December 26th, 2013

Kid Reporters: Any Given January


In the last 10 years, only two 1 seeds have won the Super Bowl.


Few things in the world are less predictable than the NFL teams in January. The only league of the Big 4 leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB) to have single elimination playoffs, the NFL playoffs are an example of the phrase "any given Sunday." If you want proof, look at the 2007 New England Patriots. They finished the 2007 regular season undefeated and had the best offense in the history of the NFL (Tom Brady threw for a then-record 50 touchdown passes that season and Randy Moss caught a record 25 touchdown passes). After breezing through the playoffs, the Patriots were set to play the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. The Giants, who snuck into the playoffs and were considered the worst team remaining after Week 17, rode a string of upsets to get into the Super Bowl only to play the best offense in NFL history in what was thought to be the biggest mismatch of any previous Super Bowl. But a few miraculous plays helped New York top New England and sent the NFL world into frenzy.

Super Bowl XLII hasn't been the only proof that the best teams in the NFL don't win the Super Bowl. In fact, the top seeds in each conference rarely go on to the big game and are often upset by lower seeded teams with a lot of momentum. The last three Super Bowl champions were either the 4th seed or the 6th, and only Super Bowl XLIV (between the Saints and Colts) featured two teams with the top seed in their conference. In the past 10 years, 2 teams with the top seed in their conference won the Super Bowl, and 9 out of 20 teams with the top seeds in their conference lost in their first playoff game.
This year the high-scoring Denver Broncos and the stingy Seattle Seahawks have the best records in their conference and will most likely have the top seeds in their conference. Another thing that both teams have in common is that they both are penciled in as favorites to make it to Super Bowl XLVIII. But, as recent history has shown, the chances of both teams making it to the Super Bowl are slim.

The Denver Broncos (12-3) most closely resemble the 2007 New England Patriots. In fact, quarterback Peyton Manning broke Tom Brady's 2007 touchdown record in Week 16 of this year. Manning also has more weapons than Brady did and better depth at running back. The weak spot of this team is the defense. Their main player, Von Miller, is out for the year and the already weak defense that gave up 48 points to Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys will be very vulnerable against the strong offenses of the AFC playoff teams.

The Seattle Seahawks (12-3), on the other hand, more closely resembles, well, themselves. It is very rare for a team as defensively strong as the Seahawks (top defense in the league in various statistical categories) to have as strong an offense as they possess. Quarterback Russell Wilson has proven himself to be an elite quarterback in only his second NFL season and running back Marshawn Lynch is still one of the most dangerous running backs in the NFL. While there are no glaring weaknesses on this Seattle squad, injuries at the cornerback and wide receiver positions are causes for concern.

Both of these top seeded teams are overwhelming favorites to go to the Super Bowl, but both will have an equally hard time getting to the Super Bowl. While the Broncos are defensively challenged, they are in the weaker conference. The Seahawks, on the other hand, are the better team but play in a tougher conference.

Here are the 5 teams that could upset the Denver Broncos in the playoffs this year.
1. Indianapolis Colts (10-5 with a 2 game win streak)
Indianapolis and New England are both very tough opponents for Denver, but injuries to the Pats give the Colts a slim advantage. Quarterback Andrew Luck has avoided a sophomore slump and Head Coach Chuck Pagano has returned to the sideline after battling cancer and has brought the Colts to the playoffs in his first full season coaching. The Colts have a dangerous running back in Trent Richardson, but he hasn't performed as Indianapolis management thought he would when they traded a first round pick for him earlier in the season (only 433 yards). Reggie Wayne is out for the season and TY Hilton has yet to step up as a good receiver. Indianapolis has a weird trend that could help them in the playoffs- they beat the best teams in football (Broncos, Chiefs, Seahawks, and 49ers) while losing to average teams (Bengals, Rams, Cardinals, and Chargers). If they can advance past the wild card round without getting upset by the 6th seeded team (will be either the Ravens, Dolphins, Chargers, or Steelers- all average teams), they will make a deep run. Luckily for them, the Broncos are a great team, so the Colts are the biggest obstacle for Denver.

 2. New England Patriots (11-4 with a 1 game win streak)
New England has lost a lot of great players to injury, but they are still (somehow) title contenders. Quarterback Tom Brady is 10-5 against Peyton Manning, including a 34-31 win this year, and has made the most out of his wide receiving corps of Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Tompkins, and Danny Amendola. The injuries are a big issue, with injuries to Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski, and now Devin McCourty. The Patriots didn't look like Super Bowl contenders after their 24-20 loss to Miami, but showed they were still dangerous during a 41-7 win against the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Besides the Colts, the Patriots are the only other surefire team that would give the Broncos a run for their money.

