AFC Playoffs Q&A: It's wide open

2. Does Tom Brady have enough help around him to make another Super Bowl run? No. Brady once again proved this season that he's the best quarterback of his generation. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was the only top receiver who returned from last season -- and injuries limited him to just seven games. Still, Brady led the Patriots to a 12-4 record. It was a remarkable run of success, but it's one that will not continue through the postseason. We've already seen how different the Patriots' offense is without Gronkowski, who missed the first six weeks of the season with a back injury and is now out for the season with a torn ACL. New England averaged 32 points per game with him in the lineup and just over 24 without him. But the Patriots have simply taken too many hits to think Brady can do this all by himself going forward. The season-ending injuries to defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer will haunt this team. A first-round bye can only help so much.

3. Is Andy Dalton good enough to lead the Bengals to a deep playoff run? No quarterback in this year's AFC playoffs has more to prove than Dalton, and it says here that he'll be up to the task. He's enjoyed his best season as a pro -- setting career-highs in completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns and passer rating -- and he's playing with the best supporting cast of his three-year career. The Bengals have a big-play running back in rookie Giovani Bernard. They have one of the game's best wide receivers in A.J. Green and a defense that is better than anybody else's in this year's AFC playoff race. All Dalton has to do is keep playing as he did before throwing four interceptions in Cincinnati's 34-17 season-ending win over Baltimore. Before that clunker of a performance, Dalton had thrown 10 touchdown passes and only one interception in his four previous games. Look, he'll never be confused with Andrew Luck. But he does understand his strengths and helped this team reach the playoffs in his first two seasons. This is the year when the Bengals go far beyond the first round.

4. Which Colts team will show up for the postseason? No team has been more difficult to assess than the Colts. They have impressive wins over Seattle, San Francisco and Denver. They've looked feeble in losses to St. Louis, Arizona and Cincinnati. They also don't have many playmakers on offense, especially with Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne lost for the season with a torn ACL. What's even more difficult to like about the Colts is their first-round playoff opponent. The Colts' 23-7 win over Kansas City two weeks ago was the kind of game that probably made casual observers think the Chiefs couldn't win a rematch in Indianapolis. In fact, this is exactly the kind of game that should scare Colts fans. The Chiefs will be more prepared and more aware of what Indianapolis did to dismantle them in Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs also realize their franchise history -- they haven't won a playoff game in 20 years -- gives them ample motivation to win this contest. There's no question the Colts should be favored at home because of their raucous home crowd and Luck's continued maturation. Just don't be surprised if they disappoint in ways they already have earlier this year.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...