With the playoffs set to kick off Saturday featuring the Raiders going to Houston, the talk all week has been “how do you make the case here?” and “who wins this game?”, followed by “can they go all the way?”. Well, out of the 12 teams remaining, most people would say that six or seven of the teams can actually win the Super Bowl. Let’s clean the table of debate and dive into each team. How could every team win the Super Bowl? Here we go.
New England Patriots (#1 Seed)
1) The Coaching Staff: When you put Belichick, Matt Patricia, and Josh McDaniels in a room, you know you have a staff that’s going to get everything out of every player in the locker room. Belichick has done it his own way, and he brought guys in who buy in to his system. Belichick traded Chandler Jones in the offseason, and then Jamie Collins during the season. And yet, the Pats are still the number one scoring defense. Why? Because Belichick knows the guys he wants and who can flourish in his system. That’s why they are the current favorite.
2) Top Scoring Defense: The Patriots have continued dominance on defense by keeping opponents out of the end zone. They lead the league by allowing just under 16 points a game, and when you play like that with Brady and company on the other side, you are going to win a lot of games.
3) LeGarrette Blount: Oh I know, no Brady on here? I remind you, Brady has been there forever and he’s obviously a key piece. But if I were just going to tell you “Brady is important”, you would tell me “WELL DUH”, so I’m diving deeper. LeGarrette Blount’s 18 touchdowns on the ground led all running backs, and he topped 1100 yards. Blount gives the Pats balance and a solid running game, something you need in the playoffs.
Kansas City Chiefs (#2 Seed)
1) The Pass Rush: The Chiefs have a defense that could mess with opponents and frustrate them. It starts up front. Dee Ford has found himself this season, leading the Chiefs with 10 sacks. Tamba Hali has been productive on the other side. Chris Jones and Dontari Poe create pressure from the interior. If Justin Houston returns, that group becomes a routine nightmare for anyone.
2) The Secondary: The Chiefs don’t have many holes on defense, and their secondary, while giving up big plays at times, still has an elite group, centered by two players. Marcus Peters is a lock down player on his side of the field, and his physicality announces challenge. Eric Berry has had a resurgence since his beating lymphoma, and his day against Atlanta shows how impactful he can be. Those two aren’t alone back there. Ron Parker and Steven Nelson combined for 28 pass breakups and one INT, so the depth is there. It’ll be tough to test this group vertically.
3) More Explosive Offense: They have been notoriously boring offensively as of late, but this year, it has changed. Alex Smith is taking more deep shots, and the emergence of Tyreek Hill and the steadiness of Travis Kelce are the reasons why. Tyreek Hill is a touchdown waiting to happen when he touches the ball, no matter it being in the passing game or on a return. Hill may be the next great returner to follow Devin Hester, and will be the next Dante Hall in Kansas City. As for Travis Kelce, he elevated his game this season and led all tight ends in receiving yards. He can stretch the field to make defenses pay attention. Combine those two with Jeremy Maclin, and watch out.
Pittsburgh Steelers (#3 Seed)
1) Offensive Balance: There’s no dispute about the Killer B’s in the Steel City: Big Ben, Bell, and Brown. But, they finally head into the postseason with all three completely healthy. Bell has been dominant in the second half of the season, and while the schedule was watered down, Bell’s patience and versatility lift pressure off of the passing game.
2) Experience: Sometimes experience is overrated, but with the quarterbacks in the playoffs this year on the AFC side, having players with experience like Roethlisberger, Timmons, and Harrison will prove vital to a deep playoff run.
3) The Tools Around Brown: Having Antonio Brown, a top three receiver in football, is important. But, in a season without Martavis Bryant, other guys needed to step up in his absence. Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton were expected to step into that role, but two others emerged instead: Eli Rogers and Ladarius Green. Ladarius Green was a high profile signing back in March, but with migraine issues in camp, many thought he might retire. He didn’t, and he became a field stretching threat for the Steelers down the stretch. Combine that with Rogers, who has been productive in the slot, and the Steelers have options for Ben down the field.
