NFL Playoffs Take over the Sports Scene

Matthew Iannuzzo, Reporter

As of January 3, 2016, the NFL regular season has come to an end. Now coaches, players, and general managers are getting ready for the 2016 playoffs and looking for the main target, the Super Bowl.

There are twelve teams, six in each conference, that will be in the playoffs. In the AFC, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos will have the 1st round bye. The Cincinnati Bengals will be facing the wild card, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Houston Texans will face the wild card, Kansas City Chiefs. In the NFC, the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals will get the 1st round bye. The Minnesota Vikings will face the wild card, Seattle Seahawks, and the Washington Redskins will face the wild card, Green Bay Packers.
Being last year’s Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots had a bag full of problems during the 2015 offseason. They lost their two starting cornerbacks, Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and quarterback, Tom Brady, and head coach, Bill Belichick, were going to get suspended two to four games for deflating balls. A week before the season started, the suspensions were cancelled and the Patriots were ready to rock and roll. The Patriots started off the season with a record of 10-0, with help by their offensive stars, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. After their first loss of the season to the Denver Broncos, the Patriots ended the season with a record of 2-3. The Patriots still made it to the playoffs with a 1st round bye.

Entering the 2015-16 season, the Denver Broncos had new changes in their coaching position and their offensive line. John Fox went to coach for the Chicago Bears and his replacement was Gary Kubiak. Even though their starting quarterback, Peyton Manning, was struggling and dealing with an injury, the Broncos started off the season 7-0 with defensive help led by linebackers, Von Miller and Demarcus Ware, and getting last minute touchdowns to win games. On Week 11, Peyton Manning broke Brett Favre’s record in passing yards and then was benched. Since that week, Brock Osweiler was the starting quarterback for the next 5 weeks as Manning was sidelined with a foot injury. The last game of the regular season, Manning came back to play against the San Diego Chargers and won with a score of 27 to 20. The Broncos made the playoffs with a record of 12-4 and have a 1st round bye.

Last season, Cincinnati Bengals starting quarterback, Andy Dalton, had a bad year as he threw 19 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and 3,398 passing yards, but the Bengals still made the playoffs last year. This year was a Cinderella story for the Bengals with their big offensive unit. Before his injury, Andy Dalton had a comeback year as he threw 25 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and 3,250 passing yards. A.J. Green wasn’t Dalton’s only target, tight end, Tyler Eifert, had a monster year with 52 receptions, 615 yards, and led all tight ends with 13 receiving touchdowns. In the 1st quarter of the Week 14 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Andy Dalton exited the game with a thumb injury. Backup quarterback, AJ McCarron, entered the game and he was the starting quarterback for the Bengals for the rest of their season. With McCarron starting, the team went 2-2 and they have the third seed in the playoffs with a record of 12-4.

In the beginning of the season, all AFC South division teams were struggling with records below .500. The favorite team to win the AFC South, Indianapolis Colts, lost their star quarterback, Andrew Luck, due to lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle. That was the chance for the Houston Texans to grab first and they did just that with their offensive star, DeAndre Hopkins, and defensive star, J.J. Watt. The AFC South title came down to the last game of the regular season. The Texans won against the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 30 to 6 to improve their record to 9-7. With that win, the Texans took the AFC South and entered the 4th seed in the playoffs.

