NFL Playoff Preview and Prediction
What a great season it has been so far. Surprises like the Redskins and Colts led by their rookie quarterbacks, disappointments by the Panthers, Steelers, and Eagles. Coaches and GM’s already being fired as we head into our first week of the playoffs. This past season has been great, but it’s not quite over with yet. This year’s playoffs will have some exciting match ups that should have all NFL fans on their toes. Before the season, I predicted a Texans-49’ers Super bowl. Will I change my pick or stick to my guns? Come find out!
#1 – Broncos: quarterback Peyton Manning leads The Broncos. After having Tim Tebow last year win just one playoff game, the Broncos decided he was not the answer, and scooped up Peyton Manning coming off neck surgery. The move paid off, as they are now the #1 team in the AFC. Besides Manning, they have Thomas, Decker, and Stokley (former teammate of Manning in IND), as playmakers for Manning to get the ball too. Dreesen and Tamme are also targets Manning looks for on key plays. Their defense is nothing to laugh at as well. Led by Von Miller, the Broncos have both the pass rush, and the secondary to be able to go against the best offenses in the NFL. The Broncos look like the favorite in the AFC, as teams will have to go through mile-high city if they want to advance to New Orleans.
#2 – Patriots: The Patriots have just as good of an offense with even more weapons then the Broncos. Led by Tom Brady at QB, Brady will have a healthy Gronkowski and Hernandez to get the ball too. He also has Lloyd and Welker at the WR spots. Out of the backfield, Ridley has been a great runner for them and is spelled by Bolden and Vereen when needed. Woodhead, their 3rd-down back, is a capable WR and Brady often looks for him when he’s in trouble. Their defense on the other hand is very hit-or-miss. Corners like Talib and Dennard have stepped up for the Patriots as well as McCourty who has changed positions. They will need to be on top of their game if they want to stop the high-powered offenses in the AFC. Of course when talking about the Patriots defense, you can’t not mention Wilfork. He dominates at the line, allowing Ninkovich, Jones, and their LB’s to get pressure on the quarterback. Teams will need to be able to stop him if they want to have success against the Patriots defense.
#3 – Texans: Just about two weeks ago the Texans looked like the favorite in the AFC. Since then, they have taken two bad losses (against the Vikings and Colts) that have now forced them to play this weekend. The Texans have many weapons on offense. Foster, Tate, and Forsett are a great trio capable of eating up yardage and milking the clock. Andre Johnson has had a career year in terms of yardage and the Texans look up to him on key 3rd downs. Daniels, Graham, Casey, Posey, Jean, and Walter also will need to play big roles for the Texans. However, the Texans demise has been partly on the arm of Matt Schaub. Schaub, who has struggled most of the month of December, will need to step it up big time for the Texans to advance far in the playoffs. Another part of their demise has been their lack of big time defense. The Texans have the DPOY in Watt, but need pass rushers, Barwin, Reed, and Mercilus to step up. Their secondary is without Brice McCain, which has put tons of pressure on youngster Brandon Harris who has failed to succeed in his time at nickel. The Texans special teams have also been the cause of many mistakes and terrible outcomes, which is not the mark of a Super Bowl contender. All three facets of this team have been struggling, and if that continues into Saturday, they could be looking at an early exit from the playoffs.
#4 – Ravens: The Ravens are heading into the playoffs limping a bit. They have suffered many key injuries this year, though it looks like their captain will be healthy come Sunday. Ray Lewis, their emotional team leader, will be focused as he enters his last few games as a NFL player. Besides Lewis, key players like Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata will need to charge up the defense, as they will be playing some tough offenses in the playoffs. If the defense is not up to par, the offense, led by Joe Flacco, will have to show up ready to play. Flacco has been under some harsh criticism as he is in his contract year. Flacco has the weapons around him with Boldin, Smith, Jones, and Pitta, being able to make big plays. The Ravens also have one of the best running backs in Ray Rice. They need to be able to run with success in order to open their aerial attack. If teams are able to gobble up Rice, then the Ravens will be in all sorts of trouble relying on Flacco’s arm.
#5 – Colts: Maybe the greatest story of the year, the Colts are in the playoffs again. Led by rookie quarterback, Andrew Luck, the Colts have been able to offset their subpar defense and come out with big victories. The Colts have had a huge emotional lift with the return of head coach Chuck Pagano who has returned to the sidelines after his battle with leukemia. The Colts will need Luck to stop some of the rookie mistakes he still makes, and needs the pinpoint accuracy he has shown on several occasions this year. With weapons like Wayne, Hilton, Fleener, and Allen, the Colts are capable of moving the ball downfield. Ballard has proven to be a solid running back, and capable of taking some pressure off a Luck. On defense, Davis and Butler will need to be able to put pressure on opposing WR’s as Freeney and Mathis rush the quarterback. Opposing offenses will look to run the ball on Indy’s defense as they give up over 137 rushing yards per game. If Indy can’t stop opposing offenses, then Luck will be watching at home earlier then he had hoped.
#6 – Bengals: The Bengals come into the playoffs pretty underrated in the eyes of many football fans. Their All-Pro WR A.J. Green leads the Bengals. Green has been a monster for them and a key target for 2nd-year QB Andy Dalton. Dalton has improved this year, and will look to have his playoff career extend longer then it did last year. Along with Green, Dalton has had Hawkins, Jones, and Gresham available to him. All four targets have played many offensive snaps and are capable targets for Dalton. Their defense is led by DT Geno Atkins. Atkins is having an unbelievable season at DT but is overshadowed by the season of Watt. Atkins had been a force for their defense, which has opened up many opportunities for both Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. Their secondary is also capable of big plays with both Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson part of the back four. The Bengals will be riding into Houston again for a rematch of last year’s Wild-Card game and will be hoping for a better result.
