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SportEach NFL playoff contender’s biggest concern

19:20  06 december  2018
19:20  06 december  2018 Source:

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Each NFL playoff contender’s biggest concern© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We’re slowly beginning to whittle down the list of NFL playoff contenders as teams begin to fade and fall out of the race. That still leaves us with plenty of potential entrants, though, some much more likely than others.

Even the best of these teams have weak spots; there are, after all, no unbeatens in the NFL anymore. There’s going to be a lot of game-planning for these weaknesses, and a lot of efforts to exploit them. Some of them will likely cost their teams a playoff game.

Here’s a look at the glaring flaw for each of the NFL’s major playoff contenders.

Los Angeles Rams (11-1) — Run defense

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Playoff kryptonite: Lack of big plays on offense. Closer to home, the Rams might be concerned with the Saints and Seahawks , each of whom rank in the top 10 with 17 forced fumbles. The concern about Bortles against playoff -caliber competition will be whether he can make plays downfield in

How banged up are the playoff contenders ? Why it matters: Smith' s status is the biggest concern . He has not been able to stay healthy the past three seasons, and he missed the Thanksgiving game when Veteran Cameron Fleming is a solid option in reserve if Smith' s status remains iffy each week.

For a team with such a talented defensive front, the Rams actually sit just below the average among run defenses this season. They’ve allowed about 118 yards per game this season, good for a modest 18th in the NFL. The worrisome performances are there; both Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson went for over 100 yards against them for the Seattle Seahawks this season, and it would probably be worse if teams could afford to run more against them. Even the team’s own players have highlighted their run defense as a weak spot.

New Orleans Saints (10-2) — Protecting Drew Brees

It only took Terron Armstead’s removal to demonstrate just how fragile the New Orleans offensive line can be. Drew Brees was limited against the Dallas Cowboys as a makeshift offensive line left him under a lot of pressure for much of the game. Armstead should be back by the playoffs, but Dallas demonstrated that a talented pass rush can get at Brees and disrupt the entire New Orleans offense. That’s a real danger in the playoffs.

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Bama and Clemson are double-digit Playoff favorites S&P+ says the matchups are closer than that, however. require(["medianetNativeAdOnArticle"], function (medianetNativeAdOnArticle) { medianetNativeAdOnArticle.getMedianetNativeAds(true); }); 2018’s College Football Playoff field is set, and so are opening lines for both semifinals. No. 1 Alabama opened as a 14-point favorite against No. 4 Oklahoma. No. 2 Clemson opened as an 11.5-point favorite against No. 3 Notre Dame. Those odds are via the Westgate Las Vegas’ SuperBook USA. Meanwhile, William Hill set Alabama as a 13.

How banged up are 14 NFL playoff contenders ? How banged up are the playoff contenders ? Why it matters: Smith' s status is the biggest concern . He has not been able to stay healthy the past three seasons, and he missed the Thanksgiving game when the stinger flared up in pregame warm-ups.

Toughest, easiest remaining schedules for NFL playoff contenders . play . Rams too inexperienced to threaten Eagles? To figure that out, we looked at the expected winning percentage of a perfectly average team against each team' s remaining schedule.

Kansas City Chiefs (10-2) — Pass defense

The Kansas City run defense isn’t airtight, but it’s really rather remarkable to see a 10-2 team’s defense posting the worst set of passing numbers in the NFL. The Chiefs are permitting 295 yards per game through the air, a full 15 yards worse than the Cincinnati Bengals, who are second-worst. They have an incredible offense, but if they keep getting stuck in shootouts, it’s entirely possible that something bad could happen to them in the playoffs.

New England Patriots (9-3) — Pass defense

From a pure numbers standpoint, the Patriots are very nearly a bottom-10 passing defense. A lot of those numbers were inflated in some early-season defeats where the team really struggled, and they have improved lately — see their excellent handling of the Minnesota Vikings’ passing attack on Sunday. However, there is a unit here to be taken advantage of by some of the league’s best passing attacks — attacks whom New England will likely have to go through to win a Super Bowl.

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With the rest of the season focused on the push for the playoffs , PFF' s Sam Monson examines the strengths and weaknesses of all the 2017 NFL playoff contenders . PFF experts use our exclusive player grades and signature stats to analyze the performance of each NFL team and player.

Here are our biggest concerns for each National League contender . The Giants have a top two in their starting rotation that any team would be jealous of. Madison Bumgarner is playoff tested and one of the few true aces in the Major League Baseball, and Johnny Cueto is nothing to sneeze at, either.

Houston Texans (9-3) — Offensive line

The Houston offensive line isn’t elite and can really be overwhelmed by a solid pass rush. The Texans have fallen victim to 41 sacks this season, with only two teams surrendering more. Part of this is the fact that Deshaun Watson can run and extend plays, but the Texans are also vulnerable to a heavy, committed pass rush. The good news is they don’t share a conference with the Aaron Donald-led Rams, but it’s an issue that is going to come up at some point.

Los Angeles Chargers (9-3) — Kicker

Doesn’t this always seem to be their problem? The Chargers have settled on a kicker for now after releasing the struggling Caleb Sturgis and looking elsewhere. It’s led them to rookie Mike Badgley, who has only missed one field goal and extra point so far but remains an untested commodity on the biggest stage. Special teams has been a problem for the Chargers before. In the playoffs, one bad kicking game can end a season. This is a good team with a defense that’s getting healthy at the right time. They just have to avoid a letdown here.

