I am not the biggest sports fan. However, I do express a slightly more than casual interest in American Football. Last Sunday marked the end of the NFL regular season and this weekend sees the first round of the postseason playoffs. Twelve teams from across the nation are coming together to fight for a place in Super bowl 50. Today, I’m going to look at the twelve playoff teams and explore how far I think they are going to go.
#1 seed- Carolina Panthers (Regular season: 15-1)
Carolina have been the real success story of the 2015 NFL season- unbeaten until the penultimate week, 10 pro bowlers and an overall points scored to points conceded tally of 500-308. Many pundits are pinning Carolina as the NFC representative in the Super bowl.
However, I remain somewhat unconvinced- while Carolina has had a good season, they have had a relatively ‘easy’ season, garnering the NFC’s lowest strength of schedule score. Furthermore, the underlying arrogance of quarterback Cam Newton and the inflated ego of a near perfect season may cause problems in the division playoff in two weeks’ time.
That said, Carolina is strong team with an effective offense and defence. Furthermore, having a week off while the wild card teams duke it out may prove to be the cutting advantage when they come up against Seattle, Green Bay or Washington.
My prediction: NFC Championship at least
#2 seed- Arizona Cardinals (Regular season: 13-3)
The NFC West champions swept their conference, seeing off regular division rivals Seattle with relative ease. Like the Panthers, the Cardinals didn’t have the hardest schedule in the league and this helped them secure a conference title and a first-round playoff bye.
Arizona is not a team to be underestimated- they could face Minnesota, Green Bay or Washington in their playoff match and have already defeated Minnesota and Green Bay in the regular season. In fact, they crushed Green Bay 38-8 in the penultimate week. They have a good sweeping offense led by Carson Palmer, which broke team records for number of points scored in a season, number of touchdown passes made and number of passing yards gained. However, their defence needs work and the games they won in the regular season weren’t usually won cleanly, with the team conceding 313 points over the course of the season. Furthermore, while Arizona do have two weeks to rest up and hone their skills, the 36-6 pounding they took from division rivals Seattle in the final week of the regular season is going to have shaken them.
My prediction: NFC Championship if they get lucky with their opponent in the division playoff
#3 seed- Minnesota Vikings (Regular season: 11-5)
Minnesota clinched the #3 seed and the NFC North title in the final week of the regular season with a lacklustre win over division rivals Green Bay, who were knocked into the #5 seed spot.
Minnesota sported one of the harder schedules in the conference, if the strength of schedule score is anything to go by and so their playoff place appears well deserved. They had a strong draft year, with eight of their ten picks ending up on the active roster. The picks mainly shored up the weak points in the offense and defence, such as offense tackles.
While Minnesota has a strong running game, led by Adrian Peterson; Teddy Bridgewater, their quarterback of two years still having some issues, especially once the offense line breaks. Bridgewater only threw 14 touchdowns the whole season and was sacked 41 times. They face Seattle on Sunday and once again, the Legion of Boom and the rest of Seattle’s notorious defence could cause trouble for the Minnesota offense. For Minnesota, playing at home may be their biggest advantage this weekend.
My prediction: Lost the wild card match to Seattle
#4 seed- Washington Redskins (Regular season: 9-7)
I won’t spend much time on the NFC #4 seed because there isn’t much to say. Washington, and the NFC East as a whole, was dismal in the 2015 season with Washington winning the division after a four game win streak at the tail-end of the season. Both NFC wild cards (Green Bay and Seattle) have better records season records than Washington but someone has to win each division and Washington was the best of the worst in the east.
However, Washington had greatly improved. In 2013, they went 3-13 and in 2014, they 4-12. To go from 5th overall draft pick (meaning that they were the 5th worst team out of 32) to a playoff place and a 9-7 record is frankly amazing. That said, the team is currently unremarkable, despite breaking a number of team records. Still, their points for/against tally for the season stand at 388-379 and that’s the best in their division.
My prediction: Green Bay is going to destroy them.
#5 seed- Green Bay Packers (Regular season: 10-6)
Green Bay narrowly missed out the NFC North division title after losing to Minnesota in the final week of the regular season. They had started strong, opening the season 6-0 before coming back from their bye in week 7 and ending up on a 3 game losing streak.
