The Iron Jaw is back for this playoff special. With college football’s billion bowl games and with the NBA’s lack of competition, the world is turned upside down with our sports. We even have our UFC sweetheart Ronda Rousey losing her second consecutive fight. The only thing keeping us sane is the NFL, and as of New Year’s Day we know our twelve playoff teams, some we never saw coming!
In this article, I will rank to you the teams. I will not be doing this based on their record or their regular season performance, but their likelihood of actually outlasting the gauntlet and be hoisting the Lombardi trophy next month. Some will agree, some will argue, but let’s get this going because you have all patiently waited for so long.
12. Houston Texans — Every postseason, there is the one weak team who sneaks in because of their even weaker division. The Texans happen to be in an embarrassing AFC South with their strongest competition coming in the form of the Tennessee Titans this year. Houston has had trouble at the quarterback position after overpaying Brock Osweiler and trying to survive 72 million dollar memes, and just when they find someone competent under center in Tom Savage, it looks like Savage might be in concussion protocol putting his start on Saturday in doubt. With reports that Bill O’Brien could be with another team in 2016, Osweiler and this Houston team has a lot of pressure on their shoulders. They’ll need the one game of home advantage next week to save O’Brien, but it won’t be enough to save Brock Osweiler or the slim hope of playing the Super Bowl in Houston.
11. Oakland Raiders — I honestly contemplated putting Houston’s opponent last, but the words “Houston’s opponent” confirmed they deserved the 11 spot. Oakland was discussed as the 4 most logical Super Bowl contenders just a few weeks ago, but Derek Carr’s unforeseen broken leg has turned their world upside down. Not to help things, Matt McGloin got hurt in Week 17 and they might have to start rookie Connor Cook from Michigan State, who Spartan fans will tell you the frustration of Cook as your guy. The Raiders have a great defense and a really good coach, along with a weak opponent, but I don’t know what happens. All we know is we feel bad for Oakland, a franchise that had been through so much and finally had the opportunity to not only make the playoffs but make noise in January, but it already seems like “next year” for Oakland.
10. Miami Dolphins — The Dolphins are another AFC team with quarterback uncertainty, and that’s the one thing you never want in the playoffs. Miami found its rhythm with second year stud Jay Ajayi leading the rushing attack, the Boise State product I vocally supported before, during, and after the draft. In reality, Adam Gase has done terrific and hasn’t let the team fall apart without Ryan Tannehill in the pocket, so I feel the Dolphins have the best chance with their backup in the wild card round. However, going up to Pittsburgh in January, I feel Miami better be just happy to be there because it’s highly unlikely they advance to a third game with New England.
9. Detroit Lions — I’ll be the first to say, I was wrong about the Lions. I never expected them in the playoffs, and truly felt they would be one of the worse teams in the NFL this year, but boy was I wrong! Matt Stafford has been nothing but exceptional and has had 8 game-winning drives in 2016, which is an excellent record. I would have even placed the Lions as a top 5 threat in the playoffs, except the last two weeks concern me. The Lions have a serious problem with their play calling. Zach Zenner has torn things up in the first half, and yet in close games in the second half, they go away from the run and they don’t keep the defense honest. If Detroit is going to sustain anything in the postseason, they have to keep pounding Zenner in the second half. When they fix this, watch out! Might be too late going up to Seattle, however.
8. Atlanta Falcons — The Falcons are seeded 2nd in the NFC, you’re right. Unfortunately, I don’t buy into them come playoff time. I feel any of the NFC wild card teams could come in that divisional round and best the Falcons, by either using their defense or relying on a shootout. Atlanta has a high-octane offense with Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Julio Jones, all at the top of their positions, but that doesn’t win you games come January, which is where the Falcons really have no experience. The Falcons have a weaker defense and less experience than their unnamed wild card opponent, which concerns me.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers — Pittsburgh has the easiest home playoff game you will have against a warm-weathered and inexperienced Miami Dolphins team. The Steelers, with a win, head to a much rougher Kansas City team on the road, who not only has a loud stadium, but a stout defense. The Steelers, I consider the AFC’s Atlanta Falcons, because they have three of the league’s best in Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. Fortunately, the Steelers are a little more experienced in the playoffs and they have a tougher stadium for opponents, but the Steelers haven’t made much noise with Bell and Brown. Though the league’s best, defense still wins you games in January. Also it happens to hold true that this team is banged up, and health is a key factor in the playoffs. They’ll beat Miami, but it’ll be two tough games on the road in Arrowhead and Foxborough that they likely don’t pass.
