The Complete Obstructed Guide to NFL Playoffs (Rankings, How They Will/Won’t Win, Albatrosses, Etc.)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts before an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots defeated the Chiefs 27-10. (Kirby Lee/NFL)

Every year I try to do a ranking of the 12 playoff teams.  Last year when I did it, the top two rankings I put were Patriots at #1 and Falcons at #2.  And I mentioned that Atlanta’s weakness was the inability of putting games away.  Well that came to fruition.  To me, last year was easy to predict.  There was a bit of a gap between the better teams (Patriots, Falcons, Steelers) and the rest (Seahawks, Lions, Raiders, even the Chiefs). This year, it is VERY hard.  I don’t necessarily see the Patriots being a 100% lock to win the Super Bowl like I had last year (well, I thought it was a 90% lock as opposed to this year where I see it being more of a 60% chance).  Because in all honesty, I look at the current teams and I believe that 9, maybe 10 teams have a GREAT shot at winning the Super Bowl.  But everybody  has some question marks heading into the Super Bowl.  And it also maybe is the luck of the draw as one team’s strengths may work better against a team’s weaknesses while that same team’s strength may be another team’s strength (if that makes sense).  I won’t do a “playoff prediction” in terms of now where I pick the Super Bowl contestants now.  I will look at the Wild Card round first and then when the divisional playoff happens, I will make those picks and so on.  So, enjoy.  Here are the teams I rank from 1-12 and the team that may get them in the end.

Tom Brady

  1.  NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS:  The Patriots enter every year as being the top dog, the de facto pick.  They have the homefield throughout and they are the dynasty.  Simply put.  WHY THEY WILL WIN?  Should you ever doubt Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck in January/early February?  The last two Super Bowls against the Seahawks and Falcons show you should never count them out until that final whistle is blown.  They are just…..well, amazing.  Say what you want with the Patriots, but all they do is win.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN?  The defense is VERY shaky this year, far more than it ever was last year.  Losing Donta Hightower early on stung and the team never really recovered.  New England benefited in the final weeks of “What is a Catch in the NFL” in wins over playoff foes Buffalo and Pittsburgh which turned all the momentum in New England’s favor.  They get homefield which helps.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM:  Minnesota Vikings.  If the Patriots and Vikings meet in the Super Bowl, the Pats will be playing a nearly true road game since it is in Minnesota.  Belicheck may have a hard time gaining any edge there.Adam Theilen
  2.  MINNESOTA VIKINGS:  The Vikes may have the #2 spot, but they are healthier than Philadelphia who lost Wentz.  And they have homefield to either the Rams, Saints, or Panthers.  They beat the Rams and Saints in the comforts of their own home but lost in Carolina in a very sloppy game.  WHY THEY WILL WIN? The Vikes have a stout defense through and through and the offense is quietly one of the tops in the NFL.  And they have rolled despite that Carolina loss.  And if they get to the Super Bowl, they have homefield advantage.  That will be huge for the Vikes against any AFC champion.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN?  I don’t trust Case Keenum getting them there to the Super Bowl.  He has had a good run, but he at times struggle.  And with the NFC having some pretty darn good defenses aside from the Vikings, it may be problematic.  And for some reason if they have to travel to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship, I don’t like them outdoors, in the cold, on the road, even with Wentz.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM: Philadelphia Eagles.  Yes, beating a depleted Green Bay team in the cold in Lambeau is one thing.  But the Eagles defense is still pretty darn good and if the offense is able to show up in the Divisional playoff, I’d be a little worried if I am a Vikings fan and given how they have playoff nightmares.Antonio Brown
