May. 14, 2018
Will Some Team Besides the Patriots Represent the AFC in Super Bowl 53?
It's hard to argue against the Patriots being AFC favorites so long as they have Tom Brady at QB, but it's also extremely hard to make it to three straight Super Bowls. This has only happened twice during the Super Bowl era. If there's anybody that can pull it off it's probably the New England Patriots, but what stands in their way?
The Patriots lost some major parts of their roster in free agency. They lost RB Dion Lewis and CB Malcom Butler to the Titans, they lost OT Nate Solder to the Giants, and they lost WR Danny Amendola to the Dolphins. Lewis was the teams no.1 back for the majority of last season, Butler has been the teams no.1 corner ever since his game winning pick that sealed a Super Bowl 49 win for the Patriots, Solder has been a major part of the Patriots offensive line since 2011, and Amendola has been arguably the best Patriots receiver during the Playoffs since he had signed with them in 2013. Still, the Patriots have overcome losses like this over and over again during the Belichick-Brady era. Is it just too much to ask this time around?
I believe it might be so. I do not want to bet against the Patriots, but with the odds of a team making three straight Super Bowls I believe there's a legit case to make for the Patriots not representing the AFC in Super Bowl 53. Since Tom Brady took over as Quarterback for the New England Patriots in 2001 the Patriots have lost only once in the Wild Card round (2009), so the likelihood that happens is slim to none. However, in that span the Patriots have lost twice in the Divisional round and three times in the Championship round. The biggest coincidence? Four of those six games have been on the road, three of them at the hands of Peyton Manning led teams, however Peyton Manning has since retired. So which teams are capable of knocking of the Patriots in the 2018-19 Playoffs?
1. Houston Texans
-Bare with me here because this is an awfully strong statement to make about a team that went 4-12 in 2017 and finished 4th in their division. However, they lost arguably three of their four best players in QB Deshaun Watson, DE JJ Watt, and LB Whitney Mercilus to injury last season. When Mercilus and Watt were healthy the Texans ranked at the lowest 12 in all the major defensive categories. With Watson at the QB position last season the Texans went 3-3, averaged 34.6 points per game, and 394.8 yard per game. If Watson had not got hurt in 2017 and those statistics had continued at the rate they were, the Texans would have had both the top scoring offense and top offense in terms of yardage. So I wouldn't find it a stretch to say that if the Texans stay healthy in 2018 they could have the top offense and a top 10 defense. IF all goes right the Texans could pose a serious threat to the Patriots. Oh, and I didn't even mention the addition of former Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu to that Texans defense.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
- The Jaguars gave the Patriots all they could handle in the AFC Championship, losing 20-24. The best thing the Jaguars have going for them is a defense that in 2017 ranked first in passing yards allowed per game, second in total yards allowed per game, and second in points allowed per game. The biggest problem with their defense is that they were no.21 in rushing yards allowed in the season, but they went and addressed that by drafting DT Taven Bryan in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Now, the obvious elephant in the room on the offensive side of the ball is QB Blake Bortles. To put it simply Bortles is not an elite QB, but his teammates have rallied around him and the Jaguars front office believes in him enough to have given him a contract extension that will run until the 2020 season. However, when you have arguably the best defense in the NFL and the no.1 rushing offense (which I neglected to mention), you don't really need elite QB play. The Jaguars should not be taken lightly, and they still pose a serious threat to the Patriots in 2018.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
- The Steelers have simply not been able to get over the hump when playing the Patriots. With Tom Brady at QB the Steelers have gone 2-11 against the Patriots, including 0-3 in the Playoffs. So why should anyone have confidence the Steelers could pose a threat to the Patriots in 2018-19? For starters, in the teams only meeting last season the Steelers pushed the Patriots to their limits. The Steelers led the game 24-16 going into the fourth quarter before two great drives led by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski put the Patriots up 27-24. One controversial non-TD call and an interception on a poor throw by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger later sealed the Patriots win, and continued the Steelers slump against the Patriots. In 2017 the Steelers managed to go 13-3 ranking top ten in every major offensive and defensive category except for rushing on the offensive side of the ball. This team is one of the best in the NFL, and could challenge the Patriots for the AFC throne in 2018.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
- This team is a serious Wild Card in 2018. While the offense ranked top 10 in every major category in 2017 but the defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in every major defensive category. This offense may change some with second year QB Patrick Mahomes now in charge. Mahomes is an absolute gunslinger and has weapons like RB Kareem Hunt, TE Travis Kelce, WR Tyreek Hill, and the newest addition a downfield threat Wide receiver in Sammy Watkins at his disposal. The Chiefs could have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL in 2018, but it could still boil down to their defense where they mostly lost pieces more than gained pieces this offseason. If the Chiefs want to beat the Patriots this season they'll likely have to do show in a shootout.
5. Denver Broncos
- The least likely of these five teams to dethrone the Patriots in the Playoffs, I'm not so sure the Broncos will even be a playoff team in 2018. A lot of this teams success depends on offseason Quarterback signee Case Keenum, who had a spectacular season with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017. It will be interesting to see how rookie Running back Royce Freeman, rookie Tight End Troy Fumagalli, and a pair or rookie Wide receivers Cortland Sutton fit into upgrading this poor offense in 2018. If all these pieces click and rookie Defensive end Bradley Chubb frees up some pressure for Von Miller, look out. The Broncos do have potential to be a dangerous team in 2018. Also the Broncos boast a 8-9 record all-time against the Tom Brady led Patriots, including a 3-1 record in the Playoffs.
Now I'm not saying the Patriots will be dethroned in 2018, but it certainly is a possibility and these are the teams that pose an immediate threat to the Patriots chances of making it to a third straight Super Bowl. This is only half the battle though, as their are a handful of quality NFC teams that could be waiting for the Patriots in the Super Bowl if they make it that far.