The 2012 NFL regular season has come to a conclusion. All 12 playoff teams have been determined. It is now time to sort through the playoff teams to find out which teams are pretenders and which teams are contenders.
The Houston Texans started the season 11-1 and were on track to clinch the top seed in the AFC. However, they finished the season 1-3 and dropped all the way to the number three seed in the AFC. As a result, they will play the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card round. Texans running back Arian Foster has been dealing with an irregular heartbeat that could impact his performance throughout the playoffs.
Baltimore started the season 9-3 to take a commanding lead in the AFC North. However, they won only one game in the final quarter of the season. The Ravens also fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with Jim Caldwell. In the best of situations, changing members of the coaching staff during the season can be a bad thing. However, Caldwell had never called plays in the NFL before.
Andrew Luck has changed the fortunes of the Colts significantly. Last season, Indianapolis won only 2 games. In 2012, the Colts finished with nine more wins to finish with an 11-5 record. However, a rookie quarterback has a tendency to fold under pressure. While Andrew Luck may guide Indianapolis to one win in the playoffs, Colts fans should be happy with that for now.
Matt Ryan is a great regular season quarterback. However, he has not played well in the playoffs. Last season, the Falcons scored two points in a loss to the New York Giants. During the 2012 regular season, Atlanta struggled to close out games against inferior opponents. This suggests that the fans in Atlanta should prepare for another early exit from the playoffs this season as well.
The Vikings were a great story during the regular season. Adrian Peterson electrified fans with his long touchdown runs and his quest to break the single season rushing record. The fact that he was able to do this after suffering a torn ACL roughly 12 months ago makes that even more amazing. That probably will not be enough though, as the lack of an aerial attack will lead to their early demise.
When they play at home, the Seahawks are an unbeatable team. When they play on the road, the Seahawks struggle against even the worst teams in the league. As a wild card team, Seattle will play all of their games on the road unless all four division winners lose in the playoffs.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady is the quarterback of the Patriots. As long as that stays the same, there is no reason to believe that New England will not be a contender to go all the way this year. Even with a poor defense, the rest of the AFC may not be strong enough to make the Patriots pay for that.
Peyton Manning is leading a Broncos team that is seeded number one in the AFC. It will be interesting to see how other teams respond to playing in the cold weather and the high altitude in January. The Patriots and Broncos are the two teams most likely to play in the AFC title game.
While they don’t have as great of a quarterback as the other two AFC contenders, the Bengals make up for it with a strong running game and solid defense. They could be a surprise contender in the AFC this year.
San Francisco 49ers
A smothering defense combined with the emergence of Colin Kaepernick signals a return run to the NFC title game at the very least. The only thing that stands between the 49ers and a title are the Seattle Seahawks.
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay is going to go as far as Aaron Rodgers takes them. This means that they should go pretty far. With a bye and a home game in the divisional round, the Packers have a smooth path to another title.
RGIII has proven that he is a quarterback who can change the course of any game that he plays in. With Kirk Cousins backing him up, Washington is set at quarterback no matter what happens. Alfred Morris is a running back who can grind out the tough yards and keep the ball in the hands of the Redskins offense.
The playoffs are going to be an exciting three weeks culminating with Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The six contending teams are going to be battling for the right to win a title while the others will be playing for respect and the hope of notching at least one upset victory.