Alas, the NFL playoffs are here.
The time of the year where champions are crowned and stars evolve into legends.
This year, the competition looks increasingly steep and there are 12 teams in the field who can all legitimately win it all and be crowned the 44th Super Bowl champion.
But only one team can be crowned the champion, so here are the list of playoff teams and my reasons why they may or may not win the Super Bowl.
• Pros: Peyton Manning. The Colts’ 12th-year quarterback has had one of the best seasons of his career. The New Orleans native has played in the biggest of the big stages, including 2007 when he led the Colts to the Super Bowl XLI title. There is no doubt Manning will be a major player again this January.
• Cons: Defense. The Colts have an average defense. How average? Coming into Week 17, they ranked No. 16 in the NFL – putting them exactly in the middle of the pack among NFL defenses. They slipped to their current position of No. 18 after not playing their starters and being walloped by the Bills last Sunday. But regardless, defense could plague them when the stakes are raised.
San Diego Chargers
• Pros: Recent history. The Chargers come into the playoffs steaming hot, winners of 11-straight games. In that stretch, the Chargers have beaten the Eagles, Cowboys and Bengals – all of whom have winning records. That makes San Diego the team no one wants to see this January.
• Cons: Rushing offense. The Bolts are No. 31 out of 32 teams in the NFL in rushing offense and average just 3.3 yards per carry. That could spell doom in crunch time where running the ball and controlling the clock is almost always a must.
New England Patriots
• Pros: Experience. Sure, the Patriots are not their usual self this season, but anytime you’ve won three Super Bowls in a decade, you’re a threat until you’re officially eliminated.
• Cons: Injury to Wes Welker. And finally, we saw why teams rest their starters when they have nothing to play for. The Patriots opened their game last Sunday with Welker in the lineup. But that quickly changed when he tore his ACL and MCL and will now miss the remainder of the season. Welker is one of the league’s best wide-outs and not having him in the lineup will be a major pain to the Pats Super Bowl chances.
• Pros: Karma. The Bengals have more incentive than any playoff team to take home the trophy after losing teammate Chris Henry in a freak accident earlier this season. Unity is a strong thing and that makes the Bengals a very dangerous team.
• Cons: Recent History. The Bengals are one of the cooler teams heading into the playoffs, having lost three of their past four games. Can they flip the switch back to high gear the next three weeks? Time will tell.
New York Jets
• Pros: Defense. If defense wins championships, the Jets are quite all right, boasting the No. 1 unit in the NFL under first-year coach Rex Ryan.
• Cons: History. No rookie quarterback has ever won the Super Bowl. So what makes me think Mark Sanchez will be the one to break the chain? Nothing. He has 20 interceptions and 10 fumbles. Those are 100 percent killers in the playoffs when protecting the ball is at a premium.
• Pros: Defense. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. That’s the backbone for what’s the currently the No. 3 defense in the NFL. That defense rode this team all the way to the AFC Championship Game just last season, so beware of the Ravens.
• Cons: Quality wins. The Ravens are just 1-6 against playoff teams this season. That’s not good considering every game from here on out will be against playoff teams.
New Orleans Saints
Pros: Balance. When the Saints are clicking, they come at you in every direction. The team boasts the No. 1 offense in the NFL. Inside that Saints’ offense, the team ranks No. 4 in pass offense and No. 6 in rushing offense, which means a defense better pack its A-game to contain Drew Brees and Co.
Cons: Rocky December. After a 13-0 start, the Saints have seemed to lose some steam as of late and have lost three-straight games to finish the season. What the Saints have to defeat now is history as no team has ever lost its last three games and advanced to the Super Bowl.
Pros: Brett Favre. Despite all the hoopla about his spat with coach Brad Childress, Favre has been masterful this season, throwing for 33 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. Those harping about how Farve has broken down late in the season are also mistaken because he’s thrown for six touchdowns and zero interceptions in his past two games. Favre came back for this shot and he will do his best to not let it slip through the cracks.
Cons: Sluggish finish. Like the Saints, the Vikings limped to the finish lines and won just two of their final five games. That’s a no-no heading toward a single elimination tournament.
Pros: Scoring defense. Nothing wows you about the Cowboys’ defense. They give up yards and sometimes have trouble stopping the pass. But the ‘Boys rarely break when they bend and they allow just 15.6 points per game – good for No. 2 in the NFL.
Cons: The Ghosts of playoffs past. Wade Phillips: 0-4 in the playoffs. Tony Romo: 0-2 in the playoffs. Dallas Cowboys: haven’t won a playoff game since 1996. It will be a true test to see if the Cowboys can keep the skeletons out of the closet and lock up a long-awaited playoff win.
Pros: Familiarity. The Cardinals have seen this story before. Just last year, the team quietly rolled through the playoffs and was a last-second catch away from winning the Super Bowl. The defending NFC Champs are again being overlooked this year. I’m sure that’s just fine by them.
Cons: Inconsistency. When the Cardinals are good, they’re good. But when they are bad, they are atrocious. The Cardinals have a seven turnover and a six-turnover game this season. One more of those and it’s ‘Adios Amigo’ to Arizona.
Green Bay Packers:
Pros: Turnover margin. The Packers are an astounding +24 in turnover margin this year, a stat that easily places them atop the NFL. That ability to protect the ball and force turnovers of your own is invaluable in the playoffs.
Cons: Special teams. Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby has hit just 13-of-22 kicks from 30 or more yards away this season. Many of those misses came at inopportune times, costing the Packers a few games this season. Crosby better steady his leg or his next big miss may come with the season on the line.
Pros: Brian Westbrook. Westbrook is back from the concussion he sustained earlier in the season. Make no mistake about it; this team is much better with the versatile back in action.
Cons: Youth. With Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy all at or below 23 years of age, 33-year-old Donovan McNabb has to wonder how his primary weapons will respond to the pressure of the NFL playoffs.