Last year’s playoff rating model, which, by the way, was pretty accurate outside of the Colts upsetting the Broncos, will be used once again this season with a few modifications.
Each team will be rated on ten categories with a rating of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest). The maximum score is 100. The highest rating gives my likelihood for that team to win the Super Bowl.
The categories are:
- Quarterback: The starting quarterback, his playoff and big game experience, and overall impact.
- Offensive weapons (rushing): The running backs, other rushing weapons, and importance to the team’s time of possession.
- Offensive weapons (receiving): The running backs, receivers and teamwork with the starting quarterback.
- Trenches (offensive and defensive lines): The importance of winning the game at the line and physicality.
- Run defense: How effective the team is at stopping the run and taking away play action.
- Pass rush: Sacks, hits on the quarterback, and pressure in terms of affecting the opposing quarterback.
- Secondary: The secondary’s ability to stop the pass, but also tackle.
- Special teams: The importance of a team’s kicker, punter, kick and punt returners, and other special team role players.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Head coaching experience, offensive and defensive coordinators, injuries, and overall team experience in the playoffs and together as a unit.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Penalties committed and how mistakes can be vital in the playoffs.
1. (1-NFC) Carolina Panthers (15-1)
- Quarterback: Cam Newton comes in as the regular season MVP, and arguably the best player in the NFL right now. His dual-threat abilities, improved precision passing, and overall feel for the game are huge for a playoff game. We’ll see how many playoff games he can win, however, coming in with a 1-2 postseason record with his only victory against Ryan Lindley last season. 10/10.
- Rushing: Jonathan Stewart is day-to-day, but he should be ready for the Divisional matchup in two weeks. Mike Tolbert has been a solid third-down back all season, and Cameron Artis-Payne has put together some nice runs in Stewart’s absence. Opponents always need to be aware of the Panthers most important rushing weapon though: Cam Newton. Don’t forget about Ted Ginn, Jr. and Philly Brown on reverses. 8/10.
- Receiving: Greg Olsen highlights this group, but Newton has turned several low-key receivers such as Ginn, Brown, Devin Funchess, the ageless Jerricho Cotchery, and even Tolbert into productive players. 6/10.
- Trenches: The offensive line was top 10 in blocking all season according to Pro Football Focus, with Ryan Kalil receiving one of the NFL’s top grades at center this season. On the other side of the trenches, the Panthers have six great linemen in Jared Allen, Charles Johnson, Kony Ealy, Mario Addison, Star Lotulelei, and Kawann Short. 10/10.
- Run defense: Carolina gave up the fourth fewest rushing yards at 3.9 yards per carry behind that strong defensive line and All-Pro linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. 9/10.
- Pass rush: The Panthers’ pass rush forced a league-leading 24 interceptions, had 44 sacks, and allowed a league-low 73.5 quarterback rating. Short led the team with 11.0 sacks, but the entire front seven can get to the quarterback. 10/10.
- Secondary: The losses of Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere really hurt. Josh Norman is one of the best in the game, but the Panthers could struggle against a guy like Russell Wilson in Round 2. Roman Harper and Kurt Coleman have been playing way better than anyone could have expected, though. 7/10 due to injuries.
- Special Teams: Graham Gano and Brad Nortman have been studs all season, and Ginn is always a threat to take one back for six. 8/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Riverboat Ron and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott are two of the best at their coaching positions, but this team does lack playoff experience. As aforementioned, the lack of depth at cornerback without Tillman and Benewikere will hurt badly and put more pressure on Norman. 7/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Carolina had the best turnover differential in the NFL at +20, and averaged the 10th fewest penalties in the NFL at 6.4. 9/10.
Carolina Panthers Total: 84/100
Carolina had the best regular season, but a matchup in the second round against Seattle could be bad news for the Panthers. They should be cheering for the Vikings in order to face the Packers or Redskins. If the Panthers can come out of the NFC, they matchup well with any AFC team in the Super Bowl.
2. (2-NFC) Arizona Cardinals (13-3)
- Quarterback: Carson Palmer has put together another fantastic season after last season’s late injury that ended the Cardinals true Super Bowl hopes. This will be Palmer’s third playoff game ever (hard to believe), and he’ll be seeking his first playoff win. 8/10.
- Rushing: David Johnson has come out of nowhere (well, the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft) to lead this Cardinals rushing attack after injuries to veterans Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. Can D-Johnson hold up in the playoffs against teams that all have strong run defenses? 7/10.
