After 17 grueling weeks, the playoffs are finally here. Twelve teams technically have a chance to chase the Lombardi Trophy, but in reality, some are not capable of winning the Super Bowl.
We all love the tournament concept, with lower seeds making great stories when they pull off the upset and capture our attention. Anytime a David can beat Goliath, everyone falls in love with David. Who is capable of making a run and who has no chance?
Here is the complete breakdown of the teams playing in the wild-card round.
Teams with no chance
Seattle Seahawks: Read a funny tweet Sunday night that Saints coach Sean Payton, after watching the Rams-Seahawks game, has decided to rest his starters for the wild-card matchup. Clearly a joke, but based on the NFC West tilt, which highlighted the differences between the Saints and either team, New Orleans has to feel really good about its chances to advance. My sense is that the Saints are happy they got matched up with the Seahawks because they are only strong in one area -- special teams.
The Seahawks are not talented on either side of the ball and do not measure up well with many playoff teams. They lack the power in their offensive line and cannot pass protect when the opponent knows it is a throwing situation. Seattle has marginal speed at wide receiver, which is a nice way of saying it has no playmakers. The Seahawks must call a perfect game on both sides of the ball in order to have a chance. Come playoff time, that is impossible to do.
Kansas City Chiefs: I know everyone in the organization is saying all the right things about offensive coordinator Charlie Weis leaving the organization for the same position at Florida after the playoffs, but these things prove to be a distraction no matter what anyone says. The bigger issue for the Chiefs is not the talent level of Matt Cassel, but rather when teams make them one-dimensional they struggle to function on offense.
The Chiefs are a one-dimensional team with no way to win when an opponent takes away the running game. They lack real speed at wide receiver and if an opponent has a cover corner to put on their best wide out, Dwayne Bowe, the passing game is neutralized. In the playoffs, teams must have versatility to win and the Chiefs do not have much.
Teams with a chance, but things have to go right
Indianapolis Colts: Nothing has come easy for them this year. Each game is a huge struggle and, even though they have Payton Manning under center, their lack of overall talent leaves them with very little chance to go back to the Super Bowl. Manning is amazing, but without explosive skill players, he has to be perfect with every call and throw.
Their defense is a huge concern and against the Jets, their lack of talent and depth in the kicking game is also a liability. The Colts have not been a good road team this season and to make it to Dallas it will take two wins away from Lucas Oil Stadium, which, based on their talent level, will be nearly impossible to achieve. I never underestimate Manning, but even he cannot carry this Colts team on his back.
New York Jets: The Jets are not playing as well heading into the postseason as they were a year ago. The defense is not dominating with its pressure package and most of the front-seven defenders have been silent. They will need to win with their offense, or at least control the tempo of the game. Mark Sanchez must play his best for this team to reach the Super Bowl.
In order for the Jets to win in the playoffs, they will need more than just Brad Smith on offense or special teams. New York needs to force turnovers and it will need to wake up Bart Scott, Jason Taylor and Calvin Pace. When the defensive scheme does not apply pressure on the passer, then guys must win their one-on-one matchups and, right now, they have not been productive in this area. The Jets went to the AFC title game last season with a dominating defense and running game. At this point, they are not dominating in either area.
Baltimore Ravens: I've been a huge Baltimore fan all season, but have been disappointed in its recent play, especially offensively. The Ravens look slow and sluggish, and unless they can make a big play with Ray Rice, the offense sputters. They are deficient on the offensive line, particularly on the right side. The longer the offensive drive, the better chance breakdowns will occur.
One thing going for the Ravens is that they are tough-minded and determined. Their opponent must match that toughness to beat them and it will not be easy knocking them out of the tourney. However, until the Ravens get the offense fixed, especially handling pressure, they will not get to the next level.
Teams that can get hot and hotter
Philadelphia Eagles: The Birds, coming off their remarkable win against the Giants looked Super, but the horrible loss at home to the Vikings created doubt about their ability to get to the big game. The Eagles are explosive offensively and can score quickly behind the arm and legs of Michael Vick. Still, their offensive line is a mess and the defense has had to deal with too many injuries.
The Eagles are a banged-up team and that might keep them from advancing past the first round. Philadelphia relies on the big play and when its opponent makes the offense work the ball down the field, jams the receivers and disrupts the passing game, the Eagles struggle to be effective. With Vick, the Eagles are a potential Super Bowl team, but he has to stay healthy and they need their defense at its best.
New Orleans Saints: The defending champs have quietly won 11 games. But the Saints have not played their best football yet and most teams in the playoffs are worried about facing Drew Brees. The Saints, much like the Eagles, need to make big plays to score or they are capable of breaking down, particularly on the right side of the offensive line. The Saints have not protected the ball well, making unforced mistakes that are allowing opponents to stay in the game.
What makes the Saints dangerous is Payton's ability to call the right plays and Brees' ability to execute. Payton is one of the game's best play-callers, but he is also one of the top game planners and adjusters. There is much talk about putting together the right game plan, but the winners come playoff time can adjust during the game and Payton is one of the best.
» A lot is going on below the surface in the league right now and my eyes are on Jacksonville, Washington and Miami this week.