By: Gabe Eaker
The playoffs are finally here!
While some teams rightfully earned their spot in the big dance, others have long (and I mean really long) shots of fulfilling their hopes of a championship ring.
Here is one reason that every playoff team can win the Super Bowl. Some fanbases will be happier than others.
#1 Tennessee Titans (12-5) – Continued Team Play Aided by Derrick Henry Return
To this day it is still mind-boggling how the Tennessee Titans, a team with a ton of injuries throughout the season including losing their best player in week 8, would find themselves at the top of the list by the time the playoff picture was officially set.
Although the Titans have been riding the waves without sinking, a return from Derrick Henry would help solidify them as the top seed in their conference.
It would be tough to see a scenario where Tennessee makes the Super Bowl without their star running back in their lineup.
#2 Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) – Defense Steps Up
A part that always seems to be under looked in their playoff runs is how dominant their defense has gotten in the playoffs. Since week 9, the Chiefs’ defense has produced 21 turnovers while only giving the ball up six times.
The second half of the regular season was nice to Kansas City, shattering the narrative that they turn the ball over too much and have an abysmal defense to pieces.
The continuous run of dominance could stretch to a third straight year with how hot the team has been.
#3 Cincinnati Bengals (11-6) – Offense Stays Hot
The Bengals have been firing on all cylinders for a good portion of the year, especially as the season went on. The best example of this was their comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase have solidified their chemistry that the duo had developed in their LSU days. Their rushing attack has taken a massive leap forwards this year as well.
You know they have a top tier offensive attack when Tyler Boyd is the third best receiving option. The Bengals will have to rely on their offense heavily in order to win a championship with their incredibly young core of players.
#4 Buffalo Bills (11-6) – Passing Attack Connects While Defense Retains Regular Season Dominance
The Bills have been up and down all season.
They have dominated their opponents and won by 50 in some weeks but also lost in an embarrassing fashion in the others.
In order to succeed in the playoffs, the Bills need their defense to play great like they have had in most of their regular season games.
Having Josh Allen who can deliver strikes with his arm and legs also greatly helps.
#5 New England Patriots (10-7) – Rushing Attack Takes Some Weight Off of Defense
The best way to describe the Patriots is that their offense works. You cannot do more outside of that.
The defense has done the heavy lifting for the past few years now, and that is not likely to change with the playoffs starting.
Especially with their first opponent being Buffalo, It will be critical for the Patriots to replicate their week 14 rushing success, especially with their first opponent being Buffalo.
If they can incorporate the passing attack in more to keep the Bills on their heels, New England could be well on their way to an upset Super Bowl appearance.
#6 Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) – Defense Magically Forces Turnovers
Looking through individual and team stats, there is not a single argument that can be made for how the Raiders can win the Super Bowl.
Their defense cannot force turnovers, the offense suddenly vanishes during games, and their impact players like as Derek Carr and Maxx Crosby are pretty much at their ceiling when it comes to their production.
Establishing the ground game will be important as the Raiders have not been able to do that in their losses to other playoff teams this year. It would also help if the defense could force more turnovers, but that is a stretch at this point in the year.
#7 Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) – Rushing Attack Comes To Life
A team that truly has no business being here could possibly prove some people wrong with their first round matchup against the Chiefs, at least score-wise.
The Steelers head into the playoffs with a one-dimensional offense and an average defense. As long as the short routes are guarded, and the Steelers’ offensive line continues to not give Najee Harris any running lanes, it should be a quick 2022 playoff experience for the Steelers.
#1 Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers Does Not Get Stopped
It is a rare sight to see one of the most talented quarterbacks get slowed down. There is a chance that every team in the playoffs fails to stop Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers have one of, if not the best, running back duos in the league with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon as well. If that fails, Rodgers can make some magic happen with one of the best receivers in the league, Davante Adams.
If that fails, the Packers have a defense that could potentially be seeing edge rusher Za’Darius Smith returning. The only weakness to this team is special teams.
#2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tom Brady
Chris Godwin is out for the year, but most of the key talent on Tampa Bay remains.
Tom Brady has shown even while being the ripe age of 44, that he can still carry a team when it needs to be. Having Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski also helps. The run defense is still serviceable, and not many teams have great odds if a shootout breaks out.
Tampa Bay has a solid chance to repeat last year’s success this year.
#3 Dallas Cowboys – Turnover Differential
This is somewhat of a boring reason for winning a Super Bowl, but let me explain.
Having a league-leading turnover differential obviously helps win games, but what separates Dallas from the rest of the field is that they have a defense that forced 34 this season.
They have found ways to give the ball back to their high powered offense bolstered by a scary offensive line and two dominant running backs when healthy.
On paper, the Cowboys look like the team to beat, which is strange to say. What will kill them is giving up big plays and their questionable game management of Mike McCarthy.
#4 Los Angeles Rams – Talent Gets Out of Slump
It has been a rough couple of weeks for the Rams who were a potential number one seed candidate for a short time.
Matthew Stafford has been taking shots he does not need to be taking while the defense has looked spotty, especially after allowing over 27 to a 49ers team that had a below-average quarterback playing without a thumb.
What the Rams have going for them is their talent that surrounds almost every position. A wake up call to some of them before a divisional matchup against the Cardinals could spark a rally that lasts all playoffs.
#5 Arizona Cardinals – Offense Starts to Click Again
Speaking of teams that have gone off the rails, look no further than the Cardinals.
Getting into the red zone will be key for the Cardinals, as they are effective at capitalizing on those opportunities with touchdown-scoring-machine James Conner.
Kyler Murray looks completely different from the beginning of the year. Limiting the poor decisions he has made during the second half of the year will play a pivotal role to the team’s success.
#6 San Francisco 49ers – Deebo Samuel Clones Himself 21 Times
In all honesty, the 49ers are a weak playoff team.
They have the personnel to defeat Dallas but a second round loss would be likely beyond that.
Jimmy Garoppolo is still injured and has been ineffective for much of this year. While their strategy of letting Jimmy G throw only three times a game worked in their Super Bowl run two years ago, the 49ers also had a healthier defense that could defend the air game.
If Garoppolo gets thrown into another kind of hero ball game, the 49ers will be seeing the couch sooner rather than later.