2015 NFL Playoff Preview

389px-NFL_playoffs_logo_new.svgThat party is over for most as people around the world welcomed in a new year but for football fans that party is just about to begin. The NFL playoffs are here and it is the best time of year for NFL fans. The regular season has been a great one with some surprises and many of the top teams finding their way back to the playoffs. Although the regular season was full of drama it will be nothing compared to what is coming. The NFL playoffs are some of the highest tension and most exciting games in sports as they marl the only Big Four sport in North American with single elimination games. There are no second chances and there is no room for an off day as every snap is important in a game that could end your season. These games ratchet up the pressure every year and for some teams it could mean the difference between achieving a big goal or looking at what went wrong. For the teams that didn’t make the playoffs the issue right now is to figure out if they are on their way to the playoffs or declining and needing to rebuild. That happens a lot less for the teams in the playoffs as they have accomplished something that many other teams have not been able to do during the year. Yet there are still the teams that have gotten used to the playoff vibe but have nothing to show for it. These teams always seem good enough to play for the Super bowl and win it but can never seem to get over the hump. It is one of the most difficult positions to be in for an NFL team. On one hand they are one of the best teams in the league by making the playoffs so there should be little change considered. On the other hand they need to do something to get over that last hurdle and win a Super Bowl. These teams can often find that a change in a few players or some assistant coaches will make the difference. Then there are those who have exhausted their options and look for much bigger changes that can help them get that final goal of winning a championship. There are a few teams that could be in that position this year with the Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals, and Dallas Cowboys all trying to get that elusive championship. The Packers are recent champions in 2010 but have looked like a Super Bowl team since then and have yet to win their second. The Bengals have been on the upswing for years and yet can’t have the same success when they get to the playoffs. The Cowboys, meanwhile have looked great and terrible at times in their regular seasons and have only won one playoff game since 1996. These teams may all make significant changes if they can’t make it to the Super Bowl this year as they look to finally get past everyone on their way to Arizona. Meanwhile every other team is there to attack and with single elimination any team can win at any time. Every team will have the same chance now and whether they are defending champions, former conference champions, constant playoff teams, or brand new to January football everyone will be playing for a trip to Arizona on February 1st.

American Football Conference

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The AFC has been the more powerful conference in the last few years as they are home to some of the toughest divisions in the NFL. They are rarely a conference that has losing teams in the playoffs with the competition level being so high. Yet when it comes to the Super Bowl they have not had the most success over the last few years. In the last seven Super Bowls the AFC has only claimed two championships. That is a big difference from the seven Super Bowls from 2001 to 2007 when they won six championships. Lately it has been a different story and although they contain some of the strongest teams in the NFL they have not been able to be as dominant as they were in the past. The six teams trying to represent the AFC this year will look to change that and take the Vince Lombardi trophy back to their city and claim bragging rights for the conference. It was not an easy road for any team this year to earn a spot in the playoffs but it was especially difficult in the AFC North. It has arguably been the best division in football over the last few years and despite reports of a decline they proved that none of their teams were going away. The Bengals led the division for most of the season but when it came down to the end of the year the Pittsburgh Steelers got hot winning three games in a row heading into their final game against the Bengals. With another win the Steelers took the title while the Baltimore Ravens and the Bengals sat outside of the division title but took the wild card spots with ten wins each. It was another tight battle in the South but as the season moved on the Houston Texans fell off and the Indianapolis Colts pulled away. Thanks to Andrew Luck the Colts amassed 11 wins on the year although it was not enough to earn one of the top two spots. Those spots were reserved for the beasts of the AFC in the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos who put up 12 wins each. The Patriots did so with some struggles at the start of the year that made it seem like they might miss the playoffs. Tom Brady figured it out though and since Week 4 have looked dominant again. The Broncos have not had the fanfare that they did in 2013 when they had the best offence in the league under Peyton Manning but they still managed to earn 12 wins and took the division. They will be the two powers this year but every other team did not fight their way into the playoffs to give up before they even start as they are sure to bring the fight to the dominant teams in the conference.

It is clear what teams are favourites in the AFC and what matchup everyone wants to see for another year.  The Patriots and the Broncos are two of the best teams in the NFL with two of the best quarterbacks in the league. Last year they faced off for the AFC Championship and this year they are positioned to do the same. The Patriots are first this time around and that has everything to do with the match that has made them one of the most dominant teams. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady continue to push this team forward with a great offence that got going late this year but is still putting up points. The Broncos are led by the other future hall of famer in the conference, Peyton Manning. Last year he led them to the best offence in the league and although they are not as potent as they were in 2013 they are still explosive. The Broncos and Pats are going to be the teams to beat this year and there will be plenty of people ready to challenge them. The Colts are a rising team and that rise has a lot to do with a potential hall of famer in Andrew Luck. He is the league’s third leading passer, ahead of both Manning and Brady, and leads the league’s best passing offence. The rest of the AFC does not concentrate on their quarterbacks but that is mainly because they are from the defensive division. The Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals are all defensive first teams and they all come by it out of necessity to survive in the North. Still they have not been as dominant as usual and as much as they would prefer to be defensive teams they are transitioning. The Steelers took the division thanks to a great passing offence that has concentrated on the league’s 2nd leading passer, Ben Roethlisberger, and leading receiver, Antonio Brown. The Bengals and Ravens are more traditional as they both rank among the top 10 in rushing yards led by Justin Forsett in Baltimore and a combination of Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard in Cincinnati. Almost of these teams rank among the best in the league in offence and they will need that power to get through as the usually defensive conference has turned a corner and is sure to put up points with the defence that can stop some of the best offences in the league will be headed to Arizona for the Super Bowl.

