Making The Case For Every Remaining Super Bowl Contender
After 18 weeks of pulsating action the NFL playoffs are now set.
Unlike so many sports around the world the NFL’s postseason format remains unique both in its brutality and in its structure.
From here, it’s win or go home, while the addition of the extra wild card throws an extra element of chaos into the equation with 12 of the league's remaining 14 teams forced to lay it all on this line this Wild Card weekend.
Last year, and in the first season of the league’s expanded playoffs, Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl as the NFC’s fifth seed, winning 3-straight road playoff games before beating the Chiefs to win it all back on home turf.
That win ought to give hope to all of the teams who remain in the hunt and which is why we’re going to make the Super Bowl case for each of the NFL’s final 14.
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 3.8%
The Red Birds return to the playoffs for the first time in 6 years thanks to a blistering 7-0 start to the season. While they only went 4-6 through their remaining 10 games, their franchise Qb and future superstar of the league Kyler Murray will ensure Arizona is a Super Bowl threat for years to come.
Super Strength- It’s Kyler Murray. The 2019 #1 pick has developed brilliantly through his first three seasons in the NFL making a mockery of anyone who doubted his relatively small, 5 foot 10, 207 pound frame. The former Oklahoma Sooner posted career numbers for completions and yards per game while he was one of just 8 Qb’s in the league to post a Qb rating of 100 or better. Not winning the division puts Arizona in a difficult spot, and to win the Super Bowl this season they’ll have to do it from the 5th seed while their path to even making a NFC Championship will now have to go through LA and probably Green Bay as well. That said, Murray is a unique talent and that 7-0 start he authored should have acted as a wake up call to anyone doubting the rising threat in the desert.
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 10.5%
It’s been 30 years since the Bills have made a hat-trick of playoff appearances, bagging a second-straight AFC East crown in the process. Under the Sean McDermott-Brandon Beane head coach-GM partnership the Bills have gone from a league laughing stock to one of the most respected franchises in the NFL. Their next order of business will be securing a Super Bowl berth this post-season.
Super Strength- That stifling and predatory defence. While the Bills pack an enormous punch of offence its Buffalo’s rearguard which stirs the drink at Orchard Park and threatens to take them over the edge these playoffs. They led the league in opposition yards per play (4.6), were one of just 4 teams to extract at least 30 opposition turnovers and generated more pressure on the opposition Qb than any other team in the NFL. While that Bills defence kept doing its thing, it’s worth remembering that Josh Allen tossed another 36 TDs and threw for 4,407 yards. One of the league’s most complete teams.
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 4.6%
Prior to this season the Bengals had gone 25-53, had missed the playoffs in 5-straight seasons and had endured 3-straight last place finishes in the AFC North. Their rise to division champs this season was one of the most remarkable stories in the league, thanks largely to their phenom sophomore Qb Joe Burrow.
Super Strength- Its high-octane offence. In the previous 2 season the Bengals ranked 30th and 29th for total points scored, but this season ranked 7th, scoring more than 30 on 7 occasions, 6 of which they won. While Burrows’s future looks spectacular, the emergence of rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase has been just as incredible. The Bengals took Burrow’s LSU championship wining team-mate with the overall 5th overall pick last season and together they’ve already made beautiful music in the pros. Chase’s 1,455 receiving yards ranked 4th in the NFL this season while only two men hauled in more than his 13 Tds. The Burrow-Chase combo might already be the most electric in football and if the two can fuse again in the playoffs the Bengals may well have a path to their first trip to the Super Bowl in 34 years.
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 6.8%
In Mike McCarthy’s first year in charge last season the Cowboys went 6-10 and missed the playoffs for a second-straight season. That kind of performance didn’t go down well with the always combustible Dallas fanbase, yet the Cowboys have responded brilliantly, with the Cowboys winning the division and with McCarthy presiding over the NFL’s premier points per game attack.
Super Strength- Dallas has 5 Super Bowls rings and have enjoyed no less than 8 trips to the biggest dance of all, but what this franchise has never done is produce an offence that’s produced 530 points in a singe regular season. What underpinned this attack was exceptional balance with Dad Prescott throwing a career-high 37 Tds while Ezekiel Elliott continued his domination at ground level producing his 6th-straight season of at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage while also pouring in 12 Tds. It’s also worth remembering that Dallas went 7-2 on the road this season (a mark matched only by the Rams) and which should help immensely seeing there’s a possible trip to Lambeau Field on the horizon.
