Back when I was in high school, I was very active in the debate and drama team, going to every competition I got an opportunity to go to. One of my favorite contests of the year was “districts” which was our statewide qualifying tourney for nationals.
At districts, each event would have to have so many entrants in order to qualify the winner for a spot at nationals, so often, schools would send what we called “pads” into events that needed extra entrants. Every performer or team was guaranteed a spot in the first two rounds, but every round past that was an elimination round.
My favorite event was foreign extemporaneous, which was always moderated by the same coach. She would always open the third round with the same speech. “To be here means you are in the top 25% of your peers. Congratulations, you deserve to be here. Also, if you are a pad, you no longer are.”
The NFC playoffs are full of pads gone playoff team, thanks to the league adding a playoff seed and the NFC East continuing to be a garbage fire of atrocious ownership. Even the actual contenders towards the top would probably be eaten alive in the AFC playoff bracket.
However, no matter how they earned their spot or got here, they have earned their spot. They are just a few games away from the Super Bowl, so no matter how poor you think you did, no matter how convoluted your path to the final fourteen was, you are no longer a pad. So we are going to break down every single team’s key to success in the playoffs and what is going to bring the Lombardi to their city in February.
AFC Version here
Washington Football Team (+8000)
Reason for Winning: Chase Young
The NFC Least is such a terrible division that even winning the division is a bad thing. The winner gets a worse draft position, while the other three teams get to draft in the top ten or twelve spots. Meanwhile, the winner gets nothing more than an empty title and an embarrassing home playoff loss.
If the Football Team wants to break this title, it definitely is not going to be because of their offense. Alex Smith is great and we should probably rename the comeback player of the year award after him, but he is not going to be the reason that the Football Team beats the Bucs or the Saints or the Packers.
Ultimately, it is going to come down to Chase Young and his ability to get to the quarterback. Even if he gets double or triple-teamed, that makes the rest of the offensive line better. The Bucs line is falling apart and is forcing the older Tom Brady to move, Drew Brees is just another hit or two from sitting out the rest of January, the Packers have lost some of their best linemen. It is not likely, but it is not impossible, and it is likely up to Chase Young.
Chicago Bears (+8000)
Reason for Winning: Khalil Mack
The Chicago Bears are unlikely to make it out of the wildcard game, where they are matched up against a Saints team with a red hot offense, led by Alvin Kamara, and gaining a returning Michael Thomas. The Bears’ offense is being led by Mitchell Trubisky, so it will be useless, and the Bears’ specials team has fallen way short of their expectations.
So that leaves Khalil Mack and the Bears’ defense. If the Bears manage to win this weekend’s game (and every game after that) it is going to be because Khalil Mack and the Bears’ defense steps up and does the work for Matt Nagy’s inept offense.
Again, this is very unlikely, but not impossible.
Los Angeles Rams (+3000)
Reasons for Winning: Sean Mcvay’s playcalling
Remember when Sean Mcvay’s offensive playbook was being compared to Andy Reid’s and he was being called a football genius? It died when the Patriots exposed them in the Super Bowl, but it was there.
There is not an elite defense in the NFC side of the playoff bracket, and it feels like the games are going to turn into Big 12 games, with high point totals and games coming down to who holds the ball last. That means that the best offensive minds and rosters should be the most successful.
If the Rams are to make it back to the big dance in Tampa, it is going to be because they put their foot on the gas and punished the mediocre defenses in front of them. Aaron Donald and the Rams defense could slow opposing offenses enough to cover the Rams’ offensive mistakes as well, which should put the Rams on everyone’s radar.
Seattle Seahawks (+1300)
Reason for Winning: Russel Wilson
The Seattle Seahawks pass defense is atrocious, which does not mix well with the pass-heavy NFC. This means that opponents are going to score a ton of points on the Seahawks, and if the Hawks want to win games, they are going to need to also score a ton of points.
That means that Russel Wilson and the Seahawks offense have to step up and get back to their early-season form. Russ has to rekindle the chemistry he had with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf has to remember that he is the biggest man on any field he steps on. Most importantly, Russ has to remember how to cook.
The motto of the Seahawks fanbase has been “let Russ cook” but the reality is that a lot of what Russ has been doing is baking up turnovers. He needs to get his play straight or the Seahawks are going to be the most heartbreaking one and done in a long time.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1000)
Reason for Winning: Receivers
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win their way through the playoffs, it will be because their pass offense torches the poor pass defenses in the NFC playoffs. If Mike Evans (questionable this weekend), Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown pop off and use their speed and skills, they should not have very many problems in January getting wins.
The biggest problem the Bucs have coming up is this weekend’s game against the Football Team, which may sound crazy, but makes sense. Tom Brady has struggled when pressured this season, and Chase Young can make pressure. The receivers can help Brady out in these instances by moving towards the QB or running effective, short routes.
New Orleans Saints (+700)
Reason for Winning: Desperation
How you can look at the New Orleans Saints last three playoff appearances and have much faith in the Saints is beyond me.
The Saints have been desperately clawing at the playoffs, trying to get Drew Brees just one more Super Bowl appearance. They have been upset at every attempt, and that desperation has rolled over into their regular season play. They do not look like a great team most of the time, but when it matters the most, they ball out.
That desperation is only going to get more intense in the playoffs and it is going to push them to crawl and claw for Drew Brees. Passion is big, but desperation is dangerous. Can it carry New Orleans to the Super Bowl?
Green Bay Packers (+450)
Reason for Winning: Lambeau in the Winter
The Packers have this crazy advantage in the later parts of the season due to how hard it is to play in Wisconsin in the winter. The Packers have an unbelievable amount of practice in those conditions, while many of the teams coming through are experiencing those conditions for either the first time or the first time in a long while.
With the number one seed, the playoffs go through Lambeau, and that is an unbelievably powerful advantage. Sure, that only serves them through the NFC side of the bracket and may even serve to their disadvantage in February with the Super Bowl, but it can get them some easy and stress-free wins in January which could keep them from eliminations.