NFL Playoff Preview
Missed the NFL regular season? Sports Gazette has you covered with a breakdown of all 12 teams who made it to the post-season knock-out tournament to play in Super Bowl 51.
The NFL playoffs start on January 7th and 12 teams are left standing ready to battle it out for Super Bowl glory.
Six teams from each of the two conferences that make up the league (AFC and NFC) will compete in a knock-out tournament, with the top two seeded teams in each conference getting a first round bye.
We've put together a breakdown of every team competing and assessed their chances of reaching the Super Bowl on February 5th...
American Football Conference (AFC)
New England Patriots (14-2):
Once again the AFC goes through New England.
Quarterback Tom Brady, aged 39, is showing no signs of declining and has been on fire since returning from a four-game suspension at the start of the season.
Losing star tight end Rob Gronkowski to injury has not slowed them down so far, but in previous seasons losing him for the playoffs proved costly.
However, with a relatively weak lineup of AFC teams, don’t be surprised when the Patriots make their 6th straight conference championship game.
They are the clear favourites to win it and represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
Kansas City Chiefs (12-4):
The Chiefs clinched the AFC West in the final week of the season and will host a playoff game for the first time since 2011.
Head coach Andy Reid has formed the blueprint for a successful playoff team. They look after the ball well and force turnovers with playmakers on defence and special teams.
It remains to be seen if quarterback Alex Smith, often criticised for being a 'game manager', can lead a good team to success deep in the playoffs, but with a first round bye and a weak AFC this might be his best chance to do so.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5):
After a slow start the Steelers have found their groove. They have won 7 straight games and clinched the AFC North in a Christmas day thriller against the Baltimore Ravens.
For the first time ever, their entire superstar trio of playmakers (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’veon Bell, and wide receiver Antonio Brown) are healthy going into the playoffs.
They have the best chance of any team to beat the Patriots and have a pedigree of post-season success. If their young players on defence can hold their own then don’t be surprised if they have a shot at the Super Bowl.
Houston Texans (9-7):
“I am so glad the Texans made the playoffs.” – said no one.
They have played well at home and scraped their way to the top of the dreary AFC South but will be hard-pressed to beat the top teams in the conference.
Week 16 saw $72 million quarterback Brock Osweiler benched, although a concussion suffered by back-up Tom Savage will force Osweiler back into action.
Their first game is at home against the injury-ravaged Raiders, which they should win, but that is as far as this team will go.
Oakland Raiders (12-4):
If life was fair the Raiders would be the team everyone is excited about.
Unforunately, however, it is not.
Derek Carr, their star young quarterback, broke his leg in week 16 and a week 17 loss to the Broncos meant the AFC West title slipped right through their fingers.
Without Carr, the Raiders will start rookie Connor Cook and will likely go one and done in their first playoff appearance since 2002.
Miami Dolphins (10-6):
The Dolphins have been one of the surprises of the 2016 season. They have been up and down but are deserving of their first playoff appearance since 2008.
British-born running back Jay Ajayi has enjoyed a breakout year but injuries along the offensive line have held them back. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has also missed the last three weeks with a knee injury.
They open the playoffs against the Steelers, who they beat convincingly in week 6, but they will be underdogs against one of the hottest teams in the league.
A playoff victory would be a real coming of age for this young team but even making the playoffs was a big step in the right direction.
National Football Conference (NFC)
Dallas Cowboys (13-3):
The Cowboys have enjoyed one of the biggest turnarounds in recent NFL history. From 4-12 in 2015 to 13-3 this year.
Long time starter Tony Romo has been supplanted by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, and running back Ezekiel Elliott has had one of the greatest rookie rushing seasons ever.
They have suffocated teams with a ball control offense and a defence that has played well above its means.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys the NFC is filled with experienced teams chomping at the bit to take them down.
Even with home field advantage, the Cowboys will have a tough road to the Super Bowl.
Atlanta Falcons (11-5):
The Falcons have quietly had one of the best offensive seasons of any team in recent history. They have averaged 33.8 points per game, the same as the ‘greatest show on turf’ 2000 St. Louis Rams.
Only six teams have ever averaged more and two of those (2007 Patriots and 2013 Broncos) played in the Super Bowl.
Quarterback Matt Ryan could enter the realm of being an elite quarterback if he can get his team there.
Alongside the offence, head coach Dan Quinn has the young players on the defence playing well and second year linebacker Vic Beasley led the league in sacks this year.
The Falcons have crumbled in big games before and so not many people are picking them to go all the way but they might be a team to watch.
Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1):
Over the past four years the Seahawks have been the best team in the NFC. This year they once again won the NFC West although they are certainly not the team they once were.
Losing running back Marshawn Lynch to retirement and safety Earl Thomas to injury means the heart and soul of their Super Bowl team on both sides of the ball are not playing this post-season.
Russell Wilson is still a special player and because of his ability to create something out of nothing you should never rule them out.
However with a dreadful offensive line and without Thomas this does not feel like their year.
Green Bay Packers (10-6):
After falling to 4-6 there seemed to be something wrong in title town.
Then quarterback Aaron Rodgers got laughed at for saying they could ‘run the table’ and win their remaining six games.
Well no-one is laughing now. After backing up his claim with an MVP worthy performance they are now one of the favourites to go all the way to the Super Bowl.
Injuries in their secondary might hold them back but they are firing on all cylinders right now and no-one wants to play them.
If they can squeeze past the feisty Giants, then watch out.
New York Giants (11-5):
The Giants are the exact opposite of what everyone expected them to be.
Every marketing poster is covered with their star wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr and Victor Cruz but it is their defence that has carried them to the playoffs.
They have the second ranked scoring defence, allowing just 17.75 points per game and twice kept the top seeded Cowboys in check, handing them their only meaningful defeats of the year.
Their biggest problem is they have to play the Packers in the first round.
If their dominant defence can hold the best quarterback in the league in check then they should feel good about their chances.
There is a possibility that for the second year in a row a Manning could be carried to the Super Bowl by his defence.
Detroit Lions (9-7):
Even though all-time great wide receiver Calvin Johnson retired this summer the Lions have taken a step forward.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford set the single season record for fourth quarter comebacks with eight of their nine wins coming from behind.
However, they peaked too soon and have lost their last three games, made worse by Stafford playing with an injury to his throwing hand.
The Lions are underdogs against the Seahawks and even if they win are long shots to go any further.