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The New England Patriots, courtesy of their 8-9 record, will not participate in this year’s playoff tournament. Their loss in Buffalo on Sunday sealed their fate, forcing them to watch the event from afar for a second time in the last three seasons.
But the Patriots not being part of the party this time around does not mean there are no teams worth cheering for, right? With that in mind, let’s quickly go through the seven clubs per conference that will fight for a chance to advance to and eventually win the Super Bowl — finding out who is or is not a suitable club to cheer for over the next few weeks.
AFC playoff teams
1. Kansas City Chiefs: One of the most hyped-up teams in the NFL year-in and year-out, the Chiefs have been a contender ever since head coach Andy Reid’s arrival in 2013. With MVP-caliber quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading his offense, they are among the most fun clubs to watch on that side of the ball.
2. Buffalo Bills: The Bills may have knocked the Patriots from the playoffs in Week 18 and are a long-time division rival. However, there is no denying them winning it all would be a good story in light of Damar Hamlin’s in-game collapse just two weeks ago.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: The reigning AFC champions field another explosive offense, led by one of the best quarterback-receiver combos in the league. The connection between Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase is one of the reasons for Cincinnati’s success. One of the reasons to root for the team, meanwhile? How about ex-Patriot Ted Karras at starting center?
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: A classic worst-to-first story. Jacksonville finished back-to-back years as the worst team in the NFL, but has finally turned the corner in 2022. With new head coach Doug Pederson getting the most out of sophomore QB Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars climbed right to the top of the AFC South and into the postseason.
5. Los Angeles Chargers: Even with ex-Patriot J.C. Jackson out for the year and the team suffering several other high-profile injuries along the way, the Chargers have managed to make the playoffs. They are one of four teams from their conference yet to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
6. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens limped over the regular season finish line, losing not just three out of their last four games but their starting quarterback as well. Lamar Jackson should be able to return, but it might be too late to beat Cincinnati. A win behind backup Tyler Huntley or third-stringer Anthony Brown would be a neat underdog story.
7. Miami Dolphins: Just like the Ravens, the Dolphins had to operate without their starting quarterback down the stretch. Their resiliency despite having to rely on Teddy Bridgewater and, eventually, rookie Skylar Thompson has been admirable. From a Patriots point of view, however, that’s about it when it comes to rooting for their division rivals.
NFC playoff teams
1. Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles might just be the most complete team in the league, and they too managed to have a successful run interrupted by an injury to their starting quarterback. Philadelphia is a good team, but the fact that they have beaten the Patriots in Super Bowl LII might be held against them.
2. San Francisco 49ers: When it comes to starting QBs missing time, nobody is as resilient as the 49ers. Trey Lance? Out for the year. Jimmy Garoppolo? Out for the year. As a result, Mr. Irrelevant himself, Brock Purdy, has taken over to lead the team to the NFC West title and No. 2 seed in the conference. Purdy leading them all the way would be a fun story — and one probably worth rooting for.
3. Minnesota Vikings: When it comes to resiliency, the Vikings are also right up there. They have had their fair share of bad games this season, but somehow found a way to still win 13 of them — tied for the third most in the league. They also erased a 33-0 halftime deficit to beat the Indianapolis Colts and complete the biggest comeback in league history.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers entered the playoff with an 8-9 record and -45 scoring differential. But they still get to host a postseason game in the wild card round, so there’s that. Oh, and they have Tom Brady at quarterback in what may or may not be his final season.
5. Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys are an easy team to root against, but they do have a good roster. What they also have is a lack of recent playoff success, so maybe they are due to make a run in a comparatively vulnerable NFC this time around.
6. New York Giants: Led by former New England assistant coach Brian Daboll, the Giants made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. While Daboll is an easy guy to root for, the fact that New York won a pair of Super Bowls against the Patriots is probably hurting them in the eyes of their fans.
7. Seattle Seahawks: The Geno Smith comeback story is real, and it is spectacular. Seattle did need some help to sneak into the tournament, but they are in. Their emergence is one of the biggest surprise stories of the year, alongside the Jaguars’
So, with all of that being said let’s turn to this week’s SB Nation Reacts questions: Who will you be rooting for among those teams? To answer those questions, please make sure to fill out the form below:
Please, keep an eye out for the results to be published later this week and make sure to subscribe to Reacts.
Also, as always, please share your thoughts on the question as well as your personal answers in the comment section down below. Happy debating!