USA Today Sports Images

Evaluating The AFC's Top-3 Postseason Contenders' Strengths & Weaknesses

With only six games left on the schedule, Adam Uribes breaks down the AFC's top-3 postseason contenders. The NFL is entering its final stretch of games and former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s vision of parity is coming to fruition again, with as many as nine teams jockeying for six spots in the crowded AFC.

Today we’ll take a look at the three biggest threats to lock up the one-seed.

We'll evaluate the positives that could lead each team to represent the AFC in Houston in this year’s Super Bowl, and what holes that could force them to watch the big game on the couch. 

New England Patriots

Biggest Strength: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

As long as the Pats have this formidable coach/Qb duo, they will always be tough to beat come playoff time. The four-game suspension that Brady took at the beginning of the season could have been a blessing in disguise, as he will enter the last part of the season fresher than he has been in years past. For as much as that will annoy Broncos fans, New England will always be dangerous in the postseason.

New England is also built to win in a variety of ways offfensively. Try to take away the passing game and LeGarrette Blount — who's quietly having a solid year running the football and already has 12 rushing touchdowns for the year — will pound the rock.

Load up the box to keep Blount under control and you open yourself up to Brady picking you apart, with wideouts led by Julian Edelman, or his tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. When it comes to the New England offense, it’s a pick-your-poison scenario, which is nothing new to Wade Phillips.

Glaring Weakness: The Patriot Business Model.

Belichick has a penchant for parting ways with a player a year too soon rather than a year too late. Because they traded Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, the New England defense has been so-so all year, even when Collins was in the lineup. Now, the Patriots are No. 18 in total defense, 19th in passing yards allowed and 14th in rushing yards allowed.

Teams like Oakland or Kansas City, who can be very methodical in their respective offensive approach, could be very effective in grinding out the Patriots. In a two-fold fashion, it could victimize an already suspect defense, while keeping Tom Brady in the one place he can’t carve up an opposing defense — on the sideline.

Oakland Raiders

As painful as it is to come up with nice things to say about the Raidahs, the Silver and Black are enjoying a football renaissance this year. Key free agent signings, as well as seeing the fruits of several years of solid drafts, have come together to gel into a very good football team.

Biggest Strength: Offense

Derek Carr has been an MVP-caliber player this year and is the unquestioned leader of an offense that has a three-headed ground game that can salt away opponents in the form of Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. Reciver Amari Cooper shows no sign of any sophomore slump, pairing with veteran play-maker Michael Crabtree as well.

Most importantly, aside from the Dallas Cowboys, the Oakland offensive line is big, physical and affords plenty of time for Carr to either throw the football or open up holes in the ground game. As long as the offense is firing on all cylinders, the Raiders will be a force come playoff time.

Glaring Weakness: Youth

The Raiders are a young team and save for some pieces on defense like Malcolm Smith, Reggie Nelson and Bruce Irvin, there isn’t a lot of postseason experience to hang their hat on. That includes Head Coach Jack Del Rio and trickles down. It’s one thing to play well during the regular season, it’s quite another to play in front of a hostile crowd, with the lights on bright and your season on the line.

Barring a late season collapse, the Raiders will make their first postseason since the George W. Bush Administration.  If seeding stays the same as it is now (unlikely), the Raiders would travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens in a matchup where the home team would have a definite advantage in the experience department.

Denver Broncos

Biggest Strength: Experience

The preeminent sage Ric Flair said it best;

"To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” Before anyone tries to shovel dirt on the defending champions, let me remind you of something. Yes, they'll soon enter a brutal six-game stretch that will see them play three crucial divisional games. But the Broncos have proven over the last two seasons that when the stakes are high, they find a way to win. Style points be dammed; they are the most resilient team in the league.

This may not be the 2015 Broncos defense, but with key starters Aqib Talib and Derek Wolfe coming back after the bye, the team is getting healthy at just the right time. Power running teams have been a problem lately for Denver but they showed encouraging signs last Sunday against a good running team in the Saints.

While the Broncos may not be at the level of the Super Bowl-winning defense, they are still pretty good. And let's remember they didn't really raise their level of play until the playoffs. Still ranked at No. 5 in total defense and No. 1 against the pass, the No Fly Zone is still a top-flight defense that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Glaring Weakness: Inexperience At Quarterback

The team is only going as far as the arm of Trevor Siemian can carry them and that is a real cause for concern. For every great play he makes or throw that he completes, there is one that leaves you scratching your head.

When he manages the game well, the offense is competent and allows the defense time to rest on the sideline between series. When Siemain is "off", it gets ugly fast. These next six weeks will be a big indicator to determine whether Siemian is worthy of his spot as an NFL starting quarterback, or if he’s just keeping the seat warm for the raw rookie Paxton Lynch.

We still have lots of football left to play and even a slip-up by a game or two by any of the above teams will have a dramatic effect on how the playoff picture shakes out. Buckle up; the next six weeks are going to be quite the ride. 

Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

Follow Mile High Huddle on Twitter @MileHighHuddle and on Facebook.

To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!



Mile High Huddle Top Stories