The biggest weaknesses for every Super Bowl contender
We have reached the "elite eight" stage of the NFL playoffs.
We have some fantastic matchups, but each remaining team has a weakness that may get exposed by the right coach and personnel.
Let’s take a team-by-team look at the more glaring vulnerabilities of each squad still standing.
Cleveland Browns: offensive line
The Browns rolled into Pittsburgh last week and put up 48 points against what had been one of the top defenses in the NFL. It was surely a cathartic moment for Browns fans to finally win a playoff game against their longtime rival, but now they get to face the Kansas City Chiefs.
Heading into their second-round matchup, the Browns have injuries on the offensive line. All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin missed most of the Steelers game with a hamstring injury and is listed as day-to-day, but he will likely not be 100% against the Chiefs. Joel Bitonio has been on the COVID-19 list, and his replacement, Michael Dunn, also suffered a calf injury.
The Browns will need to score points to keep up with the Chiefs, but that will be difficult with a pieced-together offensive line.
Kansas City Chiefs: run defense
The Chiefs are the defending champions and a deserving favorite but underperformed over the last four weeks of the regular season.
Both their offensive and defensive "expected points added" (EPA) in the final month of the regular season has been near the league average, which raises the question of whether they have been coasting.
Chiefs haven't covered a game in 2 months. Last year off bye, trailed 24-0 to Houston.— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) January 11, 2021
Browns come off 395 yards, 6.4 ypp vs a Top 5 defense in the NFL.
Mahomes probably won't throw 4 INTs nor gift Cleveland a TD on the 1st play, BUT ... +10?
The Chiefs give up more than 131 yards per game rushing at home, and rank 18th in the league overall in yards surrendered on the ground. They need to be more stout at stopping the run game, with teams like Cleveland and Baltimore still in their way.
Baltimore Ravens: passing attack
The Ravens are arguably the best running team in the league. They utilize counters, draws, pulling lineman, and the most dynamic rushing quarterback in league history.
The Ravens are not a great passing team, however, as Lamar Jackson has seen major regression in 2020 and has not made great throws into tight coverage downfield.
A team that can stop the Ravens rushing attack will be able to shut down their entire offense.
Buffalo Bills: stopping the run
Despite the presence of some higher-profile defensive lineman and a well-regarded defense, the Bills rank 25th in the league in yards allowed per rush.
The Bills have one of the better defenses left in the playoffs against the pass, but they demonstrated in the Wild Card Round against the Colts that they can't force teams to become one-dimensional.
Los Angeles Rams: quarterback play
The Rams have quarterback issues.
Jared Goff returned from thumb surgery 12 days earlier to play the majority of the game against the Seahawks, but he was hardly impressive and hasn’t been impressive for some time.
The Rams need Goff to step his play up to compete.
Green Bay Packers: stopping the run
The Packers have emerged as the favorite in the NFC and are operating an incredibly efficient offense, but they have the second-worst run defense left in the playoffs.
Green Bay recently signed interior lineman Damon Harrison to help, but will it be enough if teams find success against this unit and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field?
The Packers unveiled their blueprint for defeat in a loss against the Indianapolis Colts earlier this year, when a time-consuming power running game beat them into submission.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brady's age
Father Time is, as they say, undefeated.
Tom Brady is a modern marvel, arguably the greatest quarterback to play in the NFL, and has tremendous weapons at his disposal, but he is not the player he was at his peak in New England.
Brady hasn’t thrown more interceptions in a season since 2009, had a 1-5 record against playoff teams in the regular season, and while he still reads the game as well as anyone, the arm strength isn’t what it once was.
New Orleans Saints: Brees' decline
The same questions that exist with Brady exist with the aging and recently injured Drew Brees.
Brees has not thrown well downfield this year and has relied on yards after the catch from his playmakers. This season, New Orleans averaged the fewest passing yards per game during the tenure of Brees and head coach Sean Payton.
Brees relies on elusive and multi-dimensional Alvin Kamara, but if a team can shut the running back down, the Saints will struggle to stretch the field.