- Receiving: Larry Fitzgerald is chasing that Super Bowl ring, and his efforts this season have been outstanding. Throw in the resurgence of John Brown and the continued improvements of Michael Floyd, and Arizona’s top three are hard to cover. What the team is really missing? A true receiving tight end. 8/10.
- Trenches: Led by the left side of the offensive line with LT Jared Veldheer and LG Mike Iupati, the Cardinals have a solid OL that protects Palmer and run blocks well. Calais Campbell anchors an also strong defensive line that has given opponents trouble all season. 9/10.
- Run defense: Arizona gave up 3.9 yards per carry, and this run defense was one of the best all season long. Campbell and linebacker/safety highbred Deone Bucannon lead the run defense. 9/10.
- Pass rush: Dwight Freeney can still really get after the quarterback, although the team only put together 36 sacks. More importantly, however, opposing quarterbacks had a quarterback rating of 80.9, one of the lowest in the league. 8/10.
- Secondary: This is without a doubt one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Patrick Peterson is a top-five cornerback, and safety Rashad Johnson is one of the league’s most underrated safeties. 9/10.
- Special Teams: Kicker Chandler Catanzaro, special teams man Justin Bethel, and punt returner Peterson are three of the best in the league at their positions. Arizona will hope punter Drew Butler’s struggles in the regular season do not come back to bite them. 8/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Bruce Arians is a great coach, and has experience in the playoffs with the Steelers as an assistant. Overall, however, the team does not have much playoff experience. Tyrann Mathieu’s absence will hurt this team the most. 7/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Arizona was 4th in the NFL with a +9 turnover differential, and only averaged 5.88 penalties, third lowest in the league. 9/10.
Arizona Cardinals Total: 82/100
The Cardinals took a beatdown from Seattle in Week 17, but they haven’t looked that bad all season. The bye week will be great for the Cardinals, who will have a favorable matchup against the Vikings, Redskins, or Packers in their first matchup. The Cardinals, similar to the Patriots, will benefit from their #2 seed, as they will likely only have to play one of the other two tough NFC teams, Carolina or Seattle, to go to Super Bowl 50.
3. (2-AFC) New England Patriots (12-4)
- Quarterback: Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time, especially in the playoffs. Who else would you want leading your team under two minutes? Once he gets Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola back, this team should start clicking offensively. The biggest question of them all: Is Tom Brady healthy? 10/10.
- Rushing: Steven Jackson has played well in his first few games as a replacement for the injured LeGarrette Blount. This team misses Dion Lewis a lot, but James White has been better than many expected. Brandon Bolden will also get some touches, as well as Edelman on reverses. 5/10.
- Receiving: Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in football, and the Patriots have been very conservative with him since his injury in Denver. Edelman and Amendola will need to be as big and maybe even more important than they were in last season’s Super Bowl run. The X-Factors are Keshawn Martin, Scott Chandler, and Brandon LaFell. 8/10.
- Trenches: This offensive line is a disaster, and the Patriots are hoping left tackle Sebastian Vollmer can return for the Divisional matchup. On the other side, Chandler Jones has led a much-improved defensive line that is as deep as it’s been in years. 6/10.
- Run defense: The difference between this run defense being good and great is Dont’a Hightower. The Patriots are expecting him to play in their first game, which will take pressure off linebackers Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins and the defensive line. 8/10.
- Pass rush: Jones and Jabaal Sheard can really get to the quarterback, along with everyone’s favorite underrated star Rob Ninkovich. The Patriots 49 sacks were second in the NFL. 9/10.
- Secondary: Even though everyone thought the secondary would take a huge step back, Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty have led an overachieving unit. The secondary also has one of the Patriots’ unsung heroes: Patrick Chung. 8/10.
- Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski is the best kicker in football, and punter Ryan Allen has been solid. The punt returners have been fumbling the ball too much, however. Special teams “specialist” Matthew Slater is one of the game’s best. 8/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Injuries have destroyed this team, but the integral guys in Brady, Edelman, Amendola, Vollmer, McCourty, Chung, and Hightower should be ready to go. Bill Belichick and his staff are the most experienced in the NFL, and the team overall has last season’s run and several other playoff games under their belt. 10/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: New England had the fifth fewest penalties this season, and were +7 on turnovers. 9/10.
