Column

The Playoff Rundown

 

AS THE NFL regular season heads into the 13th Week, the odds have become clear as to who should dominate and make a push deep into the playoffs.

In the AFC, Kansas City and New England are pressing the issue, with a slim chance that the Steelers will eclipse them both to see Super Bowl LIII.  In the NFC there seems to be two teams that truly have the best chance of, not only winning their respective conferences but also making a bid for the Super Bowl.  New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams are continuously vying for the top spot, with an outside chance of Chicago interrupting their plans. 

 

AFC

 

✓—NEW ENGLAND

Boy, this is getting old.  At least for those people who detest one of the greatest dynasties of all-time.  The Belichick-Brady era is most certainly ending abruptly; the walls are crumbling yet the kingdom is still standing. 

Bill Belichick is arguably one of the top three Head Coaches in NFL history.  What he has done in Foxborough is mind-boggling—taking what amounted to the laughing stock of football and turning that into one of the most spell-binding, lasting dynasties is beyond imagination.  And yet, he did just that, with a little help from a 6th Round pick from Michigan.

Since the 2000 season, the Belichick-Brady era has produced 221 wins to 77 losses, 8 Super Bowl appearances, 5 Super Bowl Wins and a guaranteed place for both men in Canton, Ohio.

Brady has gone 262-of-402 for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns.  Brady has thrown into traffic a bit more than usual, throwing for 7 interceptions in the first 11 games, but that hasn’t hurt their overall record of 8-3.

The Patriots are currently 8th in the NFL in ppg with 27.9, 9th in offensive yards with 388.2, 11th in passing yards with 270.0, and astonishingly 12th in rushing yards with 118.2 yards per game. 

The added talents of Running Backs Sonny Michel and James white have taken the full pressure and heat off the 41-year-old Tom Brady.  Their emergence has lengthened Brady’s career possibly to the age he wants to play until—45. 

The Patriots offensive line is a stellar as you’d expect, keeping Brady safe is of the utmost importance.

 Defensively, New England is allowing 22.6 ppg, and 377.5 total yards per game against. They are middle-of-the-road defensively, which is obviously enough for them to push past Kansas City (see Oct. 14, 2018) and find their way into their 9th Super Bowl appearance in 18 years. 

The Patriots offense is still solid as ever.

The question to be asked and ruminated on is:  Can New England’s defense fend off their counterpart on the biggest stage in sports?

Last year they could not, but the Eagles won’t see the field in SB LIII.

 

x—KANSAS CITY

I’m going on record now and stating that the Kansas City Chiefs will not make the big game.  If the adage is true, and defense wins championships—the Chiefs will fold somewhere in the playoffs.  Yes, their offensive fireworks are some of the most impressive in recent memory, but they are ranked last or near last in every significant defensive stat.  You can also throw in the fact that they did not beat the Rams or Patriots this go-round.  Both L.A. and New England are superior on defense and can employ their own offensive firepower with the best of them. 

Patrick Mahomes, who for all accounts was really a rookie this year, has an amazing arm and future but he continuously misses simple passes and shakes off shorter, guaranteed reads. 

Kansas City is touting an NFL second best 36.7 ppg. but are also giving up 26.7 ppg. defensively.  Ranking 30th overall, the Chiefs are cellar-dwelling with 414.7 yards per game given up—297.2 passing yards per game against and 117.5 rushing yards against.  And even though they place high in both sacks (T-3) and interceptions (T-6) on the year, they are consistently unable to defend the ball from going into the end zone.  And this will ultimately kill their playoff momentum when the time comes.

Chiefs are not making a Super Bowl LIII appearance.

 

?—PITTSBURGH

Ah, the outside guys.  The Steel Reserve.

Pittsburgh is essentially a perennial playoff team.  It’s been since the 1970’s and the Steel Curtain that Pittsburgh has made a name for themselves.  Yes, there were the late 1980’s, but they did make the playoffs in 1989.  Since 1992, the Steelers have made the playoffs and Super Bowl 18 times.  18-out-of-26 times they’ve at least made the Wildcard.  They will win the AFC North; Baltimore can’t hold out.  So, that will make it 19 times making the playoffs in the past 26 years. 

It was obvious that Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t thrilled with Pittsburgh drafting Mason Rudolf.  It was even more obvious that he was intent on casting aside the thoughts of retirement and came into OTAs having dropped the retirement weight. 

