Here is how I rank the six NFC playoff teams in terms of their chances of getting to Super Bowl XL in Detroit:
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, and they also have the NFLs Most Valuable Player leading their offensive attack. Shaun Alexander led the NFL with 1,880 yards and an NFL record 28 touchdowns, but hes not the only reason for Seattles success in 2005. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck leads a balanced attack that keeps defenses honest, and stops them from keying on Alexander all the time. They are also very good at taking what defenses give them and keeping the chains moving.
Defensively, they have been banged up in the secondary, but they are getting back to full strength at just the right time. They are inconsistent at times, especially in the passing game, but they are among the better red-zone defenses in the league. Overall the Seahawks are a nicely balanced team, and its going to take a great performance to knock them off at home. Anything short of the Super Bowl is a disappointment for this club.
2. Chicago Bears
The Bears follow the classic recipe of strong defense and a solid running game to grind down opponents. But with the addition of the returning Rex Grossman at quarterback, opposing defenses now have to account for the pass as well. The Bears are much more dangerous with Grossman, who, unlike Kyle Orton, can get the ball downfield. Running back Thomas Jones has been the workhorse of the offense, and his job could get easier if teams cant consistently cheat a safety up into the box.
On defense, the Bears led the NFL with the least points allowed. They are loaded with speed and swarm to the ball as well as any team in the league. They match up well with every team in the NFC playoffs, and will be tough to knock off at home. A trip to the NFC championship game is a distinct possibility, and the Super Bowl isnt out of the question.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offensive Rookie of the Year, Carnell Williams, is the key to Jon Grudens offense, which has been tuning it up over the past couple games. Their offensive line can be overpowered at times though, so its important they keep the ground game going to keep the pressure off inexperienced quarterback Chris Simms. Protecting Simms is key to the Bucs success.
Tampa Bays defense continues to be very stingy, and they are getting healthy at just the right time. But this team is going to have a tough road game at some point. And problems on the offensive line could complicate things against teams that get good penetration from their front four like the Bears and Redskins. The Bucs could take one at home, but I dont think theyre going to get by either Chicago or Seattle. And they may not get past Washington on Wild-Card weekend.
4. Washington Redskins
The Redskins enter the playoffs as hot as any team in the league, and their offense is really clicking, having scored 101 points over their last three games. Clinton Portis is a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball, and quarterback Mark Brunell has rebounded nicely from a 2004 season in which it appeared he was done as an NFL QB.