With only three weeks remaining in the NFL’s regular season, let’s take a moment and look at the playoff picture and the teams most likely to win the big game on February 1, 2015. Have another moment and check out the Guts bonus sports! Surely worth a look!
The top two teams in each conference receive a bye week during the first week of the playoffs (Wild Card round). As these top seeds have the easiest road to the Super Bowl, we’ll focus on those clubs this week.
New England Patriots, 10-3, Current #1 seed in AFC
The Patriots bring a ton of experience to the conversation. The Patriots are led by three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady who continues to play at high level in his 15th year in the league. In recent seasons, the defense was this team’s Achilles’ heel. The addition of free agent cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner has stabilized New England’s secondary and the defense as a whole.
Working against the Patriots is the lack of a consistent running game. As the winter months approach and the weather deteriorates, running the ball is increasingly important. This team has had flashes, but there is no running back on that roster that could be seen as a reliable option. You can never count out New England though. We’ve seen them make the Super Bowl in the past with less than impressive rushing attacks.
Denver Broncos, 10-3, Current #2 seed in the AFC
The Broncos, last year’s AFC representative in the Super Bowl, are playing like they haven’t missed a beat. After their defense was exposed in that Super Bowl, the Broncos went out in the offseason and acquired top line defensive players Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and T.J. Ward. Denver also used its 2014 1st round draft pick on a defensive back.
Further, the Broncos may have recently discovered a gem in running back C.J. Anderson. Undrafted in 2013, Anderson has run for at least 150 yards in two of the last three games. If the Broncos are able to get that sort of production from Anderson in January, they are going to be hard to beat. The Broncos already feature, arguably, the greatest quarterback ever to put on a uniform in Peyton Manning. Adding a potent running game to this Broncos team will create a two-headed monster that will be impossible to contain.
Arizona Cardinals, 10-3. Current #1 seed in NFC
Arizona got off to a hot start at 9-1 on the backs of terrific defense and a fairly effective offensive attack. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they lost their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, a few weeks ago for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury. Since that injury, Arizona has dropped two of the last three games at a time when other NFC teams are surging.
The Cardinals did themselves a huge favor this past Sunday by beating a good Kansas City Chiefs team. While showing they can still hang in there against quality NFL competition, the absence of quarterback Carson Palmer is probably going to be too big of a hurdle to overcome. With the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks hot on their tail in the division, there is no guarantee this Cardinals team even makes the playoffs let alone a Super Bowl.
We’ve seen teams win a Super Bowl without a great quarterback in the past, but those teams did so with defenses that were outright dominant. While the Cardinals field a very good defense, they aren’t so good as to carry them throughout an entire playoff race.
Green Bay Packers, 9-3, Current #2 seed in the NFC
At the time of this article’s writing, the Packers have yet to play a Monday night home game against Atlanta. We fully expect the Packers to be sitting at 10-3 on Tuesday morning.
Green Bay is perhaps the hottest team in the NFL. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is in the prime of his career and making a strong case that it is he, and not Peyton Manning, that is the best quarterback in the league. While there are different schools of thought in that debate, what isn’t up for argument is the fact that Rodgers can make throws that no other quarterback in the league can manage. His ability to escape pressure and throw accurately on the run is unmatched in the NFL.
If Green Bay has a weakness, it’s on the defensive side of the ball. The Packers defense isn’t bad, but they aren’t winning games on their own either. If Aaron Rodgers has a bad game, the Packers are pretty much doomed. However, as Rodgers is a very consistent player, poor outings are few and far between.
As far as momentum goes, Green Bay has it right now. If they are able to capture that #1 seed, they will have the home field throughout the playoffs in freezing Green Bay, Wisconsin. If that happens, this gives Green Bay a huge advantage playing in those conditions. Not only are they used to it, but also the Packers feature a big bruising running back in Eddie Lacy whose style is perfectly suited to those conditions.