NFL
January 8, 2021
BY Calvin McAlee

Every NFL Playoff Team's Biggest Strength And Weakness

The NFL Playoffs begin this weekend with the newly expanded Wild Card round. Now with 14 teams in the playoffs this season instead of the traditional 12, we get treated to two days of triple-header football.

The defending champion Kansas City Chiefs are the favorite to repeat this season. However, the Buffalo Bills and their high-powered offense seem to be a legit threat to their reign. A handful of other AFC teams could all play spoiler like the Tennessee Titans did last season.

In the NFC, the Green Bay Packers are the favorites with the New Orleans Saints right behind them. But don't count out a surging team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

All of these teams made it to the playoffs because of their strengths and in spite of their weaknesses. But in the postseason, both are accentuated and put in the limelight.

Here are every playoff team's biggest strength and weakness as we enter the start of the postseason. 

Kansas City Chiefs 

Biggest Strength: Patrick Mahomes

While Mahomes will likely finish runner-up in the MVP race this season to Aaron Rodgers, it is hard to argue that any single player in the NFL is more valuable.

Mahomes was second in the league in passing yards and fourth in touchdown passes. No matter the opponent, the Chiefs always feel like they are going to win with Mahomes under center.

Biggest Weakness: Rush Defense

There are very few, if any, real weaknesses with the Chiefs. However, if there is one thing that stands out it is their rush defense. Of the 14 playoffs teams, the Chiefs allow the most rushing yards this season (1,954).

The Bills are the Chiefs' biggest threat, where their run defense may not be an issue but against a team like Tennessee, Cleveland or Baltimore, stopping the run could be a bit of a concern.

Buffalo Bills

Biggest Strength: Passing Attack

The Bills' high-octane passing game is so much more than just Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Second-Team All-Pro Cole Beasley finished just shy of a 1,000-yard receiving season and the Bills had seven players catch at least three touchdown passes this season.

Buffalo was third in the league with 288.8 passing yards per game. Slowing down Diggs is a must for opponents, but even if they can manage to do that, Beasley, John Brown and rookie Gabriel Davis can pick up the slack.

Biggest Weakness: Rush Defense

The Bills are very similar to the Chiefs in both strength and weakness. The Bills allow 120 rushing yards per game. Buffalo is allowing 4.6 yards per tote, tied for seventh-worst in the NFL this season. This could be a cause for concern in the Wild Card round against the Indianapolis Colts.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Biggest Strength: Defense

The Pittsburgh Steelers allowed the third-fewest points per game this season (19.5). Their secondary was thought to be a question mark heading into the season but the Steelers finished the season allowing just 194.4 passing yards per game, third-best in the league. Had this defense not been as good as it is, the Steelers may not even be a playoff team.

Biggest Weakness: Rushing Attack

While dropped passes were a strong contender for biggest weakness, it is hard to ignore the fact that the Steelers have the worst rushing offense in the NFL. At just 84.4 rushing yards per game, it is clear the Steelers can’t win a playoff game on the ground.

James Conner is the only player on the team to average above 3.4 yards per carry among those with at least five carries this season.

Tennessee Titans

Biggest Strength: Derrick Henry

It's no surprise that the league’s best running back is their biggest strength. The Tennessee Titans will go as far as Derrick Henry carries them in the playoffs, literally.

At 5.4 yards per carry, Henry is a problem for even the best rush defenses. And in the playoffs having a running back like Henry is an incredible asset. He gives them a chance against any team in the league, even the Chiefs.

Biggest Weakness: Pass Defense

While Henry gives the Titans a chance to beat any team, their pass defense can also lose them the game against any opponent. Tennessee has allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game this season (277.4). The Titans' secondary needs to improve if Tennessee is going to make a similar playoff run to last year. 

Baltimore Ravens

Biggest Strength: Rushing Attack

The Baltimore Ravens are the league’s best rushing team at 192 yards per game, nearly 24 yards more per game than the second-best team (Titans). Unlike the Titans, the Ravens don’t have one single bell-cow back. Instead, they have four capable runners in Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram.

