The NFL Playoffs began this past weekend, starting with the Wild Card Round. For those who have allegiances to teams who didn’t make the playoffs, or for those who don’t have a favourite football team at all, we’ve got a guide for who to cheer for in the remaining three rounds of the playoffs.
For fans of: Spy movies, Uggs, super models and hoodies
The New England Patriots are the top seeded team in the AFC, one of the two NFL conferences. If you’re looking for a team you’ll be able to cheer on for at least two more weeks, the Patriots are a good candidate. The strength of the Patriots’game lies in the strategy of coach Bill Belichick, who is known as likely the greatest coach of this era; Belichick is also known for the “Spygate”scandal, during which he was accused of spying on opposing teams to gain an unfair advantage.
Players to know:
Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks of the current generation of football players, and possibly one of the best quarterbacks ever. Brady has made a name for himself as one of the league’s most accurate pocket passing quarterbacks, and has been doing so for 13 seasons now. Off the field, Brady is known for his wife, super model Gisele Bundchen, his many endorsements (namely, Uggs boots), and a wide range of hair styles.
Rob Gronkowski is a massive man, who is also extremely fast, and has incredible hands; he’s the best tight end in the league today and plays a massive role in the Patriots’ offence. Gronkowski, better known as “Gronk”, has been in the NFL for just four seasons, yet already holds nine individual records. Tom Brady loves to pass to Gronk, if you watch the Patriots during these playoffs, you’ll be hearing his name quite often.
Other names to know: DarrelleRevis (CB), Jamie Collins (LB), Vince Wilfork (DT), Julian Edelman (WR)
Likely path to Super Bowl 49: vs. Baltimore, vs. Denver, vs. NFC Champion (SEA, GB or DAL)
For fans of: The number 12, action, trash talk and loud noises
The Seahawks are the top seed in the NFC, the other conference in the NFL, also finishing their season with a record of 12-4. Seattle relies on a strong running attack, led by running back Marshawn Lynch and speedy quarterback Russell Wilson. On defense, the Seahawks are known for playing hard-hitting, smash mouth football; their secondary is referred to as the Legion of Boom, and is known for shutting down opposing passing offences. The Seahawks are also known for their extremely loud fan-base and home field, where the fans are referred to as the “12th Man”.
Players to know:
Marshawn Lynch is all about that action, boss. Also known as “Beast Mode”, Lynch is a talented running back, known for punishing defenses, long rushing touchdowns, and being short with the media. The Seahawks’ running back was fined $100,000 in the 2014 season after his third violation for not speaking with the media following a game. Anyone cheering for Seattle in the playoffs will get to know Lynch’s name well, as he’s a huge part of the Seahawks’ offensive game-plan.
Richard Sherman, the leader of the Legion of Boom, is known equally for his stingy on-field defensive coverage as much as he’s known for his abrasive off-field antics. Sherman specializes in locking down receivers on the field, and Twitter battles and controversial press conferences off of it.
Other players to know: Russell Wilson (QB), Earl Thomas (S), Kam Chancellor (S), Bobby Wagner (LB)
Likely path to Super Bowl 49: vs. Carolina, vs. Green Bay, vs. AFC Champion (NE, DEN or IND)
For fans of: Foreheads, chicken parm, pot roasts and Papa John’s
The Broncos are just one year removed from their last Super Bowl appearance, after losing last year’s final game by a score of 43-8 at the hands of the Seahawks. The Broncos are led by one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Peyton Manning; however, their offence as of late has been carried by young running back, CJ Anderson. Denver relied on their highly-skilled offence and strong run defense to earn a 2014 record of 12-4.
Players to know:
Peyton Manning is plain and simple, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play football. His play of late has been less than impressive, but nobody is more motivated to win another Super Bowl than Manning. If you don’t recognize Manning on the football field, it’s quite possible you’ve seen him in commercials for Papa John’s (of which he is a partial owner), Nationwide Insurance or Buick.
Von Miller is one of the game’s premier defensive players, and he’s just 25 years old. Miller often dominates opposing offensive lines with a rare combination of power and quickness that allows him to rack up the quarterback sacks. If the Broncos are to have success in the playoffs, the young Broncos pass rusher will need to make his name heard with some big defensive plays.