Green Bay boasts a satisfactory offense led by quarterback Aaron Rogers and a strong tackle defence. However, Green Bay had a knack of being behind and making a last ditch attempt at a win in the final quarter. In eight of sixteen regular season games, Green Bay trailed with a quarter to go. They would only go onto win two of these instances, included the ‘Miracle in Motown’ Hail Mary pass against the Detroit Lions with no time on the clock (a move they tried against Minnesota in the final week to no effect).
While they have got off lightly in the playoffs after getting the more preferential seeding over Seattle and taking on the lacklustre Washington rather than Minnesota once again, Green Bay simply need to go out and play some good, solid football rather than waiting till the last moments of the game
My prediction: If they play their cards right, they should secure an easy win over Washington but Arizona/Carolina will most likely end their run. Green Bay lost to both teams rather substantially in the regular season.
#6 seed- Seattle Seahawks (Regular season: 10-6)
NB: My family is a Seattle family.
Rounding out the NFC playoffs is Seattle, looking for their third consecutive Super bowl appearance. It didn’t look great for Seattle back in September, going 4-4 by their week eight bye. However, a five game win streak from week 11 until a shock defeat in week 16 helped the Seahawks back on track. Unfortunately, Seattle only partially had their fate in their hands, as the #5 seed spot relied on them beating Arizona and Minnesota losing to Green Bay in the final week, only one of which happened.
Seattle are a good team, with a strong offense led by Russel Wilson and sporting a good compliment of running backs and pass receivers, including the rookie out of Kansas State, Tyler Lockett. The Legion of Boom, Seattle’s core defence of cornerbacks and safeties, is strong and knows how to effectively shut down plays. However, there is a slight over-reliance on the Wilson passing game as well as an avoidance to use the passing game, often leaving the pass option until third down, as well as the tendency to let the motivation slip as the game wears on, causing games to be lost in the final quarter.
Seattle are a bulldog of a team but I don’t they’ll make it 3 and 3 for super bowls
My prediction: I think they can beat Minnesota but I think Carolina may be their downfall.
#1 seed- Denver Broncos (Regular season: 12-4)
The last two years haven’t been kind to the Broncos. They reached the Super bowl in 2014, only to be destroyed by Seattle 43-8. Last year, they had a bye to the division playoff round, only to lose to Indianapolis. After numerous roster and coaching changes, the Broncos came looking for another division title, and another Super bowl appearance.
By week 10 of the regular season, the Broncos sat on a 7-2 record but it was then when disaster struck- legendary quarterback Peyton Manning suffered a case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, putting him out of the game. It came down to second string quarterback, Brock Osweiler- an eager young quarterback who had showed determination and dedication for the last three years, despite never starting an NFL game and only making 9 previous appearances for the Broncos, to carry the team’s strong offense. The Osweiler-led offense and the immovable defence went on to record a 5-2 in the last 7 games of the season, including a win against the Patriots that ended New England’s 10-0 streak up to that point. A tight win over San Diego in week 17, combined with a New England loss, led to Denver stealing the #1 seed spot.
Denver is hungry for victory. They’ve come up short two years in a row and now they look ready to smash through every obstacle placed in front of them. Manning is back and that is definitely a morale boost for the team. However, the AFC is a lot more heated than the NFC and so Denver cannot afford to be lax, even with a week off and the home field advantage in the division playoff.
My prediction: I can see Denver making the AFC championship but I’m not sure the Super bowl is within their reach.
#2- New England Patriots (Regular season: 12-4)
One of the most powerful modern sporting dynasties, the Patriots went into the 2015 NFL season on the back of a Super bowl win. Quarterback Tom Brady led his team to a 10-0 record before losing out to the Denver Broncos in week 12. At this point, things began to change for the titans of the AFC (the metaphorical titans of course and not the Titans out of Tennessee). The Patriots began to pick up injuries, especially in their offensive line, players were uneasy as each week featured a different line-up on the field. In fact, Tom Brady was the only Patriots player to start every game in the same position. All this began to affect their game and the Patriots finished the season with only two wins out of their last six games. While they comfortably clinched their division, the AFC was far from theirs.
2015 also saw the Patriots once again become the villains of the NFL as they became embroiled in ‘Deflategate’, a scandal revolving around a number of the balls used in their AFC Championship victory earlier in the year not meet league regulation standards. While the Patriots were fined and Brady faced a suspension, that he had overturned, as well as a draft pick loss, the Patriots were once more tarnished in the eyes of the league.
