Yesterday we took a deep dive into the AFC Playoff field, including your Kansas City Chiefs. Today, we look at the other side of the playoff field.
Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
The thought of putting another one of these together was daunting to say the least after yesterday’s 3,200 word dissertation on the AFC playoff field, but I’ve got to give the people what they want – stone cold football truths. All season long the narrative in the media has been that the NFC is a much more loaded conference than the AFC, that the top teams in the NFC outweigh those in and AFC that has no clear cut favorite. While I personally don’t think this is true, there is an upcoming Sunday in February where the two teams left standing from each conference will duke it out to test any hypothesis out there about conference supremacy.
This started off with a little bit of a negative slant towards the NFC, which is not my intention. The NFC is absolutely loaded. The top seeded Packers were on cruise control for most of the regular season and were still able to bully their way through to a 13-4 record, with 2 of those losses coming to the Chiefs with Jordan Love at quarterback, and in week 18 to the Lions with everything already clinched. The Rams have made headline all season long, and while this blogger jumped on the Rams Are Frauds train about 2/3 of the way through the year, the team won 5 of their last 6 games to win the NFC West. The Cowboys also won 5 of their last 6, including a pair of 50+ point outbursts against division rivals, putting the NFC on notice that this Dallas offense isn’t planning on pumping the brakes heading into the postseason. And how could I forget to mention the GOAT, Tom Brady, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just putting together arguably the quietest 13 win season in NFL history and setting themselves up nicely to make another run at the Super Bowl a year after winning Super Bowl 55.
The NFC playoffs are loaded with marquee teams, big name talent, and loaded rosters that will battle it out to see who will hoist the George Halas trophy at the end of January and take on the AFC’s champ in Super Bowl 56. While I’m not going to show my hand on who I think will get there just yet, I will break down for you, the kind reades of Chiefs Focus, the advantages and disadvantages each team will face this postseason.
- Green Bay Packers (13-4) Betway
The case for the Packers :
Where do I start? Aaron Rodgers is probably going to win his second consecutive (and fourth overall) MVP honor, Davante Adams was the league’s top rated receiver in 2021 according to Pro Football Focus (graded out at 92.7 for the season), AJ Dillon was the league’s second rated running back according to the same metrics, and the Green Bay offense is (allegedly) getting back their starting center and left tackle for the playoff run. With an extra week to get those guys rested up, this team can kill you in a lot of ways offensively.
The case against the Packers :
The kicking game. All season long, even last weekend, Mason Crosby has been a liability for the Packers. Only the Browns had a worse field goal made % this year than Green Bay, who came in at 73.5%. The playoffs are a time when kickers can either make their paychecks, or lose their jobs all together. The issues that Crosby and holder/punter Cory Bojorquez have had this season have been extensive, and throwing in a rookie long snapper in his first postseason doesn’t do a lot to help the situation. Green Bay will find itself in a close game where they need a field goal late this postseason, and there’s a 26.5% chance that won’t go well for them.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
The case for the Bucs : Betway
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. When the calendar turns to a New Year these two typically figure out ways to win football games. Gronk should be extra motivated to help Brady win his 8th Super Bowl ring in 2022, as Brady found Gronkowski 7 times in their season finale against Carolina to unlock a $1 million incentive for the veteran tight end. The Bucs also sport the NFL’s 5th rated scoring defense, and have Lavonte David and Leonard Fournette coming off of the IR this week, designated to return for the playoffs.
The case against the Bucs :
When the season started, the Bucs wide receiver room looked like the best in football Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Chris Godwin represented a trio that would be tough for any defense to keep track of. But Godwin is out for the season with a torn ACL and MCL, and Antonio Brown ceremoniously exited the team’s week 17 win over the Jets after a heated disagreement with coach Bruce Arians on the Bucs sideline. He is no longer a Buc. So that leaves Evans as the primary target for Brady, but even Evans was a limited participant in Wednesday’s walk through with a lingering hamstring injury. Brady can find ways to get the job done regardless, but he’s been robbed of a lot of his weapons, and it could be enough to derail a Super Bowl repeat for Tampa.
- Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
The case for the Cowboys : Betway
Dallas is hot, and they are a complete team. They come into the playoffs with a league’s top offense in yardage gained and points scored, 2nd ranked offense in passing yardage, and 9th in rushing. Defensively they are 1st in turnover differential and 7th in points allowed. Dak Prescott had nearly 4,500 passing yards, Zeke Elliot eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards (Tony Pollard had 700+ as well), CeeDee Lamb had over 1,100 receiving yards, and had he not missed 2 games with COVID, Amari Cooper likely would have been over 1,000 yards as well. Micah Parsons was 3rd in the NFC in sacks with 13, Trevon Diggs led the NFL in interceptions with 11, and the vets on the Cowboys defense including Demarcus Lawrence and Leighton Vander Esch will have the Cowboys defense ready to match the offense’s performance.
The case against the Cowboys :
The Cowboys have a propensity to give up the big play in the passing game. On the season, Dallas ranks 20th in the league in passing yards allowed, and while Trevon Diggs leads the league in interceptions, he has allowed the most yards of any corner in the NFL this season, has been targeted the third most times, has given up the 9th most touchdowns, and ranks 67th out of 68 corners in yards allowed per coverage snap, 58th out of 68 in percentage of receptions resulting in a 15+ yard play, 66th out of 68 in open target percentage, and 59th out of 68 in forced incompletion percentage. Dallas also led the league in penalties in 2021, and were second in defensive pass interference calls. Opposing NFC quarterbacks can feast on Dallas’ suspect pass defense.
- Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
The case for the Rams : Betway
The Rams have more star power than any other team in the NFL playoffs. Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr, Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller, Aaron Donald. They are loaded. And we failed to mention the NFL’s receiving king in 2021, Cooper Kupp. Kupp led the league in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns this season, bringing home the rare triple crown as a wide out. The Rams defense was also 3rd in sacks in 2021, and top 10 overall in both yards allowed and points allowed. If the stars in LA are shining, they are a tough out.
The case against the Rams :
Depth, and Lambeau Field. The Rams cap number for 2021 is $207,404,920. There are 7 players that account for 68.5% of that number. The Rams do not have much depth at all on offense or defense outside of the 22 guys who start on Sundays. They were already missing Robert Woods for the season at receiver, and lost Jordan Fuller during their game against the 49ers which forced them to sign 37 year old safety Eric Weddle off the street. Weddle hasn’t played since 2019. Matthew Stafford was also gimpy with an injured toe at the end of the San Fran game, if he goes out they will be left to decide between John Wolford and Bryce Perkins at quarterback. Yikes. If Dallas and Tampa both win this weekend, LA will have the tall task of travelling to Lambeau to take on the Packers. Not only will we have a southern California dome team travelling into an ice box of a game, it will be the return to Lambeau for Matthew Stafford where he is 3-7 in his career.
- Arizona Cardinals (11-6)
The case for the Cardinals : Betway
When the Cardinals are on, they are as good as anyone in the NFL. Kyler Murray is arguably the league’s most dynamic playmaker at quarterback, Chandler Jones and Markus Golden are the types of players who can destroy an opposing offense’s game plan, and they have the league’s 7th rated pass defense behind safety Budda Baker and corner Byron Murphy. And athletic linebacking corps headed by Olathe native Isaiah Simmons also bolsters Arizona’s defense. AJ Green’s resurgence as well as the mid-season addition of Zach Ertz from Philadelphia gives Murray more firepower heading into his first postseason appearance.
