A look at the gridiron before play ensues. With the playoffs about to start, the turf is ready to go. 
Photo by Casper Eichman.

The 2021-22 NFL season has supplied some of the best games, finishes, and individual moments in recent memory. Coming back from a heavily coronavirus-riddled year last season with many players missing games or opting out completely, seeing fully healthy teams battle it out is a breath of fresh air. Ending in another dramatic close to the NFL regular season, the 2022 playoffs are bound to start with a bang. 

Let’s start with easily the best team and number one seed in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay had a loaded roster this season, including MVP candidate quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and pro bowl players Devante Adams and Kenny Clark. At the moment, the Packers have the best odds to win the Super Bowl at +375 (Odds from Fox Bet). Even though Green Bay secured the week long break and has the best odds to win it all, it doesn’t change their long history of losing late in the playoffs. In the past three trips to the playoffs, the Packers have lost in the NFC championship all three times. Hopefully they can keep it together and make a run at the Super Bowl this year. 

Kicking off the playoffs is a matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Philadelphia Eagles. This game is a no-brainer, with Tampa Bay having the greatest postseason quarterback of all time in Tom Brady, and being second in the league in points scored with 30.1 points per game the Buccaneers are the clear favorite. Not to mention they are fifth in points allowed with 22.6 points allowed per game. Although they have been riddled with injuries late in the season with star wide receiver Chris Godwin and running back Leonard Fournette out for the year, this won’t stop a great Buccaneers team from making a deep playoff run. Philadelphia barely snuck into the playoffs with a 9-8 record, carried by their number one running game in the league. The Eagles are an extremely young team who have a chance for a Cinderella story run into the playoffs, but their weak defense will really hold them back when going against the better teams in the league.  

Next is the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco relies heavily on head coach Kyle Shanahan and star offensive threat wide receiver Deebo Samuel to win their games. The 49ers are a good overall team but they lack high quality quarterback play, with starting quarterback Jimmy Garapolo being as average as it gets. He has led the 49ers to a Super Bowl before though, so it wouldn’t be a shock if he found a way to do it again. Adding more to the NFL lore the 49ers are playing another one of the most historic teams ever, the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are the most interesting team in the league. They have star players at every position, and lead the league in points per game and interceptions. Their 22 year old linebacker Micha Parsons is having arguably the greatest rookie season ever, and their second year corner Trevon Diggs almost broke the single season record for interceptions. The only problem is that they struggle considerably against playoff caliber teams. Dallas has been 3-4 against playoff teams, and two of those wins come against the unstable Eagles. The Cowboys have the talent to win a Super Bowl, but it really comes down to how coach Mike McCarthy puts it together. 

Rounding out the NFC is a matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals. The Rams have had an incredible season so far. They are seventh in points scored per game, and third in both sacks and interceptions. This team is incredible on defense with multiple pro bowlers;Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald. But offense is where the Rams really thrive. Veteran quarterback Matt Stafford is having a career season and wide receiver Cooper Kupp just earned the triple crown, leading the league in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. The Rams are a fantastic team that is only improving as they look to bring a Super Bowl back to Los Angeles. Facing the Rams is their NFC West rival, the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals started the year out hot, winning their first seven games before being stopped by the Packers. They have a great young core led by quarterback Kyler Murray. This is a flashy and exciting team, but nagging injuries to Kyler Murray and defensive end JJ Watt may hold them back from making a play at the championship.      

The Tennessee Titans earned the number one seed and a bye in the first week of the playoffs without their best player Derrick Henry for half of the season. Henry didn’t play in week 18 but he was taken off of the injured reserve list which is a great sign for him to play in the divisional round. The Titans lead the league in time of possession and their tough style of play wears other teams out quickly. Tennessee has a great chance of going all the way if Derrick Henry comes back.

 In a shocking week 18 finish the Raiders made the playoffs. The Raiders have had the wildest run to the playoffs ever. Their best wide receiver was involved in a drunk driving accident, head coach Jon Gruden was fired for insensitive emails, and their star tight end Darren Waller was out with injuries for a majority of the year. But the raiders found a way to win the close games, going 4-0 in their last four games, and no team wants anything to do with the Raiders right now. They go against an incredible Cincinnati Bengals team who just came off a great win against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bengals are extremely dynamic and can make a big play at any moment, because of star rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase. This is the first time in six years that the Bengals are going to be in a playoff game, and with a tremendous team ranking seventh in points scored per game Cincinnati plans on making an unexpected journey to the Super Bowl.

Bill Belichick has once again coached a below average roster to the playoffs. Led by an incredible defense and rookie quarterback Mac Jones, the Patriots are who they always are: a run-first offense ranking sixth in points per game and an extremely smart defense ranking second in both points allowed per game and interceptions. We have seen teams structured like this make it to the Super Bowl many times, but it all depends on how well Mac Jones can handle the postseason pressure. Going against New England in the wild card round is their division rival, the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have been on a mission in the last four weeks, going 4-0 in that span. This is a top 3 team in the NFL in both points scored and allowed, despite struggling in games where their opponent controls the clock and beats them in time of possession. A week 13 loss to the patriots was an anomaly because of the 50 mile per hour gusts of wind whipping through the outdoor stadium. As long as the weather is somewhat consistent ,the Bills have a good shot of bringing the Lombardi trophy back to Buffalo.

Lastly is a matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs have made it to the Super Bowl two years in a row and plan to make it three. Though starting the season with a disappointing 3-4 record, Kansas City has only lost one game since week 8. The difference has been the defense, as in weeks 1-7, Kansas City was giving up 29 points a game which would rank 31st in the league. But since their struggles early in the season they have only allowed 16.1 points per game which would rank first. There was no trade or big signing that changed this team’s mentality. It is fueled by the power of proving everyone wrong. The Steelers made the playoffs by a hair. This is a mediocre team who made the playoffs directly because of defensive player of the year TJ Watt, but their run is soon to come to an end as they start to face the best teams in the league.

In the eyes of most Analysts there are four teams who can easily win the championship. Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Los Angeles all have the best combinations of coaching and talent spread across their rosters, but when it comes to the playoffs anything can happen.

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