COMMENTARY: NFL AFC Playoff Preview: Path to Super Bowl LI goes through Brady, Belichick, and Foxborough


By Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (Tom Brady) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

John Ferraro, Sports Editor

A “Deflategate” suspension turned Tom Brady revenge tour. “Big Ben.” The best defense in the league. A broken fibula for an MVP candidate. It’s time to talk about the AFC playoffs.

1. New England Patriots 
2. Kansas City Chiefs 
3. Pittsburgh Steelers 
4. Houston Texans 
5. Oakland Raiders
6. Miami Dolphins 


New England Patriots

No surprises here. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are back in the postseason. Despite a four-game “more probable than not” Deflategate suspension for Brady and the loss of Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots just keep rolling. Brady, who set the NFL record for the best TD/INT ratio throwing with 28 TDs to only two INTs, continues to make everybody around him better and Belichick’s scheme seems untouchable. LeGarrette Blount is having a career year with 18 TDs. He’s a key for the Pats going forward. With Derek Carr’s injury and no elite defense like last year’s Broncos, I see the Pats running the table at home to capture yet another AFC championship.

Kansas City Chiefs

Alex Smith hasn’t been able to shake the “game manager” label since coming into the league. He’s had a “game manager” type season with 15 passing TDs and 8 INTs. Tight end Travis Kelce and rookie WR Tyreek Hill have been Smith’s go-to options. The Chiefs are going to have to rely on their defense, which ranks seventh in the NFL in points allowed. Smith is going to have to be more than just a “game manager” or serviceable quarterback, especially if the team wants to win in Foxborough.

Pittsburgh Steelers

To say the Steelers are an offensive-heavy team is a gross understatement. With “Big Ben” Roethlisberger at the helm, one of the best backs in Le’Veon Bell behind him and the best WR in the NFL for my money in Antonio Brown, the Steelers can score in droves. They are going to need to force their opponents into a shootout if they want to win. Pittsburgh’s defense (12th overall) has been a bit suspect at times throughout the season. But, Big Ben is like the Aaron Rodgers of the AFC. If he gets on a hot streak, it could be a trip to the Super Bowl for the Black and Gold.

Houston Texans

Thirty-seven million — guaranteed — dollars later and Houston, we have a problem. The Texans might feel sorry about giving Brock Osweiler all that money. Why? Because four weeks ago, Osweiler was benched against the Jacksonville Jaguars in favor of Tom Savage. Yes, Tom Savage. The third-year quarterback out of the University of Pittsburgh looked to lead Houston into the postseason with relatively no NFL experience, but a potential concussion Savage suffered in Week 17 could give Osweiler a second chance. Houston must rely on a defense that ranks first in the NFL and not its 29th ranked offense if they have any shot of winning a game, let alone beating the Pats in the cold at Gillette Stadium.

Oakland Raiders

When Derek Carr went down in Week 16 with a broken fibula against the Indianapolis Colts, so did the hopes of Oakland winning the AFC championship. Carr was an MVP candidate posting very good numbers in the regular season completing 64 percent of his passes with 28 TDs to only six INTs. The most impressive stat for Carr was his 96.7 percent quarterback rating. Those glamorous stats don’t seem to matter anymore as Scranton native Matt McGloin took the helm on Sunday in the regular season finale against the Denver Broncos. McGloin looked marginal before leaving the game with a shoulder injury. Rookie QB Connor Cook, a Michigan State alum, replaced McGloin and looked better going 14/21 for 150 yards, one TD and one INT. No matter who starts for Oakland, I don’t see how that team can overcome such a downgrade at the quarterback position to even win one playoff game.

Miami Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill was starting to show signs that he could be better than just an average QB in Miami. Despite a 1-4 start to the year, Tannehill led the team to six straight wins from October to November. The fifth-year quarterback posted 19 TDs to 12 INTs with a 67 percent completion rate. He suffered sprained left knee ligaments against Arizona four weeks ago and was placed on the injury list. Interim QB Matt Moore has wins against the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets, averaging 34 points per game. In Week 17, Moore met a Patriots team looking to clinch home field advantage. The Dolphins didn’t score 34 points this time putting up only 14 against the eighth ranked defense in the NFL. Tannehill is not slated to return just yet giving the Dolphins concern heading into the playoffs.


Wild Card Weekend:
#4 Houston Texans: 20 vs. #5 Oakland Raiders: 13
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers: 28 vs. #6 Miami Dolphins: 20

Divisional Round:
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers 24 vs. #2 Kansas City Chiefs: 17
#1 New England Patriots: 33 vs. #4 Houston Texans: 10

AFC Championship:
#1 New England Patriots: 27 vs. #3 Pittsburgh Steelers: 20
Check back Super Bowl weekend as I break down the biggest game of the year.

Contact the writer: [email protected]
Twitter: @JohnFerraro21