Injuries and inconsistency will rattle the playoff chances of even the most sturdy playoff contender. So how do you separate the deepest and most consistent squads in the league? The ones with enough resiliency to climb back into a game and win when they shouldn’t, or live through the loss of a key component and thrive? Simple, look below.
Colts-Indy has lost three quarters of its secondary, can‘t run the ball, and is not really spectacular at anything except scoring when they really need to. Their defense stepped up last week against New England, limiting their scoring late in the second half when the team needed stops. I like the Colts to get better and stronger as the season continues. However, they will not go undefeated.
Steelers- Call me crazy, but I just feel that if the Steelers make the playoffs as a wild card, and face Cincinnati in the Divisional round, Pittsburgh will win. Big Ben Roethlisberger’s team has too many weapons offensively to lose such a game, and their defense is so good, I feel that they are in every game no matter what. Few teams can rush the passer like Pittsburgh, and fewer have the ability to cover like the Steelers. The only missing element in my eyes lies in the running game, something Mike Tomlin’s bunch hasn’t done consistently in two years.
Saints-An injury to Drew Brees would sink this team, but you can say that about any contending team. I like the running backs on ‘Nawlens, receivers, and defensive line. This team absorbed a hit to their best offensive lineman, Jamal Brown and are still rolling. My only concern is that their defense starts losing steam as the season rolls along. The Saints have been I some shoot outs, and if Darren Sharper doesn’t return in good heath, may be on the losing end of future barn burners.
Patriots-The good? Quarterback Tom Brady is back on top and they can score at will. The bad? This team has one, yes one skilled pass rusher (Tully Banta-Cain) and rarely blitzes as much as the real pressure teams like Philly, Pittsburgh, and the Jets.
Many have pointed to the lack of number three receiver, I see that as unimportant, what is important is that the Pats’ running backs get healthy. Lawrence Maroney, and Benjarvus Green-Ellis will not be able to carry the load forever.
Vikings-This team could easily be my top team. The reason it isn’t is because Pittsburgh pushed what I thought was the most physical team (yes the one wearing purple) around earlier in the year. Minnesota is tough, has a great run stuffing duo inside and good depth, but if this team is down, I don’t trust old man Favre to make good decisions. Since his Super Bowl years of 1996-1997 he hasn’t proven me wrong. If the Vikes get in a hole, grab the abacus, the interception tally is sure to rise for Brett.
Bengals-This team has the talent to make a deep playoff run if it stays healthy. I love the power running of Cedric Benson, play of the defense and efficiency of Carson Palmer. However, I am concerned by Benson’s workload (205 carries already) and the lack of a solid number two receiver.
Cowboys-This team is still a rollercoaster ride, but it’s up now. For some reason, I don’t see them winning their division. Dallas is a running team, but only one of their three halfbacks, Tashard Choice is fully healthy and running with force.
Cardinals -The Cards have some nice pieces on offense and ever-improving defense, but they have lost to teams they should have beaten. I still think they are better than last year’s team, but must find a way to run the ball. Chris Wells has a good yards per carry average, but the yardage isn’t there. This team historically stinks at running, but needs to add that element.
Eagles-The Eagles can match offenses with almost any team in the league. Unfortunately the running game is in flux, they can’t run in short yardage situations and have real protection problems when it comes to pass-blocking. In the pre-season, I picked this team to go deep into the playoffs, but without better offensive line play, I don’t see much. The defense has kept them in every game this season with the exception of the 48-22 blowout by the Saints in week two.
Texans-Dysfunctional but decent. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has 17 touchdown passes and the chance to pull this young franchise into the playoffs. The most encouraging thing for Texans fans should be the play of their defense. This team came within a touchdown of beating the Colts and is playing extremely well. I like the Texans especially if they can solve the running game puzzle. They could be this year’s Cardinals.