FOR 20 NFL teams this year’s dream of winning it all is over. For the 12 teams remaining, this weekend signals the start of the real season as the race for Super Bowl LII commences. Set for one of the closest postseasons in recent memory expecting the unexpected could be a theme over the next month with a bunch of contenders putting their hands up as a chance to claim the ultimate prize. As we gear up for the 2018 playoffs, let’s rank each team and their chances of claiming the Lombardi trophy.
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12. Indianapolis Colts
NO offense to the Colts, but someone has to be last (first?). Andrew Luck’s return as an MVP calibre QB has helped this team surge into the postseason, but the Colts are far more than a one trick pony. First-year head coach Frank Reich turned this team around after their 1-5 start, losing just one game over their final 10 games, developing a strong, promising team on both sides of the ball. With plenty of young talent, there is a bright future in Indianapolis and it wouldn’t surprise me if they caused an upset over the Texans in the first game of the playoffs.
11. Philadelphia Eagles
DEJAVU has been kicking hard over the last few weeks with Nick Foles dragging the reigning champs into the playoffs with an impressive close to the season. Foles is 4-1 as the Eagles’ starter this season, raising genuine questions over which quarterback should lead them into battle in the future with Carson Wentz still on ice. If Philadelphia is going to make a deep run though, they’ll need more than a bit of Nick Foles magic, facing the daunting prospect of playing every playoff game on the road. Their defensive front is always going to cause headaches and their chances of going back-to-back hinge on way more than who is starting at QB.
10. Dallas Cowboys
CALL me a hater, I’m just not a believer of the Dallas Cowboys this year. That being said they have played themselves into form at the right time of year winning seven of their final eight games to lock up the NFC East crown. The questions surrounding Dak Prescott’s ability to be a winning quarterback have subsided with help from new favourite target Amari Cooper. Since arriving in Dallas Cooper has been incredible, tying Michael Thomas as the only players with multiple games recording 180+ receiving yards this season. If he wants to prove he was worth the first-round pick price tag, the postseason is a great time to do so.
Image from nflspinzone.com
9. Houston Texans
WHILE the Texans nine-game win streak was a huge talking point of the season, here are the teams they beat in that stretch. Indianapolis, Dallas, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Miami, Denver, Washington Tennessee, Cleveland. Not exactly a group of world beaters, especially when you discover that they went 2-3 against teams who made the postseason this year. Still, they deserve credit for taking out the AFC South title and with Deshaun Watson leading the charge, they have their best chance at winning multiple playoff games for the first time in franchise history. Throw in a healthy J.J. Watt and Houston has a real chance at making a run if they can win the Colts-Texans III matchup.
8. Seattle Seahawks
DOES Russell Wilson deserve to be in the MVP conversation? It’s a fair question after Seattle’s QB put forth one of his most efficient seasons, helping to steer his team into an unlikely playoff berth. Pete Carroll (Coach of the Year IMO) deserves just as much of the credit for recapturing the Seahawks’ mojo with the 2018 outfit mirroring the dominant teams that made back-to-back Super Bowls not too long ago. Leaning heavily on the running game and kicking the defense into gear saw Seattle flip the script on what most of us expected to be a double-digit loss season. One of the best teams at taking care of the ball and forcing opponents to turn the rock over bodes well for their postseason continuation, but with their home-field such an advantage, I can’t place Seattle any higher than 8th.
7. Baltimore Ravens
BALTIMORE is another dominant defensive outfit that helped themselves to a 10-win season. The Ravens offense has always been their Achilles heel after proudly owning some of the best defensive groups during the 21st century. However, with Lamar Jackson running the offense in favour of Joe Flacco, Baltimore seems to be piecing things together at the right time of year. Jackson enters the wildcard round as the youngest starting quarterback in NFL postseason history and how their new franchise guy handles the bright lights will dictate just how far this Ravens team can go.