New England Patriots Total: 81/100
The Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC in my opinion, as we’ll finally see them at full strength for the first time in months despite Brady’s ankle injury. The return of Edelman, Amendola, Vollmer, McCourty, and Hightower is going to be enormous, but the team will still need to execute. A matchup with Cincinnati, Houston, or Kansas City in their first matchup is not scaring them. The Patriots will likely have to play Denver or Pittsburgh, but not both, in order to return to the Super Bowl.
4. (6-NFC) Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
- Quarterback: Russell Wilson is a proven champion and has been elite in the second half of the season. His dual-threat abilities and playoff magic make him a huge threat. 9/10.
- Rushing: Marshawn Lynch is expected to play against Minnesota after missing several weeks. He’s coming back just in time for a Seattle rushing attack that has really missed a power back like Lynch or Thomas Rawls. 8/10.
- Receiving: Doug Baldwin has become a helluva player in the second half for this offense. The passing game seems to be working better without Jimmy Graham, who is out for the season. Still, Seattle doesn’t have much of a talented receiving corps. 5/10.
- Trenches: The offensive line has come along, but it’s still struggled overall against tough defensive lines (ask the Rams). On the defensive side of the ball, there aren’t many D-Lines in the NFL, led by Michael Bennett. 6/10.
- Run defense: Seattle gave up the least amount of rushing yards in the NFL this season, and teams will struggle in the playoffs to run on them with Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor leading the pack. 10/10.
- Pass rush: Bennett anchors the pass rush along with Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin. Opposing quarterbacks threw for 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with a passer rating of 78.1 and only 210 passing yards per game. 10/10.
- Secondary: The Legion of Boom has been exposed this season, as the Seahawks lack a #2 cornerback after the Cary Williams’ signing was a bust and got him released. Still, Richard Sherman, Chancellor, and Earl Thomas as well as nickelback Jeremy Lane (rib injury) are studs. 8/10.
- Special Teams: Kicker Steven Hauschka had a shaky stretch in the middle of the season, and punter Jon Ryan struggled this season. Still, Tyler Lockett is one of the league’s most dangerous return men, and the Seahawks are fast on special teams. 7/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Pete Carroll and Wilson have the experience, and the team is relatively healthy. The Seahawks will be picked by many to win four in a row and capture the Lombardi. 10/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Seattle committed a lot of penalties this season, but there +6 turnover differential was solid. 7/10.
Seattle Seahawks Total: 80/100
Seattle will have to play on the road three times (Minnesota, then it would be Carolina, and then probably Arizona) to make it to Super Bowl 50, and that makes me doubt their chances to return. Still, they have been one of the hottest teams over the past several weeks, and Lynch’s return is going to be their key to success.
5. (1-AFC) Denver Broncos (12-4)
- Quarterback: Head coach Gary Kubiak still hasn’t named a starter for the Divisional game, but neither Brock Osweiler nor Peyton Manning will likely intimidate most teams. Manning’s record in the playoffs, his age, and his interceptions are working against him, but he will likely be named the starter. 6/10.
- Rushing: CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman have been sharing the backfield, and neither has been very consistent. Still, the Broncos will rely on their rushing attack to win ball games. 7/10.
- Receiving: Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are coming on of late, while the Broncos could really use a lift from Vernon Davis. 9/10.
- Trenches: Left guard Evan Mathis has led this average offensive line. The Broncos will need better blocking in the playoffs. Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams has been the man in the middle on the D-Line, but the team is not as explosive in the trenches as they once were. 7/10.
- Run defense: Denver led the NFL in yards per carry, only giving up 3.3 yards per attempt. Inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall are healthy, and Denver’s run defense is top-tier. 10/10.
- Pass rush: The Broncos led the NFL with 52 sacks. Von Miller is one of the league’s best pass rushers, and if DeMarcus Ware can play in the postseason, those two will wreak havoc. 10/10.
- Secondary: Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib are both top-10 corners, but this secondary’s effectiveness will come down to the health of safeties Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward. Bradley Roby is one of the AFC’s most under-appreciated defensive players. 9/10.
- Special Teams: Kicker Brandon McManus and punter Britton Colquitt have been solid all season, and Omar Bolden can take one back for six at any time. 9/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Gary Kubiak will have his first true test as a head coach in the playoffs. This team’s success will come down to who they play and who can stay healthy. Their overall experience as a team should bode well, however. 7/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Denver had a -4 turnover differential, which is very bad for a superb defensive team. They also were in the bottom half of the league in penalties. 4/10.