Houston Texans (#4 Seed)
1) The Defense: There are standouts here on what was another excellent defensive season in Houston. Even without JJ Watt, many players had huge season. Jadeveon Clowney made a case for an All Pro spot with his impact off the edge. Whitney Mercilus has continued to be a very good sack artist. There’s depth in the middle of the defense, and the emergence of AJ Bouye, who started the year as the fourth corner. This defense, especially at home, is very tough to score on.
2) The Run Game: With quarterback a major issue, the Texans need to ride the running game. Lamar Miller did very well this season, and the Texans will need to lean on him and Alfred Blue to help move the ball.
3) DeAndre Hopkins: With some of these teams, it’s hard to find some reasons. Whoever plays quarterback for Houston (this week it’s Osweiler, yikes), finding Hopkins is important. He is a matchup nightmare for defenders, and his physical style and good hands are tough to blanket. Defenses will need to key on him on the perimeter.
Oakland Raiders (#5 Seed)
1) The Offensive Line: Oakland allowed the least amount of sacks this season, which was a big part of Derek Carr’s success this season. The signing of Kelechi Osemele in the offseason made this line much tougher, and their pass protection and running game improved greatly because of it. With Connor Cook starting in the Wild Card game, the Raiders need their offensive line to protect Cook and to provide holes for Murray, Washington, and Richard in the run game.
2) Perimeter Weapons: Carr had big time players on the outside this season, and those weapons will factor in to winning or going home in the playoffs. Amari Cooper continues to impress with his route running and his big play ability. Michael Crabtree proved that he can sustain consistency as a number two. Even Seth Roberts is a very nice number three wide receiver.
3) Khalil Mack: You know this guy will find a way to wreck the plans of the opposition. He seems like the favorite to win defensive player of the year, and for good reason. You can find a number of games where Mack was a major player in victory (the Carolina game comes to mind). His ability to get in the backfield is known, but his ability to diagnose plays is what’s really special. If he starts to gain confidence in a game, watch out.
Miami Dolphins (#6 Seed)
1) The Running Game: You see a pattern here. Running the football well in the AFC could be the key to reaching the Super Bowl. Jay Ajayi’s emergence this season proved to be a light for this Dolphins team. His 200 yard games were fun to watch, but now, when it matters, he needs to show up.
2) Adam Gase: He has changed the culture in Miami. Their season turned around against Pittsburgh, when Ajayi ran for 204. His movement of Laremy Tunsil inside to guard has proved important, and his work with Tannehill was excellent. As long as Gase is here, the Dolphins have to feel confident.
3) The Front: Cameron Wake’s resurgence after an achilles tear hasn’t gone unnoticed, and Suh has played very well on the interior. The Dolphins do have ways to get to the quarterback, which will be important against teams like New England and Pittsburgh.
Dallas Cowboys (#1 Seed)
1) The Line: This one is obvious. The offensive line, which features three All Pros, is the biggest part of the Cowboys being 13-3. The holes they provide for Elliott and the protection they give Prescott are unmatched in this league. With a line like this, you can keep opposing offenses on the sideline.
2) Bend Don’t Break: The Cowboys defense, which was relentlessly torn apart at the beginning of the year by analysts, has figured it out. Their defense isn’t anything new, but they are extremely effective at it. They don’t give up many points, and they wait for you to make a mistake instead of being overly aggressive. Players like Sean Lee and a late in the year emergence of David Irving have brought some star power to this group.
3) The Rooks: Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have had good years, but now the postseason will make or break their seasons. The defenses exist in this playoff group that can stop the run, and similar ones exist that can rush the passer. Some extra pressure might fall on Prescott with teams keying in on Elliott. We shall see if the rookies can step up, and if they do, this is a Super Bowl team.
Atlanta Falcons (#2 Seed)
1) The Outside Weapons: Again, Matt Ryan is seriously important, but I know he’s grateful of the weapons on the outside. Julio Jones is an obvious nightmare for defensive backs, but guys like Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu are other guys teams need to keep tabs on. Gabriel has been a stud of late, and when you get the ball into his hands, he’s one cut away from being gone.
