Breaking down the NFL’s contenders and pretenders
The NFL playoffs have a different feel this year as compared to previous seasons. The question most people are asking is not who will win the Super Bowl, but rather who can knock off the seemingly unbeatable Packers? As I examine the true contenders for the Lombardi trophy this year, it is clear that the NFC is the stronger conference. In fact, the Super Bowl should take a backseat, as the NFC Championship game will be the best game of the year.
Packers (15-1): There is only one reason why this team is tops in the league. His name is Aaron Rodgers. The lock for MVP this season has had a tremendous year and helped mask the problems this team has. Most notably is the inability of the defence to stop anybody. The Packers’ only loss this season came because the defence couldn’t get off the field. If the unit doesn’t step up their play, this team will not repeat.
Saints (13-3): Drew Brees and the Saints have been piling up offensive records this season. In fact they may be the only team that can go punch for punch with Rodgers and the Packers offence. The teams met in a wildly entertaining season opening game at Lambeau field, and seem to be on a collision course to meet in the NFC Championship. The question this team must answer is, “can this explosive offence perform outdoors in below zero temperatures?”
49ers (13-3): “Defence wins championships” and that will have to be the case if the Niners are to go all the way this year. They will likely have to beat the aforementioned teams to get to the Super Bowl. The 49ers offence cannot score on the same level as the Packers or Saints, but they can control the clock. The power running of Frank Gore can keep the opposing offences on the sideline. If Alex Smith can play mistake-free football and the defence continues to generate takeaways, the year’s most surprising team could hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Giants (9-7): The Giants have been one of the most inconsistent teams all year. However they are no stranger to the underdog role. This year they are getting hot at the right time. The defensive line has been a force all year led by end Jason Pierre Paul. On offence, Eli Manning has been clutch, delivering masterful fourth quarter performances. The Giants lost to the Packers on a last-second field goal. They will likely get a shot at revenge in the divisional round, where the Giant front four will test a Packer O-line that has been one of the team’s weaknesses. This team has pulled shocking upsets before; perhaps they can do it again?
Patriots (13-3): With Tom Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick coaching, this team will always be a contender. Brady has arguably the best weapons he’s ever had in tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The two have helped this offence score at will this season. However this team will need to score lots of points to overcome their incompetent defence. This year, the Patriots have home field advantage, but playing at home has been anything but. The Pats lost their last two playoff games in front of the home crowd.
Ravens (12-4): For the first time in Joe Flacco’s four trips to the playoffs, the Ravens will have a bye and a home playoff game. Perhaps this is just the thing the Ravens need to get over the hump. Time off will help their aging defence stay sharp. On offence the Ravens will live and die by the success of running back Ray Rice. At some point though, Joe Flacco will have to win them a game. If this young QB finally comes of age, the Ravens will be off to the Super Bowl.
Steelers (12-4): Though the record may say they are the same, the Steelers have not been as good as the team that went to the Super Bowl last year. The Steelers defence hasn’t been generating turnovers like they are capable of, and the running game has been far less effective. Big Ben has a knack for winning big games, but if the Steelers weren’t good enough to win the Super Bowl last year, its doubtful that they can do it this year.
Texans (10-6): Before the loss of quarterback Matt Schaub, this team stood a real chance of going to its first Super Bowl. But now they will have to win games with tight defence and running back Arian Foster. They may win a game or two, but they won’t be able to knock off the Ravens or Patriots without a more explosive passing attack.
Maybe Next Year: Broncos, Lions, Falcons, Bengals.
Super Bowl Predication: Saints over Ravens.
Sorry Packers fans, repeats are just too hard to come by in the NFL. I think the Saints will knock off the Packers at home. Neither defence is great, but Saints coordinator Gregg Williams will find a way to put pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Saints running back Darren Sproles will prove why he is the best free agent signing of the year.