Several playoff contenders turned in less-than-impressive performances in Week 14, including the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Chicago Bears. Late-season struggles usually portend bad things in the postseason (if some of these teams even get that far). Which team do you feel most confident will be one-and-done in the playoffs?
Despite sparkling record and gaudy numbers, Falcons appear most suspectIt's unbelievable, but the worst-looking team on that list, in my mind, is the one with the best record. The Falcons have all sorts of gaudy numbers, with an offense that can score from anywhere. But it was very troubling to see Mike Smith's bunch get drubbed by the lowly Carolina Panthers. The Falcons can't run the ball, and they couldn't stop the run on Sunday. Atlanta let Carolina talk trash and then back it up on the field with an upset win.
It does bode well for the Falcons that they'll likely start the playoffs in the Georgia Dome. But if they face a hard-nosed team like the Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears or New York Giants, will they wilt? Atlanta's players have admitted they won't get respect until they win in the playoffs. They are correct, but my confidence in them isn't high.
Bears won't even make playoffs; Falcons would benefit from wild-card gameI don't think the Bears will make the playoffs at all, so they aren't a candidate to be one-and-done. That leaves me with the Falcons. It's not about the loss in Carolina. It's about all the lucky, last-minute wins against sub-par competition. It's about a roster that has overachieved, but is stuck in a very deep conference. Atlanta is good at a lot of things, but not great at anything.
The Falcons would be better off with a home game in the wild-card round, just to get the playoff monkey off their back, because the competition will be too good in the divisional round.
Road issues will doom Colts, Andrew Luck in postseasonI think it will be the Colts. They are not going to win the AFC South, so they will have to go on the road in the postseason. They probably will have to travel to play the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots or Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. As good as Andrew Luck has been this year, he has not been as good on the road, with 13 of his 18 interceptions coming away from Lucas Oil Stadium. (Not to mention the Colts' 3-3 road record, as opposed to their 6-1 mark at home.) The Colts have played two playoff-caliber teams on the road: Chicago and New England. They lost to the Bears by 20 and the Patriots by 35.
I don't think Indianapolis' defense will be able to contain the offense of Denver, New England or Baltimore. So the Colts' magical season will end at "one and done."
Another postseason trip to Denver = Another first-round loss for SteelersThere are so many factors that determine who will be one-and-done. The way the Bears are playing right now, they are an easy target. Ditto the Falcons, whom so many in our business feel will be home for one playoff game and then home for a good camping trip. I'm not spinning any yarn against the Seahawks or Colts, who seem to surpass expectations and challenges on a weekly basis. In fact, I anticipate the latter will play at Baltimore in the opening round, which would have the Steelers travelling to the same city in which their postseason dreams were laid to rest back in January ...
Thus, my sense is that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be the first team down, not because of Ben Roethlisberger's health or Batch-y ball, but because of the prospect of facing Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas and a quality Denver defense at their place. The Steelers' offensive line is not an organizational strength to say the least, while the Broncos' edge rushers have played very well. In fact, Denver's secondary probably hasn't received enough credit for how well it has played. Basically, I see the Black & Gold going to Denver and coming up empty.
Indianapolis' postseason stay will be brief but beneficialI'm actually going with the wild-card team that looks like the biggest lock for the postseason: Indianapolis. As good as the Colts have been, they'll have to travel for their first game, likely to Denver, Baltimore or New England. They're not winning in any of those places. Look, they're a great story and they're fun and exciting, but realistically, who can they beat in the first round?
Playoff football is different. As good as Andrew Luck is, he and the Colts will greatly benefit from a brief postseason experience. It's something every young team needs to go through: losing so you can learn how to win.