Worst Playoff Matchups For AFC Contenders


Through 12 weeks of the NFL season we have a pretty good idea of who is a legitimate contender, even if we don’t know the seeding.  We’re going to look at each of the AFC contenders and determine who they’d like to avoid in their quest for Super Bowl 50.

New England Patriots

Worst matchup: Denver Broncos (if Brock Osweiler is QB)

Denver’s defense showed on Sunday night that they can pressure Tom Brady and they aren’t afraid of any of the Patriots receivers.  They have the players to play press coverage and take away the underneath passing attack that New England employs.  If Osweiler plays (although we admit that we don’t know if he’s good), he can stretch the field with his arm and expose the Patriots secondary.

Two other teams to avoid:  Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans

The Bills have the personnel to make Brady extremely uncomfortable and the offensive weaponry to expose the back end of the defense.  If Tyrod Taylor plays well (not a certainty), the Bills have the added dimension of a mobile quarterback which is difficult to defend.

The Houston Texans have the best defensive player in football in J.J. Watt, who could feast on the Patriots offensive line.  They have one of the best receivers in football in DeAndre Hopkins, and a head coach in Bill O’Brien who is intimately familiar with the inner workings of the Pats organization and coaching staff.

Denver Broncos

Worst matchup:  Kansas City Chiefs

Even when the Chiefs are bad, they play the Broncos tough.  Kansas City plays a physical brand of football and they take pride in matching up against Denver as a long-time AFC West rival.  Alex Smith doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and his athleticism is highly underrated, especially when avoiding the fierce Denver pass rush.

Two other teams to avoid:  Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Colts knocked off the Chiefs in the postseason last year and a healthy Andrew Luck always seems to give them problems.  Indy can expose the weak Chiefs secondary as well as any team.

The Steelers can score against anyone and they have quite possibly the best vertical offense in the NFL.  Pittsburgh’s weakness is in the deep secondary and the Broncos don’t take as many shots down the field as they should.

Indianapolis Colts 

Worst matchup:  New England Patriots

There’s not a lot to break down about this matchup.  No matter how good or healthy the Patriots are, they seemingly destroy the Colts, and it’s usually not close.  New England holds not only a talent advantage, but a major coaching and most importantly a mental edge over Indianapolis.

Two other teams to avoid:  Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills

The Steelers have an elite quarterback and elite quarterback’s tend to beat up the Colts in the postseason.  Pittsburgh can light up the scoreboard and the lack of an Indianapolis pass rush won’t do them any favors against the bevy of weapons that the Steelers possess.

Buffalo will beat Indianapolis by hitting the quarterback repeatedly, and running the football down their throats.  The Bills are a much more physical team than the Colts and that’s proven to be a death knell for the Indy franchise.

Cincinnati Bengals

Worst matchup:  New England Patriots

There’s a reason why the Pats are a lot of teams worst matchup; because they play big in big games and pay attention to all of the details.  It doesn’t hurt that they have the greatest quarterback in the history of the game, still playing at a very high level.  In a playoff matchup of Tom Brady vs. Andy Dalton, who are you taking?

Two other teams to avoid:  Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts

Until Andy Dalton proves that he can play well in the postseason, everything is going to be a tough matchup.  The Texans defense has stymied the Bengals seemingly every time they match up and they have confidence against them, as Cincy is the only team they’ve ever beaten in the postseason.

The Colts have a better quarterback than the Bengals do.  Cincinnati is better pretty much everywhere else outside of kicker, but it doesn’t matter when your quarterback doesn’t play well.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Worst matchup:  New England Patriots

It’s been a really long time since the Steelers beat the Patriots in a game that actually counted for something.  New England plays Roethlisberger really well and they frustrate the Steelers defense with the short passing game.

Two other teams to avoid: Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills

The Bengals have no fear of their division rivals, and have played really well in recent meetings.  Cincinnati has the pass rush to get to Big Ben and A.J. Green has feasted on the Steelers secondary.

The Bills can rush the passer and that can certainly affect Roethlisberger and throw the Steelers offense out of rhythm.  Also, Buffalo is a run-first team with a mobile quarterback that can make big plays against them.

Fringe Contenders:

Houston Texans

Worst matchup:  Indianapolis Colts

Houston has never defeated the Colts in a big game and part of their ownership seems to be mental.

Buffalo Bills

Worst matchup: Denver Broncos

Denver can run the ball effectively and the Bills will struggle to score points against that aggressive Broncos defense.

Kansas City Chiefs

Worst matchup: New England Patriots

The Patriots do what the Chiefs do on offense, just better.  Nobody is ever going to pick Alex Smith to beat Tom Brady in a big game.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.