 3. San Diego Chargers (8-7 with a 3 game win streak)
I bet you didn't see this coming. The Chargers won a game in Week 15 against the Broncos 27-20 where San Diego absolutely shut down Peyton Manning, which is nothing short of amazing. Philip Rivers is doing very well this year and is a candidate for Most Improved Player and receiver Keenan Allen is a candidate for Rookie of the Year. The Chargers also have the largest win streak in the AFC- 3 games. Also, the last 4 Super Bowl winners have lost to the Redskins and played the Eagles in Philadelphia's first home game- San Diego did both. The Chargers need the Dolphins and Ravens to lose and need to win against the Chiefs to get the 6th seed in the AFC, but if they get in they could make a run at the Super Bowl and the Broncos would stand in their way.

 4. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4 with a 1 game losing streak)
Last year I boldly predicted that the Kansas City Chiefs would make it to the AFC Conference Championship Game. I was a bit off. But this year that prediction could come true as Kansas City has clinched the 5th seed in the AFC playoffs. Thanks to a trade for quarterback Alex Smith and the hiring of HC Andy Reid, the Chiefs started 9-0. The defense is the best in the AFC and running back Jamaal Charles is the best running back in the AFC. The main cause for concern for Kansas City is that 2 of their 4 losses were against the Broncos, but the Chiefs could pull out the upset if they get another chance.

 5. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5 with a 1 game win streak)
The Cincinnati Bengals look good on paper and there is a good chance that they could win their first playoff game in the 21st century. For one, the Houston Texans, who have beaten them in the playoffs for each of the last two years, are out of the playoffs. Also, their offense has improved thanks to a 31 touchdown pass season by Andy Dalton and significant contributions from rookie running back Giovani Bernard. The defense is stingy as usual but has a few injuries in the secondary. The Bengals have pulled off victories against above average teams such as the Colts, Rodgers-led Packers, Patriots, Chargers, and Lions, while losing to a few teams who might miss the playoffs including the Ravens, Dolphins, Browns, Steelers, and Bears. Cincinnati is arguably the most underrated team among all of the playoff teams, but will need consistency from their team to get deep in the playoffs and challenge the Broncos.

I have already written an article about the teams that could beat the Seahawks that was called "Can Anyone Beat Seattle" and recommend readers read that article. A lot has changed, though, so here are updated rankings that are not as in depth as the previous one.

 1. San Francisco 49ers (11-4 with a 5 game win streak)
The 49ers beat the Seahawks 19-17 earlier in the year and would pose the biggest challenge to the Seahawks. The best rivalry in the NFL is between these two NFC West powerhouses and the game would definitely be one for the ages. San Fran lost to the Seahawks 29-3 earlier in the year, which is a cause for concern, but the Niners have a 5 game winning streak, the longest in the NFL.

 2. Carolina Panthers (11-4 with a 2 game win streak)
Carolina is very evenly matched with the Seahawks- almost a clone! Both have great young quarterbacks (Cam Newton and Wilson), strong running games (DeAngelo Williams and Lynch), great pass rushers, elite inside linebackers (Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis), and a good head coach (Ron Rivera and Pete Carroll). They lost to Seattle earlier in the year 12-7, but Carolina has won 10 out of their last 11 games.

 3. New Orleans Saints (10-5 with a 2 game losing streak)
Drew Brees and the Saints have the best offense in the NFC, but are bad on the road (the Seahawks will probably clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs) and lost to Seattle 34-7 earlier in the year. They have also lost their last 2 games, including one to the St. Louis Rams.

 4. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6 with a 1 game win streak)
The Eagles are an explosive team that would challenge the Seahawks defense in a battle of the birds. They also play very well in the snow, which is good for a team that could be playing deep into January. Philly still needs to beat Dallas to get to the playoffs.

 5. Green Bay Packers (7-7-1 with a 1 game losing streak) - The Cardinals would be a better match for the 'Hawks, but they need the Saints to lose to the lowly Buccaneers and a win for them against the 49ers. The Packers are against the Bears in a winner take the division game and would get Aaron Rodgers back by the playoffs.

The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos could get to the Super Bowl this year, but, as history has shown, no team has an easy ride to the Big Game. I think that a team with momentum, whether they are AFC or NFC, will knock one of these powerhouses off the road to the Super Bowl.



NFLRUSH Kid Reporter