6. New England Patriots
I hate to do this because I know, a month from now New England will have laid waste to the AFC field and be surging towards Georgia laughing at all of us. Although, it’s feasible that they won’t piece it together after one of the most perplexing Pats’ seasons in recent memory. A middle-tier offense and defense by most accounts, New England haven’t looked like the same rollicking teams of years past. Could this finally be the year that New England falters in January? I’m not brave enough to say it…….but yes.
5. Los Angeles Rams
YES, your second-seeded Los Angeles Rams, who downed Kansas City in that awesome Monday Night battle, who finished second in offensive DVOA this, who boasts Aaron Donald, Aqib Talib, Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Marcus Peters, Brandin Cooks AND N’Damukong Suh on their team sheet, clocks in at No. 5. In most seasons there are teams who dominate the regular season only to come up short come playoff time and this year, I’m picking the Rams to be that team. Call it a hunch, but there have been a handful of times this season where I have had my doubts over an L.A. team that hasn’t looked like the wrecking ball we saw in the first half of the year since their bye. Could they have had one eye on the postseason, with head coaching wizard Sean McVay prepping them for a run at the Lombardi trophy? Absolutely, but there’s only Super Bowl up for grabs and I have scepticism about the Rams’ chances of winning it all this time around.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
IMAGINE how good the Chargers could be if they had a decent home-ground fan base behind them? No offense to Philip Rivers and Co, but for a while now they have battled to give their fans a reason to cheer and as a result putting bums on seasts has been their biggest talking point. It might not matter with L.A. tying the Saints for the best road record (7-1) on the year, a good sign for a team that’ll likely play all their postseason games as the visiting side. One of only two playoff teams in the top-10 for both offensive and defensive DVOA (the Colts are the other) illustrates their talent across the entire team and with a HOFer in Rivers leading the charge this could be the Chargers year. Let’s pray for the Chargers fans out there that they don’t have to rely on special teams to win a game though…
3. Chicago Bears
GOOD defenses often find a way of making some noise in the playoffs and this Chicago Bears team is one that could wreak havoc on their NFC rivals. Of course, we know the story about Chi-town’s dominant defense that was revolutionised by the Khalil Mack trade, what we don’t know is how far Mitch Trubisky can take them. The second-year pro is prepping for his postseason debut and he hasn’t exactly lit it up over his first 26 career starts. Still, Trubisky has shown that he can do enough to help the engine go and with a two-headed monster in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen at running back, anything’s possible. I have enough faith in Matt Nagy’s creative coaching to suggest this Bears team is about to make some noise.
Image from chicagotribune.com
2. New Orleans Saints
NEW Orleans is the favourite to win Super Bowl LIII right now and deservedly so. There have been multiple times this season where they have looked untouchable, starting and ending with the play of Drew Brees. NOLA’s go-to-guy will turn 40 during this postseason and it’s possible that he is playing the best ball of his career right now. A Saints offense that is home to some of the league’s best talent is a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators and adding Drew Brees’ genius makes them virtually unbeatable. Sewing up home-field advantage in the playoffs makes their place in Atlanta a virtual lock with ‘The Superdome’ one of the hardest buildings for a visiting squad to enter and come away with a win. Oh and don’t forget, they own the NFL’s best road record throughout the 2018 season as well. Yikes.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
THEY can’t defend anybody. They gave up more points than any other playoff team this year, ranking 24th in the league for opponent points and 31st (THIRTY-FIRST!!!) for opponent total yards. With that all being said though, they still rolled to the top seed in the conference and torched their opponents on the other side of the ball in the process. The 565 points they scored in the regular season is the 3rd most in NFL history. Woah.
MY preseason pick to win the AFC paid off and Andy Ried might have sewn up his second Coach of the Year award in the process. Ried found a way to unleash second-year QB Patrick Mahomes, turning him into an MVP candidate with each of his offensive weapons benefitting greatly. Their biggest issues will come on the other side of the ball as I’ve already stated, but if you outscore your opponent does it really matter how many points you give up?
Banner from si.com
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