  3.  PITTSBURGH STEELERS:  The Steelers have the #2 seed in the AFC.  They do it with their offensive crew of the JuJu-infused Killer B’s (Ben, Bell, Brown, and even Bryant).  And they have an offense that may be tops in the league.  WHY THEY WILL WIN?  The offense, obviously and as I mentioned, there are a lot of the weapons to Roethlisberger’s using.  The defense is actually very well-rounded.  One other motivation helps was longtime Steeler James Harrison signed with the enemy Patriots and it has riled up the team, especially after how things went down in that game.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN?  What’s between the ears of the entire team.  You heard rumblings of Roethlisberger just doesn’t have that same drive that helped Pittsburgh get 3 Super Bowl appearances and 2 Super Bowl titles.  And you somewhat wonder with the Bryant/Schuster fiasco if that hasn’t lingered and even with Bell too.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM: New England Patriots.  They cannot beat them for anything.  And it has been the case for the last 15 years.  Kareem Hunt
  4.  KANSAS CITY CHIEFS:  Kansas City, who has the #4 seed as the 4th overall ranking?  Last year I poo-pooed on the Chiefs because I didn’t think the defense was great and the offense was average with a big play here & there, notably from Tyreek Hill.  This year feels different with them.  WHY THEY WILL WIN?  Kareem Hunt is a key reason why I have changed my tune on this team.  Yes, he had a slump and so had Kansas City but he’s done great as has the Chiefs when he got out of it.  And for all the talk about Alex Smith, he had a great season this year.  Had the Chiefs not slumped, he probably is an MVP front-runner.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN?  I’ve always been a firm believer in the defense wins championships moniker and Kansas City struggles on defense.  But why do I have them at #4?  I think because they make the key plays when needed.  That said, the defense may bring them down to a team like the Steelers.  But also, the albatross of the Chiefs playoff failures for the last 25 years also cannot be looked over.  They have a knack of imploding on themselves.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM:  Pittsburgh Steelers.  I think the Chiefs would rather see the Patriots because of their ability to run it down the Patriots throats, even in Foxboro.  Pittsburgh would return the favor on Kansas City if they met.Leonard Fournette
  5.  JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS:  One of two surprise teams in the NFL this year that found themselves not only in the playoffs but divisional champions.  The Jaguars did it with defense and could give some teams issues in the air.  WHY THEY WILL WIN?  Defense….wins…..championships.  And the Jags have it in a very passing minded NFL.  Remember, they slaughtered Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh because of the defense.  And the running game is #1 in the NFL with Leonard Fournette there, but there was also a committee with Chris Ivory, TJ Yeldon, and even Corey Grant.  And Blake Bortles, the maligned QB can do some running.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN?  People will point to Blake Bortles and how he may be the worst QB in this playoff lot.  Arguments can be made for that logic, but he wasn’t horrible by any means of the imagination.  However, if the game is on the line, the last guy you want to have the ball at QB is Bortles.  One other thing to keep an eye is that running defense isn’t too hot.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM:  Buffalo Bills. Their 1st round opponent.  Buffalo’s bread & butter is they can  run the ball and despite the big scare against Miami, LeSean McCoy looks to be a go for Buffalo.  The other thing that may hurt the Jags is Tyrod Taylor is smart with the ball.  Only 4 INT’s in 14 games.  It’s going to be a problem for the Jags to get turnovers here.Dreww Brees
  6.  NEW ORLEANS SAINTS:  The Saints surprised everybody (myself included) with a division championship in the rough & tumble NFC South.  And they did it with far more balance, running the ball with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, probably the best 1-2 duo back in the NFL.  WHY THEY WILL WIN?  The offense.  You have Drew Brees, who the only QB that is better than him in this playoff is Mr. Brady.  And they can kill you on the ground or in the air.  Michael Thomas has already established himself as an elite WR in this league (at least to me he has).  The defense was also far improved this year, registering 42 sacks and 20 interceptions (3rd in the NFL).  This is not a team to sleep on for sure. WHY THEY WON’T WIN?  Despite the defensive improvements, they are a middle of the road team and not an entirely deep bunch on that side.  Also, The Saints are the only NFC playoff team not to have a winning record on the road (4-4), including 2 losses in Minnesota and Los Angeles.  I don’t know if the Saints can beat the Rams, Vikings, or Eagles away.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM:  Minnesota Vikings.  The defense the Vikings run gives them fits and while the Saints play their home games in a dome like the Vikings have, having the crowd go against you inside is far different than going for you.  Matt Ryan
