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Friday, 2 January 2015

Starting Over: The NFL Playoffs Begin Again

If I were a betting man, then I would run to Las Vegas and lay down money on the Seattle Seahawks to repeat as Super Bowl Champions and defeat the New England Patriots in the process.   The Seahawks look even stronger on defense than last season (if that is even possible), Russell Wilson is at the top of his game, Lynch looks ageless, and they are riding a winning streak into the playoffs.   In addition, the Cowboys are just about the only competition for the Seahawks and Seattle won’t lose twice at home to the same team.   However, since 1990 number one seeds have met in the Super Bowl almost as often as number six seeds have won the Super Bowl (4 times to 2 times).   Every team has weaknesses.   Here is my look at the biggest weakness the playoff teams have to overcome to win the Super Bowl.

Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts

The Lions and Colts are both blessed to have good quarterback play.   (Great QB play in the case of the Colts).  HOWEVER, both have same weakness that could kill their Super Bowl chances – their quarterbacks turn the ball over at an alarming rate.   Analysts and armchair quarterbacks rightly kill Jay Cutler for his lack of ball security, but Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford are almost as bad as Cutler when it comes to taking care of the football.   (Cutler had 18 INTS; Luck, 16; Stafford, 12).  Losing the turnover battle in the regular season is lethal; in the playoffs, deadly.   Remember though…Eli Manning and Joe Flacco both struggled with turnovers in the regular season the years they were nearly perfect in the playoffs (and Super Bowl wins).

Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers

I put these two in the same category, because I am not sure how they both managed to get to the playoffs, but they did.   Both have serious age issues at key spots on their defense…especially Pittsburgh.   In a passing league, both teams’ pass defenses are in the bottom part of the league.   Neither is much good at rushing the passer either.   While both appear to be vulnerable and weak against the pass, the playoffs are a chance to start over…just like the Ravens did in January 2013.

Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys

Just winning a playoff game would be a huge boost to both teams.   Cincinnati is 0-5 in playoff games since 2005; Dallas, 1-3.   Neither defense is great at getting to the quarterback or generating turnovers.  To win this weekend both teams need to run the football…especially Cincinnati.   Andy Dalton plays really poorly in big games.   I trust Tony Romo much more than I do Dalton, but the Cowboys need to stick with their strength on offense and run the football.      

Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers

Arizona has a glaring weakness at quarterback.   All Arizona needs is average quarterback play to move on, but average QB play may be very hard to come by.   Carolina’s biggest challenge might be mental.   If the Panthers fall behind early then they might resort back to their ways that gave them a 3-8-1 start.   The Panthers and Cardinals are both playing with house money.   They can (and should) just let it all hang out – trick plays, exotic blitzes, fake punts.

Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers

Peyton Manning is old and has really looked it for the last nine games (17 TDS, 12INTS).    Aaron Rodgers is hobbled.   After the Bye, Manning will be older and Rodgers calf still won’t be right.   The Broncos and Packers each have other issues, but these are glaring weaknesses.   Both teams need the running game to shine to overcome this and get to the (NFL) Promised Land.

New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks

Since I think they will be playing in the Super Bowl, I have a hard time coming up with any weaknesses.   However, Seattle finished 20th in sacks.   The lack of production by the Seattle pass rush is bizarre given the greatness of the Seattle pass defense.   That better improve if Aaron Rodgers comes back to town.   Over the first 8 games of the season, Tom Brady threw 2 INTS.   Over the half of the season, Brady threw 7 INTS.  9 INTS in a season is really spectacular, but that is a troubling trend that reflects one overriding fact – Brady is 37.   The Patriot running game needs to take pressure off this great (but ancient) player.


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