If you struggle against the rush, good luck beating the Ravens.

Biggest Weakness: Defense

What was once thought to be a strength has now turned into a weakness for the Ravens. Baltimore's pass rush has turned nearly non-existent in recent weeks despite playing a fairly easy schedule down the stretch. 

While the Ravens' passing game has taken flight, the Ravens defense has crashed down. If they want to make a run, the defense will have to match the suddenly high-powered offense. 

Cleveland Browns

Biggest Strength: Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt

The Cleveland Browns were third in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 148.4. The reason is their NFL-best running back duo of Chubb and Hunt.

Chubb and Hunt provide two different looks for defenses, causing even more issues. Chubb is a strong downhill runner while Hunt is more of a shifty and evasive back. Come fourth quarter when defenses are their most exhausted, being able to use two running backs who would both be starters on most other teams is a huge asset.

Biggest Weakness: Pass Defense

The Browns' pass rush took a big hit Sunday after Olivier Vernon tore his Achilles and will miss the postseason. That still leaves Cleveland with the feared Myles Garrett, but he probably won't be enough to help the Browns' awful secondary. 

If corner Denzel Ward misses the game, then this weakness becomes an even bigger bullseye for Big Ben and the Steelers. 

Indianapolis Colts

Biggest Strength: Rush Defense

The Indianapolis Colts have one of the best defenses in the NFL, particularly their rush defense. They are allowing the second-fewest rushing yards per game this season (90.5). While that may not help them much in the Wild Card round against the Buffalo Bills, it would give the Colts a great chance against teams like Cleveland, Tennessee and Baltimore.

Biggest Weakness: 3rd Downs

The Colts have struggled on third down this season, both offensively and defensively. They are converting just 39.6% of third downs on offense and allowing teams to convert 42.4% of their third downs, ranking 21st and 19th, respectively.

It's incredibly difficult to win games when teams can't convert or get off the field on third downs. This is the type of stat that can really kill a team against quality opponents in the playoffs. 

Green Bay Packers

Biggest Strength: Play Calling

The Green Bay Packers have scored 66 touchdowns this season, four more than the next highest team. While Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams are the two biggest reasons why — and it's thanks to impeccable Packers play-calling.

Matt LaFleur’s offense is operating at an extremely high level in the second season with Rodgers. LaFleur’s ability to use pre-snap motion and creative play designs has an offense that lacks legit receiving weapons behind Adams to thrive. Green Bay was ridiculed for not drafting wide receiver help in the recent draft but the play-calling has masked that lack of depth.

Biggest Weakness: Rush Defense

It wouldn't be a Mike Pettine defense if it didn't struggle to stop the run.

Ranking 14th in rushing yards allowed wouldn’t seem like much of a weakness but the Packers’ rush defense is certainly not middle of the pack. They are allowing an average of 4.5 yards per carry and if not for their ability to blow some opponents out, their rush defense would be in a lot worse shape.

The Packers saw the eighth-fewest rushing attempts this season as teams were forced to throw to try and get back into games. A good rushing team is the Packers’ biggest threat.

New Orleans Saints

Biggest Strength: Alvin Kamara

Derrick Henry might be the best rusher in the league but Alvin Kamara is the top playmaker at running back. Kamara is capable of playing running back or receiver and he does both equally well. He led the team in receptions, receiving yards, rushing yards and touchdowns. 

He should play a big part in the Saints' battle against the Bears, as long he's fully recovered from COVID-19. 

Biggest Weakness: Drew Brees

Drew Brees suffered numerous broken ribs and a collapsed lung earlier this season. Since his return, those who have watched him play can tell that this injury is still bothering him.

Brees’ throwing motion and ability to stand in the pocket and take a hit have both been affected. For a 41-year old quarterback, this is a major cause for concern.

If Brees remains a liability, he'll be entering retirement sooner than expected. 

Seattle Seahawks

Biggest Strength: Improving Defense

Things can completely change from one half of the season to the next. That is exactly what happened with the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle went from having an unstoppable offense and a defense that couldn’t stop a high school team, to the inverse.

