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AFC Playoff Preview 2017–18
By Grant Evan Posted in NFL on January 5, 2018 0 Comments
NFC Playoff Preview 2017–18 Previous Roll Tide Aside, the Committee's Decision Still Isn't Validated Next

Is anyone stopping Tom Brady?

Another year, another Patriots squad that grabbed the #1 seed. But the AFC had it’s own batch of surprises this season. Two AFC South teams qualifying, an MVP caliber season from Antonio Brown, and the Bills made it too! Now we weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each team so we can all make our own conclusions as to who is going to the Super Bowl. And hey maybe this time it isn’t New England!

Why the New England Patriots will win Super Bowl LII

Oh right. Well, let’s knock out the big obvious factors to the Patriots 2017 run and truly all their runs: Tom Brady. Look, the Gurley for MVP chat is cute and he had a monster season, but let’s not pretend for even a second that Brady didn’t assert himself as the league’s top quarterback this year. Brady threw for the most yards and the third most touchdowns. And he did that with Julien Edelman. He also has Rob Gronkowski healthy for once and leading the team in yards, while newly acquired Brandin Cooks provides to be a serviceable reception machine himself.

I’m just saying that Tom Terrific can win the Super Bowl with hand me down receivers. Imagine what he’s going to be capable of with two huge threats to back him. Couple that with the knowledge that once again the Patriots have clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In the Brady-Belichick era, the Patriots have a 16–3 record when playing at home in the playoffs. The defending champs are gearing up for a repeat performance. It’s Tom’s word and we’re all just living it.

Why the New England Patriots will not win Super Bowl LII

I want to draw attention to the combined records of the Patriots foes this season: 96–102. This looks pretty balanced until you consider that 13 of those wins come from the Steelers, a team who narrowly beat New England and maybe the Pats had a little bit of controversial catch help. You take away that Steeler win, you’re looking at 83–105. New England had a cakewalk schedule in addition to getting to play in their weak division. Not to mention that the Patriots had a few too many close calls. DeShaun Watson in his third week as a starter made mincemeat of the Patriot defense and the narrow beatings didn’t end there. The Patriots won within seven points against the Texans, Buccaneers, Jets, and Steelers. Three teams with no business hanging with them and a team they’re likely facing in three weeks. But hey, maybe this all arbitrary.

Do you want a REAL weakness? How about a solid passing game. That fifth-ranked Patriots defense is THIRD in passing yards allowed. The Pats have allowed over 4,000 yards against them and 24 touchdowns. The Pats passing defense is only behind the Buccaneers and the Giants, which is not the kind of company a defending champion defense should be keeping. Keep in mind that the Patriots have to worry about the likes of Big Ben, a healthy Antonio Brown, and rising star JuJu Smith-Schuster as well as the possibility of facing a revitalized Chiefs aerial attack. Sure, there are also the likes of Bortles, Mariota, and Taylor waiting in the wings; however, you have the zany wild card arm of Bortles and Taylor’s laser accuracy to worry about. A QB would just need to get hot to take down the kings.

Why the Pittsburgh Steelers will win Super Bowl LII

Pittsburgh’s offense is a large collection of freaks. Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 4,000 yards. Antonio Brown missed the end of the season and still finished with the most receiving yards. He’s also fourth in touchdowns. Rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster also came close to 1,000 as well. They’re running game is also on fire. Le’Veon Bell had yet another 1,000-plus rushing season and matched Antonio Brown for nine touchdowns. So, their offense is pretty good. If you need more convincing, the Steelers have only had two games where they scored less than 20 points, none of which occurred after their bye week. And it once again bears repeating that the Steelers were one call away from securing the #1 seed in very comfortable fashion. Assuming Antonio Brown is back in action, you’re going to have to hope your team’s defense is up to the challenge. Speaking of which…

Why the Pittsburgh Steelers will not win Super Bowl LII

The offense is epic there is no doubt, but let’s take a long hard look at those games that happened after their bye week. Yes, they scored over 20 points every time. They also allowed 20 points in five out of eight of those games. Extra fun bonus, they allowed at least two touchdowns in seven of them. They also went 7–1 in those games, so I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes thinking, “whatever, Pittsburgh can keep pace.” Well not so fast! If you look at all the games Pittsburgh lost, you start noticing that Big Ben threw an interception or more in all of them. An overtime loss to the Bears? Two. The battle for AFC supremacy against New England? One big heartbreaker? The utter smackdown they suffered at the hands of the Jaguars? FIVE.

