NFL playoff picture
Each of the dozen NFL teams still standing has reason to believe next month will bring a party and a parade.
Every one of them also has a potentially costly flaw that could have them dejectedly clearing out their lockers instead.
“The game gets a little faster and certainly everything’s on the line,” Denver quarterback Peyton Manning said of the playoffs, where he’s experienced plenty of pain 12 losses to go with lots of euphoria 11 wins. “But it usually comes down to kind of who executes better.”
As the dandy dozen prepare for the playoffs, here’s a look at the signature strength of each team along with their most worrisome weakness:1. New England Patriots
WEAKNESS: The O line struggled early after LG Logan Mankins was traded to Tampa Bay. The unit settled down when rookie center Bryan Stork took over in Week 4. With little depth, the Patriots need the O linemen to stay healthy and protect the franchise, Tom Brady.
STRENGTH: With apologies to Rob Gronkowski, the addition of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner gets the nod here. wholesale jerseys They have greatly improved New England’s pass defense. The emergence of second year linebacker Jamie Collins also has been a big plus.
“He’s turned into a leader and a linebacker who is able to control the whole defense,” safety Devin McCourty said of Collins. “There’s not much he can’t do on the field.”
2. Denver Broncos
WEAKNESS: Manning often looks rushed even when he’s not. The O line hasn’t done him many favors and must step up its play for Manning to be able to find Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who combined for 212 catches, 3,023 yards and 20 TDs this season. Ward came up big. So did Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Rahim Moore and Derek Wolfe, who were sidelined a year ago. Add in Bradley Roby and Brandon Marshall and this unit atones for any offensive hiccups. Anderson said.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
WEAKNESS: Pittsburgh’s defense is no longer the menacing group it was during three Super Bowl trips from 2005 11. The Steelers were 18th in total defense and 27th against the pass. Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu were hurt and Cortez Allen failed to develop into a shutdown CB.
STRENGTH: Antonio Brown has become as big a part of the offense as Ben Roethlisberger. His 129 catches were the second highest single season total in NFL history, and he led the league with 1,698 yards receiving to go with a team record 13 TD catches.
“He needs no endorsement from me,” coach Mike Tomlin said of Brown. “He is who he is. I don’t think any of us are surprised when he delivers for us time and again.”
4. Indianapolis Colts
WEAKNESS: Over the last six weeks, the Colts have lost nine fumbles and thrown six interceptions. That’s a real concern for a team that had seven interceptions in two playoff games last year. After committing a league low 66 penalties in 2013, Indy was called for 105.
STRENGTH: Even with all the blunders and bruises, Andrew Luck has an uncanny knack for winning. The Chiefs saw his genius in the playoffs last year, when he rallied the Colts from a 28 point deficit. Luck’s finishing touch means anything is possible this postseason.
“I don’t think the kid ever feels any pressure,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “I think he performs best when his back’s to the wall.”
5. Cincinnati Bengals
WEAKNESS: Andy Dalton is 0 3 in the playoffs and has played some of his worst games in the pressurized postseason. In those three games, two losses at Houston and one at home last year against San Diego, Dalton has one TD, six interceptions and a paltry passer rating of 56.2.
STRENGTH: Rookie RB Jeremy Hill has provided a spark. The Bengals’ commitment to the run takes pressure of Dalton. Fourteen of his 17 passes went to a tight end or running back in a big win over the Broncos, a low risk approach that goes hand in hand with handing it off.
“We just have a new attitude. The running game has really sparked kind of a feistiness,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said.