Denver Broncos Total: 78/100
Denver’s quarterback situation is the talk of the league, but both quarterbacks are not the story here. Denver will go as far as their defense takes them, and Ware’s injury is the key to the postseason. A matchup with Pittsburgh in the Divisional round would be a great game, but home field advantage gives the Broncos just as good of a chance as the Patriots to return to the Super Bowl.
6. (6-AFC) Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
- Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger may not be throwing as many touchdowns as usual, but he’s still been mighty productive. He comes into these playoffs with two Super Bowl rings, and his experience will be huge for the Steelers. 10/10.
- Rushing: Le’Veon Bell is done for the season, and now DeAngelo Williams’s status is up in the air against Cincinnati. If Williams cannot go, second-year running back Fitzgerald Toussaint would have to really show up. 5/10 due to Williams’s injury.
- Receiving: Antonio Brown is the best receiver in football in my opinion, and having Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant makes this receiving corp one of the best. Heath Miller has been coming on of late as well. 10/10.
- Trenches: Alejandro Villanueva is a man at left tackle and guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro have played very well at guard this season. The defensive line has been great against the run all season, but with little depth on the line, one injury could really hurt the Steelers’ D-Line. 9/10.
- Run defense: Again, the run defense has been very good all season, and ranks fifth in rushing yards against thanks to the D-Line and young studs like Ryan Shazier and veterans like Lawrence Timmons. 9/10.
- Pass rush: Cameron Hayward, Bud Dupree, and James Harrison highlight the team’s numerous pass rushers. Pittsburgh gives up a lot of passing yards, but they also ranked third in the NFL with 48 sacks. 8/10.
- Secondary: This is the weakest part of the Steelers, as the defensive backs lack depth. Mike Mitchell is the leader in this group. Luckily for Pittsburgh, the Patriots may be the only team in the AFC with a scary pass offense outside of the Steelers themselves. 4/10.
- Special Teams: Chris Boswell has been a pleasant surprise at kicker, while punter Jordan Berry has struggled. Antonio Brown is a top-five punt returner. 7/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger have been here before, but the injuries at running back are really hurting Pittsburgh. Tomlin’s gutsy decision-making all season could come back to bite them at some point, but this team is still well-coached. 8/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Pittsburgh has only committed 5.88 penalties per game, good for 3rd (tied) in the NFL. Their +2 turnover differential would be higher if not for the team’s 21 interceptions. 7/10.
Pittsburgh Steelers Total: 77/100
The Steelers will need to win three on the road similar to the Seahawks against great defenses, and I’m not sure they will make it through. The injury to Williams is huge, but their passing game is good enough to take on the entire offensive playbook. It comes down to their secondary and overall matchups to win another Super Bowl.
7. (3-AFC) Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
- Quarterback: Whether or not Andy Dalton plays is a huge question, but there isn’t much of a difference between a banged up thumb for Dalton and AJ McCarron. If the Bengals can beat the Steelers in the Wild Card round, Dalton could be back to himself against New England. Either way, the Bengals will not have the same production that Dalton gave them earlier in the season. 6/10.
- Rushing: The combination of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard can be dominant, if they both play to their potential. Hill has in particular been too inconsistent all season, and without a healthy Dalton, the Bengals need these two guys to produce. 7/10.
- Receiving: Tyler Eifert and AJ Green are two of the best at their positions, and both quarterbacks have found them both during the season. If Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu can emerge in the playoffs, that would be huge. 8/10.
- Trenches: Andrew Whitworth leads a top-10 offensive line that will need to block well in an open AFC. On the other side, Geno Atkins and company compile a dominant defensive line. The Bengals are tough to beat in the trenches. 9/10.
- Run defense: Cincinnati gave up the 7th fewest rushing yards in the league, as the defensive line, Vontaze Burfict, and Rey Maualuga are true run stoppers. 9/10.
- Pass rush: Carlos Dunlap led the team with 13.5 sacks, which was #4 in the NFL this season, while Geno Atkins had 11.0, tied for eighth. The team as a whole had 42 total sacks, which was also top 10. Overall, the Bengals’ four-man rush is very effective. 8/10.
- Secondary: Cincinnati is deep at corner with Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Leon Hall, and safety Reggie Nelson is an interception machine. 8/10.
