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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

NFL playoffs: Why these teams might win it all — or not

As a glance at this weekend's wild-card games shows, everyone looks beatable. That includes Indianapolis, New Orleans, Green Bay et al.

January 06, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Patriots receiver Brandon Tate is congratulated by quarterback Tom Brady after a touchdown reception in the second half against Miami last week.
Patriots receiver Brandon Tate is congratulated by quarterback Tom Brady… (Stephan Savoia / Associated…)

In Tom we trust.

Maybe.

OK, so it's clear that New England quarterback Tom Brady is the NFL's most valuable player this season and, as Herm Edwards notes, is tearing through defenses as if he's a kid playing a video game. But are his Patriots going to rip through the playoffs the same way? They do, after all, have a very young defense that finished 25th overall and 30th against the pass.

Atlanta looks as solid as Stone Mountain. Then again, the Falcons' three losses were to current playoff teams — Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Orleans — and their running game was shut down in all three.

Do you put your faith in the banged-up Green Bay Packers? Philadelphia's Michael Vick, who was running for his life in his last game? The talented but inconsistent New York Jets, whose 2011 postseason begins in the same place (Indianapolis) where their 2010 one ended?

Records notwithstanding, there is no true dominant team in these playoffs. Unlike in years past, everyone looks beatable.

A glance at the playoff teams in this weekend's wild-card games, and why they might — and might not — win it all:

New York Jets

They're the one: If they can get their fourth-ranked running game going and keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands, the Jets could get past Indianapolis and build some momentum. Rex Ryan's team has the ability to get hot.

They're one and done: The Jets have endured a season of distractions, most of their making, and they might just be spent. They haven't had consecutive victories in six weeks, and have shown themselves entirely capable of laying an egg.

Indianapolis Colts

They're the one: They've got Manning, for one, so they can't be counted out. When they needed to win four games to get into the playoffs, they did. Now, it's a fresh start.

They're one and done: Even though their running game has come on a bit in recent weeks, the Colts are still largely a one-dimensional team. Manning is missing favorite targets Dallas Clark, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez, and it shows.

Kansas City Chiefs

They're the one: They begin the playoffs at home, where they were 7-1 this season, and they have the league's No. 1 running game. Aside from his lousy finale against Oakland, Matt Cassel has had a tremendous year.

They're one and done: It's hard to know how seriously to take the Chiefs, especially after that three-touchdown loss to the Raiders. They get a very tough first-round draw against Baltimore, a seasoned playoff team. Then again, when Chiefs Coach Todd Haley was offensive coordinator in Arizona, the Cardinals stunned everyone with their run to the Super Bowl.

Baltimore Ravens

They're the one: The third time could be the charm for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who has made the playoffs in each of his three seasons. We know Baltimore can play defense, and the Ravens caught a break in the first round by avoiding another matchup with Manning, who has given them a lot of problems over the years.

They're one and done: Baltimore's offense has stalled, dropping from 12th to 22nd over the last six weeks. It is the lowest-ranked offense among the six AFC playoff teams. The 2000-01 Ravens won a Super Bowl without an offense, but they had one of the best defenses in NFL history.

Seattle Seahawks

They're the one: It's hard to make this argument, because it would be shocking if the 7-9 Seahawks were to make a playoff run, especially with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck hobbled with a sore hip. Still, they begin at home, where their 12th Man crowd is a huge factor, and a big turnover here or there could lead to a surprising outcome.

They're one and done: The Seahawks played in a terrible division, were 2-6 on the road, and for the season were outscored by 97 points. They didn't lose squeakers, they were stomped.

New Orleans Saints

They're the one: As is the case with Manning, Drew Brees can make big things happen. These aren't the high-scoring Saints of last season, but they can win tough games and — as they showed at Atlanta two weeks ago — win them on the road.

They're one and done: Being able to run the ball is critical in the playoffs, and the Saints have lost their two top rushers, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, to season-ending injuries. The team that had a plus-eight turnover differential in last year's postseason emerges from this regular season at minus-six.

Green Bay Packers

They're the one: The Packers went 7-3 over their last 10 games and gave the Patriots a scare in Foxborough, even with Green Bay backup Matt Flynn at quarterback. They open the postseason at Philadelphia, where they won their opener. Clearly, the Packers can't be discounted.

They're one and done: Green Bay has been ravaged by injuries, losing six starters for the season and putting 14 players on injured reserve. And yes, the Packers won at Philadelphia, but Vick — who replaced the injured Kevin Kolb — nearly brought the Eagles back.

Philadelphia Eagles

They're the one: Vick has had a spectacular season, an MVP year but for Brady, and is surrounded by the game's most explosive supporting cast, including breathtaking playmakers DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. This team can score, and score quickly.

They're one and done: The Eagles showed character in coming from behind to beat Dallas in Week 14, and in their epic comeback against the New York Giants a week later, but there's no ignoring that Philadelphia fell behind in those games in the first place. And the home loss to Minnesota in Week 16 was ugly. Was that an anomaly, or a Vikings defensive performance another team could use as a road map? We'll learn soon.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

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