Other players to know: Demaryius Thomas (WR), CJ Anderson (RB), Emmanuel Sanders (WR), Chris Harris Jr. (CB)
Likely path to Super Bowl 49: vs. Indianapolis, @ New England, vs. NFC Champion (SEA, GB or DAL)
For fans of: Cheese, moustaches, leaping and Wrangler Jeans
The Green Bay Packers won the NFC North division for the fourth straight season, finishing second in the entire conference with a record of 12-4. The Packers play their home games at Lambeau Field, one of the most iconic stadiums in pro sports. Led by QB Aaron Rodgers and his arsenal of weapons in the passing game, the Packers also boast a strong running game in the form of young running back Eddie Lacy.
Players to know:
Aaron Rodgers was a unanimous choice as this season’s First Team All Pro quarterback, and for good reason; the veteran QB, who is also talented at moustache-growing, had yet another phenomenal season, throwing for 4381 yards, 38 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Rodgers’ continued success will be key as the Packers look to win their second Super Bowl of his tenure in Green Bay.
Eddie Lacy is the prototype of an elite NFL running back. Lacy can grind out the tough yards between the offensive tackles, or bust a long run with some shifty moves –not to mention his pass-catching ability. The second-year back who won a BCS National Championship MVP award at Alabama will be hoping to do the same with his NFL team in the Super Bowl. Off the field, Lacy is not a flashy guy (other than when he’s posting pictures of Madden victories), still driving the old car that he drove in college.
Other players to know: Jordy Nelson (WR), Randall Cobb (WR), Julius Peppers (LB), Mike Daniels (DT)
Likely path to Super Bowl 49: vs. Dallas, @ Seattle, vs. AFC Champion (NE, DEN or IND)
For fans of: The Amish, football babies, long hair and switching to Geico
After an 11-5 season and a win in their Wild Card playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Colts have earned themselves a spot in the Divisional Round against the Denver Broncos. Indianapolis is led by Andrew Luck, the first quarterback to have three straight 300+ yard passing games under the age of 26. The Colts defense has been suspect in the 2014 season, so they’ll be carried as far as Luck and his gnarly playoff beard can take them.
Players to know:
Andrew Luck is the successor to Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, and a fitting one at that. Luck, like Manning, is a great pocket passer, but he also has the speed and vision to tuck the ball and run with it when needed. The third-year quarterback looks slightly like the caveman from the Geico commercials, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s unintelligent; in fact, Luck graduated from Stanford, where he excelled at college football, with a bachelor’s degree in architectural design.
T.Y. Hilton is known for his blazing speed, shiftiness and his ability to catch the deep ball from Andrew Luck. Earlier in the season, though, it was a certain touchdown celebration that had everyone talking about Hilton. The day that Hilton’s child was born, he scored a touchdown in a game against the Jaguars. After scoring the touchdown, T.Y. (whose full name is Eugene Marquis) paid tribute to his newborn daughter, cradling the football like a baby in the end-zone. Hilton is Andrew Luck’s favourite target in the passing game, and his contributions will be integral to the Colts’ success.
Other players to know: Daniel Herron (RB), Vontae Davis (CB), Coby Fleener (TE), Mike Adams (S)
Likely path to Super Bowl 49: vs. Cincinnati (W), @ Denver, @ New England, vs. NFC Champion (SEA, GB or DAL)
For fans of: America, ten-gallon hats, Jerry World and being disliked
The Cowboys knocked off the sixth-seeded Lions in the first round of the playoffs, marking their first playoff win since the 2009 season. Often referred to as “America’s Team”, the Cowboys are the football equivalent of the New York Yankees, minus the fact that the Yankees have won five championships since the Cowboys’last Super Bowl win (1995). With one of their best rosters in that time span, the Cowboys are a dangerous team moving forward in the playoffs and arelikely to have the best chance at winning it all outside of the top four teams in the playoffs.
Players to know:
Tony Romois one of the most talked-about characters in football, and most of the narrative has been bad, although that’s continuing to change with every key win in the 2014 season. In the past, Romo has been criticized heavily for collapses in important moments and games, but his otherwise stellar play (and lack of help) is often left out of the discussion.However, this year has been a turning point in that narrative, as Romo has had a career season and come up big for the Cowboys multiple times. Romo, who is otherwise known for his short-lived relationship with Jessica Simpson and his golf skills (he came close to qualifying for the US Open in 2005).
