This little post is entirely too interesting to me in concept and in actualization. There are several teams in the NFL that currently may or may not make the playoffs, but that could also spell trouble for other playoff hopefuls. Their records may not be the greatest, but I aim to detail one powerful team per division and what makes them more dangerous if taken for granted due to their less than stellar records. I will also mention a few other teams that are similarly dangerous but don’t quite shape up to be the deadliest underrated team in their division if need be.
AFCE: Buffalo Bills- In a division where you must compete with the New England Patriots twice a year at a minimum it’s probably hard to keep from feeling demoralized. As a matter of fact, Buffalo actually ran away with a surprise shutout while Tom Brady was out in the two teams’ first matchup. Tyrod Tayor is an explosive player some days and a detriment to the team others, but he’s the best fit for Buffalo at QB right now. LeSean McCoy is an amazing halfback and explosive out of the backfield, often making larger gains by pushing the envelope. The defensive unit has suffered a lot of injuries this year, as has the offense, however they’re still a formidable unit. Sammy Watkins and several Bills receivers have put up big numbers in the past but they’ve faced their own injuries and issues. As it is right now, the Patriots and Bills have both put up 37 touchdowns on the year and have played similarly at home. The difference has been their road success and divisional wins- the Pats are 6-0 and 3-1 whereas the Bills are 3-4 and 1-3.
AFCN: Baltimore Ravens- The Ravens and Steelers are the two teams most primed for a playoff spot in the North this year, that much isn’t up for debate. The real difference maker here is how they fare down this final stretch. True, Baltimore suffers more offensively whereas Pittsburgh has more issues on the defensive side of the ball, however records notwithstanding the Ravens have a slight statistical advantage currently. They’re 5-2 at home and 2-3 on the road which is comparable to Pitt’s 4-2 and 3-3 respectively. The difference comes when you look at divisional and conference games, where Baltimore is 4-0 and 7-2 compared to Pitt’s 2-1 and 5-3. Both the Steelers and Ravens are on a multiple game winning streak although the Ravens are 0-3 out of conference compared to Pittsburgh’s even 2-2 standing. I have no doubt that it’ll come down to the wire, but the ravens have already played most of their divisional games and have less of a chance of falling down here late.
Honorable Mention- Pittsburgh Steelers
AFCS: Indianapolis Colts- The Colts have started to recover some of the ground they’ve lost this year but they’re still stuck in a three-way tie for divisional dominance between themselves, the Titans, and the Texans. The Titans and Colts are both undoubtedly stronger teams than the current Texans however I feel the Colts have the greatest chance coming into the fold right now in time for the playoffs. Houston’s point differential is terrible whereas both the Colts and Titans have a positive spread at the least. The Colts and Titans are virtually comparable in their overall stats- both are 3-3 at home and 3-3 away, 2-2 and 1-3 in the division respectively, 4-5 and 3-5 in conference versus 2-1 and 3-1 out of conference respectively. The difference here is my confidence in Andrew Luck versus Marcus Mariota. Both are amazing and hitting their seasonal strides right now, however Luck has the better weapons right now and the veteran experience necessary to come in clutch.
Honorable Mention- Tennessee Titans
AFCW: San Diego Chargers- The AFC West is almost a division of four powerhouses this season and the top three teams could very well all find their way to the playoffs if it was purely a record driven affair and we could just exempt the AFC South from contention after their dismal year. The Chargers are that team that loses to similarly ranked teams one week due to injuries or mistakes and then bounces back the next week to beat teams like the Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos, or Falcons who are doing significantly better overall. They’re trending downward as of right now and they’ve lost a few games that they blew leads in, but despite probably being out of playoff contention you shouldn’t discount these guys considering they could very easily wreck other teams’ playoff aspirations at the least.
NFCE: Washington Redskins- In a division dominated this year by the Cowboys and with a second place so far securely held by the Giants, where does this leave the Redskins and Eagles? The Eagles and Carson Wentz have been trending downward all season after a hot start, but it’s the Redskins who’ve managed to find themselves again in the second half similar to last year’s wildcard run. Kirk Cousins is a beast and so are some of his offensive tools like Jackson and Reed. Although the Redskins have dropped some games lately and are looking at a best possible record of 10-5-1 right now, making the playoffs is far from out of the question. They’ve played well at home however their divisional and conference play has been 50/50 all year and that is the most troubling aspect seeing as those are the kinds of games they have left as well. Each team in the East is on a losing streak besides the Cowboys, but the Skins could be the most likely to turn it around since the Giants are playing Dallas for their upcoming game and the Eagles are just about too far gone.
NFCN: Green Bay Packers- It’s the Packers and not the Vikings that are the most deadly contender in the North save for the Detroit Lions who have been cardiac kings lately. The Bears are finally showing signs of life but they are near total elimination. The Vikings have the same record as the Packers and a better net point differential but they’ve slowed down considerably and only won a single game since their 5-0 start. The Lions are the surprising leader for the time being and have Matthew Stafford to thank for not effectively being 3-9 like the Bears. The Packers’ road losses and non-conference struggles have hurt them, but they’re not only on a winning streak, they also have the current hottest offense in the division and may be rekindling the run game as well. I don’t know if they can catch up to Stafford’s Lions should that team continue to play well, but Aaron Rodgers has been just as prominent and clutch within his own offense and may have finally compelled them to put in the work to have a semi-successful season again.
NFCS: Tampa Bay Buccaneers- In case you hadn’t looked in a while, the Buccaneers are now tied record wise with the Atlanta Falcons in the South. And they’ve won a few key matchups and surprising victories that have helped to lead them to a four game winning streak while every other team in the division has lost at least one game in the past few weeks. The New Orleans Saints have been my season long pick for close second in the South, but now I’m starting to lean towards the Bucs because they’re on a hot streak and could follow it all the way to a wildcard slot- which they’re currently on track to receive in fact. The Saints are still a dangerous team and the Panthers could always spoil someone else’s chances of a playoff berth, but the Bucs have a shot at even dislodging the Falcons or at least lowering their seeding for the NFC side of the bracket.In a weird turn of events, the Buccaneers are a poor 2-4 at home this season but have gone 5-1 on the road which is equally if not more important.
Honorable Mention- New Orleans Saints
NFCW: Arizona Cardinals- Forget the Rams and their solid defense, forget the 49ers entirely because they’ve apparently forgotten how to play ball- the Cardinals are unsurprisingly the number two and the underrated team in the West. They’ve had as rough a season as the Panthers this year although technically they’ve been playing in a slightly easier division albeit with the Seahawks as their main competitor. When they squared off against Seattle, neither team could gain the upper hand and it went to a tie. Their main struggle has been showcased in their inability to win on the road, where they have gone a dismal 1-4 as well as out of conference where they are 1-2. 5-6-1 won’t keep them out of the playoffs per se, especially considering the relatively weak wildcard contenders in terms of records in the NFC. But their best possible outcome is 9-6-1 and Carson Palmer could continue to use his return to form like he has the past few weeks if they want to have that shot.