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A Fan Guide To The NFL Playoffs


The NFL Playoffs are finally upon us, and congratulations to the fans whose favorite teams made it to the dance (including myself). As crazy as the regular season was, we can only hope that some of these “loser goes home” matchups live up to the hype. This will serve as your guide to the playoffs, assuming you don’t already have a team you are rooting for or care about.

Let’s be clear: these are not rankings. We will first list the seedings, after which we will rank teams according to who the average fan should be rooting for to win Super Bowl 56. We’ll also tell you who is a real contender or a pretender. When we say contender, we mean a real threat to win the Super Bowl, anyone who is a pretender isn’t.





NFC:

  1. Green Bay Packers

  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  3. Dallas Cowboys

  4. Los Angeles Rams

  5. Arizona Cardinals

  6. San Francisco 49ers

  7. Philadelphia Eagles



AFC:

  1. Tennessee Titans

  2. Kansas City Chiefs

  3. Buffalo Bills

  4. Cincinnati Bengals

  5. Las Vegas Raiders

  6. New England Patriots

  7. Pittsburgh Steelers







Who should the average fan be rooting for?





#14. New England Patriots

Contender or pretender? Pretender

Nobody expected the Patriots to be here at the beginning of the year, yet here they are. Bill Belichick put on another masterclass coaching year, as he guided a team with a rookie quarterback to a 10-7 record and the number six seed in the playoffs. As good as the Pats are on both sides of the ball, primarily on defense, I just cannot see them getting past the wild card round, as they pulled a tough matchup against the Bills. The offense is stagnant at times and the team continues to play down to their competition including in the week 18 matchup against the Dolphins. The real reason they are last on the list of who an average fan should be rooting for is because they have had continued success over the last two decades (including six Super Bowls), and the team is hated by fans around the country, so the last thing everyone wants to see is the team from New England to win it again.









#13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Contender or pretender? Contenders

The defending champs come in at 13. Last year the Bucs winning it all was a great story, but the last thing we want as fans is to see Brady win again and the Bucs to repeat. Brady has won six Super Bowls and is the greatest of all time, so after such a fun season, Brady winning the chip again would be exhausting and boring. This team is extremely talented, on offense and especially on defense. The Bucs got riddled by injuries down the stretch, including Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette. They have a talented roster, so it is scary how likely it is for them to repeat. We as fans should hope that another (more fun) team gets in the way of Brady and the Bucs. I don’t personally see the Bucs repeating, but when you have some guy named Tom Brady playing for your team, you always have a chance.








#12. Kansas City Chiefs

Contender or pretender? Contender

I am starting to see a trend in our first few teams: they all have won a Super Bowl in recent memory. I think for the most part, the majority of fans do not want to see a familiar team in the Super Bowl this year after such a hectic regular season. After a horrible start, the Chiefs turned their season around and now sit at the number two seed. They have a pretty big fanbase, but people associated with the team like (cough-cough) Jackson Mahomes makes you not want to root for them. It would be pretty disappointing as a fan to see the Chiefs in the Super Bowl again, so that is why they rank so low. Their “dynasty” was fun the first two years when Mahomes was taking the league by storm, but now it is tiring, just like what the Patriots became. This team is in the same situation as the Bucs, when you have a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes, you always have a chance, especially in January.






#11. Dallas Cowboys

Contender or pretender? Pretender

The most hated team in America comes in at number eleven. The only reason this team isn’t at number fourteen is because they haven’t been to an NFC Championship since 1995, they have a huge fanbase, and the team has some guys to root for including Dak Prescott and Micah Parsons. This team as we’ve seen down the stretch has absolutely no shot going into the postseason. Like I said, fans hate the Cowboys. I am not totally sure why, but it is a unanimous decision on the internet that the Cowboys suck, so you might as well hop on the bandwagon. Cowboys haters might get their wish as this team is probably a first-round exit. This is going to be the first year in the playoffs for Mike McCarthy in Dallas, and if this team could be just a little more consistent and disciplined, maybe they can prove everyone wrong.






#10. Philadelphia Eagles

Contender or pretender? Pretender

Alongside the Patriots, the Eagles also had an extremely unlikely run to the playoffs. After a 2-5 start, the Eagles won six of their last eight and snuck into the playoffs riding their running game. After a rocky start for rookie head coach Nick Sirianni, he seems to be getting better and better every week. Like I mentioned, the Eagles rode their run game led by Miles Sanders and Jalen Hurts. The Eagles are one of the teams that are disliked by many fans, which is why they are low on our rankings. They are in the same boat as the Cowboys, their fan base ranks near the bottom of the league, so nobody besides their own fans wants to see this team make a run.








#9. Green Bay Packers

Contender or pretender? Contender

Coming in at number nine is the number one seed in the NFC, and my personal pick to win the Super Bowl. This could be Aaron Rodgers’ last dance in Green Bay, and he has made a hell of a season out of it. The man is most likely to be a back-to-back MVP, and for the second consecutive year, led the Packers to the one seed. The Packers rank lower on this list just because there are better stories in front of them, but nonetheless fans should be rooting for this team to finally surpass an NFC Championship game and finally win a Superbowl.






