The AFC side of the playoffs is not nearly as deep as the NFC side.
Because of injuries at quarterback, only the top-three seeds in the AFC have/had a legitimate chance to advance to the Super Bowl. The New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers are the only teams in the conference that have a real shot. And the Chiefs and Patriots had to take notice of what the Steelers did Sunday.
Both the Patriots and Chiefs know they do not have the dynamic ability the Steelers displayed in their 30-12 win against the Miami Dolphins.
The defense-led Chiefs can’t score points as fast or in as many ways as the Steelers. The Patriots – even with the great Tom Brady at quarterback – aren’t as explosive as the Steelers; not without injured star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The Steelers showed how crazy good they can be on offense when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (who says he will play next week despite being banged up late Sunday) hit Antonio Brown for 2 touchdown passes of 50 and 62 yards in the first quarter. Then, the Steelers ran the Le’Veon Bell train, even scoring on a drive consisting all of run plays.
Bell finished with 167 yards rushing and Brown had 124 through the air. This has to worry both the Patriots and the Chiefs. Kansas City next gets the Steelers, and they better play defense, because there’s no way it is going to be able to keep up offensively.
Here are 21 other observations from the wild-card round:
Typical Seahawks at home in January: The Seattle Seahawks have been in a funk at certain parts of the season. However, they looked like their typical nasty playoff selves on Saturday night in an easy win over Detroit.
Atlanta may be a different story for the Seahawks, though: Playing at Atlanta this Saturday won’t be as easy. The Seahawks have been vulnerable on the road, and even though their defense is stellar, the Falcons can put some points on them. This game has a chance to be one of the best of the postseason.
Poor Raiders: On Christmas Eve, the Oakland Raiders looked destined to be the No. 2 seed. Now, their season is over. The Raiders were very healthy for most of the regular season. Quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr broke his fibula, and it all changed. In nearly nine quarters without Carr, the Raiders were outscored 62-20. Oakland just didn’t stand a chance without its quarterback.
But their future is bright: Still, Oakland is a team to watch for the next several years. It has a strong core, and Carr will just get better. If you told me now the Raiders will win the Super Bowl next year, I wouldn’t fight it.
Hail Aaron: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did it again. He is the master of the Hail Mary as his back-of-the-end-zone shot to Randall Cobb at the end of the first half indicated. He is just so, so fun.
Early thoughts on divisional games: We’ve got the Seahawks-Falcons, Texans-Patriots, Steelers-Chiefs and Packers-Cowboys. I think all are A+ matchups, other than the game in New England. That’s a stinker. I think the other three, though, all can be classics, with the game in Dallas being the best of the bunch.
Will Jordy be back? Green Bay star receiver Jordy Nelson departed the game Sunday with a rib injury. The Packers went on to score 38 points after the injury and Rodgers threw 4 touchdown passes. But if the Packers are going to make it through the postseason, they’ll need Nelson. He has been a difference-maker for this offense during its seven-game winning streak.
Clowney is a bad man: Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney had a slow start to his NFL career because of injuries. But the former No. 1-overall pick looks the part now. He totally overmatched the Raiders on Saturday.
Seahawks offense comes alive: Quarterback Russell Wilson came up big. So did receiver Doug Baldwin. Thomas Rawls ran like an All-Pro tailback. Seattle’s offense was at its best. If it can continue that against a susceptible Atlanta defense, the Seahawks have a chance in Atlanta.
Lions just didn’t have enough: It was a decent season for the Detroit Lions, but Seattle was just too good.
But Detroit has a nice program going: Detroit general manager Bob Quinn has done a nice job, and this roster is headed in the right direction. Plus, quarterback Matthew Stafford is an underrated player. The Lions will be a team to deal with next season in the NFC.
Texans have some spunk, but no chance in New England: The Patriots opened as a 16-point favorite against Houston, which is an enormous spread. Still, I can see the Patriots easily covering. The Texans just don’t have the offense to keep up with Brady, who’ll find a way to hang 3o on the Texans’ top-rated defense.
Odell warms up kind of crazy: New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. went out without his shirt (you know, Miami Beach style) prior to the game in near-zero temps in Green Bay. Then, he brought out his fellow Miami Beach receivers to get in on the action. Cute.
Don’t blame the boat: Beckham didn’t have a great game Sunday and his team lost. I know some people will blame the trip to Miami for the loss. I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that one bit. The Packers were better. That’s all.
Osweiler deserves some credit: Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler got a lot of heat this season for being a free-agent bust, and it’s deserved. But he did do enough to lead the Texans to a playoff win. He could have packed it in after being benched. But when Tom Savage couldn’t play because of a concussion, Osweiler did enough to win. He wasn’t great, but he won.
Steelers took Ajayi out of the game: When the Dolphins beat the Steelers in October, Miami running back Jay Ajayi had 204 yards rushing. Sunday, he had just 33 yards rushing on 16 carries. While the Steelers won this game with explosive offense, their defense stepped up as well.
Amari Cooper has some proving to do: Oakland receiver Amari Cooper had 2 catches for 10 yards. Yes, rookie quarterback Connor Cook struggled in his first NFL start, but Cooper didn’t help his quarterback. Cooper didn’t have a 100-yard receiving game in the second half of the season. Cooper can be elite, but he’s not there yet.
Adam Gase has a good thing going: The Dolphins didn’t stand much of a chance in Pittsburgh. But Miami coach Adam Gase’s team will be a factor in the AFC for a while.
Wade in Oaktown? USA Today floated Wade Phillips as a possible candidate to be the Raiders’ next defensive coordinator if Ken Norton Jr. is fired. Philips’ contract is up in Denver. Do the Broncos really want to lose their great DC? Do the Broncos really want to lose him to their hated rival?
Todd Haley is underrated: Part of the reason why the Steelers’ offense is so explosive is offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Frankly, I don’t think Haley gets enough credit for his work as a coordinator. He wasn’t great as a head coach in Kansas City, but he is a top-of-the-line OC.
Did Denver watch the Vance Joseph show? It has been reported Phillips would be out in Denver if the Broncos hire Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph as coach. It has been reported Joseph is the frontrunner in Denver. His defense got jacked up Sunday. Wonder if that will sway the Broncos’ thoughts?