Green Bay Packers
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 18.7%
While the Aaron Rodgers soap opera played out once again, so did the brilliant play of one of the NFL’s greatest-ever signal callers. Since Matt LeFleur took over from Mike McCarthy, the Packers have gone 39-10 in the regular season, booking the NFC’s #1 seed for a second-straight year. While they’ve had a knack of finding banana skins in the playoffs in recent times, they enter this post-season as Super Bowl favourites and seem locked-in on securing Rodgers his second career ring.
Super Strength- Its obviously Rodgers, and they Packers wouldn’t be in the box seat for a 5th Super Bowl title without him. With that said, that’s a pretty boring answer, so we’re instead going with the Packer’s outrageous home field advantage at Lambeau field as their super strength. Since LeFleur arrived the Packers have gone 22-2 at home in the regular season, wining all 8 of their home games this season, and by an average of 15.5 points. Two more home wins this post-season and the Packers will return to the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years.
Kansas City Chiefs
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 15.3%
The Chiefs are hunting a third-straight trip to the Super Bowl and possibly a 2nd ring in 3 seasons. And they should feel good about their chances, especially with Patrick Mahomes under centre and with Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy calling the shots. With 6-straight division titles in the bag, and with Mahomes in this kind of form, the Chiefs would feel short changed to only reap one Super Bowl from this dominant era of football.
Super Strength- Like with the Packers and Rodgers the Chiefs simply wouldn’t be in perennial Super Bowl contention without Patrick Mahomes. While Reid and Bieniemy ensure they put their star in the best possible spots, it’s Mahomes who keeps playing all the right notes. Over his last 5 games he threw 12 Tds and just one interception, with his 114.5 Qb rating underpinning his magnificence. If that kind of form continues these playoffs it’s possible no-one will be able to stop this juggernaut of a team.
Los Angeles Rams
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 8.5%
A 4th trip to the post-season in 5 seasons as head coach, Sean McVay keeps proving he’s one of the best head coaches in the entire NFL. Unfortunately for the Rams their week 18 OT loss to San Francisco saw them drop form the #2 seed in the NFC all the way to 4. That plunge means they’ll now have to face their division foe Arizona first up, while a win will likely ‘earn’ them an immediate trip to face the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Super Strength- That’d unquestionably be Sean McVay. While the Rams blew that 17-0 lead against the 49ers, and the #2 seed in the process, the fact they were 45-0 at half-time under McVay going in speaks to this team’s organisation and adaptability under their brilliant coach. The Rams have cycled through personnel on both sides of the ball, have lost keys coaching staff and have treated draft picks like pistachio shells yet all the while McVay has kept his cool and kept devising ways to give his squad the best chance to win each week.
Las Vegas Raiders
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 1.6%
When the Readers got blown out 48-9 by the Chiefs in week 14 they were 6-7, were functioning with an interim head coach, had lost their best skilled player and had precious little chance of making the playoffs. What followed was an incredible 4-game winning run to close out the regular season and securing just their second post-season berth in 19 years.
Super Strength- Guts? They really don’t have much right being here and will enter the playoffs with a playoffs-worst -65 point differential which ranked 13/16 in the AFC. Yet they are here, refusing to give in and accept their lot. At Qb, Derek Carr threw a career-high 14 picks, Josh Jackson ran for a career low 872 yards and their primary receiver Hunter Renforw has just 5 games in his 46-game career where he’s caught for more than 100 yards. Again though, this team just finds a way to win and that mentality could have them ready to cause a playoff shock this weekend when they visit the Bengals.
New England Patriots
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 4%
The Patriots will never die. After their 7-10 finishing last season and missing the post-season for the first time in 12 years, they’re back and will be eyeing a 7th Super Bowl ring. The living legend Bill Belichick is coaching as well as he ever has, Mac Jones seems to be an inspired choice at Qb, while only the Bills conceded less than the paltry 303 points the Pats gave up this season.
Super Strength- Who else, but Bill Belichick? Probably the best coach in the history of the sport, Belichick didn’t flinch went Tom Brady left town, recalibrating this franchise and getting them back in Super Bowl contention. Most importantly Belichick has rebuilt his defence which this season conceded less than 20 points in 10 of their matches, going 8-2 in such encounters. The caliber of opposition (and offence) will clearly step up in the playoffs, but if the defence is able to remain a threat, and if Jones is able to hold his nerve, then there’s no reason why the Pats won’t be able to blaze a path back to yet another Super Bowl appearance.
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 1.3%
While their 9-8 record is the worst of any of this season’s playoff participants, and while their +59 point differential is the slimmest among the remaining NFC contenders, the Eagles won’t care one bit, deliriously happy to return to the playoffs in Nick Sirianni’s first season as coach.
