Catching Fire: Ranking the Hottest of the NFL’s Final Four
A breakdown of who’s highest on the heat meter.
The Super Bowl is in sight, folks, and you would be hard-pressed to find four hotter teams in football right now.
But it’s also tougher than ever to pick the Super Bowl matchup.
In the AFC, you have the “Killer B’s” up against two darn good B’s of their own in the Belichick-Brady duo.
On the NFC side, you have the bad man himself, Aaron Rodgers, against the Dirty Birds of Atlanta.
You can make the case that the four best teams are left standing. You can also say the four best quarterbacks of all the playoff teams lead them. In fact, three of these quarterbacks have won a combined seven Super Bowls.
While all teams are playing well at the right time, some are riding hotter than others and here, you’ll get a breakdown of who’s highest on the heat meter.
#4 — New England Patriots
You may be wondering why the 14–2 Patriots are last on my list. It’s their sixth straight trip to the AFC Championship and Brady-Belichick is the coldest squad of them all, but bear with me.
The Patriots were the best team in the NFL this season, and their performance against the Texans solidified their superiority over a majority of the AFC. But while the score of 34–16 reads like a blowout, the first half of that game gives some cause for concern.
Simply put, New England’s offense was rattled. They went into the half with a mere seven-point lead and allowed Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus to wreak havoc on Brady. Throughout the entire game, the Patriots’ QB was mediocre with 297 yards and two picks, the same amount he threw all season.
Of course, the team made excellent halftime adjustments and put the Texans away, and are still the team to beat.
The Steelers pass rush isn’t nearly as good as Houston’s, but the speed of the defense as a whole could still cause some trouble if Brady is pushed out of his comfort zone.
#3 — Atlanta Falcons
If not for the top two teams on this list doing what they’ve done, Atlanta would be near the top, but alas, they sit at number three. Despite all criticisms, the NFC’s No. 2 seeded Falcons have been one of the best teams in the league all season.
Offensively, they’re as hot as anyone.
At the end of the regular season, Atlanta had a four-game win streak for a combined 154 points — an average of 38.5-points per game.
This didn’t stop in the playoffs. A scattered Seattle Seahawks defense was unable to stop the Falcons on all fronts, giving up 36 points.
To prove just how powerful their second ranked offense was, the team scored less than 23 points just once, and scored over 30 points 11 times this year behind the MVP-like play of Matt Ryan. Obviously, their offense is no joke and their defense has picked it up behind Vic Beasley’s big year.
But a four-game win streak, Ryan’s MVP campaign, and Beasley’s emergence are not enough to be sold on this team.
They still have questions on a defense that ranks 25th overall and gave up the sixth most points in the league. And against Aaron Rodgers, that could be trouble.
#2 — Green Bay Packers
After last week’s thriller against the Cowboys, you can’t pick a team that is any more “clutch” than the Packers.
Aaron Rodgers set the tone for an eight-game winning streak with his prophetic “run the table” comment after Week 10. The offense, even hit with multiple injuries to key players like Jordy Nelson, has scored 30+ points in the last six games. This includes 38 against the second stingiest point defense by the Giants in the Wild Card round.
Outside of Rodgers’s brilliance, there hasn’t been much method to the madness. The team as a whole has been decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball and are down to third string corners in the secondary, pairing with fourth and fifth stringers in the receiving corps.
There’s no reason to discount the “hotness” of a team with the league’s best QB riding an eight-game win streak, but Green Bay has to hope that won’t run out.
They are likely salivating at the thought of facing the Falcons’ weak defense.
#1 — Pittsburgh Steelers
And the number one hottest team out of the final four playoff teams is…
The Killer B’s and the Pittsburgh Steelers!
Like the Packers, Pittsburgh is riding an incredible win streak and the dynamic play of one particular player on their offense.
Le’Veon Bell has dominated rushing for a combined 337 rushing yards in each of the team’s previous two postseason contests. That’s not even throwing in his impact as a receiver. Bell, along with Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger have led one of the league’s premier offenses.
Even after failing to reach the end zone in Kansas City, they have to like their prospects against New England.
The Steelers’ nine game win-streak is not to be taken for granted. This team has rebounded from a 4–5 start to become arguably the most dangerous team left.
Defensively, there is something to be desired from a unit that ranked in the middle of the pack in both passing and rushing yards allowed. However, the way they’ve been playing is trending upwards.
The playoffs aren’t always about being the best team, but being the hottest team.