With their Quarterback holding tightly to the reins, Pittsburgh has turned in a 9-2 record.  In their final five games of the regular season, the Steelers will be pitted against both New Orleans and New England, which will likely end with two losses, leaving their record at 12-4.  Certainly, a respected record, but they couldn’t beat the Chiefs earlier in the season and they won’t beat the Saints.  Add to this that they don’t have the talents of Le’Veon Bell to help with yardage and things look bleak for the post-season.  So, whether they play against Kansas City or New Orleans in the playoffs, their time is limited.

 

NFC

 

NEW ORLEANS

New Orleans has the best chance to make the Super Bowl.  Drew Brees is as elegant a pocket-passer as Tom Brady.  Age is nothing but a number, a number both men are defying.  Thus far, Brees has completed 272 passes for 3,135 yards and 29 touchdowns in 11 games.  More impressive is that he has only thrown 2 interceptions; Brees is has a QBR of 89.0 and is completing 76.4% of his passes.  At 39 years old, Drew Brees is on pace for—arguably—the best season of his professional career. 

New Orleans sits at 10-1 going into Dallas.  Those 10 wins are continuous. 

Those wins are not on Brees’ shoulders alone; the backfield tandem of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram allow the Saints to utilize a balanced offense that produces 416.6 yards per game. 

Defensively, the Saints are allowing 358.9 yards per game against and 23.3 ppg. against.  There isn’t a superstar on the Saints defense, but they do sport several viable players fully adept at playing their positions to a T.  Linebacker Demario Davis, Defensive End Cameron Jordan and Defensive Tackle Sheldon Rankins are the cream of the New Orleans crop. 

The upcoming game in Dallas should prove a lot as to what New Orleans can expect to produce offensively throughout the playoffs.  Dallas isn’t capable of ruining anyone’s chances in the playoffs, but they can make things difficult for New Orleans with a very stout defense.

 

x—LOS ANGELES

The Rams sold the farm, the house in the suburbs and possibly some distant relatives to get the biggest and best names in free agency over the offseason.  This in and of itself is not a horrible decision in the short-term.  Long-term, it will be seen as a disastrous decision.  They have no money left to spend on athletes who could be beneficial when, not if, some of their star players go down with injuries. 

Basically, the Rams have gone Super Bowl or bust.  And this high-octane thrill-ride they have going will only last a couple of years.  Then the dreaded player negotiations begin, and L.A. will not have the money to keep their all-star cast intact. 

But enough of the gloomy future.  This is the present and presently the Rams are tearing up the NFL.

Boasting a 10-1 record and 35.4 ppg., the Rams are thundering through their opponents at a steady clip.  Their only miscue: a 10-point loss to New Orleans.  Outside of that singular loss, Los Angeles had been on a rocket ship to the playoffs. 

Offensively they are bottled lightning; at worst, sound.  Defensively—ditto.

They have superstars on both sides of the ball, they have good Special Teams, they are winning and selling out seats and merchandise like crazy.  It’s great to get caught up in the frenetic frenzy the Rams offer the public at large. 

But.

As powerful and exciting as their starters are, they simply don’t have the depth to succeed in making a Super Bowl appearance. 

The Los Angeles Rams will fall to the New Orleans Saints; a single step from the biggest game of their lives.

They will go back to L.A. and strategize and contemplate and practice, just to do it all again in 2019.  But then, 2019 will show the same problem.  Drew Brees and those marching Saints. 

All in, selling out to get the best of the best starters around was a gutsy move.  One that will put butts in seats and set records sales in bobbleheads, foam fingers and the rest.  But this move to get the best players available will not make the world a better place for Rams fans.  They are destined to crash against the gates of New Orleans.  They’ll fight valiantly but ultimately will not have the force to breach. 

Rams are out before the Super Bowl.

 

?—CHICAGO

The windy city just didn’t suck as much as their own sports writers spewed throughout the Bears first three weeks of the regular season.  Nor has Quarterback Mitch Trubisky been anywhere near as worthless as Chicago newspapers claimed him to be during the first five weeks.  In fact, Chicago is a very good team with a bright future.  Their offense still needs work learning the Matt Nagy RPO/West Coast system, but they have the talent and drive to become better. 

Defensively, Khalil Mack—the once in a lifetime talent—has lived up to his massive paycheck thus far.  Overall, the Bears are on their way to recapturing the talents of the 1985 roster.  Whether or not they can meld and mash everything together and become another Super Bowl winner is yet to be seen.  The Bears will bow out quickly during the playoffs, but with an offseason rife with playbook cramming, 2019 should see Chicago bullying past a lot of teams. 

There is talent.

There is a coach.

There is a playbook.

Can this all match up?

 

ADDENDUM

New Orleans and New England will make for a great Super Bowl, chock full of the best pocket passers of the last 20 years leading fantastic teams towards victory.

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