In the regular season– offensive juggernauts get all the attention.
During rebuilds– NFL owners and general managers salivate over teams with youth.
In the playoffs? Well, that’s a different story altogether. Coaches and front office executives alike want a team composed of savvy veterans, players who know what it takes to win big games. They want a competitive defense, a defense unafraid to challenge anyone. Yes, defense and experience, two components of a powerful playoff team. But put quarterback play to the side for a moment, and what is the other ingredient?
Chemistry has been the x factor for the Dallas Cowboys this season. It has been the reason the Seattle Seahawks have clawed their way to a playoff birth despite playing in the same division as the dominant Los Angeles Rams.
Teams that find a way to draft well and retain their own developed players seem to ultimately find postseason success. Teams that make headlines with multiple free agency acquisitions and trade overhauls feel (in my opinion) more like flashes in the pan than perennial contenders (the
2016 Giants, 2017 Jaguars… 2018 Bears?)
But teams like the Rams and Chiefs are just too good to write off based upon a formula of defense + veterans + chemistry = championships, right? Not really.
If I’m not mistaken, the Chiefs and Rams had similar success last season, how did that turn out for them?
Below is a chart of every team left in playoff contention. For the sake of simplicity, every team is categorized as either “clinched” or “in the hunt”. Keep in mind even teams that are unlikely to make the playoffs are on the list if they are not mathematically eliminated prior to this week’s set of games.
# of Home-Drafted Players on Every Playoff Contender
|# of players drafted by franchise||Franchise||# of 2018 wins||Playoff Status|
|38||Ravens||9 wins||In the hunt|
|32||Cowboys||9 wins||Clinched playoffs|
|32||Steelers||8 wins||In the hunt|
|31||Seahawks||9 wins||Clinched playoffs|
|29||Patriots||10 wins||Clinched playoffs|
|27||Rams||12 wins||Clinched playoffs|
|27||Texans||10 wins||Clinched playoffs|
|26||Vikings||8 wins||In the hunt|
|26||Chargers||11 wins||Clinched playoffs|
|26||Colts||9 wins||In the hunt|
|25||Chiefs||11 wins||Clinched playoffs|
|25||Eagles||8 wins||In the hunt|
|25||Bears||11 wins||Clinched playoffs|
|24||Saints||13 wins||Cinched playoffs|
|20||Titans||9 wins||In the hunt|
Because I’m no coward, I will go ahead and tell you which teams are poised to make 2018 playoff noise based upon their combination of chemistry, veteran leadership, and defensive ability.
*Spoiler Alert- They are the teams at the top of the chart*
Seattle: Hey, if you thought the Seahawks were done after this:
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 30, 2018
You’re not alone. But here we are, and here the Seahawks are as well. They’ve flipped the narrative from seasons past and have once again become a team with a dominant ground game. Although their defense has fallen off (understandable considering the legion of boom is finished)- veterans such as Bobby Wagner do just enough to keep the unit above water.
New England: This take requires no explanation.
Dallas: Sure, quarterback Dak Prescott struggles throwing the ball with consistent accuracy. And yes, that is a very big deal. But gosh darnit I must stay true to my formula. With the exception of Amari Cooper and Xavier Su’a-Filo, every starter for the Cowboys was either drafted by Dallas, or has spent multiple seasons developing there. These Dallas Cowboys have grown up alongside each other, and I am of the opinion this gives them an intangible advantage in the postseason. Combine that with their ability to do this:
— Jaylon Smith (@thejaylonsmith) December 24, 2018
and it could be just enough to win them a close postseason game or two.
Baltimore: The Ravens are a Robert-Griffin-4th-quarter-appearance-away from being undefeated through their last six games. Some teams are synonymous with defensive success, and the Ravens are simply one of those franchises. They rank 1st in the league in points allowed, and for the first time in multiple seasons possesses a competent offense. Sure, quarterback Lamar Jackson is a rookie, but this is not Head Coach John Harbaugh’s first postseason rodeo. The Ravens are one of the only teams in recent history to give the Patriots fits in AFC playoffs. Besides, John Harbaugh once beat his own brother in a Super Bowl. How baller is that?
Chargers: The only team outside the top 5 on my list in terms of roster continuity. I give the Chargers a nod because their roster is so balanced. Keenan Allen, Philip Rivers, Mike Williams, Melvin Gordon, Antonio Gates (yeah he still plays), Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Casey Hayward, and Derwin James all on the same team? Good grief. The Chargers are a top 10 offensive and defensive ball club in 2018. One of the few teams in the league that has legitimately 3 different ways to beat your favorite team come January. Besides, doesn’t Phillip Rivers deserve a Super Bowl? It isn’t rhetorical. He does.
Veteran leadership + Defense + Chemistry = Super Bowl? Who knows? I was never great at math.
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