#8. Arizona Cardinals

Contender or pretender? Pretender

I wasn't sure where to put the Cardinals because they are like the team in the middle. I don’t think anyone besides Cardinals fans really want this team to go far into the playoffs. They do not have a “fun” roster like some of these other postseason-bound teams, but they do have the electric Kyler Murray. The Cardinals are frauds with a capital F, and though they have a pretty substantial fanbase, they will have to travel in the playoffs. The only silver lining this team has going for it is that they are better on the road than at home, so their fans have something to travel for.. They open up against the Rams, which should be a good game. If the Cardinals beat the Rams, barring an upset from the 49ers or Eagles, they will be traveling to Lambeau for a date with the Packers. Maybe then fans can start bandwagoning onto the Cardinal hype train.












#7. Pittsburgh Steelers

Contender or pretender? Pretender

There are three words to describe the Steelers season and a possible postseason run: one last ride. This is Big Ben's last year, and it has accumulated as the Steelers backed into the playoffs with a 9-7-1 record (which included a tie against the Lions!). They have one of the best fanbases in the league, so you know they are gonna travel on the road. I think everyone should root for the Steelers just because of Big Ben, hence why they come in at number seven. I don’t think that rooting will last very long, as this team is not very good, but that’s not the point. They have to play the Chiefs in the wild card, a team they just lost 36-10 to. The defense carried this team as far as they could, which is most likely a first round exit. If you’re looking for someone to root for beyond just one game, keep looking.














#6. Los Angeles Rams

Contender or Pretender? Contender(?)

Just barely outside the top five, and at number six is the NFC West Champion, L.A. Rams. This is the most talented team Sean McVay has ever put on the field. They finished 12-5, yet I am stumped on whether this team can actually produce in the postseason. This team, unlike the Cardinals, has a “fun” roster, including OBJ, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, and Matt Stafford. Matt Stafford has only been to the playoffs twice in his career, and he has yet to win a game. This is why I put them at six, Stafford has been solid his whole career and is a guy everyone should root for. The determining factor in if this team can actually win it all is going to be Matt Stafford, he has never won a playoff game, and has been inconsistent in big moments this year. This team is electric on the field and an easy one to root for, if they make the Super Bowl, I would be happy with it.








#5. Tennessee Titans

Contenders or pretenders? Contenders

Cracking the top five in our rankings is the number one seed in the AFC. This team is my pick for winning the AFC. The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC runs through Tennessee, and with Derrick Henry coming back for the playoffs, they can run right through their competition. I personally enjoy rooting for Ryan Tannehill and the Titans, and Mike Vrabel is one of the funniest and best coaches in the NFL, which makes it easy for fans to want him and his team to win. The Titans are also filled with exciting playmakers including Julio Jones and AJ Brown, making them even easier to root for. They had the best record in the NFL with Derrick Henry playing, so with him back after being out since October, this team is definitely the team to beat in the AFC.








#4. San Francisco 49ers

Contenders or pretenders? Contenders

It may be controversial to put the Niners as contenders, but I believe it with all my heart. This team has been here before, as they won the NFC just two seasons ago. Deebo Samuel is one of my favorite players in the league, since he is just so much fun to watch. They have other playmakers in George Kittle and Elijah Mitchell, who are also fun to watch and make rooting for the Niners a fun choice for fans. This team cracks the top five because it’s just better in the NFL when the Niners are good, and the team has a good aura surrounding them.








#3. Buffalo Bills

Contender or pretender? Contender

The top three teams on this list is where things really get fun. The Bills were runner-ups in the AFC last year, and this year they are back in the playoffs as AFC East champs. The reason the Bills are so high is because they have an awesome fanbase, even though the team hasn’t won the AFC since 1993. Joining the Bills Mafia for the postseason would be an excellent decision. This team, like the Niners, has a good feeling about them. They have the all-electric Josh Allen, and playmakers such as Stephon Diggs. The Bills are built to beat the Chiefs in January, so if they get that matchup, I think they can win the game. They are capable of going to the Super Bowl but are inconsistent on both sides, just like the Cowboys. Just like the Rams, if they made it to the Super Bowl it would be great for the fans and the NFL.













#2. Las Vegas Raiders

Contender or Pretender? Pretender

How can you not root for this Raiders team? After all they have been through this year between Henry Ruggs and Jon Gruden, they battled through adversity and made the tournament. The team played some good ball down the stretch, and won over the Charger in week 18 to secure their spot. Another reason to root for this squad is Derek Carr, he will be playing in his first playoff game in the NFL, and they are coached by an interim head coach! How can anyone not want to root for that? Although this team is a great story, they will not be going far into the playoffs. They have a coaching disadvantage, but this team is above average at best. They pulled a tough matchup in the wild card round against the Bengals, so the hopes and dreams of the teams and fans might be over in round one.









#1. Cincinnati Bengals

Contender or pretender? Contender

The obvious choice for the number one team to root for in the playoffs is the Bengals. Just like the Raiders, this team is a feel-good story, going from worst-to-first in the AFC North. This could possibly be the most talented team the Bengals have compiled in years. They are led by Joe Burrow, my personal favorite quarterback in the league. He has an artillery of thrilling weapons to throw to including Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, (potential rookie of the year) Ja’Maar Chase, and even Joe Mixon coming out of the backfield. The Bengals home crowds have been one of the best all year, so I am looking forward to the playoff atmosphere in Cincy. I think this team can easily make a run in the tournament with the roster that is built, which makes them the perfect candidate for hopping on the bandwagon and rooting for with all your soul. Every team has their ups and downs, but I am most excited to see this young and electrifying team play in games that matter.





As I mentioned in the intro, the playoffs just feel different in the NFL, and I am excited to watch every game as a true football fan. I hope this postseason lives up to the hype and we get some awesome games and moments. From one football fan to another, let's enjoy this time, and enjoy some playoff football. LFG.





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