Chicago Bears (8-4) — Pass offense

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The biggest concern for this unit is the secondary, which has to replace standout safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson. Also, keep an eye on offense with left tackle Spencer Drango. The standout lineman had back surgery last season and needs to quickly return to

Biggest Concerns for National Title Contenders . 1. Ohio State: Defensive End. The Buckeyes are loaded with proven talent and depth, so it’ s The receiving corps is also worth a mention after Jaelen Strong left for the NFL , but the Sun Devils landed graduate transfer Devin Lucien from UCLA and

Mitchell Trubisky should be healthy again soon enough, which will come as a big help to a Bears team that surprisingly lost to the New York Giants last time out. Defensively, they’re very sound, and they have quality offensive weapons. However, Trubisky is a second-year pro prone to bouts of inconsistency, and the Chicago passing offense is in the league’s bottom half in terms of yardage. If they fall behind and have to push for a comeback, it could be bad news for them.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1) — Turnovers

Turnover ratio has been a problem for the Steelers all year, but it’s really been exacerbated lately. The warning signs are everywhere, in fact. Only six teams have given the ball away more than Pittsburgh has in 2018, and none of them are playoff contenders. Their turnover differential is minus-8, which is the worst of any current playoff team. Ben Roethlisberger, with 13 interceptions in 12 games, has particularly been prone to this. These are the sort of mistakes he and his team can’t make in the playoffs.

Dallas Cowboys (7-5) — Road form

Can the Dallas Cowboys beat a quality team away from home? They’ve lost just once in Arlington this season, a surprising defeat to the Tennessee Titans. They’re just 2-4 on the road, however, and have spent a lot of the season looking like an entirely different team in that setting. The good news is they’ve won two straight on the road, including one at Philadelphia. The bad news is the other was against a Falcons team in freefall. At just 7-5, the Cowboys will almost certainly have to play on the road in the playoffs. Whether they can win there remains an open question.

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Most of the NFL ’ s teams have at least a semi-realistic chance at making the playoffs . So, the season’ s final month will give us plenty of meaningful games. That still leaves us 25 teams to sort out. Of those 25 teams, who are the championship contenders , playoff contenders and playoff pretenders?

Here are the biggest concerns for each remaining American League contender . However, there has been a major step back offensively concerning several of the hitters in their lineup, including Jose Bautista, Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar, and even Devon Travis.

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Seattle Seahawks (7-5) — Beating the elite

The Seahawks appear to be the definition of a team that’s good enough to beat bad teams but not good enough to beat the really good ones. As it stands, the Seahawks are just 1-4 against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today, and 6-1 against everyone else. That’s good enough to get them into the field, but losses against the Bears, Chargers and twice to the Rams suggests that success is unlikely once they get there.

Baltimore Ravens (7-5) — Unsettled quarterback situation

It’s not often that you have a potential playoff team with a muddled quarterback situation, but that’s where the Ravens sit as they enter Week 14. Lamar Jackson hasn’t been lights-out, but he’s won all three of his starts and brought a different dynamic to the Baltimore offense. That doesn’t really settle the Joe Flacco situation. He’s set to come back from a hip injury and may not get his job back. The decision will have ramifications — the defense here is excellent, so much will come down to quarterback performance.

Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1) — One-dimensional offense

The Vikings have underachieved for a lot of reasons — their secondary, for instance, hasn’t been as good as it was advertised to be — but one major issue is how predictable and one-dimensional they’ve become on offense. Their leading rusher, Latavius Murray, only has 466 rushing yards. It’s not a coincidence that they’ve already lost once to the Bears, who are able to use their fearsome pass rush to get Kirk Cousins off his game, pressure him, and not have to worry about being victimized by the run.

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NFL Nation provides the answers. AFC North: Have the Browns improved enough to contend for a playoff spot? The Browns will be trying to mesh a The Patriots have won the AFC East championship in each of the past nine seasons, which is the longest streak of division titles in NFL history.

Nine contenders for six spots: Sorting through wild NFC playoff field. Linebacker is also becoming a concern for Rod Marinelli' s defense. Sean Lee is unsurprisingly struggling with In each of the Saints' two 40-plus point outbursts against the Bills and Lions, Brees has failed to make it to 200 yards passing.

Philadelphia Eagles (6-6) — Lack of run game

The Eagles have the same problem as the Vikings, except even more pronounced. Philadelphia’s leading rusher is Josh Adams, who has only 376 rushing yards on the season. Not coincidentally, when the Eagles rush for 100 yards as a team, they’re 6-1, with the lone defeat coming in overtime. When it’s fewer than that, they’re 0-5. Adams has been better in the last two games, both wins, and that has to remain the same if the Eagles want to get back in the playoffs.

Tennessee Titans (6-6) — Offensive inconsistency

It’s incredibly difficult to nail down the Titans, particularly on offense, which kind of sums up the biggest problem. This is a team that has beaten the Patriots and the Cowboys, becoming the only road team to win in Arlington this year. They’ve also lost to the Buffalo Bills and turned in abject performances against the Colts and Texans. Nobody knows which Titans team is going to turn up on a weekly basis, and that’s not a recipe for long-term success.

Carolina Panthers (6-6) — Cam Newton’s play

Newton is fresh off a four-interception game and was replaced on a Hail Mary attempt against Tampa Bay. He made clear that his shoulder is an issue. Carolina’s current four-game losing streak was preceded by three straight wins in which Newton was steady, efficient and didn’t throw an interception. He’s been picked at least once in each of the four losses since and was held below 300 yards in two of them. Newton’s inconsistent play is a big reason Carolina keeps falling just short and may miss the playoffs after looking like a sure thing not long ago.

Apologies to fans of the 6-6 Broncos, Dolphins and Redskins for not considering your teams playoff contenders.

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