Why Your Team will NOT Win the Super Bowl
As the NFL playoffs get underway, every fanbase — with a team left to root for — will scream and holler about why their beloved gladiators are on the precipice of football immortality. So, I’m here to tell you exactly why each team in the 2020 postseason will not be crowned king of the hill on February 7. Instead of going through matchups, I’ve broken the 14 teams down into tiers, irrespective of the conference. Obviously, one of these franchises will get to hoist the Lombardi Trophy after the dust settles, but I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy. With that, let us start with the bottom and work our way to the top.
Happy to Be Here
Literally. Cleveland and its fanbase are quite literally happy to be here. One of my friends sent me a Snapchat of him crying after the Browns barely beat a Steelers team, in week 17, without its defensive player of the year candidate, quarterback, and best offensive and defensive lineman, by two points — and he should be. Cleveland hasn’t been in the postseason since Steve Martin hosted the Oscars and before the existence of social media. Aside from a less-than-historic postseason resume, the 2020 Browns are the only team in the postseason with a negative point differential (-11). That’s not going to get them far.
Not even the city of Chicago can figure this team out. The Bears are in because of a perplexing 5–1 start that became quickly overshadowed by a six-game losing streak. Appropriately, they finished .500. However, the average win total of the eight teams they beat amounts to a whopping 5.4 — including a week 5 upset against Tampa Bay. Chicago’s once-reliable defense finished outside of the top ten (in total defense) for the first time since 2016 and oh, they have a playoff path that would hypothetically take them through New Orleans, Seattle, and Green Bay — who butchered the Bears last week in a game that didn’t matter to the Packers. I’ll take the field.
Los Angeles Rams
When Los Angeles made its Super Bowl run in 2018, the Rams relied on a high-scoring offense that covered for their bend-but-don’t-break defense. This year’s group is the polar opposite, ranking in the bottom ten in points scored (23.3/g) and number one in points allowed (18.5/g). Winning ugly is the only option and week 17 might have been the Rams’ pièce de resistance: 18 points on three field goals and a defensive touchdown. Also, the Rams may have to start a quarterback against Seattle who, up until last week, had more experience as a private equity analyst than an NFL player. Did I mention a loss to the two-win Jets? Seems like an afterthought at this point. Sorry LA, it’s a no from me dog.
Washington Football Team
Last Sunday night, I initially penciled the New York Giants in for this position, but then Doug Pederson called and said to hold off. By barely besting a tanking troop of Eagles, Washington won the ‘NFC least’ to become the third team in the new millennia to make the playoffs with a regular-season record below .500 (7–9). Each of the previous two — 2010 Seattle & 2014 Carolina — went on to win a playoff game, but that’s where the train stops. Alex Smith has thrown less touchdowns (6) than games played (8) this season and I’m more afraid for his right leg than opposing defenses are of his right arm. I’m rooting for the guy, but wouldn’t touch these underdogs with a 12.5” dial-a-down marker.
If All Falls Right
If this were 1998, the Tennessee Titans would be the favorite. In 2020, Derrick Henry became just the second running back ever to rush for over 2,000 yards and 15+ touchdowns — the other was Terrell Davis in the year previously mentioned. However, seven of Henry’s ten games with 100+ rushing yards came against teams in the bottom ten against the run, by DVOA. The Titans went 8–2 in those games and 3–3 when he did not break the century mark — all three losses were to other playoff teams. Tennessee lives and dies by King Henry, and if you’re familiar with the Monarchs of England who bore the same name, it didn’t end well. Though the modern-day Henry is twice the men of old (literally, probably), I don’t see him running through the AFC.
It pains me to write this, but Indianapolis can only go as far as its quarterback can, and, historically speaking, that hasn’t been very far. Even in his prime, Philip Rivers made just one conference championship game and played on more talented teams. Though the Colts have a balanced offense with budding star Jonathan Taylor, we all know what this comes down to: Colts ball, down one score, two minutes to go, deep in their own territory, no timeouts, and Rivers likely turning it over to end the game. If you need a better reason, Indianapolis was the only team to lose to Jacksonville this season (week one, 27–20). By the transitive property, that makes them the worst team in football.
After the first 11 weeks of the season, everyone was ready to insert Pittsburgh Steelers into the conference championship game. Since then, they’ve lost four of their final five and finished with the second-fewest yards per game (334.6) of any offense in the playoffs — the other is Chicago (331.4). The Steelers haven’t reached the Super Bowl (since 2000) without the league’s best defense and a go-to option for Ben Roethlisberger. Neither Hines Ward nor Troy Polamalu is walking through that door. More like a stained steel curtain. Who is next?
