The Buccaneers' ugly loss to the Saints on Sunday night was a reminder of how unique opponents can turn what might seem like a lopsided matchup on paper into a competitive contest. New Orleans, starting quarterback Taysom Hill against one of the league's best run defenses, had one win since the start of November, and it came against the Jets. The Bucs were starting Tom Brady and riding a four-game winning streak. At home, they were comfortable favorites to all but knock their division rivals out of the playoff picture.
That didn't happen, owing to a dominant defensive performance. The Saints have given the Bucs trouble since Brady arrived in Florida, and while Tampa Bay would be favored in a playoff rematch between these two teams, I doubt that Bruce Arians & Co. are desperate to play a third game against the Saints before next season. There are objectively better teams than the Saints in the NFC playoff picture, but Dennis Allen's defense has a great handle on what to do to disrupt Tampa's offense.
Let's look into each of the league's most prominent postseason contenders and try to identify which team it would prefer to avoid in the race to Super Bowl LVI. While each would like to avoid playing the best teams on the road, I'm going to focus on opponents that might be able to exploit these contenders' most notable weakness or an issue that has plagued them in their losses.
I'll go through seven of the eight division leaders. Because the AFC North is still up for grabs, I'll leave the four teams there aside and swap in the Rams, who are all but playoff locks, as the eighth contender. I'll start with the Patriots, who looked unbeatable for two months before the Colts finally exploited one of their few weaknesses in Week 15:
New England Patriots (9-5)
Kryptonite: The first quarter