Sorting out the Super Bowl Contenders

The thrilling 19-16 Overtime win for the 6th seed Oakland Raiders over the #3 seed New England Patriots helped kick off the wildcard round with a bang. Eagles ended the season on a 9 game winning streak knocking off 4 Super Bowl contenders in the process. We know that Winston without his coach is not nearly the same as Winston with his coach on the sideline creating plays to unleash Evans. We also know that no MSFL team is unbeatable after seeing Texans lose 2x to the worst offense in the league (Indy). With first time quarterbacks Carr, Wentz, Mariota, and Winston making their post-season debut, will it become an annual tradition or an odd occurrence?

We know the Packers and Seahawks have dominated in turnovers. We know the Chiefs walk in with the second best offense in the entire league behind best QB Award winner Alex Smith. Even the Pittsburgh coaching staff has managed to get the best out of it’s current roster coming in as the 3rd best defense in the entire league and 2nd best defense of all the super bowl contenders. As the saying goes Defense wins championships if that’s the case expect Packers and Steelers to make a big run.

Redskins come in with the 2nd best conversion rate of the entire MSFL. With Cowboys and Titans being amongst the very best in the red zone. We also know that Raiders and Buccaneers are identical in tying for 3rd most interceptions.

The eleven teams we just listed are the eleven best franchises in the MSFL right now, with all apologies to the Patriots (lost in OT).

These are the Super Bowl contenders and soon enough we will be able to answer the important question of not who is the best right now but “who has the best chance of winning in the playoffs?”

To find out, let’s rank the best and worst teams among the Super Bowl contenders in a variety of playoff-important categories: Quarterback play, defense, big-play capability and so forth. After we run the best of the best through this gauntlet against one another, a clear winner or two should emerge.

Let’s get started:

Category 1: Quarterback

It’s hard to win without a good one. (Isn’t that right Buffalo?)

Best: Aaron Rodgers

Runner-Up: Russell Wilson.

This is a strong field, of course. Romo can also attempt to stake a claim to the runner-up position. Wilson has 31 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and a 69 percent completion rate, and a 108 QBR. (Romo for comparison: 36 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, and a 65% completion rate, with a 107.8 QBR)

Worst: Ben Roethlisberger.

He threw for 5 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 4 games against the NFC east this year. He is the only one with a QB passer rating fewer than 89. Given the choice between Mariota, Cousins, Osweiler, and Carr, we’ll take the one that has managed more consistency this year.

Category 2: Offensive Depth/ Diversity

The ability to win by both running and passing, with a variety of offensive weapons, can keep a playoff caliber defense from easily shutting you down.

Best: Redskins.

Jordan Reed, Desean Jackson, Josh Doctson is the only trio to combine for over 3,000 yards. Matt Jones also did some heavy lifting rushing for over 1,200 yards.

Runner-Up: Seahawks.

The only team amongst the contenders to have the most receivers with 50+ catches on the year. Seattle leads with 4 meaning they are able to spread the ball well whether that is to Kearse, Lockett, Baldwin and even Tight End Graham.

Worst: Raiders.

Amari Cooper has had a great year but after him the offensive productivity drops significantly with the next best thing man with a whopping 30 receptions less and less than half of Coopers yards.

Category 3: Defense Consistency

Solid week-to-week, situation-to-situation defense.

Best: Packers.

Runner-Up: Steelers.

There was only one time all year long this Steelers defense held an opponent to less than 20 points and loss. So these contenders better plan on putting up 20+ or don’t expect to advance.

Worst: Chiefs.

Despite having the 4th best in interceptions they ranked amongst the bottom tier of all teams defense wise by allowing 6th most total yards on offense.

Category 4: Big-Play Capability

This applies to both sides of the ball and special teams. The ability to quickly put six points makes a huge difference in any game, but particularly a postseason game.

Best: Eagles.

The Eagles lead the league in interception with 45 with the second best being 12 away the Eagles take advantage of a mistake and capitalize fast with explosive HB Smallwood.

Runners-Up: Buccaneers.

They come in at 5th for turnover difference and with plenty of players who rac up Run after Catch, and Doug Martin being one of the best this isn’t a team you want to turn the ball over to.

Worst: Titans.

This team relies on ground and pound or Mariota throwing interceptions. In the playoffs where almost every defense is elite how will they react to adversity.

Category 5: Home-Field X Factor

Best: Eagles.

The Eagles have not lost all year at Lincoln Financial. Now that they have won the NFC east and secured the #1 seed means they will maintain home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Does anyone have what it takes to dethrone them at home?

Runners-Up: Texans.

Second best home record in the entire league and with the Super Bowl being Hosted this year in Houston will they be the first team to make it and play the biggest game in their own backyard?

Worst: Chiefs.

With 5 of their 6 losses coming on the road, this team is dependent on being a home team.

 

Let’s add up the real categories and see what we have. Each team’s record against other playoff opponents is listed in parentheses.

 

Scoreboard

HOU Texans (5-0): One Runner-up

PHI Eagles (5-2): Two Best

WAS Redskins (5-1): One Best

TEN Titans (3-2): One Worst

KC Chiefs (3-3): Two Worst

GB Packers (2-4): Two Best

DAL Cowboys (2-5) One Runner-up

SEA Seahawks (1-2): Two Runner-up

TB Buccaneers (1-3) One Runner-up

PIT Steelers (1-3): One Runner-up, One Worst

OAK Raiders (1-4): One Worst

 

Conclusions

The AFC is too close to call now that the Patriots have flopped out of the wildcard round. The team that preserves home-field advantage in the playoffs will probably reach the Super Bowl.

The Eagles and Texans have created a huge enough gap when playing at home they are near impossible to beat. Can the Packers once again prove why Defense wins championships? Will the Buccaneers show up when the game is on the line since the coach seems to keep not showing up when needed when, and can Seattle dynamic passing attack spread the tough defenses it is bound to face?

Yes, the Cowboys, Chiefs, Titans, and Redskins are probably still in the mix somewhere. And yes, it’s interesting the AFC #1 seed Steelers happens to have one of the worst records when facing playoff competition.

In other words, we all know these teams can be very good, but they have to face each other to determine who is the best.