No. 1 Seed: New England Patriots
All games will go through Foxborough as long as the Patriots are still in it. With their home field advantage, and first round bye, the Patriots are heavy favorites to win the Conference to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
|RB Joseph Addai takes a lot of pressure off Manning to win games (Getty images)|
No 2 Seed: Indianapolis Colts
Passing game - Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. If he has his weapons available, he's capable of scoring quickly, as the Patriots remember.
Running game - Joseph Addai gives the Colts a lot of options out of the backfield. The Colts offense is ranked 5th in the league.
Defensive line -- is considered undersized and susceptible to a bruising running attack. They're the 15th ranked team against the run, but second against the pass. Without Dwight Freeney, the pass rush has dropped off a bit. They rank 26th overall with just 28 sacks on the year.
Injuries - The Colts have missed Marvin Harrison. They've lost Freeney, and they're fighting injuries at a number of other positions. it could be a factor on depth.
Threat potential: Highest
Colts are the top threat to the Patriots, and they have an extra week to get their injured players back. If Manning has time, he could put up 30 points easily on the Patriots defense. The Colts average 28.1 points per game (3rd overall).
|Tomlinson gives the Chargers a steady, reliable threat on the ground (getty images)|
No. 3 Seed: San Diego Chargers
Rushing Attack - LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the premiere backs in the league. If the Chargers get him going, then their offense opens up. Tomlinson led the league with 1,474 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The passing game -- Philip Rivers can turn in a good game one week and then play horribly the following week. His inconsistency and lack of maturity could lead to a loss of confidence if they get behind early. Rivers has thrown 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His 81.3 QB rating puts him 16th in the league.
Big play defense - the Chargers defense is giving up over 320 yards a game (19th in the league). The damage comes through the air as they've given up 89 first downs (11th overall) on the ground and 185 through the air (21st overall).
Threat Potential: Medium
San Diego can run the ball very well when they need to. LT won the rushing title because Norv Turner decided to go back to what his team was good at. The Patriots have trouble with strong rushing attacks, but they've seen these Chargers before. Stop LT, cover Chambers or Gates and Rivers will not be able to win the game. But stopping LT is the key.
|Clark Haggan leads an aggressive Pittsburgh defense (Getty images)|
No. 4 Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers
Aggressive Defense - the Steelers sport arguably the best defense in the NFL. They gave up some big plays to the Patriots in their first meeting though.
Running Game - Another strong threat if their offensive line can open holes for the Najeh Davenport. They rank 3rd in the league averaging 135.5 yards per game.
Passing Game - The Patriots have been able to get to Roethlisberger in the past and can likely do so again. His legs make him dangerous, but bad throws at the wrong time have hurt. The Steelers rank 19th in the league with just 191.9 yards per game pasing.
Secondary - When the Steelers gamble on the blitz, they leave their corners and safeties on their own. They can be burned deep or over the middle with multiple receiver sets.
Threat Potential: Medium
Pittsburgh will try to grind out the yards against the Patriots defense and will likely find success doing it. The Pats have had trouble stopping the run, but have been able to stifle teams in the red zone. Roethlisberger has had to ad lib at times because his pas protection breaks down, and the Pats should be able to take advantage there. Unless the weather is bad, Pats have the advantage despite the return of Troy Polamalu.
|Jones-Drew is the little engine that propels the Jaguars ground game when Fred Taylor takes a breather (getty images)|
No. 5 Seed: Jacksonville Jaguars
Running Game - The second best running game in the league averaging 149.4 yards per game. Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor present a two-headed attack.
Rush Defense - As well as the Jags run the ball, they can stop the run. With Paul Spicer and a healthy John Henderson, the Jags are tough up front. Solid blitzing also helps the team maintain the 11th best rush defense giving up just 100.3 yards per game.
Passing Attack - David Garrard may have one of the lowest interception ratios in the league, but he hasn't been asked to win games in the air. He's been able to use his legs to keep plays alive, but getting the ball deep is an issue.
Overall Defense - Wwhile the rush defense can be tough up front, the overall defense isn't quite as stout yielding over 313 yards per game (12th overall). The Jags just can't get teams off the field as opponents have averaged over 40% successful conversion rate on third downs.
Threat Potential: High
The Jags are built to knock off a team like the Patriots if they can get pressure on Brady. The problem is, if they don't they can be burned. If Jacksonville is down big late and have to go away from the running game, that could be their downfall. Otherwise, this is one of the toughest across the board matchups in the playoffs.
|Young poses a dual threat with his legs. His QB ability is the knock on him (AP Photo)|
No. 6 Seed: Tennessee Titans
Mobile Quarterback - The Titans won on the strength of their quarterback posing a dual threat. The defenses' need to respect Young's ability to run allowed him to fake the run to open a throwing lane.
Defense - the Titans have he 5th ranked defense in the league, yielding a little over 92 yards per game on the ground. Stop the run and they can make teams one dimensional. The Titans also rank 4th overall in preventing teams from sustaining drives by forcing teams to go three-and-out an impressive 48 times.
Rushing Attack - the Titans have the 5th best rushing attack with Lendale White turning in an 1100 yard season.
Passing Game - The Titans -- much like the Chargers -- have issues passing the ball. Ranked 27th overall (Chargers 26th), both teams struggle to get the ball downfield.
Offensive Scoring Output - the Titans have averaged just 18.8 points per game. The Patriots haven't scored less than 20 points in a game, and average roughly 37 points per game.
Threat Potential: Low
How the Titans got to the playoffs is still confusing, they have issues everywhere. When the Colts pulled their starters in week 17, it put the least formidable team into the postseason, and they had to struggle to get there against backups. If the Titans start Vince Young, it will actually be easier to defend against them. Kerry Collins has opened up the Titans passing attack and provides more experience and consistency in the passing game. New England has the top ranked scoring offense in the league, and they can throw the ball, something the Titans have had trouble stopping. If the Titans can get the ground game going, then they have a good shot to stay with the Pats, leaning on their defense. If they get behind, Young is not the player to bring them back, although Collins might, after chalking up a
New England will play the lowest seed coming out of the wildcard round setting up a potential match against the: Steelers (4), Jaguars (5) or Titans (6). The ideal matchup would be against the Titans if they find a way to knock off the Chargers. That probably won't happen unless Vince Young plays smarter or Philip Rivers has a meltdown. Assuming the Chargers win, then New England will play either Jacksonville or Pittsburgh, both physical bruising football teams that could give the Patriots fits.
The Colts have lost to the Chargers, the Patriots and the Titans. The only team they could see in the Divisional round is San Diego if the Chargers beat the Titans (expected) and the Jaguars beat the Steelers (very possible). That could set up the perfect scenario
The best opportunity available is for the Patriots is to get the Titans next week. In order for that to happen Young has to find a way to become a quarterback, not just a running back behind center.
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