6. Green Bay Packers — I can’t wait to hear the backlash for putting the “red hot” Packers at sixth. Allow me to explain that running the table has meant their games came against a dysfunctional Houston team at home, a dysfunctional Minnesota team at home, and a Seattle team at home, which the Seahawks are historically two different teams at home and on the road. The Packers most quality win in the 6-game winning streak was the Lions in Week 17, only because it gives them another game at home. The Packers have a very challenging road to the postseason, one that is more difficult than their December run. Green Bay has a chance, being at home, defeating the Giants. However, they’ve lost on the road to the Falcons earlier in the season, and they lost by 2 touchdowns AT HOME to the visiting Cowboys (Green Bay was 3-1 at time). I just believe it’s a lot of smoke about Green Bay created by the media and it won’t be pretty come their second round game, if they even get past the Giants.
5. Seattle Seahawks — The Seahawks are one of the more experienced teams in the NFC side, and I would probably have them as my favorite in the NFC until the Earl Thomas injury. Seattle lost a big piece of that defense, perhaps the glue, when it lost Earl Thomas. Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman, as great as they may be, they seem to be less cohesive when Earl Thomas is gone. Seattle still has Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll, and this is the best QB-Coach duo in the NFC at this time. They have an incredible trust, and for any questions, please refer back to Carroll’s goal-line decision. I believe they own the Lions, but they have to find a way to win on the road to survive.
4. Dallas Cowboys — Dallas is one of the more interesting teams out there. It all looks good, but it feels too good to be true. I am assured that the future is set in Dallas with their franchsie quarterback, their franchise running back, and that offensive line for the next decade. The Cowboys are set to win at least a couple Super Bowls during Prescott’s tenure, but I don’t believe one of those come this season. While it has been a great year, there has been no rookie quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl, and I feel in January where defenses thrive, Prescott’s film against the Giants will be used against him. Dallas is the healthiest they’ve ever been and can very well win it all, but it will be difficult, considering it has never been done before. The defense, for the first time ever, isn’t the problem, but they still aren’t the best, and even Carolina’s really good defense wasn’t enough last year.
3. Kansas City Chiefs — The Chiefs are Super Bowl contenders, as crazy as it seems. Before Carr’s injury, the Chiefs on the road weren’t that appealing, but the only road game they’ll have to play is in Foxborough, and I believe that matchup bodes very well for Andy Reid versus Bill Belichick and that defense against Tom Brady. The Chiefs finally have that playmaker on the outside in Tyreek Hill that can give them those big playoff catches that change the outcomes of games. The Chiefs have one of the more formidable defenses in the NFL and they’ll be tough to stop. If Alex Smith can elevate his play when it matters, this team is the only chance to prevent New England in the Super Bowl for another year.
2. New York Giants — The G-Men have a phenomenal defense. The Giants are the only ones to beat rookie sensations Prescott and Elliott of the Cowboys, and though division games, they’ve looked impressive against other teams as well. The Giants have found their identity on defense and have exceeded expectations, making these free agent signings worth something. The Giants only have to get into the postseason to become dangerous, because Eli Manning somehow thrives in the postseason. New York will have to rely on their defense in Lambeau and through the rest of the playoffs, but it can be done, and they’re more dangerous than Dallas because of their defense.
1. New England Patriots — After Derek Carr’s injury, the AFC became the Patriots’ to lose. Ever since serving his suspension for Deflate Gate, Tom Brady has come back with a vengeance in mind and is wanting to make Roger Goodell eat his comeuppance by presenting the Lombardi trophy to Brady for a fifth time. With that defense playing like they want it, and Brady on the other side with new weapon Michael Floyd, anything is possible for the team led by head coach Bill Belichick. If anyone wants to win the Super Bowl, the Patriots must be defeated, and they are the team to beat this postseason. If you also look back at my Preseason Power Rankings, you will see they were my #1 from the beginning, so it would be fitting.
There’s some room for argument, but consider this for a moment. The NBA only has two true NBA contenders (Cleveland and Golden State), and that’s not even at the All-Star break yet. The NFL has 6 or 7 legitimate teams AT LEAST who can walk away the best team in the NFL and pick 32nd in this upcoming draft. Imagine the depth in the NFL and be grateful for the competitive field.