by Julian Spivey
12. Oakland Raiders
For most of the season the Oakland Raiders were one of the two best teams in the AFC and looked to be a solid contender to reach the Super Bowl, as such. Then late in the season quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr went down with injury and with it the Raiders hopes up in smoke. Who I really feel bad for is the Raiders fan-base, who’ve waited years for the team’s return to glory only to see it end this way.
11. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins surprised many this year on their way to a 10-6 record on the back of surprise rookie running back Jay Ajayi, but their chances – what little ones they had – also went up in smoke late in the season when quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down. It also doesn’t help that the Dolphins have the fourth worst defense in the NFL and are playing in the first round against the high-powered offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
10. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans were, by far, the worst division winner in the NFL this season out of the woeful AFC South. They’ll probably still win a playoff game anyway, as they got lucky and drew the Oakland Raiders for the first game at home. It’s to be seen who starts at QB for the Texans as intended starter Tom Savage is in concussion protocol. Don’t expect Houston to go further than the wild card round.
9. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions saw a floundering finish to their season and a red-hot finish by the Green Bay Packers drop them out of the NFC North title. The Lions have lost three games in a row and will probably be one-and-done in the playoffs facing the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. The Seahawks offense hasn’t been stellar, but the Lions defense has given up 73 points in its last two games.
8. New York Giants
It always seems like a risk to sleep on the New York Giants in the postseason. After all, the two times in the last decade the Giants won the Super Bowl it seemed to be during a season that looked just like this one. The offense always seems mediocre led by quarterback Eli Manning and it’s one true highlight in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The offense hasn’t scored more than 20 in a game in five straight weeks. The Giants defense has been good, but they’ll have to be really good against the Green Bay Packers offense this weekend to escape a one-and-done playoffs.
7. Seattle Seahawks
Despite how great the Seattle Seahawks have been over the last few years they just don’t look to be quite the same team this year. Their record was benefited this season by playing in the horrible NFC West. The always terrific defense has been battered a bit with the season-ending injury to safety Earl Thomas. Quarterback Russell Wilson and the entire offense has been shaky at times this season too. They should beat the Detroit Lions in the opening weekend, but there are three better looking NFC teams than them at this point.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the most underappreciated teams in the NFL and I can’t help but feel that ranking them as the sixth most likely team to win the Super Bowl here is playing into that, but even at 12-4 they just don’t seem like a champion. Most of the reason I feel this way is it seems like it will take a better quarterback than Alex Smith to win the championship. Sure, we’ve seen great game managers lead teams to victories before in the big game, but I’d rather have a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger on my side.
5. Dallas Cowboys
I feel the need to admit that I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan and I’ve loved every bit of this season. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys were the best team in the NFL from start-to-finish. But, the fan in me is telling me that the season has been too good to be true. The skeptic in me is saying that I don’t trust a team that’s ridden two stud rookies at quarterback and running back in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to be the same team when the playoff pressure is high.
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have had one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL this season, ranked first in scoring, second in total offense, third in passing and fifth in rushing. This is a good thing, because the team’s defense was only the 25th best in the league, despite having league sack leader Vic Beasley. I believe Falcons QB Matt Ryan should be the NFL MVP this season, even though I don’t think it’ll happen. If the offense stays like it did all season the defense might only have to be average for the team to win it all.
3. Green Bay Packers
For at least half of the season it didn’t even seem like the Green Bay Packers would make the playoffs, let alone being my favorite to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC. But, there’s something to be said about a team riding a hot streak throughout the end of the season and into the playoffs. The Packers, led by a seemingly rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers, have won six games in a row and might not lose again until next season.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Much like the Green Bay Packers, there was a time about midway through the NFL season it looked like the Pittsburgh Steelers might not even make the playoffs. Then they got red hot and have entered the playoffs on a seven-game winning streak. I think they could continue to ride that hot streak until at least the AFC Championship game. The trio of Ben Roethlisberger, La’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown is without a doubt in my mind the scariest threesome in the NFL. The Steelers defense isn’t great, but at 12th in the league it also wasn’t bad.
1. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots finished with the NFL’s best record at 14-2, which is kind of remarkable when you remember that star QB Tom Brady didn’t even play a quarter of the season due to suspension. Then when the league’s best tight end Rob Gronkowski went down with injury many said they’d be finished – that wasn’t the case either. The Patriots have a better defense than they’ve had during previous trips to the playoffs, as well. Basically, I would never count against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the playoffs.