Yesterday I told you which teams I found easiest and most difficult to root for in the NFC Playoffs. Today I will talk about the AFC Playoffs. Here is a refresher on some of the criteria I used.
1. Likability of key members of the team.
2. How much pain has the fanbase been through? A championship will mean more to fans of teams that have suffered.
3. Ties to the Jets.
4. Implications of rivalries.
5. What are the best storylines?
6. New England
What is the case to root for the Patriots? I've got nothing. They aren't starved for success. They have four championships since 2001 and won it all last year. A Patriots championship would give a rival coach and quarterback a record-setting fifth championship. None of their key guys is likable, at least from a Jets perspective. There isn't a team I would like to see win it all less.
They knocked the Jets out of the Playoffs so that's one strike against them off the bat. They already hold the record for most Super Bowl wins so there isn't any suffering. Ben Roethlisberger isn't an easy guy to root for either. At least their passing game is fun to watch.
J.J. Watt is one of the most enjoyable players to watch on the field, and he seems awesome off the field. Still, this team is loaded with former Patriots in key positions both on the field and off the field. That is a major strike against them.
There are two reasons to pull for Denver. The first is potential for the storybook ending. Sunday morning it seemed like Peyton Manning's career might be over. Then he came off the bench to lead the Broncos to a win to clinch the top seed. Are we looking at the latest dramatic installment of the washed up former athlete somehow summoning up one last short run of greatness? Either way, this seems like Peyton's last ride. Based on what we have seen over the past year, it is difficult to see him coming back in 2016 and being healthy and effective. A two week layoff followed by two games, another two week layoff, and one last game? That might be doable.
The second reason to root for the Broncos is how much it would tick off Patriots fans if Manning won a second championship. If Denver beat New England in the AFC Championship Game, it would make Manning 3-1 against Tom Brady in AFC Championship Games. A second Super Bowl win and a fourth trip along with all of his statistical accomplishments would make his legacy even greater. This along with the Al Jazeera report looking flimsier by the day would make for a rough winter in New England.
You have a team and a fanbase that has known nothing but Playoff heartbreak recently. The Playoff troubles started ten years ago when the Bengals lost their franchise quarterback on his first pass of a Playoff game. You have the coach who has a reputation for not being able to get it done when it matters most. You have either a quarterback with the same reputation or a backup.
These things make for a great storyline and make the Bengals sentimental favorites.
1. Kansas City
This is an underrated tortured fanbase. The last time the Chiefs won the Super Bowl was a year after the Jets' last Super Bowl win. The team has not won a Playoff game since 1993. Their last Playoff game was one of the biggest collapses in postseason history.
Their coach has had his fair share of postseason heartbreak. Their quarterback has been doubted his entire career.
This team has shown resiliency making the Playoffs after a 1-5 start.
Their defensive coordinator was a longtime Jets assistant. They have Mike Devito too.
They have a great fanbase and one of the coolest homefield advantages in the league (which we unfortunately won't get to see in the Playoffs). I say root for the Chiefs to come out of the AFC.