This is the playoff version of Ranking the Contenders, and those who are not getting ready for football in January are omitted from the list. There will be plenty of time to talk about who will get Reggie Bush or if Mike Tice has to go back to scalping tickets instead of being a head coach. Its playoff time and the NFL has become a 12 team league and everyone is 0-0. Who beat who and when doesn’t matter any more, what does matter are byes and home games. The Colts, Broncos, Bears and Seahawks have a huge advantage over everyone else because they get to sit and watch while everyone else fights for their football life. And keep in mind, this isn’t a ranking of the best teams from 1-12, but who has the best chance.
1. Indianapolis Colts: This should be the Colts year; it may have to be with the potential loss of both Edgerin James and Reggie Wayne. They have home field throughout and the Super Bowl is in Detroit so they’ll never have to leave the comfy confines of indoor football where they excel. If someone wants to beat them, they have to beat them at their own game which will be very difficult.
2. Seattle Seahawks: The only team that can match up with them offensively in the NFC is likely the Giants and they have not traveled well this year. Shawn Alexander doesn’t look like he is ready to slow down and that could mean trouble for the Colts if they meet again in Detroit.
3. Chicago Bears: Soldiers Field in January may be the best home field advantage in football this year and it’s hard to imagine the Bears being upset there. But the Bears will have to play perfect defense and get some big plays out of Rex Grossman to get past talented offenses like the Seahawks and Colts.
4. Denver Broncos: The Broncos drop behind the Bears for one reason only; the competition in the AFC is that much tougher. Not only do they stand to face the Colts at some point, but teams like Patriots and Bengals have the passing games to attack the Broncos one weakness, their secondary.
5. New England Patriots: Of all the home teams playing this coming weekend the Patriots have the best chance to advance far into the playoffs because of their experience. Tom Brady is still 9-0 in the post season and gives the Pats a chance against anyone. Although the defense seems to be clicking at the right time, they still have yet to stop a talented passing offense.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are arguably playing the best football of anyone going into the playoffs. The defense is ranked 3rd and the running game is firing on all cylinders. They head into Cincinnati as a road favorite, after already winning there earlier this year. Pittsburgh will have to win 3 road games to get to the Super Bowl but are 0-3 under Bill Cowher on the road in the post season.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs have a tough first round draw versus a red hot Redskins team despite having already beaten them at home this season. If they beat Washington and can avoid going to Chicago and the frigid temperatures there, they have a legitimate shot of beating Seattle. Tampa has good enough defense to slow down the Seattle offense and playmakers like Williams and Galloway to complete the upset.
8. New York Giants: Tiki Barber had an MVP type of season and needs to continue in order for the Giants to have a chance at a Super Bowl appearance. They will need him especially on the road where they have struggled all year. First they have to get by the Panthers who have been one of the best run stopping teams in the league. Eli Manning has shown a flare for the dramatic which should make Giant fans optimistic if they are able to keep games close.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals would be much higher if not for getting such a tough first round match up. The defense has relied on turnovers instead of stopping teams, which will likely be in short supply against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. But if the Bengals can find a way to outscore Pittsburgh’s tough defense, they have the offensive talent to stay with everyone else.
10. Carolina Panthers: The Panthers have a good enough defense to play with anyone. Unfortunately for them their offense is too inconsistent. They have struggled from week to week in the running game and offer little more than Steve Smith in the passing game. But a whole lot of Steve Smith can also be the solution, and give them a shot at a run like they had two years ago.
11. Washington Redskins: The Redskins head into Tampa Bay a little banged up, but also with a coach that has won them three Super Bowls in the past. Clinton Portis has 5 straight 100 yard rushing games to go with a 5 game win streak and that will need to continue if Gibbs wants a 4th ring. But even with the success of Portis, if an opponent can slow down Santana Moss and make them one-dimensional, they will be in trouble.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars: No one is giving the Jaguars enough respect despite winning 12 games this year, and with a good reason. With the exception of the Baltimore Ravens, they never seemed to put away bad teams. But football is about winning, not about margin of victory so maybe this is an injustice. The Jaguars did go 3-3 versus playoff teams including wins over Seattle, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh which shows that although we can underestimate them, their opponents shouldn’t.