NFL: Playoff Team Previews

As we head into the home stretch of the 2019 NFL season, the playoff teams are emerging. A handful of teams are well and truly done for the year. Another group are nearing the point of no return. Over the next several weeks, the playoff teams will be reviewed, with one from each conference each week.

AFC: Kansas City Chiefs

The Season So Far

The Kansas City Chiefs have been dealing with injuries since Week 1. The big names on Offense have largely not been on the field together all season. Yet they have continued to compile wins and stay atop the AFC West. A win against the Oakland Raiders in Week 13 will give them extra breathing room. At worst, the Chiefs are among the teams best placed to secure a wildcard if the Raiders manage to topple them.

After opening the season 4-0, the Chiefs then went 1-3 in their next four games. With another few wins, the Chiefs are now at 7-4, one game ahead of the Oakland Raiders. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has fought through a knee injury, and has had connections with the different receivers on the team, but none consistently. Wide Receivers Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Tight End Travis Kelce have all had explosive weeks, but none on a regular basis. Additionally, the Defence has also had mixed success, but is yet to put it all together in a single game.

How They Could Win It All

When healthy and with everyone available, the Chiefs can match it with the best of the them. The 2018 MVP Mahomes can sling the ball all over the field, and few teams are equipped to go toe to toe with them in a shootout. The range of weapons available to Kansas City make them extremely difficult to defend too. But they need to have more stability if they are really going to perform at their best.

Likewise, the Defence doesn’t need to shut everyone down on a weekly basis. With enough stops and avoiding conceding points, the Offense will win them games. In a game against the Green Bay Packers, the Defence held the Running Backs to just 89 yards, and the week before gave up 71 yards on the ground to the Denver Broncos. However, they’ve also had opposing RBs put up over 100 yards against them in multiple games. The pass defence is a similar story, and has kept some QBs quiet, and allowed others to move the ball easily. Putting it all together for a few games throughout the playoffs will give them every chance to win, and they’ve shown they can do it.

The Achilles’ Heel

Of course, the counter to all this is it could all fall completely flat. When a team runs hot and cold, there is nothing to say they can’t just as easily go on a bad run of games. Losing to the Raiders, and another loss, could result in the Chiefs being the third team in a 3-way tie with the Buffalo Bills and runner up in the AFC South. Both the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans have the tiebreaker against the Chiefs, and so they need to remain at least one game ahead of one of them, if they can’t win their own division.

Moreover, the struggles on Offense are problematic more than anything else. When that was supposed to the foundation for them to win games, and it’s had a series of misfires, it’s hard to see them winning out if they need to. The Chiefs can’t rely on the Offense or Defence currently, and unless they figure that out, they level of opposition they face in the postseason will take advantage of it.

NFC: San Francisco 49ers

The Season So Far

The San Francisco 49ers were the last remaining undefeated team in the 2019 season after starting 8-0. A loss in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks gave them their first loss, but they remain the top seed in the NFC. As potential wildcard teams like the Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers start to fall back, it gives the 49ers a safety net if they can’t wrap up the division.

Dominated by a dynamic running game on Offense and one of the fiercest defensive fronts in the league, the 49ers have a clear recipe for success in mind. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has had some nice games, but isn’t being asked to carry the team week after week. With the 2nd best rushing Offense, 15th passing Offense, and 2nd best Defence in the league, the 49ers have established themselves as one of the teams to beat.

How They Could Win It All

By continuing to find success on the ground, the 49ers will make it difficult for opponents to take the lead. And as Garoppolo improves during the season, San Francisco can make Defences start to second-guess themselves. Controlling the clock and moving the ball regularly allows the 49ers to close out teams, regardless of the opponent. 

What will really give the 49ers a Super Bowl title though, is their Defence. They have the most sacks in the league and the fewest passing yards per game. Although they are a bit soft against the run, they aren’t bleeding huge runs or a lot of points on the ground. All levels of the Defence can generate turnovers, and they haven’t been severely challenged yet by an opposing Offense. With this Defence, San Francisco have the potential to beat anyone. They can put up the points to force opponents to pass against them, playing into their strengths.

The Achilles’ Heel

With the loss to the Seahawks, a few cracks in the armour started to surface. It was one of the 49ers’ worst games on Offense, struggling to run the ball like they have all season. It also gave their closest divisional rival a tiebreaker, instead of extending their lead. Not locking up home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and being forced to travel to hostile environments such as Lambeau Field or the Clink in Seattle, could further unravel things.

Furthermore, if it comes down to a tightly contested match, can Garoppolo win the game for them? The 49ers haven’t asked him to go out and throw much more than 30 times a game most weeks. But in the playoffs, can he win a shootout with the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Mahomes, or Lamar Jackson? A team that can force Garoppolo to make plays more than usual could exploit his inexperience.

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