The case against the Cardinals : Betway
The Cardinals have been bad in the back half of the season, and injuries have a lot to do with it. Going into the wild card game with the Rams, they will likely be without JJ Watt who is still on the IR with a shoulder injury, and will certainly be without one of the league’s best receivers in Deandre Hopkins, whose returned before a potential NFC Championship game appearance has been described as “extremely ambitious”. Running backs James Connor and Chase Edmonds are questionable for Monday’s game – Connor with a rib and heel injury, and Edmonds with a rib injury of his own – and they join cornerback Marco Wilson, defensive end Jordan Phillips, wide receiver Rondale Moore, tight end Demetrius Harris, and corner Kevin Peterson as players who we may or may not see on the field in the wild card round. The flock is thinning for the Cardinals at the wrong time.
- San Francisco 49ers (10-7)
The case for the 49ers : Betway
I’ve said this a couple of times this season, but the 49ers are the best team in the NFL, with the exception of the quarterback position. George Kittle is one of the 3 best tight ends in the league, Deebo Samuel is the league’s best offensive weapon, Trent Williams is the best left tackle in the NFL, Elijah Mitchell has come alive at running back, and the 49ers defense makes me cringe every time they hit an opposing offensive player. They are fast, hit hard, and swarm to the ball. San Francisco is the NFC equivalent to the AFC’s Buffalo Bills – they would win the “walking off the bus” Super Bowl. Brandon Aiyuk has been steady for the Niners all year, and the emergence of Jauan Jennings last week against the Rams gives them another reason for optimism offensively.
The case against the 49ers : Betway
Quarterback. We all saw what happened to Jimmy G in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 54. The moment was too big for him, as was the presence of Chris Jones, and Garoppolo cracked. With an injured thumb and serious questions about his ability to lead the 49ers deep into the playoffs, fans in the Bay Area likely aren’t jumping up an down about their prospects of getting back to the Super Bowl. In the 2 games he played in the 49ers final 3, he threw 4 interceptions. Granted, the 49ers did beat the Rams to make it to the playoffs in the season’s final game, but the overall feeling should be that they won in spite of Jimmy G, not because of him. If Garoppolo can’t go, that would leave rookie Trey Lance, who has started 3 football games in the past 2 years between the NFL and North Dakota State, to lead them in the playoffs. He’s a talented kid, but that’s a big ask.
- Philadelphia Eagles (9-8)
The case for the Eagles : Betway
After a 2-5 start, analogies about seeds, roots, and flowers that made little to no sense from first year coach Nick Sirianni, and an offense that had no clue who they were, the Eagles made a decision. Behind a loaded running back room that includes Myles Sanders, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, and Kenneth Gainwell, and a veteran offensive line anchored by perennial All Pro and the other half of the best brothers in the NFL Jason Kelce the Eagles decided they were going to be a run first offense. Add those factors together with the fact that you have a threat to run with quarterback Jalen Hurts, and a wide receiver in Devonta Smith that can stretch the field on anyone and everyone in the league, and offensively Philadelphia came alive. The Eagles ended up leading the league in rushing on the season, and Nick Siranni most definitely bought himself some more time in Philadelphia, guiding the Eagles to an “ahead of schedule” playoff appearance in 2021.
The case against the Eagles :
The Eagles are the one team in the playoffs that benefitted the most from a weak schedule. The Eagles played 11 games against non-playoff teams, going 9-2 in those 11 games. Their 9 wins came against teams with a combined .350 winning percentage, by far the worst in the entire playoff field. Down the stretch their schedule luck hit its peak, with 4 consecutive wins coming against the Jets, Giants, and Washington Football Team twice (once with the WFT ravaged by COVID). You have to give the Eagles credit for making it this far, but the facts would tell you that they won’t be here for long. Their trip to Tampa is a rematch of a week 6 game that they lost 28-22. In that game, they trailed the Bucs 28-7 deep into the third quarter.
Well, there you have it. A little less lengthy than yesterday’s AFC outlook, but some in depth analysis nonetheless for our readers who support any of the 7 NFC playoff teams. Both sides of the playoff bracket are deep, and no matter how you cut it, we are likely to see an outstanding matchup in Super Bowl 56 in Los Angeles.