NFL teams, coaches and front office executives never admit there's a team they fear. But is there a team they would prefer not to have to play?
We asked our writers who they thought was the one team no one wanted to play, and their answers were as diverse as this year's field, which just might tell you a little bit about how the postseason could unfold.
Vic Carucci: Chiefs
The Chiefs have tremendous potential to keep their feel-good story alive for a few more weeks. Although they've been far stronger at home, they're built well enough to succeed in the postseason. With the NFL's best rushing attack, the Chiefs can utilize a ball-control attack anywhere to help minimize the most explosive opposing offenses and allow their own offense to be effective in the worst conditions Mother Nature can deliver. Matt Cassel is peaking at the perfect time under the guidance of Charlie Weis, who has plenty of experience calling plays in the postseason. Romeo Crennel, also no stranger to this time of year, has put together a playoff-caliber defense. And Todd Haley is smart enough to let his coordinators coach.
Steve Wyche: Saints
Taking the wild-card route won't matter for New Orleans, especially since the first game could be a momentum-building victory at Seattle. The Saints are a dome team, but their O-line will allow them to run when they have to, regardless of the climate -- as long as Pierre Thomas stays healthy. Defensive coordinators hate going against Sean Payton and Drew Brees because of their aggressiveness in scheming and executing matchup advantages, which they have, offensively, over every team in the NFC. With rookie TE Jimmy Graham emerging as an X-factor, the Who Dats are even scarier.
Pat Kirwan: Patriots
Off the record, I can usually get a coach to admit that avoiding a certain team isn't a bad idea. There are a number of solid teams in the playoffs that fit the bill, but there's no team like the Patriots. Bill Belichick is a factor, especially at home, and a guy with a rich playoff history. He has a knack for getting his team ready and creating a scheme that is problematic to any opponent coming into Foxboro. Then there's Tom Brady, who is 27-1 at home, including the playoffs, since 2007. Brady appears to be more driven than ever. He has led an offense that averaged 33 points a game this season at home (where the Patriots will play all of their playoff games), more than enough to overcome a defense that is a work in progress.
Bucky Brooks: Bears
Chicago has a dominant defense that excels at creating negative plays, and its ability to get turnovers allows it to win games without much help from the offense. Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are dominating games on a weekly basis with their speed and athleticism, which sets the table. Devin Hester has regained his touch as a returner, which consistently puts the offense in favorable field position. With Jay Cutler avoiding the costly mistakes that plagued the offense earlier in the season, the Bears can turn any contest into a low-scoring affair decided in the fourth quarter. To win in the playoffs, a team must excel in all three phases, and the Bears clearly have the blueprint to get it done.
Elliot Harrison: Ravens
No one should want to play the Ravens right now. Baltimore plays a physical game on both offense and defense. The Chiefs' main strength is their ground game, but they'll face the league's fourth-best run defense -- a unit that forced four fumbles Sunday against the Bengals. Many consider New England the Super Bowl favorite, but the Ravens destroyed the Patriots in last year's playoffs and took them deep into overtime at Gillette Stadium earlier this season. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Ravens right now, besides their five-game win streak, is how effective Ray Rice and the running game have been (104-66 run-pass ratio over the last three weeks.)
Michael Lombardi: Packers
Every year there is usually one playoff team that is feared. The makeup of those teams is always the same -- a great quarterback combined with a defense that plays well in front and can create turnovers. The Cardinals and Giants reached recent Super Bowls with this formula; this year it is the Packers. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and a talented group of receivers to go along with the right combination of speed and pass-rushing ability on defense, no one wants to play the Packers, who are Super Bowl contenders.
Jason La Canfora: Ravens
No one in the AFC wants to face the Ravens as a wild card. They've won three road playoff games the past two seasons, Joe Flacco is much improved, and the run game has looked better down the stretch. They have won at Pittsburgh, managed to let the Patriots off the hook in overtime in New England (they won at Foxboro last year in the postseason), and have a playmaking defense. They're playoff-tested, and they don't mind going on the road. Peyton Manning has had their number, and avoiding what appeared to be a likely wild-card meeting with the Colts already bodes well for them.
Albert Breer: Packers
The Packers grew offensively in their one game without Aaron Rodgers -- against New England -- and the sky is the limit, as long as their offensive line holds up. The defense continues to ascend, too, and most of the team has some playoff experience (whether it was just last year, or it goes back to their 2007 run). So long as they can protect the franchise quarterback, there aren't many holes on this team.