The playoffs are just two weeks away with the Super Bowl also quickly coming into focus. The legitimate contenders – the Cowboys, Patriots, Raiders, among others – have established themselves as the favorites to win it all, while there are also a whole bunch of other teams that will make noise and win at least a game or two.
But what about the teams flying under the radar – the ones no one is giving much of a chance to do anything in the postseason? There are seven of those as of Week 15, and if everything goes their way, they could shock the world.
Here are seven underrated teams that might just do enough to win it all.
Evan HabeebUSA TODAY Sports
The Lions have the inside track to making the playoffs with a variety of scenarios that can get them in. They can win the NFC North by beating the Packers in Week 17, or they can lose both of their games and still sneak in with a Buccaneers loss or two. Once Detroit does get in, they’ll be a team that no one wants to play – despite the fact that they struggled against the Giants on Sunday.
So long as Matthew Stafford plays the way he has been – not in the past two weeks, though – the Lions will have just enough fire power to make a run. Darius Slay matches up well with opposing receivers, but Detroit’s biggest questions remain at running back and pass rusher. They’re towards the bottom in both departments, which might prevent them from making any noise.
Leon HalipGetty Images
The Ravens have a huge showdown with the Steelers looming on Sunday. It’ll likely decide which team wins the AFC North and makes the postseason, though there’s still a chance Baltimore gets in with a loss. If the Ravens beat the Steelers, they’ll establish themselves as a team that can make a run based on their defense.
Joe Flacco still has to play better as does the team’s makeshift backfield, but that defense is legit. Baltimore thrives in stopping the run and playing physical defense, setting the tone from the first play of the game. They just need to prove they can beat the top teams, which they’ve struggled to do all year.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers have garnered a great deal of attention in recent weeks thanks to their four-game winning streak, so you could make the case that they’re not exactly underrated. However, when looking at the playoff picture and taking into account what the Packers still need to do to make the postseason, they’re far from locks to get in. A win in Week 17 (assuming they win or the Lions lose this week) is their easiest path, but it’s hardly certain.
I do expect them to reach the playoffs, and once there, the records get wiped clean. Everyone forgets about their once-4-6 record and Aaron Rodgers’ previous struggles. All teams should care about is the fact that Rodgers is playing well and will be difficult to stop in a win-or-go-home game. They can shake some things up in the NFC should they punch their ticket to the dance.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Just based on their recent performances, the Buccaneers are worthy of being discussed among Super Bowl contenders. They beat the Chiefs and Seahawks, and hung tough with the Cowboys for most of the game. Jameis Winston’s inexperience and carelessness with the football hurts Tampa Bay’s chances, but his big-play ability helps them.
In order for the Bucs to do anything in the playoffs, should they get in, they’ll need to protect the football and play better against the run. They struggle to stop opposing backs, allowing a career-high 159 yards to Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday night. With guys like Devonta Freeman, Elliott, and Thomas Rawls in the NFC, stopping the run could be an issue.
Few people outside of Tennessee thought the Titans would compete for a playoff spot this year, let alone a Super Bowl. But alas, here we are. They’re still longshots to go all the way, but we’ve seen several underrated teams get hot and make a run in the postseason before.
Marcus Mariota is one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. His accuracy and decision-making in the red zone make him exactly that, protecting the football when needed most. Combine his smarts with the combination of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry and the Titans have a dangerous offense that wears opponents down. The secondary remains a question mark, but it might just be aggressive enough to get it done.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY SportsTim Fuller
The Dolphins’ outlook would look very different if Ryan Tannehill were healthy. He’s not, and they’re forced to roll with Matt Moore at quarterback – a guy who just won AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Moore is a capable backup, but he’s no Tannehill. And for that reason, the Dolphins’ odds of winning the Super Bowl plummet.
If the Dolphins want to go anywhere in the playoffs, they’ll need to rely on the running game and the defense. Moore can’t throw the ball 35 times per game and expect to win that way, because he’s simply not that kind of quarterback. The Dolphins aren’t a lock to make the playoffs, but they’re one of the only bubble teams that can split their final two games and still get in without help. That alone makes the Dolphins somewhat dangerous with the playoffs wiping the slate clean for every team.
The Broncos are the longest shot to not only win the Super Bowl, but to just make the playoffs. They have the toughest remaining schedule with games against the Chiefs and Raiders to close out the year, and the offense is among the worst in the league right now. Yet, there’s still an outside chance that they go on a run in the postseason behind their dominant defense.
Von Miller and Co. showed how great they can be last year in the postseason, carrying the Broncos to a title. If Miller can take his game to another level with two sacks a game as he did last year, Denver might have an outside shot. That has to begin this week, though.