Over the course of NFL history the playoffs have come to represent three words: any given Sunday. With upsets inevitable, one of the four wildcard teams playing this Sunday could take it all the way to the Super Bowl. Recent examples such as the 2012 Ravens or 2011 Giants come to mind. But what exactly needs to happen for each team to make make the magical January run?
Carolina Panthers: Cam needs to be Cam. The Panthers are wildly inconsistent due to Cam’s roller coaster play this season. He has a lot of weight on his shoulders as he needs not only be the best quarterback on his team, but also the best running back. And although this defense can make stops, a 41% completion rate and three interceptions, like in last week’s loss, will sink this team. With opponents’ tough defenses all over the NFC, Cam needs to be much more careful and efficient on offense.
Atlanta Falcons: The only team from the NFC returning from last year’s playoffs are looking to avenge last year’s Super Bowl meltdown. Their formula for success lies within their defense. The NFC is stacked with great runnings backs from Gurley to Kamara to Ajayi. When this defense can hold running backs to low yardage and forces turnovers they keep the ball of out of the hands of opposing offenses. With the ball in Matt Ryan’s hands, the Falcons are great at taking up clock time to maximize their own opportunities while stealing that of opposing teams.
Tennessee Titans: This teams needs to be prepared to win a shootout against some great offenses in the AFC from Brady’s Patriots to Big Ben’s Steelers. The Titans are 6-2 when putting up at least 20 points, with their only two losses coming from NFC teams. That means Marcus Mariota needs to keep his composure in his first playoff appearance and make use of a Titans receiving corps with a variety of good pass catchers. Making the most of those pass catchers is critical as the Titans are 1-4 when Mariota doesn’t throw a touchdown pass.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills need to follow a formula that has lead a variety of teams to the Super Bowl: a great run game and dominant defense. LeSean McCoy has clearly been the Bills’ MVP this season with over a thousand yards rushing while averaging four yards a carry. However his health is a question this week, and for the Bills to follow this formula that has lead them to their first playoff appearance since 1999, McCoy needs to play and play well. The Bills are undefeated when McCoy gets at least 20 carries (7-0).
There’s always stiff competition in the playoffs, but every team must be doing something right in they’ve won enough games to be in the dance. By sticking to their strengths and following the formulas that got them here anything is possible on any given Sunday.