If not for a midseason lull (losing four of five in weeks 8–12), Baltimore could have had the most impressive resume. The Ravens have the best point differential (+165) and carry a five-game win streak into the postseason. Wait, that sounds familiar… *checks imaginary notes* Last season, the Baltimore also owned the best point differential — by a much wider margin — and won 12-straight entering the playoffs. Then, in the divisional round, they turned it over three times and failed to convert every fourth-down attempt in what turned into a blowout loss against the same team Baltimore faces on Sunday, Tennessee. Can Lamar Jackson exorcise his postseason demons? Even if he gets past the first weekend, my confidence isn’t high that Jackson’s 21.6 total QBR in the playoffs will flip enough to hurdle the rest of a stacked AFC field. Sorry, ‘Biiig Truss’ gets none here.
The last time Seattle went 12–4 in the regular season, they came one yard away from winning the Super Bowl. However, out of the six teams to win 12 games this season, the Seahawks point differential is 20 points worse than any other team. I’m not calling them fraudulent, but the NFC West champions only won three games against teams with a final record equal to .500 or greater. Also, Russell Wilson was an enigma the last half of the season. After putting his name near the front of the MVP conversation with a 120.8 quarterback rating and 26-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio through seven games, Wilson logged just a 91.8 with 14 touchdowns and six picks in his final nine. Seattle has found different ways to win in the past, just ask the 2014 Green Bay Packers or 2013 San Francisco 49ers, but this group isn’t ‘Dangeruss’ enough to get it done.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The primary reason the Buccaneers are this tier is that they were, surprisingly, the only NFL to finish in the top five in both offensive and defensive DVOA. Tampa Bay is also led by the greatest quarterback (so far) to play professional football with arguably the best receiving corps in the league. That said, Tom Brady struggles in the playoffs when he’s under duress — in 11 postseason losses, Brady’s been sacked on average 2.1 times — and four of the six NFC playoff teams rank in the top half of the league in QB pressures. With less mobility at age 43 (and there wasn’t much to start), some team is bound to get to him. The TB12 Method’s expiration date is almost up.
Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, not even the defending champs and betting favorites (+200) are exempt. History says Kansas City will not repeat since it’s happened only eight times since the AFL-NFL merger in 1966, but there are a few flaws with this 14–2 juggernaut, as nitpicky as it sounds. The 2020 Chiefs scored more points than a year ago, but their defense, which was sturdy down the stretch of all three comeback victories last postseason, regressed — particularly when it comes to the red zone. The 2019 defense surrendered a touchdown just 50.9% of the time when an opposing offense entered the red zone (ninth-best) while this season’s group is dead last in that category, giving up scores 76.6% of the time. The Chiefs defense has also struggled more to get off the field on fourth down than a year ago, allowing a 65% conversion rate compared to 50% last year. Both factors will negatively affect their chances to become the first back-to-back champs since the 2003–04 Patriots.
New Orleans Saints
I’m a sucker for balance and New Orleans is the NFL’s only top 10 team, by DVOA, in all three phases. The only issue is every one of their promising postseason runs seem to end in tragedy. Whether it be a Minneapolis Miracle, missed call, or a Beast Quake, the Saints are a lazy gambler’s nightmare. While the 2009 team — who did win — defied these trends, they were led by a 30-year-old Drew Brees. He now has arguably a better surrounding cast 11 years later, but unfortunately Brees’ worst offensive weapon appears to be attached to his right shoulder. The Saints have shown a creative ability to overcome their six-foot quarterback’s SHORTcomings, but the playoffs expose weak links. Eventually, New Orleans will be forced to move the ball deep through the air and that will force them out of the postseason.
The sexiest Super Bowl pick certainly has reasons to believe it’ll win the first championship in the franchise’s 61-year history. Buffalo finished number four overall in total DVOA as Josh Allen somehow evolved from turnover-prone Mountain West honorable mention into a Super Saiyan MVP candidate. Yet, 37 of the previous 54 winners were top 10 in both points scored and points allowed. While the Bills are second-best in scoring, they are below average in keeping teams off of the scoreboard. Just ask the early-90’s Bills what happens when the offense has one bad game. Not to say the 2020 Bills won’t make it to the first week of February, but history tells us that’s the ceiling.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers, by virtually every offensive metric, have the most dangerous QB-WR duo in the league with likely-MVP Aaron Rodgers and receiving touchdown-leader Devante Adams. Alas, the number one NFC seed has been the definition of a frontrunner since Rodgers began leading the cheeseheads in 2008. Over his undeniably accomplished career, Rodgers has had one blind spot: the fourth quarter. He’s 0–37 all-time when trailing teams, with winning records, in the fourth quarter and has fewer fourth-quarter comebacks than Jon Kitna — kudos if you can name how many winning teams Kitna played for (the answer is one, 1999 Seahawks). Better hope this guy gets a big lead or it’s goodnight for Green Bay.