And for future point proving, the Steelers have turned the ball over in 10 out of 16 games. They went 7–3 in those games. In six of the games they won, they won by a margin of seven points or fewer. Pittsburgh frequently finds themselves having to dig themselves out of holes they put themselves in. You beat Pittsburgh by getting the ball from them. Then you just have to survive the offensive armada. Do you want a blueprint on how to do that? Three games you can study: The Jacksonville loss, the Patriot loss, and the Packer just-barely-win.

Why the Jacksonville Jaguars will win Super Bowl LII

When your defense is given a great nickname, good things tend to happen. As long as you avoid yachts (looking at you, New York pass defense.) Sacksonville has been the year’s biggest and most welcome surprise. You’ve heard all year about how great they are, so let’s just throw up some super impressive stats. The Jaguars’ defense had 21 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, and the only team in the league to allow less than 3,000 passing yards all season. The Jaguars have allowed a touchdown or less in seven games. SEVEN. They took down teams they had no business taking down if you were to believe the offseason news machine.

We’ve all given the defense the major credit here, but let’s not forget that the Jags offense isn’t exactly just along for the ride. They finished fifth in total offense on the heels of a large clump of passing yards that Bortles threw when the games actually mattered for a change. The real offensive star turned out to be Leonard Fournette though. The rookie tallied over 1,000 rushing yards and brought in the sorely needed balance Jacksonville has been craving to offset their risky quarterback. The Jags are a balanced unit who have several ways to knock you out of the playoffs. And given that a four out of the six teams on the docket for the playoffs aren’t great passing units, Jacksonville may find themselves on the train to the AFC Championship. Possibly even the franchise’s first Super Bowl game.

Why the Jacksonville Jaguars will not win Super Bowl LII

A lot is riding on Blake Bortles. Bortles has tossed 13 interceptions over the course of the year, which is tied for seventh worst in the league and third worst among playoff quarterbacks. Just like Big Ben, Bortles has thrown a pick in every game the Jaguars have lost. This is not the kind of thing Fournette can save the team from. In each game the Jags lost, the team found a way to run for over 90 yards. The Jaguars are essentially an elite defense that, should you figure out how to get around them and contain Bortles, you can beat with relative ease.

It should concern fans that, heading into the Week 17 game against the Titans, the Jaguars decided to play their starters to try to keep the Titans out of the playoffs, and Bortles couldn’t find the end zone once. The defense did everything possible to keep Tennessee contained, holding them to only 15 points, but the offense couldn’t get going. Granted, they were starting very-low-on-the-depth-chart receivers thanks to the injury bug. They should be getting a few of those injured receivers back. But the questions become how ready will the newly returned receivers be, and if Bortles will be able to hang with the potential defenses he’ll be squaring up against? Buffalo presents the simplest challenge, but a date with any other team could prove problematic.

Why the Kansas City Chiefs will win Super Bowl LII

Hey, the Chiefs have an offense now! The Chiefs made the jump from 13th to the sixth total offense and it has almost everything to do with the addition of rookie runner and NFL rushing leader Kareem Hunt. Hunt breathed new life into a stagnant Kansas City offense, opening up the pass so tremendously for the Chiefs that we are finally questioning whether Alex Smith is a game manager or not. Speaking of Smith, he had his best season ever at age 33. Smith threw for over 4,000 passing yards for the first time, 26 touchdowns for a new personal record, and only five interceptions, which tied his 2nd lowest of his career. Smith has been on fire because he’s had very real firepower to work with.

Kansas City had that four-game hiccup of a losing streak, but they got hot again right when it mattered most, ending their season on a four-game winning streak. That streak included seizing the AFC West from the mid-hype Chargers and beating another division rival right when they didn’t have to. The “What-the-Chiefs” don’t produce in Earth-shattering numbers; they make up for this in wild efficiency. Smith does not turn the ball over and Hunt is becoming increasingly difficult to slow down. The Chiefs found their balance and are finally ready to make a real run through the playoffs.

