With the 2015 NFL regular season now in the books the attention shifts to the playoffs and the road to Super Bowl XLIX, which begins Saturday with wild card round action. While all eyes will likely be on perennial powerhouses like New England, Denver, Carolina, and Arizona, there are other playoff teams that could be dangerous and poised to make a run this postseason.
Whether it’s teams overshadowed by their division successors or peaking at just the right time, the NFL is no stranger to emerging dark horses making a playoff run.
Here are four teams to watch for this postseason:
1) Seattle Seahawks (NFC 6th Seed, 10-6)
While at the start of the season saying the Seattle Seahawks would be playoff bound would be far from a stretch, following the start of the 2015 season the Seahawks seemed to be falling victim to the age-old curse of Super Bowl losers: missing the playoffs. While the Seahawks struggled in the first half of the season, they’ve mounted a resurgence behind quarterback Russell Wilson notching a 6-1 record to close the season, including an impressive 36-6 rout of the No. 2 seed Arizona Cardinals in the final week of regular season play. The defense, which struggled early in the season, has regained its footing proving why it’s still one of the best in the league. While the Seahawks enter the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, they’re playing more like a top 2 seed at just the right time.
2) Washington Redskins (NFC 4th Seed, 9-7)
When it comes to peaking at the right time there’s no team in the NFL that’s done it better than the Washington Redskins. While the Redskins won a lackluster NFC East, boasting a 9-7 record, there’s no denying how much the team has come into its own over the past few weeks. Following a 19-16 loss at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in week 13, the Redskins churned out four consecutive victories to end the season and lock up the NFC East. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been outstanding all season long leading a now surging Redskins offense to victory behind a solid air and ground game. The Redskins defense has been a consistent force over the past six games limiting big run plays and getting more consistent tackling. While the Redskins aren’t the prototypical Carolina Panthers or Arizona Cardinals team, the way Washington has been playing over the past few weeks proves that they have a good chance to be a surprise dark horse this postseason.
3) Kansas City Chiefs (AFC 5th Seed, 11-5)
When it comes to finishing strong no one has had a resurgence this season quite like the Kansas City Chiefs, who fell one victory short of an AFC West division title. After starting the season a dismal 1-5, the Chiefs have won a franchise-record 10 consecutive games to finish the season and lock up a playoff berth. Quarterback Alex Smith continues to be a quiet yet consistent force on offense both in the air (3,468 yards) and on the ground (498 yards). Despite losing All Pro Jamaal Charles in a week 5 loss to the Chicago Bears, the Chiefs have gotten a healthy dose of running from Charcandrick West. Most importantly the Chiefs aren’t known to turn the ball over netting a +14 turnover ratio for the season. Defensively the Chiefs have rebounded from a slow start where they allowed three straight 30-plus point games. Since then, Kansas City has allowed 18 points or less in nine of their last 11 games. With an offense that doesn’t turn the ball over and a defense that forces turnovers, the Chiefs are one of those silent threats that could go deep into the postseason.
4) Houston Texans (AFC 4th Seed, 9-7)
In a never-say-never sport like football, there was a time several weeks ago where everyone was writing off the Houston Texans and scoffing at any mention of the word playoffs in relation to Houston. But following an embarrassing 44-26 loss at the hands of the hapless Miami Dolphins in late October, the Texans have emerged as one of the wild card threats of this postseason posting a 7-2 record since the week 7 loss en route to its first AFC South title since 2012. A resurging defense led by All-Pro J.J. Watt has found its footing again emerging as a dangerous unit with a dominant pass rush led by Watt, who racked up 17.5 sacks this season. Offensively the Texans are consistent both in the passing game behind the dynamic duo of quarterback Brian Hoyer and receiver DeAndre Hopkins, as well as the ground game behind second year back Alfred Blue. While the AFC boasts hot teams like the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, and Cincinnati Bengals, Houston is a team that’s already proven that it can go toe-to-toe with the likes of AFC royalty.
The NFL wild card playoff weekend kicks off Saturday with AFC games Kansas City vs. Houston and Pittsbugh vs. Cincinnati and continues Sunday with NFC games Seattle vs. Minnesota and Green Bay vs. Washington.