  7.  ATLANTA FALCONS:  Atlanta sneaked in the #6 spot, and is going to be one of the tougher #6 seeds we’ve seen in a while.  However, the defending NFC Champs have been plagued by inconsistencies on offense, boneheaded mistakes mostly on the veteran offense, and could have been just as much 6-10 than 10-6.  Some can argue had the dumb mistakes weren’t there, they would be 14-2.  WHY THEY WILL WIN?  Atlanta is that team that could scare EVERYBODY because of the weapons all over on the offensive side.  Ryan, Julio, Sanu, Freeman, Coleman, etc.  But the defense has been the reason why Atlanta is still alive.  Yes, they aren’t mistaken for the 85 Bears or the 00 Ravens or the 02 Bucs, but they’ve held offensively strong squads of the Patriots, Vikings, and Saints down this year.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN? Nobody would have believed the Falcons would have been this offensively inconsistent this year.  But numerous dropped passes that turned into 8 INT’s this year is a problem.  Dumb offensive penalties on the line (notably Jake Matthews & Ryan Schraeder) killed drives, and just silly mistakes from the vets really killed this team this year.  If it continues, Atlanta is one-and-done.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM:  New Orleans Saints.  Atlanta struggled all year with the Saints.  Yes, the teams split the season, but the Falcons at the Superdome last week, they became unglued.  Jerad Goff
  8. LOS ANGELES RAMS:  The Rams stunned many this year as Sean McVay took charge of the offense and kept Jared Goff from being a Ryan Leaf/Akili Smith 2.0 to an actual MVP candidate.  The real MVP though was Todd Gurley and the Rams won their first division title in Los Angeles since 1985 (2003 if you count the St. Louis years).  WHY THEY WILL WIN?  The offense is prolific.  Top 10 in passing.  Top 10 in rushing.  They can go at it with any offense in the NFL.  Gurley will carry the load for sure to take more pressure off of Goff, which has been the key thing.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN?  This is a very young group.  The defense has been inconsistent a times, though overall improved from the beginning of the year.  And they don’t necessarily have a great homefield advantage at the Coliseum (5-3 in LA) in part because the venue is probably too big.  Adding on, the rushing defense is a big concern (28th in the league against the run).  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM:  Atlanta Falcons.   Their first round opponent.  Atlanta can keep points off the board against the Rams offense as they have for other teams.  If the Rams show their inexperience while Atlanta wakes up for the playoffs, it may be very problematic for Los Angeles next week.Alshon Jeffery
  9.  PHILADELPHIA EAGLES:  The Eagles for the longest time were the odds-on favorites to win the NFC with Wentz.  They held victories over the Panthers and Rams (both on the road), but the minute Philadelphia lost Wentz, everybody moved away.  Near losses to the lowly Giants and the Raiders didn’t help matters either.  But as we saw with Oakland last year, if your MVP QB is injured and out, it is hard to win really anywhere, even for a #1 seed.  WHY THEY WILL WIN? They have homefield, which could be problematic for the domed homeboys of the Saints, Falcons, and Vikings and they have a great defense.  They are #1 against the run and a middle-of-the-pack squad against the pass, but had 38 sacks and 19 INT’s so they can hold their own.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN?  The offense has sputtered without Wentz.  Yes, they went 2-1 with Foles in the lineup, but it was to two teams playing out the schedule and the loss they didn’t look too impressive in despite having a pre-season vibe for it.  In this year’s NFC playoff where defenses are pretty good all over, it is who will have the best quality offense.  And right now you can make an argument the Eagles have the worst offense of the NFC teams without Wentz.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM:  Atlanta Falcons.  Yes, them again.  You can make an argument that Atlanta struggles in the cold weather spots and they do struggle badly in Philly too, but if Atlanta takes out the Rams, there will be problems for the Eagles as they won’t be able to score on the Falcons defense.  Saints come close here as well but the inability to win away from New Orleans hurts them a little bit.Tyrod Taylor