Super Strength- It’s probable Sirrianni. Within a season of his surprising hire, the former Colts OC has taken the Eagles from raking 26th in the NFL for points scored up to 12th this season, and all the while not getting anything particularly startling from their new starting Qb Jalen Hurts. What did help the Eagles return to the playoffs was some gargantuan improvements in the running game amassing NFL highs in both yards (2,715) and touchdowns (25). Credit must also go to the offensive line which both enabled this blistering ground attack and which surrendered just 31 sacks on the season, ranking 3rd in the NFC.
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 1%
Of course they’re here. They’re always here. This is the 10th time the Steelers have made the playoffs in Mike Tomlin’s 15 seasons as coach, sneaking in to claim the 7th seed in the AFC. While they are the rank outsiders in the 14-team field and face an immediate trip to Kansas City, Pittsburgh only entrenched their standing as one of the league’s most consistently competitive franchises.
Super Strength- Mike Tomlin, and by a long way. Ben Roethlisberger’s 86.8 Qb rating is the worst among the playoff Qb’s. Thankfully Najee Harris, their rookie running back from Alabama kept their offence ticking registering a blistering 1,667 yards from scrimmage as well as 10 touchdowns. On defence, TJ Watt was a one-man wrecking ball, leading the league with 22.5 sacks as well as 39 Qb hits. Most importantly, 10 of those sacks came over the last 6 weeks and when Pittsburgh’s season and playoff hopes were constantly on the line.
San Francisco 49ers
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 3.3%
Just has Sen McVay has done with the Rams, the 49ers have been completely reinvigorated as a franchise thanks to their head coach. Since Kyle Shanahan was hired he’s worked wonders in the Bay Area, coming within a sniff of a Super Bowl and returning them to the playoffs where they loom as a serious threat.
Super Strength- Let’s go with Nick Bosa. While Shanahan and the 49ers offence produced the most yards per play in the league, it was their stud defensive end who was clearly the 49ers most potent weapon this season. The 2019 #2 pick was a complete menace dialling up 15.5 sacks and 32 Qb hits. He forced 4 opposition fumbles and led the NFL with 21 tackles for a loss. Unless the 49er’s opponents have their lines organised this post-season, Bosa is the kind of destructive force who could fuel another deep playoff run.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 11%
The reigning Super Bowl champs have stumbled in to a #2 seed thanks to the Rams blowing a week 18, 17-0 lead against San Francisco. It’s the kind of gift their legendary 44 -year old Qb Tom Brady will gladly accept as it’ll mean the Bucs (assuming they keep winning) will avoid a trip to Lambeau Field until the NFC Championship.
Super Strength- It could actually be Todd Bowles. While so much attention in Tampa goes to Brady and their swashbuckling head coach Bruce Arians, it’s Bowles and his destructive defence which continually flies under the radar. For the second-straight season Bowles’ Bucs ranked top-10 for points conceded while once again leading the NFL in blitz percentage, choosing to swarm the QB on 38.2% of opposition drop-backs. That aggressiveness on defence resulted in 47 sacks and 29 turnovers. And most importantly, that aggressiveness held up against the run as well, conceding the 3rd least amount of yards on the ground and surrendering just 11 touchdowns. Regardless of how the Bucs fare defending their Super Bowl this post-season, Bowles has surely put himself in prime position to again land a head coaching gig of his own.
Stats Insider Super Bowl Projection- 9.6%
The Titans might only have housed the AFC’s 6th best point differential, but they’ve somehow managed to sneak up on the field and nab the conference’s #1 seed. This is the first time in 30 years the Titans have secured 3-straight post-season berths and while they aren’t the league’s most glamorous, they embody their head coach Mike Vrabel who is tough and uncompromising and thrives when he’s written off.
Super Strength- Ability to beat the best. While the Titans have losses this season to both Houston and the NY Jets, this is also a team that’s earned the scalps of the Rams, Bills and Chiefs, famously annihilating Kanas City 27-3 back in week 7. At Qb, Ryan Tannehill’s 14 interceptions 89.6 Qb rating are the worst since he’s arrived in Nashville, meaning the Titans have had to lean on their extraordinary running game which has soared even without Derrick Henry, slamming down 2,404 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season. While no, there’s nothing sexy about this team, but if the Titans can keep it clean and avoid turnovers they’ll be seriously hard to beat over the coming weeks. In fact, over the last two seasons the Titans are 20-5 when committing one turnover or less, while they’re just 3-6 when they haven’t.
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