncos (12-4) - The Broncos head into the postseason with injuries to quarterback Peyton Manning along with one of his best offensive playmakers in Julius Thomas. Fortunately for the Broncos they were able to earn a first round bye week which could allow them to put together a strong playoff showing in a postseason that does not look promising for them going in. The Broncos have one of the best defenses of all the AFC playoff teams, but if their offense struggles they are likely to be faced with an early exit. As the Broncos showed last season, when they are at their best they are fully capable of dismantling all of their opposition in the American Football Conference.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) - The Steelers enter the playoffs playing great football after winning their final four regular season games to take the AFC North division title. Entering wildcard weekend they are likely without one of their biggest offensive contributors after suffering a knee hyperextension against the Bengals. A first round matchup with the Ravens could be a difficult task for the Steelers without their star running back, but if they are able to advance they will be in position to make a deep postseason run. The Steelers' identity as a team has shifted enough, that they now have the ability to win a shootout in the postseason. However this means their defense is now unlikely to lead a championship run through the postseason.
7. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) - After a breakout regular season for quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens will look to replicate the magic they had going when they put together a championship run after the 2012 regular season. With Flacco having a pretty good track record in the postseason, the Ravens may be positioned to make a run if they can get past the division rival Steelers in the wildcard round. With Haloti Ngata's return from injury the Ravens now have the opportunity to dominate the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the football. With a good showing from their defense in the postseason, the Ravens could be this year's postseason surprise in the AFC.
8. Detroit Lions (11-5) - The Lions missed an opportunity for a first round bye and a division title when they lost on the road to the Packers to finish out the season. Dominic Raiola is suspended for their first round matchup with the Cowboys, but Ndamukong Suh appealed his suspension to gain eligibility for the wildcard round game. The Lions hopes of making a deep postseason run rest on Matthew Stafford as he and his talented teammates at wide receiver have what it takes to lead a deep run. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate both proved that they could deliver for the Lions all season long, and an opportunity is presented to them as they head on the road as underdogs from the very start.
9. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) - The Colts enter the postseason having won three out of their last four ballgames, but struggling mightily in each game. After never being able to establish their running game this season the Colts lean heavily on their quarterback to win ballgames for them. They are in good hands with Andrew Luck leading the way, but they are susceptible to a loss in any ballgame that he is not at the top of his game. With a one dimensional attack on offense and a middle of the pack defense it is hard to see the Colts winning more than one playoff game again this season. Their wildcard weekend matchup against the Bengals is a favorable one since they do not have to face a great quarterback, but the Bengals running game could give them trouble.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) - The Bengals enter the postseason with nearly every area of their football team considered a strength, besides the quarterback position. If Andy Dalton can operate efficiently and avoid turnovers, the ceiling is very high for Cincinnati. With Dalton's most recent postseason showing and his inconsistent 2014 regular season, there is very little optimism for him putting together a strong performance in the playoffs. With the right game plan the Bengals can earn at least one playoff win, by leaning heavily on their running game that features two extremely talented running backs. With great pass coverage and a strong running game the Bengals may be able to upset the Colts in the wildcard round. Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard will need to set the tone early in order for this to happen.
11. Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) - The Carolina Panthers head into the playoffs after winning four straight regular season games to earn their playoff berth. They also showed that they are capable of atrocious football when they lost six games in a row during the middle portion of their schedule, that included seven games in a row without a victory. Right now though, they are playing great football with their defense finally meeting expectations after playing poorly for much of the season. Cam Newton looks healthy and in control of the offense heading into their home matchup on wildcard weekend. Even as a team with a losing record in the playoffs, the Panthers are favored to win over the Arizona Cardinals in their first round matchup.
12. Arizona Cardinals (11-5) - The Cardinals head into the playoffs after letting late season division lead slip away. Ryan Lindley does not look like he is capable of leading a team to a playoff win, especially on the road. The Cardinals put together an impressive regular season showing, but the injuries they suffered at the quarterback position may cause their stay in the postseason to be very short. Arizona does have the defensive talent to win a playoff game if the Panthers do not protect the football, however that would be asking too much of this unit that helped the Cardinals win so many games this season. If the Cardinals had better luck with their quarterback situation, they may have been a title contender, but with injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton it does not look promising for them.