The Divisional round is nearly upon us and there’s still 6 games to play before the Super Bowl. The Divisional round this weekend should be a good one, with the 1 seeds playing. From the 1 seeds down to the 6th seed, every team has strengths and weaknesses. I’ll be breaking down each remaining playoff teams’ strengths and weaknesses and how they can cover them up.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers have been one of the NFL’s best offenses this year, led by an MVP candidate in Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers leads an offense that is 10th in PPG and doesn’t turn the ball over much. They’ve got a great offensive minded head coach with Matt LaFleur, and lots of weapons. Even when shorthanded, the Packers proved that they can win in different ways. As long as Rodgers is on the field, the Packers offense is dangerous.
Even after losing Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander earlier this season, the Packers defense has been solid. However, they’re not exactly a Super Bowl caliber defense compared to other teams in the NFC. They’re ranked 10th in defense and 22nd in DVOA according to Football Outsiders. The Packers’ run defense has been one of the worst this season, finishing 29th in EPA per play. If the injured players can come back in full force, they can help elevate an average defense.
Strength- Front 7
Tennessee earned the top seed in the AFC by playing old-school, physical football. Their front seven has consistently pressured opposing QBs and its masked their weak secondary. Between Harold Landry, Denico Autry, and Jeffrey Simmons they know how to get to the QB. If the front seven can keep up their good play, it can help the defensive backs.
Weakness- Pass Defense
The Titans secured the 1 seed through a physical defense and a solid offense. Their secondary however, gives up the 8th most yards and has been banged up down the stretch. All of the remaining AFC playoff teams have a good passing attack, and Tennessee will have to tighten up in the secondary if they want any chance at a Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Strength- Run Defense
Tampa Bay’s run defense has been a top unit for the past 3 years in a row and for good reason. They’ve got a great front 7 led by Devin White and Vita Vea. They’re ranked 3rd least in rushing yards allowed and the 5th least rushing touchdowns per game. When they faced the Eagles in the Wild Card they held Philly to 95 total rushing yards, when they had averaged the most in the league at 159.7 per game. If they can stifle the Rams run game this weekend, they’ve got a better chance at advancing to the NFC Championship.
What was once deemed a “Super Team” is now facing many injuries to offensive starters. Currently, they’re down Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette, and Antonio Brown (for different reasons). A couple of their offensive lineman are also listed on the injury report, which doesn’t bode well for a matchup with a strong Rams defensive front. The Bucs need a reliable #2, as Evans and Gronk can’t carry all the weight in the passing game.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have had a great offense ever since Patrick Mahomes took over in 2018. Even though they struggled at the beginning of this year, they returned to form as the 4th highest scoring offense. Even though their run game isn’t as strong, their passing offense makes up for it. With one of the best offensive minds in the game, the Chiefs offense has another chance to lead the team back to the Super Bowl for the 3rd year in a row.
The Chiefs defense in the Patrick Mahomes era has never been dominant. It was always Andy Reid’s offense that carried the team to many wins. In each of the last two seasons, the unit has allowed more total yards per game and points per game. They’ve declined since winning the Super Bowl, and they’ve struggled in certain games this season. They’ve been unable to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks. They are 31st in terms of sack % and 24th in terms of yards allowed per game. Unless the Chiefs want their season to end as it did in 2018, they must improve their defense.
Los Angeles Rams
Strength- Star Power
Los Angeles has made many moves this year and all of them have paid off. Sony Michel was operating as their lead back until Akers returned, and Odell Beckham Jr. has been a reliable target. Von Miller has been a key veteran in their pass rush. Along with their incumbent stars like Donald and Kupp, their in season moves have helped propel both sides of the ball be better.
The Rams started off the 2021 season hot, came back down to earth, fell into a slump, and are now performing well again. They haven’t had consistency on offense due to turnovers and having to play catch-up in the second half. The defense struggled at the beginning of the year, but has since improved. As I wrote in my other article, if they can keep up the same level of play on both sides of the ball for another 2 games, they’ve got a shot at the Lombardi.
The Buffalo Bills might have the most balanced team left in the playoffs. Their defense was 3rd in takeaways, and last in offensive yards allowed. Their offense ranked 3rd in points per game and 5th in offensive yards per game. With Josh Allen at the helm and their stout defense, they could easily make the Super Bowl if everything goes right.
The Bills run game hasn’t been terrible, but to beat some of the other powerful offenses, they need to be more diverse on offense. Devin Singletary has taken over lead back responsibilities recently, and has averaged 51.2 yards per game this year. The Bills rushing attack shouldn’t have to solely rely on Josh Allen, and take some pressure off of him in the run game.
San Francisco 49ers
Strength- Run Game
The 49ers run game is one of the best in the league. No matter who the running back is, Shanahan uses pre-snap motion to scheme his offense around them. Their run game is always in attack mode; every motion and movement has purpose. Because of how strong their run game is, they don’t have to rely as much on QB Jimmy Garoppolo. They play a physical, ball-control style of football that relies on their good ground game, and it shows.
Weakness- Jimmy Garoppolo
Jimmy G is the one part of the 49ers team that could be considered a weakness. They’ve got a solid defense and a good run game, but quarterback isn’t a strength. He’s by far the worst quarterback of the rest of the teams in the playoffs and leans on the run game to find success. Garoppolo is also prone to turnovers, which doesn’t help the team. They’ll need reduce to reduce their passing frequence to combat Garoppolo’s turnover issues.
Strength- Passing Game
The Bengals were heavily criticized for taking WR Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell in the draft this year, but it has payed off. Burrow improved from his numbers last year and helped Chase break the rookie receiving record. Along with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, the Bengals passing attack is one of the best in the league. They averaged the 7th most passing yards per game, and points per game despite resting starters in week 18.
Weakness- Offensive Line
As I mentioned above, Cincinnati was criticized for taking Chase, but he didn’t exactly solve their offensive line issues. Joe Burrow was sacked 51 times this season, which was the most in the NFL. The Bengals interior O-Line isn’t a dominant unit and could use some work. According to ESPN, none of the Bengals’ offensive lineman rank in the top 10 for run block or pass block win rate. As a team, they rank 30th in pass block win rate and tied for 10th in run block win rate. There’s some work to be done in the trenches for the Bengals if they want to win against a great Titans front 7.