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National Football Conference

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The NFC has been the better conference in the past few years winning five of the last seven Super Bowls. They are looking a lot more like the old conference that they were created from as the teams are doing it with a mix of old school and new school. They rank among the best defensive teams in the league but are still full of offensive playmakers. They will try to show that they are the better conference this year in taking their second straight Super Bowl and it is quite possible with some great teams that are sure to give a challenge to the AFC champions and have a shot at bringing home another title. There were plenty of battles this year in the NFC divisions as almost all division battles came down to the last few weeks. In the East the Dallas Cowboys struggled to start their year and looked once again like a disappointing season. Then they caught fire as the defence began to play and Tony Romo helped the offence to first place. The Cowboys took the top spot thanks to a four game winning streak at the end of the year passing the Eagles to earn the title. The North came down much closer as the Green Bay Packers seemed to be on their way to an easy division title with a five game win streak near the end of the year. Then Aaron Rodgers got hurt and they lost momentum until beating the Detroit Lions in the final game of the year to take the division. With the loss the Lions were unable to take the division spot and a first round bye but still made the playoffs in the wild card game with an 11 win season. The odd division out was the south where it seemed like no team wanted the title. The Panthers took the division crown with a 7-8-1 record after beating the Atlanta Falcons in the final week of the season. As these divisions continued to fight it out between typical opponents the NFC West became the most surprising division in the conference. They were expected to be one of the best divisions in the NFL but saw the two top teams struggle to start the season. Instead it was Arizona that made a splash immediately coming out to an early lead and becoming the best team in the first half of the year. With injuries to two quarterbacks the Cardinals fell off in the last half of the season while the Seattle Seahawks began playing like a championship team. The Seahawks moved ahead of everyone in the NFC and earned the top spot in the division and the conference. There are some of the strongest teams in the league in this conference and yet they also claim the only losing record division winner in the playoffs. It will be a mix of teams in the NFC but in the end the records mean nothing in the pursuit of the Super Bowl.

The favourites are clear in the NFC and they occupy the two top spots in the conference although there is plenty of teams to challenge them. The Seahawks will play the role of favourites and most of that has to do with the fact that the road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle. They hold the league’s biggest hoe advantage and will stay at home all playoffs. That added to the fact that they are the best rushing team and the best defensive team in the league and it is going to be hard to beat the defending champions. The Green Bay Packers seemed to have the best shot after five straight wins but in the last three weeks they have not been the team they were. The defence has stepped up and is playing its best football but the offence will hinge largely on MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers’ health as he has laboured with a strained calf muscle in the last two weeks. With an extra week to heal the Packers are hoping to have him at as close to 100% as he can be and if they do the Packers are a dangerous team. As the Packers and Seahawks look to be headed for a big matchup there are four other teams trying to spoil their playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys are the hottest team in the NFC right now and with the league’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, they are hoping to grind out some wins. They do not have history on their sides though as they have one playoff win since 1996 and seem to falter when the pressure is on. Carolina won’t have history on their side either as they are the only losing team in the playoffs. Teams like that don’t last long and despite a top 10 defence led by Luke Kuechly they will be facing teams that have looked better than them all year. The wild card teams would be division champions in most years as Detroit and Arizona both amassed 11 wins this year but were outdone by better teams. They won’t feel out of place though as the Lions are the second best defence in the league with the league’s best rushing defence. The Cardinals were one of the best defences but with their third string quarterback now leading them it could be an uphill battle to earn a spot in a home field Super Bowl. There are plenty of good teams but plenty of questions in the NFC and they will all be solved as the playoffs will weed out the weak and produce a potential Super Bowl Champion.

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Super Bowl XLIX
The 49th version of the greatest sports spectacle in North America will feature a great matchup between the defending champions and the NFL’s latest dynasty. The Patriots are an offensive team but have the mind of Bill Belichick working to find ways to stop teams and it is always creative. The Seahawks are a defensive first team that boasts the best defence in the league along with an offence that can score but is not prolific. The two will face off and with the Seahawks not looking like the defence that won the Super Bowl a year ago the Patriots and Belichick will learn how to win and will take another Lombardi Trophy home.

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