The long, brutal NFL season came to an end for 20 teams this week but for 12 teams the season has just begun. In a one-and-done tournament anything can happen so it’s pointless to say that only these certain teams can make the Super Bowl because in reality all 12 of these teams proved they are good enough to win two or three games in a row. So for this week’s All In The Cards I’m going to list the best-case scenario for each team to make a run to the Super Bowl. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Before we get to the scenarios, here’s a look at how I did with my week 17 picks:
How I Did With My Week 17 NFL Predictions:
- Seattle 36, Arizona 6 (0-1)
- Buffalo 22, New York Jets 17 (0-2)
- Miami 20, New England 10 (0-3)
- Pittsburgh 28, Cleveland 12 (1-3)
- New Orleans 20, Atlanta 17 (2-3)
- Philadelphia 35, New York Giants 30 (2-4)
- Indianapolis 30, Tennessee 24 (3-4)
- Cincinnati 24, Baltimore 16 (4-4)
- Houston 30, Jacksonville 6 (5-4)
- Detroit 24, Chicago 20 (6-4)
- Washington 34, Dallas 23 (7-4)
- Carolina 38, Tampa Bay 10 (8-4)
- Kansas City 23, Oakland 17 (8-5)
- San Francisco 19, St. Louis 16 (8-6)
- Denver 27, San Diego 20 (9-6)
- Minnesota 20, Green Bay 13 (10-6)
Week 17 Record: 10-6
Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2
Super Bowl Scenarios For All 12 Playoff Teams:
- Carolina Panthers: There are several ways the Panthers can make the Super Bowl but I’m looking specifically at the most optimal way. Well the most optimal way would be to avoid great vertical passing teams. While the Panthers do host a great secondary, the recent injury to Charles Tillman now means that half of the starting secondary is done for the season. Not to mention that since the loss of their other defensive back Bene Benwikere the Panthers have given up a lot more passing yards than normal. They still have Josh Norman but it would be better for this team if they avoided the Seahawks and the Cardinals and instead faced the Redskins and the Vikings over the next two rounds.
- Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals were humbled last week by the Seahawks and should be focused against whoever they face in the playoffs. Having said that, the Cardinals would like to avoid the Vikings and Packers as both teams have extra motivation in the form of previous losses if they faced the Cards again. Instead, the Cards would probably want the Redskins. For the NFC Championship, I know the Cardinals want revenge against the Seahawks and want to have the game at home, but the better matchup is against Carolina. The Panthers may have homefield but they will be missing half of their secondary. Josh Norman may well be the best corner in the NFL, but not even he can cover Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown all at the same time.
- Minnesota Vikings: As a 3-seed, two-thirds of your playoff run have already been determined. The Vikings will need to defeat both the Seahawks and the Cardinals to advance to the NFC title game. In that game they would probably want to play at home so that leaves two options: the Packers and the Redskins. We’ve already seen the Packers come to Minnesota and it wasn’t pretty, plus the fact that the Packers would get this far means they have turned their offense around. Instead, the optimal matchup would be against a Redskins team that sometimes has trouble playing well away from home.
- Washington Redskins: It’s easy to find the Redskins’ best route to the Super Bowl as all they have to do is follow the same road that the 2008 Cardinals took for their only Super Bowl appearance. Both teams were 9-7 division winners stuck in the 4-seed and facing teams that were favored over them. The Redskins are more than capable of taking care of the Packers as long as Green Bay continues to play like it has during the second half of the season. Then the Redskins will need to catch the Cardinals napping and upset them in Arizona. That task will be harder considering the Cardinals will likely be very focused after getting annihilated right before the playoffs. Finally, despite the fact no one wants to face the Seahawks, the Redskins would favor that matchup for the sole reason of having another home playoff game, where Kirk Cousins has been at his best this year.
- Green Bay Packers: Like the Redskins, the Packers also have a blueprint for how to make a Super Bowl run but it will require Aaron Rodgers to perform on a 2011 Joe Flacco-level. After a win against the Redskins, the Packers will want to get revenge on the Cardinals and hope the team is still out of sorts from the Seattle loss. Then the Packers will want the Seahawks so they can host the game at Lambeau Field. It will be a difficult task to beat the Seahawks even at home but if Rodgers is playing like ’11 Flacco, he can lead Green Bay to another Super Bowl appearence.
