Pickwatch 2021 AFC Playoff Preview, Odds Predictions, Strengths and Weaknesses
Our preview of the AFC playoff teams. What are their odds of going all of the way, and which teams are they most afraid of?
6 Jan, 2021
The 2020/21 playoffs are upon us, and for the first time ever, 14 teams will take part.
We're here to guide you through the teams who have made the playoffs and their strengths, weaknesses, and chances of winning it all. Later in the week, we'll also have Upset Watch, giving you a chance to see which of the teams has the best chances of causing a stir in the Wild Card round.
Don't forget, make your picks during the playoffs, and you can win $500 in our prize draw!
|Passing Yards||1||14||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||16||21||Rushing Yards Allowed|
|Overall Offense||8||15||Overall Defense|
Where do you begin? The reigning champs finished with a 14-2 record, and of course the final loss was against the Chargers in a meaningless week 17 matchup, which means their only loss of the season was the upset loss to the Raiders in week 5.
Their big strengths are on offense, where their passing attack ranked 1st in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes is not only the most dynamic player in the league, but he's also one of the safest. Only Aaron Rodgers threw fewer interceptions as a full-time starter this season.
On defense, you start to see how the Chiefs can be vulnerable. This is a team that can't stop the run. They're not awful across the board, but they're mediocre at best. They rank 19th in sacks, 21st in rushing yards allowed, and 20th in passing TD's allowed.
Well, they haven't lost to any of them, put it that way, and they played 4 serious contenders. There were no huge blowouts, although their week 3 MNF decimation of the Ravens felt like it was never as close as two scores. Of note? They ran hard in all but the Bucs game, racking up 179 on the ground against the Saints, 245 against the Bills, and 132 against the Ravens. The absence of star rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire would be keenly felt in the playoffs if he can't go.
The Colts. Indy has gone from being the 25th ranked rushing attack in weeks 1-8 to being 5th since then. Coupled with their top-10 defense, they may be the type of team that may prove to be their kryptonite, especially as unlike the Titans. Bills and Ravens. the Colts are not scarred by losses to the Chiefs in the recent past.
High. The biggest chance of them not repeating seems to hinge very clearly on them having a bad game against a team playing well. Any kind of close game generally goes in their favor, as evidenced by the 7 games won in a row between weeks 9-16 in which they never won by more than a single score. You can't simply outscore this team, and even on their bad days, an opponent needs to be at the top of their game and keep the foot down in order to win.
|Passing Yards||3||13||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||20||17||Rushing Yards Allowed|
|Overall Offense||8||15||Overall Defense|
With a strong running QB like Josh Allen, you'd be forgiven for assuming the Bills run the ball well, but it's actually their passing game that has been the big beneficiary this season. The Bills throw for 288.9 yards per game and rank 3rd in passing TD's too. They also dominate time of possession, ranking 5th in the league with an average of 31.3 minutes per game.
Run defense and run offense. Like so many of the playoff teams, their losses have been when they couldn't stop teams running on them. Arizona and Kansas CIty both put up over 200 yards rushing in victory over the Bills, while the Titans had 139 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. The lack of an offensive run game has seen the Bills give up more points and be in more close games than they need to be - something they have in common with the Chiefs.
A mixed bag at 3-2. The concerns are clearly in the back to back losses against the Titans and Chiefs earlier in the season, where Allen didn't throw for a TD in either game. If a team can shut him down, there is no plan B for the Bills.
Baltimore. The Ravens are a cold weather team who run the ball well and have a top 5 defense. Those two things are going to hurt the Bills every time.
Good. The Bills are hot right now and Josh Allen is brimming with confidence. Some of their play over the back half of the season was poetic, and it's probably no exaggeration to say they come into the playoffs with the most momentum of any team. That said, they do have holes, and when you hit the playoffs, your record against other playoff teams comes into sharper focus. Losses against at least one of the teams (KC) who they will need to beat just to get to the AFC Championship counts against them.
|Passing Yards||12||3||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||32||12||Rushing Yards Allowed|
|Overall Offense||19||6||Overall Defense|
That defense. The stats are above, but even with the loss of Devin Bush and Bud Dupree, the passing defense in particular has been the standout. Ben Roethlisberger faded down the stretch, but there was also a point where the Steelers passing attack was super-effective. As a unit, their defensive line is the best in the league.