- Special Teams: Kicker Mike Nugent has put together a better year than recent seasons, while punter Kevin Huber is in the middle of the pack for punting. Jones and Brandon Tate are big threats in the kick return game. 7/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Dalton still has the “can’t win in the playoffs” narrative, while Marvin Lewis may be more to blame for that. The team’s success will come down to the quarterback position, while the coaching staff, especially head coaching candidate and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, will need to be at its best. 5/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Cincinnati averaged just under seven penalties per game, good for the middle of the pack. The team’s +11 turnover rate was third in the NFL. 8/10.
Cincinnati Bengals Total: 75/100
Dalton’s thumb is in control of Cincinnati’s destiny. The Bengals were playing elite football thanks to Dalton before his injury, and now the “can’t win in the playoffs” narrative will likely continue. It doesn’t help that Cincinnati would have to play Pittsburgh, New England, and possibly Denver to go to the Super Bowl.
8. (5-AFC) Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
- Quarterback: Alex Smith has quietly put together an outstanding season with 20 touchdown passes and only 7 interceptions. He took the 49ers to the Super Bowl a few years ago, and he is the X-factor for the Chiefs. 7/10.
- Rushing: Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have been an effective pair out of the backfield, although the competition has not been much since they took over the role. They’re still not that scary for an opposing defense, especially with an AFC full of strong run defenses. 5/10
- Receiving: Jeremy Maclin is being bothered by a hip injury, but he will play Saturday against Houston. Outside of Maclin, who has been great this season, Travis Kelce and Albert Wilson will really need to show up in the playoffs and help out Smith. 6/10.
- Trenches: Left tackle Eric Fisher and center Mike Morse (concussion – may not play) lead a decent offensive line that gave up 46 sacks (tied for sixth most) this season. The defensive line is deep, however, and pairs well with the team’s stellar linebackers. 7/10.
- Run defense: The Chiefs gave up the eighth fewest rushing yards and only seven rushing touchdowns on the season, led by linebacker Derrick Johnson. 9/10.
- Pass rush: The pass rush, led by Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, is stellar. The Chiefs finished fourth in the league with 47 sacks. 9/10.
- Secondary: Marcus Peters will likely win Defensive Rookie of the Year, deservingly so. Eric Berry, who could win Comeback Player of the Year, has had an amazing comeback season after battling cancer, but the rest of the secondary has not been challenged by a solid pass offense. That could change if the Chiefs have to face New England or Pittsburgh. 7/10.
- Special Teams: Cairo Santos and Dustin Colquitt are both top-five players at their positions. Their special teams are solid. 8/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Andy Reid is notorious for sucking in the playoffs, and he has a lot to prove this season. The team does not have much playoff experience outside of Smith, and the injuries to Maclin and Morse may be more important than people realize. 6/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Kansas City was in the top half of penalty discipline and had the second-highest turnover margin with +14. 10/10.
Kansas City Chiefs Total: 74/100
The Chiefs are hot, I get it. But, they haven’t really played anyone that amazing in months. The playoffs will be a wake up call for the Chiefs, and they’ll hope they can abuse Tom Brady (like that Monday Night Football game) or Peyton Manning in the second round if they can get by Houston. Winning one playoff game would be a success for Reid and his team.
9. (5-NFC) Green Bay Packers (10-6)
- Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers has not been the same quarterback we’ve seen in the past 6+ seasons. He may be missing Jordy Nelson more than we thought, but Rodgers has been making some poor throws. Will a different Rodgers emerge in the playoffs? 9/10.
- Rushing: Eddie Lacy’s rocky season will need to culminate in a commitment from Mike McCarthy to the run. James Starks will be added in the mix to change the pace, but look for the Packers to run the ball more in the playoffs. 6/10.
- Receiving: Outside of James Jones, who was added right before the season started, the Packers are searching for answers at receiver. Randall Cobb and Davante Adams have disappointed, while Richard Rodgers has been asked to do more. Could Jared Abbrederis be a difference-maker in the playoffs? 5/10.
- Trenches: The Packers need left tackle David Bakhtiari back, as Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton did his best at the position in Week 17. With a healthy offensive line, the Packers have one of the best in the NFL, but this unit has not showed up in the team’s last 10 games. On the defensive line, Mike Daniels has emerged as a star, but the Packers need more from BJ Raji, like he played in 2010. 7/10.
