Now that Week 17 of the 2011 NFL season is rapidly approaching, it's time for everyone's favorite speculation topic:
Analyzing the 2011 NFL playoff bracket.
The playoff picture has cleared up to the point that it is safe to slot in teams for matchups and how teams stack up against each other.
This season's playoffs look to be one of the most exciting in recent memory, following an extremely intriguing regular season in which multiple long-standing records have been broken.
And now it is time to foresee what teams will be fighting for the ultimate prize come February 5th.
As of now there are a few playoff spots still up in the air and the seeds have not been clinched, save for the Green Bay Packers holding home-field advantage all throughout the NFC playoffs. This slide is dedicated to predicting who takes what spots and seeds come January 2nd.
6th Seed: Atlanta Falcons
5th seed: Detroit Lions
These two seeds can go either way but I see the Lions beating up on the Packers second-stringers in Lambeau in order to secure the 5th seed in the Wild Card. They currently hold the 5th seed, being one game up on the Falcons 10-5 to 9-6. If they end up tied at 10-6 the Falcons will earn the 5th seed, but it looks as if the Lions will lock up the 5th seed with a 11-5 record.
4th seed: New York Giants
3rd Seed: New Orleans Saints
2nd Seed: San Francisco 49ers
1st Seed: Green Bay Packers
Not much explanation needed here. The 49ers will annihilate the Rams come Sunday and lock up the 2nd seed and a first-round bye and the Cowboys are no match for the Giants, especially with a gimpy Romo and no DeMarco Murray.
6th Seed: New York Jets
5th Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers
This probably needs explaining. There are four teams in the hunt for that 6th Wild Card spot: Oakland, Cincinnati, Tennessee, and New York. Cincinnati and Tennessee both have unfavorable match-ups, against the Ravens and Texans, respectively. Meanwhile, New York faces a defeated Miami team limping to the end of the season. New York finishes 9-7 compared to Tennessee's 8-8 and Cincinnati's 9-7 (with whom they own the tiebreaker). I'll get to Oakland in a minute.
4th Seed: Oakland Raiders
3rd Seed: Houston Texans
2nd Seed: Baltimore Ravens
1st Seed: New England Patriots
The Broncos aren't looking too good right now. Kansas City is coming off an emotional win against the Packers and a nail-biter against the Raiders last week that could have gone either way. Do the math.
(6) Atlanta Falcons AT (3) New Orleans Saints
Throw this game in the bag. The Saints are too hot right now to be derailed by anyone, save the Green Bay Packers. Not to mention New Orleans just throttled Atlanta en route to a 45-16 victory and a record-setting performance by Drew Brees. The Saints win this one handily.
38-24 New Orleans
(5) Detroit Lions AT (4) New York Giants
This game has the potential to be interesting but it will likely become obvious that the Lions will win this one. Detroit has too many weapons on offense for the Giants defense to handle, and New York's offense is too inconsistent to keep up with them.
(6) New York Jets AT (3) Houston Texans
The AFC Wild Card matchups are extremely intriguing. Two contenders are without their starting quarterbacks, one is entering the postseason with a nagging injury and one is being labeled inconsistent by every NFL pundit from Long Beach to Times Square. Rex Ryan is too good of a coach to let a missed opportunity to slip from his hands. The Jets should narrowly escape with a victory thanks to Matt Shaub's ankle injury and Andre Johnson's hamstring.
21-20 New York
(5) Pittsburgh Steelers AT (4) Oakland Raiders
Upset alert. The Raiders will be riding high after two straight wins to clinch a playoff berth and will come into this game extremely emotional, hoping to honor the late Al Davis with a few playoff wins. However, the Steelers are just too good on defense to let that happen no matter how much Big Ben's ankle affects his play,
(5) Detroit Lions AT (1) Green Bay Packers
As much as the Lions deserve to advance to the NFC Championship there is no way that Green Bay is a one-and-out team. After a bye week to rest injured starters the Packers will be on fire, hoping to earn a second straight Super Bowl title. Detroit's offense just cannot compete with likely-to-be-MVP Aaron Rodgers.
42-28 Green Bay
(3) New Orleans Saints AT (2) San Francisco 49ers
And in comes the game of the week. The league's best offense against the league's best defense. A classic matchup of NFL football. Unfortunately for San Francisco, New Orleans' offensive attack does not rely on the run, focusing instead on a man who just broke a 27 year-old passing record. Brees will be too much to handle for the 49ers secondary and no matter how poorly the Saints secondary plays, Alex Smith is no threat.
28-13 New Orleans
(6) New York Jets AT (1) New England Patriots
Déjà vu anyone? Another postseason meeting awaits the two, but this time the Patriots will not be a one-and-out team. The Patriots offense is just too good this year. And although the defense has been last in the league, the Sanchez-Greene tandem in the backfield isn't scaring anybody.
34-24 New England
(5) Pittsburgh Steelers AT (2) Baltimore Ravens
The AFC Divisional Round will feature the exact same teams as in the 2010-2011 playoffs. Except this time, the winners will be a bit different. The Ravens have proved twice this year that they can beat their hated rivals. This is the year they do it when it matters most. It will be a hard fought, dirty, gritty, intensely close game but the Ravens will prevail on the backs of Ray Rice and Ray Lewis.
(3) New Orleans Saints AT (1) Green Bay Packers
The NFC Championship game comes down to where the 2011 NFL season originally started. In Lambeau, featuring the NFC's two best teams. That game came down to a measly yard. This one will too. If and when the Saints meet the Packers, it will be the true Super Bowl. The two best teams in the NFL duking it out for bragging rights. Yet someone has to win, and it will be New Orleans this time, riding a wave of confidence in Drew Brees' memorable season.
45-42 New Orleans
(2) Baltimore Ravens AT (1) New England Patriots
The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game. It's been a long time coming for both teams, especially New England, who hasn't been there since 2007 when they improved to 18-0 following a defensive shellacking of San Diego in which they didn't allow a single touchdown. This game should be very entertaining, but New England's defense will fail to keep up with Baltimore's offense and the Raven's defense will keep Brady off the field far too long to put points on the board.
23-20 (OT) Baltimore
(3) New Orleans Saints AT (2) Baltimore Ravens
Lucas Oil Stadium, February 5, 2012
The moment everyone has been waiting for since July 26, when the lockout was lifted, will take place between the Ravens and Saints at Lucas Oil Stadium. The game will feature many offensive explosions by New Orleans and crucial stops by Baltimore, but the explosive passing attack led by Brees will prove too much for Baltimore's aging secondary and the Saints will win their second Lombardi Trophy in three years.
30-27 New Orleans