By Steve Silverman
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As the postseason gets underway in the NFL, the NFC is holding the hammer.
The top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles may be the only team that appears to have any major problems, while the other five have proven they can all play at a championship level.
Other than the usual suspects, the AFC doesn’t have much.
The defending champion New England Patriots have plenty of know-how, but their offense has struggled in recent weeks and their defense, despite what the numbers say, can be vulnerable.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have plenty of firepower and are capable of beating the Patriots if they get Antonio Brown back and he is healthy enough to contribute a couple of big plays.
Then the dramatic drop-off begins.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have had a wonderful season and can dominate on defense with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue (combined for 26 1/2 sacks), but it’s hard to buy into Blake Bortles as a championship quarterback.
He was the weak link of this team for years, and while he has showed improvement tis season, does anyone actually expect him to lead the Jags to more than one playoff win?
That one win should come against the Buffalo Bills, who are a great story as they made the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and did it in miraculous fashion, thanks to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17. But star running back LeSean McCoy suffered an ankle injury during Sunday’s win over Miami and right now looks like one giant question mark.
If McCoy can play, and that’s a big if, he likely will not be at his best. Most NFL insiders have more respect for quarterback Tyrod Taylor than his own coaches do, but the Bills are nearly devoid of talent at the wideout position.
The Kansas City Chiefs are something of a sham. While they looked good at the start of the season in running out to 5-0, they then lost six of seven. Andy Reid got his team to bounce back with four straight wins, but they came against Oakland, the Los Angeles Chargers, Miami, and Denver, teams with a combined 26-38 record.
Additionally, the Chiefs are slow on defense, which could mean big problems if they run into the Patriots or Steelers.
The Tennessee Titans don’t have much to offer in terms of consistency, as they lost three games in a row before coming up big against Jacksonville in the regular-season finale, a win that earned them the No. 5 seed.
However, Marcus Mariota has not had the kind of season that was expected. He is smart, quick, and a brilliant athlete, but he had a troubling 13-to-15 TD-to-interception ratio.
While excuses can be made because he played with injuries and his receiving corps is not talented enough, let’s be honest, Mariota had a lousy season.
The NFC, on the other hand, is loaded right now, not to mention the fact that the Minnesota Vikings may get the benefit of playing the divisional playoff game, the conference championship, and the Super Bowl at home. If that happens, it will be because the Eagles lose their divisional playoff game at home to the New Orleans Saints or Carolina Panthers, which is totally possible considering Philadelphia’s issues at quarterback.
I see the Los Angeles Rams getting the best of the Atlanta Falcons this weekend because they have the better skill position player right now. Sure, the Falcons have last year’s MVP, Matt Ryan, and all everything wide receiver Julio Jones, plus dual-threat running back Devonta Freeman, but the Rams’ Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and Cooper Kupp, have been more consistent this season and will be playing at home.
That will send the Rams to Minnesota for the divisional playoff game, while the Saints should get by the Panthers and then travel to Philadelphia.
Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara have given Drew Brees a complementary running game the eventual Hall of Fame QB has really never had, so he no longer has to carry the offense on his shoulders. On top of that, the Saints’ defense is like the Giants’ defense was a year ago when they made the playoffs — a lot better than many expected.
Since the Eagles’ offense is hard to trust at this point, even at hime, I see the Saints finding a way.
The Vikings, Rams and Saints are all playing well enough to represent the NFC. Unless the ageless Tom Brady carries his Patriots or the Steelers get Brown back doing Brown things, this looks like it will be an NFC kind of postseason come early February.
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