- Seattle Seahawks: Unfortunately for the Seahawks, a trip to their third straight Super Bowl requires a win over the Panthers at Carolina after taking care of the Vikings. That leaves us with three potential teams for Seattle to face in the NFC Championship. While the Cardinals, Packers, and Redskins all play very well at home, only at one of those places does the Seahawks also play very well in and that’s University of Phoenix Stadium. Even though the Cardinals will likely be out for blood after the Seahawks destroyed them during week 17, the Seahawks need to play at a place they are comfortable in after playing two other tough road games.
- Denver Broncos: Looks like Peyton Manning is back at QB for the Broncos, but even if Brock Osweiler returns under center the Broncos will only go as far as their running game and their defense. Both the Steelers and the Chiefs have beaten the Broncos during the season and can do it again in the playoffs so the favorable first matchup would be against the Texans. Despite Houston’s improved quarterback play, I’d still take the Broncos defense 10 out of 10 times in that matchup and a heavy dose of the run game means fewer dropbacks where J.J. Watt can obliterate whoever is playing quarterback. In this scenario Denver would either face the Patriots or the Bengals and even though the Broncos have already beaten both of them I think they’d rather not have to go against Tom Brady again, especially considering Brady’s history over Manning in the playoffs. The Bengals, with a less than 100% Andy Dalton would be the slightly easier path to the Super Bowl.
- New England Patriots: Everything will depend on how healthy Julian Edelman and any other returning starter really are when they suit up in two weeks and whether or not they are rusty. If they are fine then it won’t matter who the Patriots face. However if they aren’t, things get a lot more difficult. At that point all five AFC teams would give the Patriots trouble so the best-case scenario would call on New England to win psychological matchups against teams and players who seem to fold in high-pressure situations. Andy Dalton would usually be the poster boy for this kind of situation but the Bengals’ main demon is winning a playoff game and they’d accomplish just that if they would eventually face the Patriots. So instead, the psychological matchup would be against Andy Reid, Alex Smith, and the Chiefs. That would leave a psychological matchup with Peyton Manning, Gary Kubiack, and the Broncos as the favorable AFC Championship opponent.
- Cincinnati Bengals: As I previously stated with Minnesota, there’s not much wiggle room for teams with the 3-seed. The Bengals already know they will need to beat the boom-or-bust Steelers and then they’ll have to beat the Patriots. Anything can happen with the Steelers so a little bit of luck will be needed to get past them but they’ll either need a 100% Andy Dalton or a rusty Patriots group to advance to the AFC Championship. In the AFC title game, they would love to face the Texans as one of that defense’s only weaknesses is the play-action pass and even at 80% Dalton is still one of the best play-action passers in the NFL.
- Houston Texans: Beating the red-hot Chiefs will be tough but after that the road to the Super Bowl isn’t that far-fetched of a possibility. You have to think that J.J. Watt would be licking his chops to get an opportunity to attack a patchwork Patriots offensive line in the next round. No one wishes to face the Patriots, but with many of their key contributors just coming back from injury it would be easiest to get them early when those players may still be rusty. From there the best matchup would be the turnover-prone Broncos, especially if Peyton Manning is playing quarterback.
- Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs may have the longer winning streak, but the Texans are playing better as of late. It will be a tough task for the Chiefs to advance but they are more than capable of winning this game. As I’ve already stated in other sections, you never wish to face the Patriots but if you’re going to face them, do so in the divisional round when the injured players may not be all the way back. While a rubber match with the Broncos would be an advantage for the Chiefs, an even bigger advantage would be having a home playoff game, which only happens if they face the Steelers.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers will have the benefit of likely facing an Andy Dalton-less Bengals for their first game. From there the Steelers would have to face the Broncos, who the Steelers beat just a couple of weeks ago and would likely face Peyton Manning in a bad weather game, which always favors Pittsburgh. Then in the AFC Championship, the best best to advance to the Super Bowl would be drawing the Texans because unlike the Chiefs and Patriots, the Texans are more susceptible to turnovers, which the Steelers’ defense needs to thrive.
*Big shout out to Bill Barnwell’s article for helping me determine some of the best paths for teams to take.