  10.  BUFFALO BILLS: Buffalo breaks the longest playoff drought in North American sports with their win in Miami and then Cincinnati stunning Baltimore late.  They did it early on with defense and the run, similar to the Jaguars before slipping up midway through the season.  WHY THEY WILL WIN?  They have a run game and if McCoy suits up, they will be a tough out.  Tyrod Taylor plays smart and that goes a long way in playoff time.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN?  While Taylor is effective of not turning the ball over, the passing game is a little problematic even with Kelvin Benjamin there.  And the defense struggled down the stretch badly.  And if McCoy is unable to go, it is going to be near impossible to win that game.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM: New England Patriots.  Duh.Cam Newton
  11.  CAROLINA PANTHERS:  Carolina rebounded from not getting to the playoffs in 2016 after being 15-1 and Super Bowl bound the year before.  They returned to basics: defense.  Carolina was 3rd against the run and 15th in the pass.  Not bad considering you have to see the offensive minded teams of the Falcons and Saints.  And the running offense returned to what it resembled in 2015.  WHY THEY WILL WIN?  The defense will keep them in games.  But it will be if Cam Newton is in a rhythm.  2015 we saw Cam being in rhythm for 16 games and was MVP and then he was in rhythm for the two NFC playoff games.  Last year Cam was not in rhythm at all and it showed.  This year when the Panthers were rolling, Cam was rolling.  When Cam struggled, he showed it and the team would struggle as well.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN?  Cam Newton.  No quarterback I have ever remembered has been so bipolar with his attitude and play.  And yesterday against Atlanta was indicative of it.  Before the game, he was hopping, dancing, strutting, and having a good old time.  He seemed like he was zeroed in.  Then he goes 0-9 to start the game…..and he’s off his mark, and then yelling at every teammate to make a play. Then he focuses and scores a TD.  And then he goes back to imploding, making poor judgments, bickering with his favorite target Greg Olsen.  Then he pretty much quit midway through the 4th.  You can’t have an emotional rollercoaster at quarterback from quarter to quarter like that and expect to win.  And that has plagued him…and the Panthers for the last 2 seasons.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM: New Orleans Saints.  Carolina’s first round opponent.  The Saints took both meetings against the Panthers this year, frustrated Newton the first time around and going to be playing in the loud Superdome Sunday.  And they get after Cam too.  Just not a good match for Carolina… all.Marcus Mariota
  12.  TENNESSEE TITANS:  The Titans, much like the Rams, Jaguars, and Bills, return from a long playoff hiatus, somehow.  They were consistently inconsistent including a 3-game losing streak to the NFC West squads of Arizona, San Francisco, and Los Angeles before fighting it out with the Jags in the final week for their spot.  Despite not getting that needed step taken by Marcus Mariota, the Titans improved against the run which was beneficial and probably why they swept the Jags in the season series.  WHY THEY WILL WIN:  The run, and going against the run, pretty much the same Titan formula in the late 90’s/early 00’s.  But it will also help if DeMarco Murray can suit up and be 100% in the process.  WHY THEY WON’T WIN:  Marcus Mariota really struggled this year and he was my hope for an MVP season.  He wasn’t anywhere near that.  An argument can be made is that he is the worst quarterback in this playoff bunch.  The 15 INT’s hurt and just he has been off on numerous occasions.  PLAYOFF ALBATROSS TEAM:  Pittsburgh Steelers.  I don’t see how if Tennessee sees Pittsburgh in the playoffs they would win in any manner.  Pittsburgh gashed them in the air pretty good and rattled Mariota all game.  I’m not saying the Patriots wouldn’t beat the Titans (they would easily), but it would be far more of a tune-up for Pittsburgh than New England.



-Fan in the Obstructed Seat




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