Contender or pretender? That’s always the most crucial question about teams this time of year, especially teams like the Bengals or Patriots, you know, teams that were not expected to be here.
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Let’s start with the good stuff! Joe Burrow is the best young quarterback in the NFL, and he has weapons all over the place in Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Ja’Marr Chase. At running back, you have Joe Mixon; this is simply from a skill position perspective, one of the top three teams in the NFL at this point. This year, the defense has been excellent, led by Ty Hendrickson, who has at least one sack in eleven consecutive games. They have one of the best safety tandems in the NFL in Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell. Now let’s take a look at the bad stuff? The offensive line is terrible; even if the starters get healthy, the Bengals offensive line is an issue. They are much better up front than in the last few years, but that wouldn’t take much. On defense the weakness is at linebacker, where standout linebacker Logan Wilson has been hurt. The other issue was the loss to the Jets and the Bears, which stands as the reason the Bengals will not get the number one seed. Lack of playoff experience has to be another massive concern as this is one of the youngest teams in the NFL.
Pretender: but they are a pretender that can beat anyone that’s in the playoffs. In the end, I think the lack of experience means a three-game winning streak with probably two games being on the road is asking way too much of this team. The Bengals are a year away from being a severe threat.
The Bills were one of the Super Bowl favorites heading into this season, and for most of the year, they have not looked like it. Did that all change on Sunday with a win at New England? That win put the Bills back in the Super Bowl conversation. On offense you have a stud at quarterback in Josh Allen, and he has weapons at the receiver position in Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasly, and Gabriel Davis. Now, after a huge Sunday in New England, you can add a receiver named Isaiah McKenzie. The Bills have the experience of going to Kansas City to play a championship game, and the Bills defense is solid, and so is the coaching staff.
Contender: The Bills are a legit threat to the Chiefs and anyone else they play in the AFC. You have an elite quarterback in Josh Allen and excellent coaching.
The Colts are one of the hottest teams in the NFL at this moment, and Jonathan Taylor has been this year’s breakout star. The questions here surround quarterback Carson Wentz who, let’s face it was terrible until the fourth quarter in the Colts 22-16 win over the Cardinals. The Colts have a shot at winning the division, but it looks unlikely. Jonathan Taylor could control a road playoff game and get the Colts a win, but could they make a run to the Super Bowl?
Pretender: Carson Wentz is not going to win this team a huge road playoff game. Taylor is a beast, but there will come a time where Wentz has to put the team on his shoulders and make some plays, and I have a hard time envisioning that at this moment.
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The Patriots have surprised most people with a possible NFL playoff berth. Can they take it farther than that? Number one, it’s hard to ignore a team coached by Bill Belichick, which can never be overlooked. Mac Jones has played well at quarterback this season, but the last two weeks have shown his limitations. So to win in the playoffs, the Patriots will have to dominate on defense and the ground on offense. As we said earlier about Wentz, I just don’t trust that Mac Jones is ready to do that at this point in his career.
Pretender: Mac Jones is not ready for this yet, and the Patriots are mainly a one-dimensional team on offense, and that won’t get it done come playoff time. With that being said, Belichick coming to town for the playoffs would have to make anybody uneasy. The patriots are a year or two away.
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