- Run defense: The run defense has improved from last season, but its still giving up too many yards. Luckily for Green Bay, Washington’s rush attack has been abysmal all season. 6/10.
- Pass rush: Daniels, Julius Peppers, and Clay Matthews will need to get to the quarterback for the Packers to stop Kirk Cousins and potentially Carson Palmer/Cam Newton. The team’s 43 sacks and sixth best pass defense will need to keep playing at that pace. If these quarterbacks don’t feel pressure, the Packers will have a tough time winning. It’s on the defense now to create big plays for Green Bay. 9/10.
- Secondary: Sam Shields, who is in concussion protocol, needs to play for Green Bay. One of the best corners in the NFL, Shields takes pressure off the rest of the secondary, especially rookie corner Damarious Randall. Casey Hayward needs to start playing better in the slot, while HaHa Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett will be called upon to be leaders. 8/10.
- Special Teams: Mason Crosby is pretty reliable, but Tim Masthay has been a disaster at punter this season. The team can bust out a big play on special teams almost every game, and they may need as much as they can get from Ron Zook’s special teams. 7/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Shields and Bakhtiari’s injuries are the biggest concerns for McCarthy, who has a very experienced team and coaching staff. Can Green Bay get hot and go all the way like 2010? 8/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Green Bay was in the middle of the pack for turnovers and tied for 10th for turnover margin at +5. 7/10.
Green Bay Packers Total: 72/100
There are a lot of comparisons to the 2010 Super Bowl team, but Rodgers is not playing well at all. Still, this team could get hot against a weak defensive team in Washington, especially since the Packers defense has been playing great football this season. Green Bay would have to go to either Carolina or Arizona in the Divisional round, where they struggled in the regular season. If the Packers can establish the run in the playoffs and get Rodgers going, watch out.
10. (3-NFC) Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
- Quarterback: Teddy Bridgewater will start his first career playoff game on Sunday against the Seahawks. “Teddy Two-Gloves” has not made the strides the Vikings were hoping this season, but the team has been winning. 5/10.
- Rushing: Adrian Peterson claimed his third rushing title this season, and he showed no signs of slowing down in his return despite getting injured in Week 17 (Peterson said he will play against Seattle). The Vikings will rely heavily on Peterson, but if he can’t get going against Seattle, the Vikings are doomed. Look for them to mix things up once in a while with Jerick McKinnon and maybe a sweep to Mike Wallace, Jarius Wright, or Cordarrelle Patterson. 8/10 due to Peterson’s injury.
- Receiving: Stefon Diggs has been a stud for a rookie for the Vikings, but outside of him, are opponents really scared of Wallace, Wright, Kyle Rudolph, and company? 5/10.
- Trenches: Center Joe Berger has been stellar in the middle, and the offensive line is as above average as they come. On the defensive line, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph (if he can play) have anchored a deep and talented front four. 7/10.
- Run defense: The Vikings give up 4.3 yards per carry, but their run defense is better than the stats would suggest. Linebackers Chad Greenway, Eric Kendricks, and Anthony Barr are studs at their positions. 7/10.
- Pass rush: Griffen leads a pass rush that registered 43 sacks this season, but opposing quarterbacks have been pretty successful against Minnesota, throwing 24 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions. 7/10.
- Secondary: Terence Newman and Xavier Rhodes are tough on the outside, and safety Harrison Smith is one of the best in the game right now. 9/10.
- Special Teams: Blair Walsh is a top-five kicker in the NFL, but punter Jeff Locke has struggled all season. Marcus Sherels and Cordarrelle Patterson are two of the most dangerous returners in the league. 8/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Mike Zimmer has proven himself to be a top coach in the NFC, but the team lacks overall playoff experience. Minnesota will hope Joseph can play at full strength. 6/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Minnesota committed the least amount of penalties in the regular season, and their +5 turnover differential was tied for 10th in the NFL. 9/10.
Minnesota Vikings Total: 71/100
Peterson’s injury will probably single-handedly decide the Vikings’ fate, as Bridgewater has not proven he’s ready to lead the passing game. Seattle is a really tough matchup in the Wild Card round, and one win for Minnesota would be big enough for this franchise.
11. (4-AFC) Houston Texans (9-7)
- Quarterback: Brian Hoyer is back, which is definitely an upgrade from Brandon Weeden. Hoyer has never started a playoff game after a long journey. 5/10.
