NFL Playoffs: Finding The Super Bowl Dark Horse Candidates

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 24: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions hands off the football to teammate Maurice Morris #28 during a NFL game against the San Diego Chargers at Ford Field on December 24, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions won 38-10 (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

SB Nation's NFL playoffs roundtable takes a look at the dark horse candidates that could make a Super Bowl run.

The 2012 NFL playoffs field is set and we know the names of the 12 remaining teams that have a shot at winning Super Bowl XLVI. Many of the Super Bowl predictions out there include some combination of the Packers, Saints, Patriots or Ravens, who are among the favorites to make the trip to Indianapolis.

But, if this NFL season has taught us anything, it's that things usually don't go the way you expect. So it shouldn't be that surprising to see a dark horse team, such as the Lions or Falcons, make a Super Bowl run. It's happened a couple of times recently -- a Wild Card team wins four in a row, usually on the road, to capture the title.

SB Nation's NFL playoffs roundtable looked at the dark horse candidates in the postseason and it's down to two teams -- Lions and Falcons.

Our roundtable participants are SB Nation NFL bloggers David Fucillo and Jason Garrison, as well as myself, SBNation.com's NFL editor.


MORE: 2012 NFL Offseason Moves | SI.com: Playoffs Power Rankings | NFL Playoffs Schedule

David Fucillo: The Atlanta Falcons are my Super Bowl dark horse. They will have to travel all three rounds to reach Super Bowl XLVI, but they have the kind of squad that can win a variety of game styles. On offense, they can pound it out on the ground with Michael Turner or they can play the vertical game with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. They can run ball control offense to keep great offenses off the field, but if they do fall behind, they have the weapons to climb back into just about any game.

The Falcons also bring a fairly solid defense, which would benefit them against high scoring teams. They are 12th in yards allowed per game and Football Outsiders ranks them as the sixth most efficient defense in the NFL. They aren't going to wow people, but they can get the job done. They have struggled a bit with consistency, but if they can bring it all together for a month, they are a quality dark horse.

Jason Garrison: The Detroit Lions are my Super Bowl dark horse team. Like the Falcons, the Lions would have to make it to Super Bowl XLVI by winning on the road three times in a row, but with their high-powered offense, it can be done. The Lions have the fifth-ranked offense in the NFL heading into their first playoff appearance since 1999, and with Matthew Stafford coming out of a regular season in which he threw for over 5,000 yards and Calvin Johnson, arguably the best receiver in the league, they have the tools to outscore the best offenses.

That's exactly what they would need to do. The Lions face the Saints' top-ranked offense and if they win they would then go head-to-head with the Packers' third-ranked offense. It won't be easy but if their defense can just get a handful of stops, the Lions' offense has the potential to score every time they're on the field. It's been a long time since they've been in the playoffs and I have a feeling that they're in it for the long haul.

Joel Thorman: I have to go with the Lions as well. I think some of these underdogs have to do one thing extremely well to potentially make a run to the Super Bowl. For the Lions, they have the ability to be an elite offense. It's just a matter of doing it consistently and having a defense that be somewhat competent against the opponent. Week 17 showed they can hang with the Packers (even if it was backup Matt Flynn) and the Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson connection has been huge at times.

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