2) Two-Headed Monster: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are just more weapons the Falcons have to make plays. Freeman is a hard runner with explosive ability. Coleman is more of a pass catcher, but his speed and playmaking ability matches Freeman toe to toe. These two are very tough to stop.
3) Beasley and Jones: The Falcons defense isn’t very good, but if they are going to stop anyone, these two are important. Beasley led the league in sacks, and his presence must be known. If he gets loose in the backfield, you won’t get away. Rookie Deion Jones is the other standout. His speed makes him effective in coverage and in the outside run game. Big games from these two take pressure off the offense.
Seattle Seahawks (#3 Seed)
1) The Pass Rush: Seattle boasts some men up front who can constantly get to the quarterback. Michael Bennett gets the headlines, and for good reason. He’s a top 10 edge rusher in the league. But, don’t forget about Cliff Avril (11.5 sacks) and Frank Clark (10 sacks) either. Those two are hungry to get in the backfield and dismantle offenses.
2) The Secondary: We’ve talked about them for years, and even without Earl Thomas, the strength is there. Sherman and Chancellor are still playing at a high level. Jeremy Lane is another good name in the secondary, and their scheme is still very tough to beat.
3) Russell Wilson: Even with no offensive line, Wilson still has made plays when he gets out of the pocket. He can pick up yards on the ground, and his escapability makes him dangerous. The Seahawks will almost certainly need Wilson to carry them on offense.
Green Bay Packers (#4 Seed)
1) Aaron Rodgers: The Packers ride on the shoulders of Rodgers. His play the last six weeks has been absurd, and he was still having a good year before then. But now, no one wants to play him. He has been unstoppable, and his ability to extend the play is unmatched. Plus, he can make throws no one else in the league can.
2) The Offensive Line: This group needs to stay healthy, because they are a top five group in the league. Their ability to keep engaging guys and giving Rodgers time is huge, and if Green Bay wants to make a deep run, they need to open holes in the run game and keep Rodgers protected.
3) The Pass Rush: The secondary is bad this year, and they need the pass rush to come up big. Nick Perry had 11 sacks this season, and Clay Matthews has come on late. Julius Peppers has made big plays this season as well. It will be about creating chances to get in the backfield to pressure the QB. If the Packers don’t, they will be in the middle of a shootout, so the pass rush has a big job, but they are very talented.
New York Giants (#5 Seed)
1) Front Four: The Giants front four is ridiculous. Let’s start in the middle. Jonathan Hankins and Damon Harrison are spectacular defending the run. JPP was ridiculous this season, and even with his injury, rookie Owa Odighizuwa has stepped up and played well. Don’t forget about Olivier Vernon, who can get to the QB and defend the run. The biggest part of this: when you can rush four and get to the QB, you will be successful.
2) The Secondary: Let’s start with the fact that Janoris Jenkins has been an All Pro this year at corner. He has been excellent taking on number one guys. Eli Apple has been solid as a rookie, and Rodgers-Cromartie is a top notch slot corner. Don’t forget about defensive player of the year dark horse Landon Collins. He is great as a run defender and provides a lot for that defense.
3) Eli Magic: Eli just finds a way to turn it on in the postseason. He finds a way to elevate his game and make throws that you don’t see him make in the regular season. He has weapons in Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard to make plays for him in the passing game, and him turning it on fuels the Giants.
Detroit Lions (#6 Seed)
1) The Fourth Quarter: The Lions have adopted the formula of “keep it close in the fourth quarter and find a way”. Stafford has found ways to lead them back in eight of their nine wins this season. If they keep it close until the fourth, they have confidence in their ability to win.
2) The Perimeter Weapons: Golden Tate and Marvin Jones give Stafford something unique. Tate is a great route runner who finds room underneath, and Jones is the deep threat. They will need big plays down the field to win games, and they need to convert on third downs. Jones and Tate cover those areas respectively. When these two get hot, it’s tough to cover them.
3) Darius Slay: The Lions have struggled in the secondary, but Slay is not the reason why. He is very underrated in coverage, and is a for sure top 10 corner in the league. His ability to make impact plays when it counts helps that Lions defense immensely.
Who wins it all? Questions? Comments? Reply here or find me on Twitter @JSchyvinck13.