Are you ready for some football?
The NFL playoffs begin Saturday with the start of wild card weekend.
Of the 12 teams in the playoffs, six are returning from last season: Houston, New England, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Green Bay and Kansas City. The other half are just as talented, though, with Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, the New York Giants and Oakland laying claim to solid rosters and diverse game plans.
While there are the usual division leaders every year, like the New England Patriots for example, there are still plenty of fresh faces to be seen in the playoffs.
Six of the NFL’s eight divisions feature new division champions from last season, the most since 2011 (7).
The only two teams in the playoffs who won their division last season are the Patriots and Texans.
But that is hardly a surprise for New England. The Patriots have won 13 division titles since 2002.
2016 was another strong year for quarterback Tom Brady and Co., with the Patriots waltzing to a 14-2 record.
The Patriots have been a cornerstone of consistency in the AFC, but in the NFC, how ’bout them Cowboys?
Dallas bounced back to win the NFC East after finishing in last place in 2015. This marked the 13th time in the past 14 seasons in which at least one team went from “worst-to-first” in its division.
Last season, the Cowboys limped to a dismal 4-12 record. This season, led by rookie sensations running back Ezekiel Elliot and quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys took the NFC by storm and finished the regular season with 13 wins.
Who are the contenders and who are the pretenders?
If you ask most people who will be in Superbowl LI, the common response is “Cowboys and Patriots.” They have the best record in their respective conferences, so its makes sense, right?
But here’s a prediction. Neither of those teams get to the Superbowl. Instead, Superbowl LI will be a matchup between quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.
A Steelers and Giants Superbowl.
The way the current playoff bracket is set-up, the Steelers would play the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Pittsburgh is the winner of seven straight games coming in to the postseason, and their offense is the most dangerous of any team in the playoffs.
Big Ben can heave deep balls to All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown all-day, and running back Le’Veon Bell is a game changer. Despite missing the first three games of the season, Bell still finished with 1,268 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Their defense is stout enough, and the Patriots defense will have an immense challenge corralling the Steelers’ offensive weapons.
For the NFC, the Giants seem like the team to beat, simply for their playoff experience. Eli Manning is a two-time Superbowl champion, and he is clutch in the postseason.
If the Giants win this weekend, they would play the Cowboys in the divisional round next week. Dallas’ inexperience would be a huge liability against a veteran savvy team like the Giants.
The Steelers rip off 11 straight wins to end the season, hoisting their seventh franchise Lombardi. They beat the Giants, 27-23.