Where do you start? The biggest glaring issue is the run offense, which ranks dead last in the league and has had just a single hundred yard game (against the Jags which doesn't count) since week 7. In addition, all is not trending upwards on defense. Their run defense ranks 23rd in the back half of the season, and since Bush (week 7) and Dupree (week 12) went down, they have allowed 7 opponents to get over 125 yards on the ground, something no team had achieved up until that point.
Very well. They lost to Cleveland (their opponents in the Wild Card Round) last week with mason Rudolph starting, but looked competitive throughout. Their only meaningful loss came against the Bills in week 14, but for the most part, even late in the season, the Steelers found a way to win.
Tennessee. The Titans aren't strong on defense, but they have an all-world run attack, a mobile QB and a ruthless efficiency in the red zone.
Slim. At this stage, the Steelers are petering out and have limped their way over the line, losing 4 of their last 5. They've scored over 25 points in a game just once since week 11, and the offenses they're about to face simply won't allow them to do that in their next 4 games and pull a win out of the bag each time. At some point, their luck will run out.
|Passing Yards||11||20||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||11||2||Rushing Yards Allowed|
|Overall Offense||10||11||Overall Defense|
Their run defense. The Colts have trailed off a little in the back end of the season, but they've been incredibly stout against the run all year and have got even more consistent in the back end of the season - finishing with a a 5 game streak of teams failing to get over 100 yards. On offense, they are strong everywhere, which primarily stems from their offensive line. As mentioned earlier, the Colts have been the 5th ranked rushers in the second half of the season, with Jonathan Taylor emerging as their every-down back.
The Colts are inconsistent. They didn't manage more than 3 games without a loss all season, and that's something they're going to need to do in order to win the Super Bowl. As good as Philip Rivers has been,
3-4 isn't a record that fills you with confidence. The losses all came against AFC teams, which suggest a tough path to even get to the Super Bowl, let alone win it. The Colts allowed a 100 yard rusher just 5 times all season, but 4 of them were against other playoff teams, and 3 of them ended in defeat.
Tennessee. The series ended 1-1, but the manner of the defeat in the second game, coming as it did just one game apart from a reasonably comfortable win, will make the Colts nervous. The Titans, Ravens and Browns are all strong running teams and that appears to level the playing field against the Colts.
Better than Pittsburgh's, less than Tennessee's. The Colts are a good all round team and could cause an upset in week 1, but to get to the Super Bowl is a huge ask, particularly with Philip Rivers heavily reliant on their offensive line, which has suffered a huge blow in losing starting LT Anthony Castonzo.
|Passing Yards||32||9||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||1||8||Rushing Yards Allowed|
|Overall Offense||13||6||Overall Defense|
The Ravens defense has been incredibly consistent all season. They gave up zero rushing touchdowns in 8 games this season, the best of any team in the league. They stop teams scoring even if they move the ball. Their other strength is clear, they lead the lead in rushing yards, primarily by virtue of having three players (QB Lamar Jackson and RB's Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins) over 700 yards this season. Jackson leads the league in QB rushing yards and became the first ever QB to run for two 1,000+ yard seasons.
Again, as clear as their strength is, their weakness is just as glaring. The Ravens rank last in the league in passing yards, behind even the Jets and Patriots. This lopsided offense lacks a plan B, and it's shown in multiple games this season. Jackson's longest pass was just 47 yards this season, the shortest of any starting QB apart from rookie Tua Tagovailoa.
4-4, which is about right for the Ravens who have been up and down all season. There have been standout performances against the Browns (twice) and the Colts, but also deep disappointment as they were outclassed by the Steelers twice and got nowhere near the Chiefs. The Ravens can beat the teams around them, but can they beat the best of the AFC?