The Denver Broncos dominate the AFC West. The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t take first, but they got the first wild card spot in the AFC out of the West. The Chiefs ended the season with a record of 11-5 after starting the season 1-5 and losing their star running back, Jamaal Charles. This record improved with the strong linebacker core of Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, and Tomba Hali. Head coach, Andy Green, can be a possible coach of the year by leading his team to end the season with a 10 game win streak.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were probably the favorite to win the AFC North in the 2015-16 season. With the hot streak of the Cincinnati Bengals and the injuries of quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and running back, Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers took the second wild card spot in the AFC by winning a dog fight against the New York Jets. In the last game in the regular season, the Jets had to win against the Buffalo Bills to get their ticket to the playoffs. The Jets lost to the Bills 22 to 17 while the Steelers won against the Cleveland Browns 28 to 12. The Steelers ended the season with a record of 10-6.
Last year, the NFC South was the worst division in the NFL as the Carolina Panthers entered the playoffs with a record of 8-9-1. Even though, Panthers lost their number one wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, for the 2015-16 season, it was a Cinderella story for the Panthers. They looked like a whole new different team by starting off the 14-0. This team was led by quarterback, Cam Newton, who had a comeback year throwing 35 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and 3,837 yards. Wide receiver, Ted Ginn Jr., did a great job filling in for Benjamin at the number one receiver spot as he had a season high, 10 touchdowns. The Panthers monster defense was another big factor in their team led by linebacker, Luke Kuechly, and cornerback, Josh Norman. Panthers enter the playoffs with a record of 14-1 and have a 1st round bye.

The NFC West is usually the Seattle Seahawks’ division to win. Due to their struggles in the beginning of the season, the Arizona Cardinals took the title with a 1st round bye with a record of 13-3. After being injured at the end of the season, quarterback, Carson Palmer, broke the record for most touchdowns thrown by a Cardinal quarterback in a single season with 35 touchdowns. The Cardinals also had the strong running back core of Chris Johnson and David Johnson Jr. and a comeback year by wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, who had 109 receptions with 1,215 yards caught and 9 touchdowns.
At the beginning of the season it was hard for the Minnesota Vikings to take the title of the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers starting off the season 6-0. Due to the Packers having a 4-6 record at the end of the season, the Minnesota Vikings came up on top to take the title. This Viking team was led by running back, Adrian Peterson, who had a comeback year after being suspended for hitting his kid with a branch. The star running back ran for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns. On the defensive side the team was led by free safety, Harrison Smith, who was dealing with an injury during the season, but still had 66 tackles.

During the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys were predicted to take the NFC East title for a second year in a row. They started off the season with a record of 2-0, but after quarterback, Tony Romo, went down with a collarbone injury, things went downhill from there. The New York Giants were leading the division with a record of 6-5, but they ended off the season with a record of 6-10 due to losing games in the final minutes. On Sunday, November 29, 2015, the Washington Redskins won their second matchup of the season against the Giants and took first place. Since then the Redskins were in first place for the rest of the season with a comeback year by quarterback, Kirk Cousins, who broke the record for most passing yards in a single season with 4,166 yards.
The Green Bay Packers are always the team to beat in the NFC North as they had the title for 4 straight years. With the big loss for of wide receiver, Jordy Nelson, for the upcoming season, the Packers still found a way to dominate by starting off the season with a record of 6-0. The end of the season was a struggle for the Packers as they had a record of 4-6 and lost the title to the Minnesota Vikings the last game of the season. These struggles also had to with their running back issues as Eddie Lacy and James Starks had to switch their running back strings and had slumps throughout the season. They still the playoffs with a record of 10-6.

The last spot in the NFC in the playoffs are the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks have gone to the Super Bowl two years in a row. They won against the Denver Broncos by a score of 43 to 8 and lost to the New England Patriots by throwing a game ending interception to Patriots cornerback, Malcolm Butler. As the Seahawks struggled the beginning of the season, they started to heat up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quarterback, Russell Wilson, and wide receiver, Doug Baldwin, were on fire the last five games of the season leading the Seahawks to end the season with a record of 5-0. Russell Wilson broke the record to throw more than 4,000 yards in single season by a Seahawk quarterback. They enter the playoffs with a record of 11-6.

I think the teams to enter to Super Bowl this year are the Arizona Cardinals and the New England Patriots. Both of these teams have a lot of talent on both their offensive and defensive side. However, I think the New England Patriots are going to bring their second straight trophy in a row home. If they win this will be the Patriots 5th Super Bowl title.