The Patriots are a good team, boosting a strong offense with a good quarterback-receiver pairings. However, they are still carrying a number of crucial injuries and coming off a 12-4 season where the 4 losses came within a six game period is never good for a team’s mentality.
My prediction: New England will hope to get a lucky game in the division playoff but may struggle against teams such as Denver when it comes to the Championship.
#3- Cincinnati Bengals (Regular season: 12-4)
Another 12-4 division winner from the AFC. The Bengals started with a season best, going 7-0 before losing to the Houston Texans. They remained strong after this defeat, overcoming the loss of their first-string quarterback, Andy Dalton, fractured his thumb during a tackle. AJ McCarron proved himself to be a worthy replacement. Fun fact- the McCarron led victory over the 49ers in week 15 made McCarron the first quarterback to graduate from the legendary football program at the University of Alabama to win an NFL match since 1987.
The Bengals are a solid side, deserving of their AFC division title. However, they will need to watch for the strong running defences of the other playoff sides as the Bengals are much more a running team than a passing team.
They don’t start off easy though with a wild card weekend match against division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. During regular season play, the went 1-1 against the Steelers and so they should expect a bitter match on Saturday.
My prediction: Saturday is going to be tough. The Steelers have the long arm of Ben Roethlisberger, which may cause trouble for the running orientated defence of the Bengals. If they can beat Pittsburgh that may serve as the boost they need to provide a challenge for New England.
#4 seed- Houston Texans (Regular season: 9-7)
The #4 seeds in this year’s playoffs seem to be unnervingly similar with Houston performing the best in a poor division, just inching out the Colts, who finished on 8-8.
The Texans, the NFL’s newest franchise and only 13 years old, did pick up their game towards the season’s end as the AFC South became too close to call. However, a 3-5 record by their week 9 bye cost them a decent season and like Washington, if not more so, a relatively weak division (the Jaguars recording a 5-11 season and the Titans flailing with a 3-13 performance) helped secure them a playoff place.
My prediction: Houston faces Kansas City (11-5) in the wild card round. Houston lost to Kansas City in the season opening and Kansas City is on a 10 game win streak. I think it’s time to say bye bye to the Texans.
#5 seed- Kansas City Chiefs (Regular season: 11-5)
The season did not start well for the Chiefs. After 27-20 win in week one at the Texans, Kansas City proceeded to go on a five game losing streak. Sitting at 1-5, the playoffs seemed a long way off. However, with a few defensive tweaks, the Chiefs stormed to a 10 game winning streak, cruising to a wild card space behind their division winners, Denver.
Kansas City boasted one of the strong pass rush defences in the league, effectively putting pressure on a passing play. If Kansas can maintain a strong defensive, especially when shutting down long pass plays favoured by a number of AFC quarterbacks, they may prove trouble for a number of teams as we progress through the playoffs.
My prediction: Easy win over Houston in the wild card but I think Kansas will struggle against Denver or New England.
#6 seed- Pittsburgh Steelers (Regular season: 10-6)
Pittsburgh, a team as resilient and hard hitting as the material they are famous for working. Lead by the commanding Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh is a formidable force on the field. However, they never really found their rhythm this season, going 10-6 with their biggest streak being a 3 wins between weeks 13 and 15.
They were helped by a relatively weak division, with the Bengals being their most pressing issue while Baltimore and Cleveland faded into the background. Sporting one of the harder AFC schedules, Pittsburgh excelled in passing plays, with Roethlisberger specialising in a medium and long range passes and they kept their opponents at bay with a strong blitz defence.
Pittsburgh may not be the final win-streak addition to the AFC playoffs but they should not be underrated in the slightest. Their wild card match up against division rivals Cincinnati should be one of the books.
My prediction: If they can tame the Bengals offensive and keep Roethlisberger free to make long passes, Pittsburgh has a chance to progress. However, I think they’ll find Denver too much of a challenge if they progress.
A reminder of the NFL playoff games:
Seattle @ Minnesota
Green Bay @ Washington
Minnesota/Green Bay/Washington @ Arizona
Seattle/Green Bay/Washington @ Carolina
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
Kansas City @ Houston
Cincinnati/Kansas City/Houston @ New England
Pittsburgh/Kansas City/Houston @ Denver
Who are you backing this post-season? Where do you think the post-season will go? Let me and best of luck to your team…unless your team is Minnesota because then, screw you.