Kansas City. The Ravens have not beaten the Chiefs in their three meetimngs since Patrick Mahomes became their starting QB. John Harbaugh only beaten a Reid-coached team (Eagles or Chiefs) once in 5 attempts, back in 2008, the infamous Donovan McNabb benching game.
Not good. The Ravens have blown very hot and very cold all season. Their 5 game win streak to end 2020 was slightly misleading, given that they faced the Bengals, Giants, Jaguars, Browns and Cowboys in that span. To get to the Super Bowl, the Ravens will have to overcome at least 1, but possibly 3 teams that have beaten them already this season.
|Passing Yards||23||29||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||2||20||Rushing Yards Allowed|
|Overall Offense||10||24||Overall Defense|
The run game. We all know how the Titans are going to play, driving on the ground with Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill, but what is most impressive is how often it works. They have more balance than the Ravens, being able to pass the ball effectively to receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, who finished with 1073 and 984 yards respectively. The Titans also rank 2nd in the league in Redzone efficiency, scoring a TD 75% of the time they make it within 20 yards.
Defensively, the Titans are a mess. Only the Falcons, Lions and Seahawks have given up more passing yards this season, and at least the Seahawks have improved. What is most interesting is that a mediocre run defense is a hallmark of many playoff teams, but being unable to stop the pass, in a conference where all roads lead through Kansas City or Buffalo, is probably terminal to their chances of success.
4-4 is not the end of the world. but of course it hurts the Titans that they've lost to 3 of their AFC rivals. At times though, the Titans have been imperious, earning solid wins against Baltimore and Indianapolis, the latter of which, as mentioned in our Colts preview above, was something of a statement, coming on the road, off the back of a defeat two weeks prior.
The Colts. They have as much chance as anyone of stopping Derrick Henry, and they have more film and understanding with which to work out a gameplan to stop him.
Ok. The Titans need a lot to go their way, but the AFC is not adept at stopping the run, which gives them a chance in any game. They are an underrated collective offense, so don't be surprised if they cause a stir and go deeper into the playoffs than expected.
|Passing Yards||24||22||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||3||9||Rushing Yards Allowed|
|Overall Offense||14||17||Overall Defense|
Like the Titans, the Browns are a run-first offense who have the capability to break out into a passing team at short notice. They had a 4 game stretch in weeks 12-15 where they put up 17 offensive touchdowns, 10 of which came through the air. When they're hot, they're very good, and were 2nd in scoring over the first 5 weeks of the season, despite losing their first game 38-6.
The Browns are wild. They scored 10 points or fewer in 4 games this season, and 35 points or more 5 times. This bi-polar, erractic form seems to transcend injuries, form and opponents, making them incredibly unpredictable. Their passing attack and Baker Mayfield are the main culprits. In a five game stretch between weeks 6-11, the Browns failed to reach 200 passing yards in all but one game, scored 10 or less points in 3 games, and won a game against Cincinnati 37-34, with Mayfield throwing for 5 TD's.
4-3, albeit the final tipping point into winning territory came against the Steelers backups in week 17. Their 38-7 and 38-6 losses to the Steelers and Ravens are of concern. Interestingly, a team reached 30+ points in 6 of the 7 games they played against playoff opponents, So expect some excitement.
The Browns are probably more worried about beating themselves than any one opponent, but it's clear that their divisional foes, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, still hold something of a hoodoo over them. Unfortunately, they will start the playoff run without Head Coach Kevin Stefanski in Pittsburgh due to Covid protocol, which makes it a tough task for them to even get started.
Very slim. If the Browns get a run going, they're a potent offense, but the aforementioned Covid outbreak rules Stefanski and Guard Joel Bitonio out of the first playoff game since Kelly Holcolmb led the 2002-3 Browns to the postseason and... a Wild Card exit against the Steelers. If they get through this week - and they have a chance still - then all bets are off, because their may be no better win for any team this season.