Demarco Murray took the league by storm in 2014, the first completely healthy season of his career. Murray set the single-season record for most rushing yards by a Dallas Cowboys player (previously set by Emmitt Smith), tallying 1845 yards to go along with 13 rushing touchdowns. Murray is a weapon unlike any that Romo has had in his past playoff blunders, and could be a key factor in this season’s playoff run for the ‘Boys.
Other players to know: DezBryant (WR), Jason Witten (TE), Brandon Carr (CB), Barry Church (S)
Likely path to Super Bowl 49: vs. Detroit (W), @ Green Bay, @ Seattle, vs. AFC Champion (NE, DEN or IND)
For fans of: The word “elite”, suspense, Ball So Hard University and power outages
The Baltimore Ravens just squeaked into the playoffs with a 10-6 record, but they toppled over the AFC North division-winning Steelers with ease. The Ravens, like their quarterback, seem to coast along through the regular season, but always seem to have something extra when the post-season comes rolling around. The Ravens head to New England next to take on the Patriots in what will be thethird playoff meeting in four years for the two teams.
Players to know:
Joe Flacco–and those close to him –would like to think that he is an elite-level NFL quarterback, right on par with the Peyton Mannings, Tom Bradys, and Aaron Rodgers of the world. Most people, on the other hand, would tell you that Flacco is a good NFL quarterback, nothing more, nothing less. Either way, Flacco has a Super Bowl ring and a boatload of money to show for his last playoff run, and he’s looking to repeat that success in 2014. There’s no question that the Ravens’ leader elevates his play in the playoffs, but there’s certainly still a question of whether or not his play as a whole warrants the immense amount of money he’s making.Flacco will look to prove the doubters wrong with another run at a ‘ship in Baltimore this season.
Terrell Suggs is a long-time standout linebacker on the Ravens’defense, who is one of the few remaining members of the outstanding Baltimore defenses of old. An interception by Suggs, which he trapped between his knees, sealed the deal in the Ravens’ Wild Card victory in Pittsburgh. Suggs will look to represent his alma-mater, “Ball So Hard University”, with pride and lead the Ravens’ D to another shot at a Super Bowl.
Other players to know: Haloti Ngata (DT), Justin Forsett (RB), Steve Smith Sr. (WR), Elvis Dumervil (DE)
Likely path to Super Bowl 49: @ Pittsburgh (W), @ New England, @ Denver, vs. NFC Champion (SEA, GB or DAL)
For fans of: Superman, river boats, glitter and slight logo changes
The Carolina Panthers slipped into the playoffs with a losing record, despite winning the NFC South division (if you’re not into football, don’t bother trying to understand that). And even though most people don’t love the fact that the Panthers made the playoffs over multiple teams with better records, they can’t argue that Carolina looks like a legitimate playoff team right now. Cam Newton and the Panthers’ rushing attack will have their work cut out for them against the Seahawks next weekend, where they will look to reverse the outcome of their 13-9 week eight loss in Carolina.
Players to know:
Cam Newton is probably the biggest and strongest dual-threat quarterback in the league, and he leads a dangerous Panthers rushing attack into Seattle next weekend. Newton is famous for his Superman touchdown celebration and his trademark beaming smile. The young quarterback out of Auburn has led the Panthers to back-to-back NFC South titles and he’ll look to advance past the divisional playoffs for the first time in his career in 2014.
Luke Kuechlyis the defensive leader of the Panthers, who has an influence on nearly every play. Kuechly’s name is one you’ll be familiar with after watching just one of Carolina’s games, but spare your eyes from his atrocious dance moves off the field. With an ability to play the run and pass with equal efficiency on defense, we’ll cut him some slack for not having time to practice on the dance floor.
Other players to know: Kelvin Benjamin (WR), Thomas Davis (LB), Jonathan Stewart (RB), Greg Olsen (TE)
Likely path to Super Bowl 49: vs. Arizona (W), @ Seattle, @ Green Bay, vs. AFC Champion (NE, DEN or IND)