2014 NFL Playoff Picks and Predictions: AFC Power Rankings: The 2013 NFL regular season is in the books, and the playoffs are set to begin this weekend with the Wild-Card Round. In the meantime, it is time to take a look at how the teams that did make it to the playoffs stack up against each other. In the AFC, superstar quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady once again have their teams in position to make a title run after securing the top-two seeds, but there are four other teams hoping to challenge them, including Manning’s former team the Colts and two of his current division rivals. With that in mind, here is a look at how the AFC playoff teams stack up.
1. New England Patriots
Yes, they are banged up on both sides of the ball, but the Patriots still have Tom Brady under center and Bill Belichick on the sidelines. More importantly, they have a first-round bye and will play their first game in Foxboro where they haven’t lost all year. By the way, New England also averages the second-most points of any team in the AFC despite all the injuries on offense, and the Patriots seem to be finding a power running game just in time for the cold weather of the playoffs. Throw in a victory over the top-seeded Denver Broncos earlier in the year, and Brady and company look primed for another run at a title.
2. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning is coming off the greatest regular season a quarterback has ever had, and the Broncos have home-field advantage on their side. On paper, Denver looks like a slam dunk to reach the Super Bowl. The Broncos’ offense just set a record for the most points scored in a single season, and Manning has so many deadly weapons at his disposal in the passing game. However, Denver has to settle for the No. 2 spot in the power rankings. For one, pass-rusher extraordinaire Von Miller is out of the year. Not to mention the fact that Manning is just 9-11 in the playoffs and is 0-4 when the temperature at kickoff is below 40 degrees. There is also that 24-0 lead Manning and company blew in a loss to an injury-riddled New England team earlier this year and a loss to Indianapolis. The talent is certainly there, but there are some demons that have to be erased.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Although they have been tough to predict at times, the Colts’ resume speaks for itself. Indianapolis has beaten San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and Kansas City this season. By the way, the Colts went into Arrowhead and beat the Chiefs, and their first-round rematch will be on Indianapolis’ home turf. Yes, there are also some bad losses on the Colts’ resume, and they don’t really stand out on paper in any area other than the win column. However, Andrew Luck and company just find a way to get the job done, and they are looking at a possible path to the AFC title that would include two teams they have already beaten. Indianapolis has a chance to make some noise.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati is back in the playoffs for the third straight season, but this time around, they will open up things at home where they haven’t lost all year. A defense that ranks as one of the five best against the run and pass and in points per game is the strength of the team, but the offense has usually come to the party for home games. The Bengals average 34.4 points at home compared to 26.9 overall, and they have knocked off the likes of Green Bay, New England and Indianapolis on their home turf. On the flip side, the Bengals are dealing with a rash of injuries in the secondary and are looking at a matchup with Tom Brady in the second round. Not to mention the fact that quarterback Andy Dalton has struggled on the road, throwing 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Bengals should end their playoff drought, but Dalton will have to figure out his road woes for Cincinnati to make a deep run.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
After a 9-0 start, the Chiefs closed the year on a 2-5 slide. During the stretch, the defense that had been the NFL’s best for the first half of the year allowed 27.7 points per game, and the pass rush that had been so dominant fizzled. Granted, Kansas City still has a game-changer on offense in Jamaal Charles, but teams have been able to take advantage Alex Smith’s inability to stretch the field. Throw in a first-round matchup with an Indianapolis team that went into Arrowhead and dismantled the Chiefs a few weeks ago, and Kansas City’s playoff stay could be a short one.
6. San Diego Chargers
Losses by Miami and Baltimore on the final day of the regular season allowed the Chargers to sneak into the playoffs, and while they do own victories over the Broncos and Colts, this is not a championship-caliber team. After all, San Diego just needed overtime, a missed field goal and a controversial call to sneak by a Kansas City team that was resting its starters and had nothing to play for in order to even make the playoffs. Now, they face a Bengals’ team that beat them in San Diego a few weeks ago. Quarterback Philip Rivers has had a solid year, but the Chargers don’t have the weapons on offense or a strong enough defense to hand the Bengals their first home loss of the year. It will be an early exit for the Chargers.
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