Why the Kansas City Chiefs will not win Super Bowl LII

If their playoff opponents figured out what happened during their six weeks of turmoil, the Chiefs are in for some trouble. It’s a tall order, but taking out the Chiefs run game forces Smith to throw more. This is good because the more Smith throws, the more incompletions he can throw. Pressure to Smith knocks out the Chiefs confidence. And spoiler alert, Smith and the gang don’t always play well against semi-competent defenses. Other signs include neutralizing Tyreek Hill, covering Kelce, sacking Smith, and only allowing field goals — or if you’re the Raiders, just getting a really nice string of penalties. The Chiefs are still young and making stupid mistakes. If you can bank on them, Kansas City’s playoff adventure won’t last very long.

Why the Tennessee Titans will win Super Bowl LII

Nobody can pull out a nail-biting win like the Titans can in the back half of the season. Four of their last five late-season wins came at a margin of five points or fewer. Each one requiring a game-winning drive or a game-ending stand. It’s a valuable trait to have going into an offensively stacked AFC playoff journey. Luckily, the Titans have the benefit of facing off against the Chiefs first, a team who is no stranger to losing in these exact circumstances.

Following that, the tall orders of Pittsburgh or, more likely, New England. But they do have one of the more mobile AFC quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota, who adds an extra element of flexibility to keep the team alive. Mariota was responsible for five rushing touchdowns this seasons and has an exciting young running back to help keep the heat off of him. The Titans aren’t big on scoring points, but they are big at making the important stands when they need to.

Why the Tennesse Titans will not win Super Bowl LII

The Titans are going to have their work cut out for them. With the lowest ranked defense in the playoffs going up against an armada of high caliber offenses, the weaker secondary of Tennessee is looking especially vulnerable. Even if they do survive the Chiefs, who have the rushing yards leader, they will still need to deal with either the passing yards leader or the receiving yards leader down the road. On top of that, Mariota did not have a great year. Finishing with more interceptions than touchdowns on a team where your defense isn’t saving you is a recipe for disaster. Mariota is looking completely outmatched in nearly every prospective game.

Why the Buffalo Bills will win Super Bowl LII

After years of middling and just barely missing the playoffs, the Bills finally had all the dominoes fall in the rights spots to get into the playoffs. What got them here? Mostly LeSean McCoy. McCoy has lost nothing since his unceremonious relocation to Buffalo, once again charging into a 1,000 yard rushing year and making defenses look silly when they try to stop him. A snow game against the Colts showcases Shady’s toughness.

But it’s not all McCoy. A surprise game changer was the signing of kicker Stephen Gostkowski, finally giving Buffalo a big special teams edge. Nearly automatic as a field goal kicker, the often short-circuiting offense knew that they had a kicker with crazy range. Points are points, and the Bills had the defense to reinforce settling for field goals. It’s stamina that the Bills exceed at, and they’ve got plenty of it.

Why the Buffalo Bills will not win Super Bowl LII

Consistency has not been the Bills friend this season. They can upset the Falcons one week and get torn apart by the Bengals the next. Keep up with and beat the Chiefs only to go home and get slaughtered by the Patriots. The Bills struggle to find a consistent rhythm in their game, and that’s something opposing teams will eat alive. If Tyrod starts struggling, it’s a wrap. The defense gives up too many points early, they’re toast.

But let’s ignore all the metrics for a moment and look at the one big obvious truth: Buffalo is not equipped to beat New England. Should the Bills of destiny pass the Jaguars, it’s a guaranteed showdown with the Patriots. Time to add another chapter in the most one-sided rivalry in sports. The Pats have beat the Bills twice this year by more than 20 points each time. Buffalo does not have a large window to figure out how to slow down their eternal bugaboo, and it looks like another burial for everyone’s favorite underdogs.

Buffalo Bills Football Jacksonville Jaguars New England Patriots Pittsburgh Steelers Playoffs Tom Brady

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