Complete NFL Playoff Predictions
It is finally here: time to kiss goodbye to a season's worth of power rankings and let the NFL playoffs begin.
The last four Super Bowl champs (the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers) are vying for a return to glory. For the Packers, a stake in the "Greatest team of all time" discussion is at stake. Newcomers like the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals will try and knock off the vets and shock the world.
By Feb. 6 only one team will be left standing to be crowned your 2011 Super Bowl Champions. Who will it be? The following previews and predicts all the playoff games, including the Super Bowl.
No. 4 Denver Broncos vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh Steelers
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If the Denver Broncos had any thoughts of rekindling that "Tebow Magic" in the Wild Card Round, they might not have found a worse draw than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Broncos have lost three straight, while the Steelers have won six of seven. The Steelers are fresh off a Super Bowl berth, while this will be Denver's first playoff appearance since Mike Shanahan was coach. The Broncos need to create room for Tebow by establishing the run. The Steelers are known for shutting down the run. Tebow needs a simple game plan to be successful, and there is no more confusing defense than Dick LeBeau's 3-4 zone blitz scheme.
This is where it ends for Tebow and the Broncos and it will not be pretty.
Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers 24-3
No. 3 Houston Texans vs. No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals
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Congratulations to the Houston Texans for their first AFC South Championship and playoff appearance. Unfortunately, their rash of injuries will make it very difficult to advance in the playoffs.
Whether it is T.J. Yates or Jake Delhomme starting on Saturday, I do not like the quarterback situation. Yates is a rookie with limited experience and the last time Delhomme was a starting quarterback, it was obvious he was ready for retirement.
Andy Dalton is a rookie in name only, as he has thrown for nearly 3,400 yards and 20 touchdowns. He gained valuable experience by facing the Pittsburgh Steelers' and Baltimore Ravens' elite defenses four times. He went winless against them, but the Bengals were right there for three of those games.
Both team's have top-10 defenses, which will help make this a tight game for these evenly matched opponents. The Bengals feature Cedric Benson, while the Texans counter with Arian Foster. The Bengals' top playmaker is A.J. Green, while the Texans will hope to unleash Andre Johnson.
I just cannot go with a team entering the playoffs fresh off of a three-game losing streak.
Pick: Bengals 20-14
No. 3 New Orleans Saints vs. No. 6 Detroit Lions
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Expect the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions to put on the show of the playoffs, with a total score approaching 80 points.
The Saints are a trendy pick to upset the Green Bay Packers and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but they have to get by this young and hungry Lions team first. Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees have combined for 87 touchdowns and 10,500 passing yards. The Saints have weapons all over the field, but the Lions have the NFL's most dangerous: Calvin Johnson, fresh off a 1,600-yard, 16-touchdown season.
Playoff teams in their first run typically struggle. Aaron Rodgers lost his first game and it took Peyton Manning years to win his. This explosive Lions team could be the exception, but I have the Saints escaping with the win.
Pick: Saints 42-35
No. 4 New York Giants vs. No. 5 Atlanta Falcons
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Every year there is a team that just barely squeaks into the playoffs no one wants to face. With all due respect to the Atlanta Falcons, the New York Giants are that team.
The Giants are capable of beating or losing to any team in the NFL. They were a blown call from ending the Green Bay Packers' perfect season before the Kansas City Chiefs did. Eli Manning is playing the best football of his career and he and many of these Giants have been there before.
Matt Ryan still has yet to impress me and take that next step into elite status. He is 0-2 in his playoff career and played poorly in both starts. This is his most dangerous team, but the Giants' playoff defense will prove too much for him.
Pick: Giants 24-20
No. 1 New England Patriots vs No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals
Only in a season where three quarterbacks eclipse 5,000 yards and three others pass 40 touchdowns could the brilliance of Tom Brady be overlooked. Alas, after dominating the headlines in the start of the year, Brady and the New England Patriots have been (relatively) passed over.
Brady shattered Dan Marino's single-season passing record. The only problem is Drew Brees did it first. Brady also passed for an impressive 39 touchdowns, only good for fourth in this, "Year of the Quarterback." The problem for the Patriots has been on the other side of the ball, but more on that later.
Brady and the Patriots have not won a playoff game since the 2007 AFC Championship game. The Cincinnati Bengals do have the type of defense that can disrupt Brady, finishing fifth in the league in sacks. I still have to go with experience over youth in a tough game.
Pick: Patriots 28-20
No. 2 Baltimore Ravens vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers go into seasons expecting to see each other three times. For the third time in four years, it will happen.