#1 – Falcons: The Falcons have been cruising along the season with some big wins, as well as some very close ones. Pro-Bowl QB Matt Ryan who has led the team to their impressive record leads the Falcons. Ryan has had the privilege of throwing to one of the best tight ends in NFL history in Tony Gonzalez. Along with Gonzalez, Ryan has maybe the best 1-2 combo in the NFL at WR with White and Jones on each of his sides. Their offense lacks a strong running game though and could be a key factor for them in the playoffs. On defense, the corners are a big banged up after playing a week-17 meaningless game. Both Samuels and Robinson appear to be ok for their first game in a few weeks, but if they are not, many people will be questioning head coach Mike Smith. Also, DE John Abraham suffered an ankle injury but should make it back for their game. The Falcons will need to continue their offensive assault on opposing defenses, as their own defense may not be able to hold up against other top offenses.
#2 – 49’ers: The 49’ers will enter the playoffs with young QB Colin Kaepernick at center. Kaepernick provides the team with a few more options on offense, and has had success in his starts. They are led by running back Frank Gore, who has had a great season and has stayed fresh most of the season. If the running game fails, they will have to rely on Kaepernick being able to hit Crabtree, Moss, or Davis for big games to keep themselves in the game. However, the 49’ers are capable of winning low scoring games as well. On defense, they are led by Aldon and Justin Smith on the D-line. If Justin Smith is not able to play, Aldon will have to step up in a big way, since he struggled with Justin hurt late in the season. The defense also has playmakers in Willis, Bowman, and Rogers who are capable of taking games over. On special teams, both Akers and the recently signed Cundiff, will have a large chip on their shoulder after their memorable misses this season or last year’s playoffs. The 49’ers will look to improve on last year’s playoff performance and hope to be dancing in the Superdome in February.
#3 – Packers: The Packers had probably hoped to have a bye, but it looks like they couldn’t come down with a key interception that could have given them a win (sorry about that Packer fans). They draw the Vikings for a rematch of a game they played just this past week, and the first thing they will have to focus on is stopping Peterson. The players that have this duty will start with Raji up front, and Clay Mathews at the next level. Their secondary, which has been without Woodson, should be able to keep Ponder in check, but will need to step up against better quarterbacks. If their defense struggles, Aaron Rodgers will need to be at his best. He has Finley, Jennings, Nelson, and Jones all good threats for big plays, and the O-line will need to be able to give Rodgers enough time to make those throws. The Packers are capable of a Super Bowl run if all things go right for them.
#4 – Redskins: About 10 weeks ago, the whole world would have laughed if anyone predicted the Skins to be here, but look what they have done. Led by rookie RG3, the Skins are a tough opponent for weak defenses. They disguise who will run the ball well, and if RG3 needs to throw it, Garcon is his main target. When RG3 wants a long ball, he often finds Hankerson or Moss running long, and he has the cannon to reach them in stride. When RG3 decides to hand off the ball, Morris has been racking up the yardage. In a normal year, Morris might be considered for ROY but not this year, even with his dominant year. On defense, they are led by London Fletcher who keeps on making big plays. They will need their pass rush to step it up so that their secondary doesn’t get lit up. The Redskins are a popular pick both to get upset in the first round, and others have them going to the Super bowl. We may just have to wait and see if the Skins can continue their miraculous run.
#5 – Seahawks: Don’t leave out Russell Wilson when you talk about ROY candidates. Wilson tied Manning’s record for most TD passes thrown in a rookie season in Week 17. He is also capable of making big plays on his feet. With Rice, Baldwin, Tate, and Miller around him, Wilson has had a great year through the air. When in need, Wilson has also been able to rely on Marshawn Lynch who has proven to be one of the better running back in the NFL. Lynch is known for his dominant run against the Saints in the playoffs a few year’s back, and we will see if he can duplicate it this year. Of course when talking Seahawks you have to mention their defense. Led by CB Richard Sherman, their defense will be getting back their other corner Browner off of suspension. Their pass rush has been great this year as well, with rookie Bruce Irvin having a large impact. They are in the playoff due to their sparkling 8-0 home record and their great fans. However, it looks like they will be on the road for all of the playoffs. Will this make a difference?
#6 – Vikings: This whole paragraph could be all about Peterson but it won’t be. The leader of this team, Peterson came 9 yards short of breaking the all time rushing record in one season. Without Peterson’s weekly dominate performance, the Vikings would be looking at a high pick in April. Instead, they get a shot at a trophy because of Peterson. When Peterson doesn’t get the ball, Ponder will need to continue playing like he has been the last few weeks. With Harvin hurt, Ponder will look at Rudolph, Wright, and Jenkins to make big plays. Their o-line has been dominant most of the year and needs to continue making holes for Peterson and keeping Ponder upright. Their defense has been very solid this year as well. Led by Jared Allen, they will look to give the quarterback many problems, and hope Winfield and Smith in the secondary can hold off opposing aerial attacks. The Vikings also have Blair Walsh who has been nothing short of sensational during his rookie year. If they have a chance to win and Walsh trots on the field, they will be able to pull it off.
The way I think the AFC will fall out; I think Houston and Baltimore will come out with wins on wild card weekend. In the next round, the Pats and Broncos should head to the AFC championship game. In Denver, the Broncos will come out of the AFC and represent the AFC in New Orleans. On the NFC side, I’ll take the Packers and Skins on the first week. The following week, the Packers and Falcons will come out victorious. In the championship game, the Packers will go on the road and defeat the Falcons, giving us a Broncos-Packers Super Bowl.
Super Bowl Prediction: Broncos 31 Packers 24
Who do you think will represent both conferences in the Super Bowl? Let’s see your opinions in the comments section!