As much as I wish I was including the Bills in this conversation rather than scouring the web for news on our coaching vacancy, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. Dearest Bills Mafia, as devoted football fans there is still excitement in our guts for the prospect of watching playoff football this weekend, even though the Bills aren’t in it anymore. There really is nothing in the sporting world like the NFL post-season, where EVERY game counts and any team is vulnerable. As we prepare for the next month of glorious playoffs, I’ve decided to rank the 12 playoff teams in order of likelihood of winning it all. Take note: That doesn’t necessarily mean these teams are listed in the order of best to worst. I’m just giving my own (meaningless) opinion on how likely it is for each team to end the season with the Vince Lombardi Trophy and a big parade back home.
Without further adieu….
- Denver Broncos: These guys have to be my favorite to win it all. Not only is Peyton Manning imposing his will on opposing defenses, but the Denver defense is having its way with all challengers as well. This is one of the most complete teams I can remember seeing in recent memory. The way this season has gone, anything other than the Lombardi trophy will be a disappointment in Denver.
- Seattle Seahawks: Some may wonder at this placement, but part of it is due to the fact that the Seahawks play in the NFC. Remember, these rankings are for likelihood of winning the Super Bowl. Since the Seahawks don’t have to fight through the Broncos AND the Patriots to get there, I put them at number 2. I believe the Seahawks have the best chance to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, and that’s because no one is playing hotter than they are in that conference. Even with the prospect of facing the Niners or the Falcons on the road, I take Seattle. They’ve matured to the point where they can play their form of dominant football no matter where they are. Russell Wilson plays like a veteran.
- New England Patriots: It’s difficult to not predict a Broncos-Patriots AFC Championship game, and I’m perfectly fine with that. Peyton Manning battling Tom Brady is a rematch that never gets old. The Pats are just so strong in the playoffs, I can’t see any other team derailing them from the Super Bowl other than the Broncos themselves.
- Green Bay Packers: I REALLY hope the stars align and we see the Seahawks play the Packers once more this season. You know the Packers have a score to settle for that Replacement Ref TD/INT fiasco. With the Packers getting healthy they look scary in the playoffs, despite the recent loss to the Vikings. Don’t expect them to lose two in a row, especially when this time it’s at Lambeau.
- San Francisco 49ers: An inexperienced QB is what is keeping the Niners from being higher on this list. I just can’t see Kaepernick making the big plays when it counts. That said, everything else about this team is scary. The defense is still incredible, and you’ll always get production from the offense with Frank Gore on the field. Depth at WR is getting to be a concern, though.
- Atlanta Falcons: I would feel much better about the Falcons if they had rested starters in Week 17, and I’d also feel better if they beat the Bucs as well. Granted, I don’t think they were trying very hard, but it was a questionable day at best. Let’s not forget how explosive that offense is, though. With Matt Ryan capable of lighting up the scoreboard with the help of Roddy White and Julio Jones, the Falcons could beat anyone on a good day. The question is if their next three games are “good days” or not.
- Indianapolis Colts: Call this optimism, but the Colts are looking like the 3rd best team in the AFC at this point. Would I absolutely LOVE to see the Colts go all the way this year, with Chuck Pagano leading the way? Hell yes. Will it happen? Probably not. Andrew Luck is just making too many mistakes to get to the Super Bowl.
- Baltimore Ravens: Resting the starters was a good move, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Ravens have shown a lot of inconsistency of late. While they are capable of big games and big wins, it’s the team that wins big every week that wins the Super Bowl. Since Week 7, the Ravens have played against four different teams that are currently in the playoffs. The Ravens lost all four.
- Washington Redskins: If the Redskins somehow managed to beat the red-hot Seahawks, they could make an unlikely run for the Super Bowl. They only played one playoff team during their 7-game winning streak, but it was still an impressive run. Alfred Morris has quite the future in the NFL.
- Cincinnati Bengals: They started rough, but the Bengals have won 7 of their last 8 games. Granted, there hasn’t been much challenge in the last half of their season, but I could see the Bengals winning a playoff game this year. Not much more than that, though. They have a top 10 defense, but the offense’s inconsistency will trip them up.
- Houston Texans: The Texans last four games were against “playoff” teams. They lost three of them. The way the Texans are playing, most teams have figured them out by now. Against the league’s best, the Texans won’t be able to keep up.
- Minnesota Vikings: I want to rank them higher, but I give the Vikings just about zero chance of beating the Packers in Green Bay. As great as Adrian Peterson is, Christian Ponder doesn’t give the offense enough to allow flexibility. The Packers will be ready for the Vikings this week, and the impressive Vikings playoff run will likely end.
As you might guess, I’m predicting a Broncos-Seahawks Super Bowl, with the Broncos emerging the victor. I know, it isn’t a bold move to pick a #1 seed to win it all, but come on… Have you SEEN that team? Random prediction for some time in the next several years: When Peyton Manning does retire, Brock Osweiler is going to step right in like Aaron Rodgers did after Brett Favre left Green Bay. Is that not the PERFECT situation for a rookie to be in? Expect the Broncos to be in the playoff conversation for the next decade, folks.
Happy Offseason, Bills Mafia! Whether it’s CoachWatch 2013, free agency, or the NFL Draft, I look forward to riding the rolling waves of expectation/anticipation with all of you.