- Rushing: Without Arian Foster, the Texans have somewhat gotten by with Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, Akeem Hunt, and Chris Polk. Still, this is the playoffs’ worst unit. 3/10.
- Receiving: DeAndre Hopkins is a top-tier receiver, and he seems to play better with Hoyer under center. The Texans will hope Nate Washington can play after a hip injury in Week 17, while Cecil Shorts III has been productive as well. The Texans could really use something at tight end. 8/10.
- Trenches: Losing left tackle Duane Brown for the season is huge for this offensive line, as Chris Clark will now be asked to start. The rest of the line is decent, but does not compare with the defensive line, led by JJ Watt (17.5 sacks – best in the NFL) and Vince Wilfork. 8/10.
- Run defense: Houston ranked 10th in rushing yards against this season, thanks to a strong front seven. 8/10.
- Pass rush: Likely Defensive Player of the Year Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Jadeveon Clowney lead an excellent pass rush. Houston had 45 sacks and gave up the third fewest passing yards on the season. 10/10.
- Secondary: Rookie Kevin Johnson has done well to go along with veterans Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, although the team’s safeties are not spectacular by any means. 7/10.
- Special Teams: Nick Novak has been average as the team’s kicker, while the ageless Shane Lechler had another dominant season. Keith Mumphery is the team’s return man, but he hasn’t done anything too exciting. 6/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Bill O’Brien will coach his first playoff game, but he has plenty of experience from his days in New England. Overall, however, this team is rather inexperienced, and the injury to Brown will be huge for the offense. 6/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: The Texans +5 turnover differential and 6.7 penalties per game were both pretty solid this season. 7/10.
Houston Texans Total: 68/100
Beating Kansas City would be big enough for Houston, as they don’t match up well with most of the AFC. New England pounded the Texans on Monday Night only a few weeks ago, and Houston is definitely the worst team in the AFC playoffs unless they can prove otherwise.
12. (4-NFC) Washington Redskins (9-7)
- Quarterback: Kirk Cousins appears suddenly elite and will get a big pay day from Washington, but is he ready for the playoffs? I’m not sold on Cousins for the postseason. 7/10.
- Rushing: The Alfred Morris/Matt Jones combo has struggled all season, although Morris has been much better lately. Still, Washington lacks a rushing attack that will make an opposing playoff team worry. 6/10.
- Receiving: DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jamison Crowder are a solid trio, but tight end Jordan Reed is the team’s best offensive weapon. 8/10.
- Trenches: Trent Williams may be the best left tackle in the NFL, and first-round pick Brandon Scherff has transitioned well to right guard. The offensive line has protected Cousins well, while run blocking as still been a struggle. On the defensive line, Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton highlights a decent unit that excels at rushing the passer but not stopping the run. 8/10.
- Run defense: The Redskins gave up almost 2,000 yards on the ground this season, yielding 4.8 yards per carry. 4/10.
- Pass rush: Ryan Kerrigan is an elite pass rusher, leading a pass rush that had 38 sacks. Still, despite having a better pass rush than run defense, the pass rush is not amazing. 7/10.
- Secondary: An interesting secondary with DeAngelo Hall at safety has had its ups and downs. Dashon Goldson is a hard-hitting safety, while corner Bashaud Breeland has put together a strong season. Still, Will Blackmon is not an intimidating matchup for most wide receivers. 6/10.
- Special Teams: Dustin Hopkins and Tres Way are below average talents at their positions, while Rashad Ross is a solid return man. Cornerback Dashaun Phillips’ injury may impact this special teams. 6/10.
- Intangibles: Coaching, injuries, and experience: Jay Gruden and most of his players have never played in the playoffs, but the team is relatively healthy. Gruden has done a great job with an over-performing team. 6/10.
- Penalty discipline and turnovers: Washington is +4 in turnover differential and in the middle of the pack for penalties. 7/10.
Washington Redskins Total: 65/100
Washington is a bit overrated in my opinion, as Cousins has been going off against pretty underwhelming opponents. He’s in for a wake up call against the tough NFC defenses, but we’ll see if he can prove me otherwise. Beating Green Bay would obviously be huge, but a win over a top tier opponent in the Divisional Round would be incredible for this franchise.
Image: Sporting News.
Stats: ESPN, Football-Reference, NFLPenalties.com, NFL.com