This year, the Ravens swept the Steelers in the regular season for the first time in the Ben Roethlisberger era. The sweep is the reason the Ravens earned the AFC North crown and the bye. But in this rivalry, the first two wins do not mean a thing—it all comes down to this game.
Both teams are geared up for one last championship run with this core of players. At their best, I do believe the Steelers are the better team. I cannot buy the the Ravens as a Super Bowl winner because of two words: Joe Flacco. I cannot trust him until he proves me wrong on the biggest stage. Until that happens, the Steelers just have too big of an advantage at the most important position.
Pick: Steelers 24-17
No. 1 Green Bay Packers vs. No. 4 New York Giants
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The Green Bay Packers have their eyes set on a second straight Lombardi Trophy, but the New York Giants will have something to say about it first.
They Giants nearly knocked the Packers off in Week 13, losing 38-35 in the final minute. That game was eerily reminiscent of the Patriots' regular-season preview for the Giants in 2007. Could we see more of that Giant magic against the top seed in the NFL Playoffs?
I am not foolish enough to give a team's exploits from four years ago enough merit to hand the Giants the upset. At the same time, I would not be shocked to seem them do it again.
Pick: Packers 28-21
No. 2 San Francisco 49ers vs. No. 3 New Orleans Saints
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All season we have asked if the San Francisco 49ers were a true playoff threat, or if they were merely a good regular season team with a soft schedule. Now it is time to find out, they will not get any favors taking on the New Orleans Saints.
The 49ers have the basic blueprint of past Super Bowl winners. They can run the ball (eighth in the NFL) and stop the run (first). Are those aspects good enough to win with Alex Smith, who is nothing but a game manager?
Maybe against some of the other teams in the playoffs. but not the experienced, explosive and savvy Saints.
Pick: Saints 34-20
No. 1 New England Patriots vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots will face off in the AFC Championship game for the third time the last 10 years. This time, it will be in New England as the Steelers hit the road to face the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
While the Pats have the top seed, the Steelers have the NFL's top defense. The adage that "defense wins championships" is proven right year after year, and the Patriots do not have one. Pittsburgh manhandled New England 25-17 in their regular-season game that was not as close as the score would indicate.
In that matchup the Steelers held the ball for nearly twice as long as New England and had twice as many total yards. They did not do it through the run, but via Ben Roethlisberger's right arm. The Steelers exploited New England's 31st-ranked pass defense for 365 yards passing.
Pittsburgh unveiled a new wrinkle in Dick LeBeau's playbook, designed to stop offenses like the Patriots' that had given them fits in the past. By adding hard-nosed, man-to-man coverage, the Steelers held Brady to just 198 yards passing. The strength of the Steelers' defense will trump the mighty Patriots' offense in this one as the Steelers go back to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.
Pick: Steelers 24-14
No. 1 Green Bay Packers vs. No. 3 New Orleans Saints
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In a rematch of a thrilling Week 1 game, the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints will battle in Lambeau Field for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
All that hangs in the balance is the opportunity for a second Super Bowl championship to bump Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees further up the list of all-time greats, and the chance to build a dynasty. The last two Super Bowl champions are freakishly evenly matched.
Rodgers and Brees have been a cut above the rest of the quarterback class this season. Rodgers has Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley to play with, while Brees has weapons Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. Neither defense is burning up the rankings, but thrive on opportunity and being just good enough for the offense to pull out the win.
No matter how cold it is, expect fireworks in Lambeau.
Pick: Packers 38-35
No. 1 Green Bay Packers vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh Steelers
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A Super rematch? That's right, I have been saying it since February, and I am not going to back out now. When they are at their best, there are simply no teams in the NFL better than the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers.
There may be teams playing slightly better football (the New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens) than the defending Conference Champs, but no team has more experience or firepower on both sides of the ball than the Steelers and Packers.
Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger's experience in big games are second and third behind only Tom Brady. Rodgers has his weapons and Roethlisberger Mike Wallace, the fastest receiver in the NFL, a new threat in Antonio Brown and the reliable Heath Miller.
Of the rest of the field with elite Super Bowl quarterbacks, no one has the playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. The Packers and Steelers display two perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates each in Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson. Right behind them are playmaking role players like Ryan Clark, B.J. Raji, LaMarr Woodley and Sam Shields.
We have been blessed with some incredible Super Bowls in the last few years. The star power and desire for greatness will lead this one to be the best of them all. The Steelers have had the look of a team in cruise control for the majority of this season, with only one thought in mind:get back to the Super Bowl for a second chance at the one that slipped away.
Expect the full fury of the Steelers defense to be on display, which will be just enough to curtail Rodgers in the upset.
Pick: Steelers 28-24