NFL Playoff Teams: Handicapping Those Hard or Easy to Trust
As we wait for the action to start in Week 15 of the NFL season, there are still several teams in the playoff hunt. In the AFC there are four playoff locks and five teams realistically alive for the final two spots. In the NFC there are five playoff locks or near locks and four teams at the heart of one of the worst wild-card chases I ever remember. So, there are 18 teams at least sort of in the playoff conversation with three games left. We will spend a lot of time looking at teams from every angle down the stretch and into the playoffs. The starting point for any analysis of teams for me, though, is simply whether I trust them or not. Trust in this case is just a product of the gut, but it works well enough to keep me happy. So, let's go team by team and see what the gut is saying:
Kansas City: Trust. I like this team a lot right now. They are playing tough, they bounce back well from tough losses, and they are very well coached. My biggest concern is that if they beat the Chargers on Thursday night that they will have everything all wrapped up, which means it will be a long time between meaningful teams for them. It's very tough in this league to turn things off then turn them back on.
L.A. Chargers: Trust. I don't really have a sense of what to do with this team. My feeling is that they aren't quite elite, but we will have a much better sense of that by late Thursday night. I don't know that they are quite good enough, but I generally trust this team to show up and give it a good effort.
New England: Trust, but only barely. This is far from the best version of the Patriots that we have seen. Brady and Belichick always get the benefit of the doubt in the postseason, and they have won tougher versions of the AFC than this one, but they make me very uneasy.
Houston: Don't trust. They keep winning, but that last lost was a concern, and ultimately I just don't trust the coaching or the depth when it really matters. This feels like a team that wins 11 games or so and then disappoints badly when it matters.
In the mix
Pittsburgh: Don't trust. The biggest turnoff for me when it comes to any team is when they are clearly broken mentally. I worry about bad headspace much more than I worry about injuries or even talent shortcomings. And the headspace this team is in right now is just plain awful. They are favored to win the AFC North, but I'd bet against them.
Baltimore: Trust. I like that the coaching staff did the right thing and named Lamar Jackson the starter even with Joe Flacco healthy. He has looked good, and paired with this real defense they are my pick to win their division.
Indianapolis: Don't trust. I will admit that I have been wrong about this team a whole lot lately. But they are a streaky team, and they feel like they are short of the depth they need to win when it matters.
Tennessee: Don't trust. Marcus Mariota has not earned my respect as a starting quarterback in this league, and they have too many issues elsewhere. I would pick them to win the final wild-card spot but wouldn't pick them to win a game.
Miami: Don't trust. Unless they can find a way to play New England at home every week this is not a viable contender.
New Orleans: Trust. As good as Drew Brees has been, I am a little concerned about his durability at his age - he's younger than me but still old. He has not been as sharp his last two games. But this team is talented and well-coached, and they know that their window is now.
L.A. Rams: Trust. They have not been as sharp offensively in their last two, and the defense is a long way from great. But the talent offensively is strong, and the coaching is exceptional.
Chicago: Trust. I like this team a lot more than some national analysts do. That win against the Rams was very impressive, and the defense is very legitimate when called upon in big games. I don't know that they have the offense to play with the big teams this year when it matters, but they will show up for sure.
Dallas: Don't trust. Hate the coach. Hate the quarterback. Hate the drama that constantly surrounds the organization. The defense is for real, but half of their wins have come against their own pathetic division and I don't think they match up outside of that safe space.
Seattle: Don't trust. This was the hardest one on the board right now. I still don't think that Pete Carroll is doing a great job and am not convinced he wants to stick around long term. But right now what he is doing is working, and the team has found a groove. They will win a playoff game if they face Dallas. But I don't see them winning two.
In the mix
Minnesota: Don't trust. What a pathetic group of teams vying for the final wild-card spot. So, so bad. Minnesota has made the desperate moving of changing offensive coordinators late in the game. They should be much better than they are, and they have upside and a bit of a cushion, so they should be a playoff team, but things are not going well for them.
Carolina: Don't trust. I wanted to trust this team so badly this year. And all that that faith has done is cost me a pile of money and caused endless frustration. Broken team.
Philadelphia: Don't trust. Nick Foles took over after 13 games last year and won the Super Bowl. He may be pressed into action again this week. I don't expect the same. Too many issues, and too many are in their heads.
Washington: Don't trust. I have a strict rule when it comes to teams and trust. I call it the Trent Dilfer test. If the team doesn't have a QB that is at least as good as Dilfer was, I can't trust them no matter what. The gap between what this team has right now and Dilfer is the size of a small galaxy. What a farce.
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