Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

January 2, 2013

NFL: All 12 playoff teams have flaws to fix

The NFL's dandy dozen is set — and truth be told, a little scared.

Nobody's perfect, and all the teams that made the playoffs face potential pitfalls that could derail their dreams of partying down Bourbon Street in February.

The Denver Broncos are riding a league-best 11-game winning streak as Peyton Manning seeks to cap his incredible comeback with another championship.

Manning insists the Broncos remain a work in progress, lacking enough time together to suit the perfectionist in him, "but I think we've done the best job of being the best we can possibly be in a short period of time."

Like the rest of the field, the Broncos could end up being the NFL's best without being at their best.

The Broncos, Patriots, Falcons and 49ers all get a little more time to fix their flaws after earning first-round byes, although they'll also have to make sure all that R&R they get this weekend doesn't turn into rust and ruin when they suit up again.

Here's a look at the Achilles' heel of each of the 12 teams still hoping to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans on Feb. 3:

AFC:

—Denver: Odd as it sounds, the ball just hasn't bounced the Broncos' way this season. They're minus-1 in turnover differential. Trindon Holliday has two return TDs but five fumbles. Knowshon Moreno was deactivated for two months after coughing up the ball before replacing an injured Willis McGahee in November. And rookie Ronnie Hillman didn't see the field after his fumble Sunday led to the scary sight of Manning chasing down a cornerback to save a TD.

"Me, I'm telling him to get out of the way," Champ Bailey said. "But the competitive nature of him is telling him to make the tackle. He stuck his neck out there." His four-time surgically repaired neck, by the way.

—New England: The Pats are as close to perfect as there is, but they, too, have blemishes, including RB Stevan Ridley's fumbles. Despite rushing for a career-high 1,263 yards and 12 TDs in his second season, Ridley fumbled four times, putting him in line for one of coach Bill Belichick's notorious rants.

"We're trying to play perfect football. That's impossible, of course," Ridley said. "But when you make a mistake, you best believe that this is one place it's not going to slide."

—Houston: The Texans lost three of their last four and the main culprit is third down travails. They've converted just 15 of 49 third-down attempts in their last four games and their defense has been unable to make stops. Andrew Luck threw a 70-yard touchdown pass on third-and-23 in the fourth quarter Sunday to put the game out of reach.

"Hopefully, being at home, the noise, all those things, we can do a better job," said coach Gary Kubiak.

—Baltimore: Surprisingly, the Ravens' weakness is their defense. Baltimore has long relied upon this unit to win, but this season they've battled injuries (Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb and Bernard Pollard), and Ed Reed is having an average year. And Lewis will pull off his No. 52 jersey for the last time after the Ravens lose or claim their second title.

"Everything that starts has an end," Lewis said Wednesday in announcing his retirement.

—Indianapolis: Youth. The Colts hit the road with the worst turnover margin of any team in the playoffs (minus 12), the fewest takeaways (15) and the least experienced team. More than two dozen players, including Luck, will get their first taste of the playoffs Sunday at Baltimore. They've also been much better at home than on the road.

"We'll play in the parking lot," linebacker Dwight Freeney said. "We just want to go out there and play football and be in this dance."

—Cincinnati: Andy Dalton. The young QB has made it in Cincinnati. Now, can he make it in his hometown? As a rookie last season, he took the Bengals to the playoffs and faced the Texans back in Houston — he grew up in suburban Katy. He had one of his worst games with three interceptions, including one that J.J. Watt returned 29 yards for a TD.

"He's a guy that's grown," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said of Dalton. "He's matured. I think he's ready for his opportunity."

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