Over their last six games, Seattle has held five of their opponents to 17 points or less. This may not be the elite Seattle defense we are used to seeing but if they can continue to play at this level Seattle could be a tough out in January.

They won't be facing a high-scoring offense in the first round, either, with the Rams starting either Jared Goff, who is fresh off thumb surgery, or backup John Wolford

Biggest Weakness: Declining Offense

Early in the season, Russell Wilson looked like the potential MVP and the Seahawks’ offense couldn’t be stopped. In the second half of the season, their offense has looked like a knockoff version of what it once was.

In their last seven games (excluding their 40-point game against the Jets), the Seahawks have scored an average of just over 20 points per game. That won’t get it done in the playoffs.

But don't count out the Seahawks' offense from becoming a strength. That's what happens when you have an elite quarterback under center. 

Washington Football Team

Biggest Strength: Defense

Written off after a 1-5 start, the Washington Football Team shocked the NFL by winning a terrible NFC East with a 7-9 record. Moving on from quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. was one reason for their late-season success but the biggest reason has been their defense.

They are allowing the second-fewest yards per game and second-fewest passing yards per game. At 20.6 points per game, they are allowing the fourth-fewest points in the league. 

Biggest Weakness: Inconsistent Offense

Washington’s defense can make them a scary opponent for any team but their offense makes them impossible to take seriously.

Washington ranks in the bottom 10 of the league in most major offensive categories. While they have improved since Alex Smith took over for Haskins, even Smith isn’t having a very good season. There’s talent on this offense but they can never seem to show it for a full 60 minutes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Biggest Strength: Rush Defense

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers own the league’s best rush defense, allowing just 80.6 yards per game on the ground. In rushing defense, they are allowing the fewest yards, attempts, yards per carry, touchdowns and first downs.

Unfortunately for the Bucs, the NFC is full of passing-heavy teams, which they rank just 21st against.

Biggest Weakness: The Deep Ball

At one point this season, Tom Brady was on a 0-19 streak on balls thrown over 20 yards. While his numbers have recovered to near career average since then, this is still a concern.

Against a good pass rush, say like Washington, Tampa may not be able to move the ball downfield in big chunks. This could result in corners playing more press coverage and making it even more difficult on Brady’s quick throws. 

Los Angeles Rams

Biggest Strength: Aaron Donald

Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in football. He alone causes issues for an entire offensive line as teams spend the majority of their preparation on how to stop him. His ability to draw so much attention frees up other defensive players, which is why this Rams’ defense is first in total yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and points allowed per game.

If an offensive line can’t contain Donald, they’re in for a long night.

Biggest Weakness: Quarterback

Jared Goff’s status for the Rams game against Seattle is uncertain due to a thumb injury. Regardless if Goff or Wolford starts, the quarterback position is a major weakness for the Rams. Goff has 17 turnovers to go with just 20 passing touchdowns this season.

At times, the Rams’ offense has gone through major droughts and Goff has been the biggest reason why. He can be one of the most inaccurate quarterbacks in the league and sometimes it seems like he doesn’t even want to be on the field. It may be time for Los Angeles to move on.

Chicago Bears

Biggest Strength: Defense

This isn’t the elite Bears’ defense that we are used to seeing but this unit is still very strong. The Bears have held seven of their opponents to fewer than 20 points this season. That may not sound that impressive but when you play the Packers twice, Titans, Saints, Colts, Buccaneers and Rams, it becomes a lot more impressive. 

Biggest Weakness: Mitchell Trubisky

The worst thing that could happen for the Bears is that Trubisky comes in to replace Nick Foles and starts looking like a serviceable quarterback. Which is exactly what has happened. Trubisky has played some of the best football of his career in his last four games, helping the Bears reach the playoffs. Still, he threw an interception in each of his last three games and just six touchdowns in his last four. It is clear he is not an NFL starting quarterback.

If he manages to pull off an upset against the Saints, the Bears could go on to regret it next season when he returns as the starter.

Photo: Getty Images