The NFL playoff field is set, and one of the first ideas I had was the comparison between teams vying for the Super Bowl and GOP candidates surging for the White House.
In both scenarios, there are front-runners and others in decline. We can make fairly educated decisions about what to expect at the end of both races.
The only major candidate I will not draw comparisons to is Herman Cain, since he dropped out and cannot win anything.
Well, maybe some lawsuits but nothing political.
Tebow helped solidify some wins but received way too much credit in the process. His persona has trumped his production, a fact mirrored by Denver’s three-game losing streak heading into the playoffs.
The season was capped by Sunday’s embarrassing 7-3 home loss to Kansas City, a team led in victory by Denver’s opening day starter, Kyle Orton.
They may play with passion and fire, but there is no way the Broncos will make it out of the Wild Card round against Pittsburgh.
Houston first lost Matt Schaub, and then Matt Leinart to season-ending injuries before finishing with T.J. Yates.
Uncertainty surrounds the return of Yates, and three straight losses to non-playoff teams to end the regular season do not make the Texans a strong pick in their first postseason appearance.
Houston’s one saving grace is that they face the Bengals in the Wild Card.
Cincinnati only sneaked into the postseason thanks to Week 17 losses by the New York Jets and Denver Broncos. All seven of Cincinnati’s losses came against playoff teams, and all nine of their wins came against non-playoff teams.
Huntsman is technically in the race, too, but no one likes his chances.
Like Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry loves hammering out key words more than having policy debates. The Falcons are the same way.
They may put up inflated numbers against weaker competition, but when the time comes to step up on bigger stages, they fail to show up.
Their six losses came courtesy of New Orleans (twice), Houston, Chicago, Green Bay and Tampa Bay. On the flip side, their only win over a playoff team was a seven-point victory over Detroit back in October.
They have some weapons, but they are not ready for stiffer competition like they’ll see against a surging Giants team.
After starting 5-0, the Lions looked primed for a special season. Technically this is one, since they are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Like the Falcons, the Lions have 10 wins against unimpressive teams and six losses against better competition. They look good in stretches, but it’s tough to envision them getting by the Saints in New Orleans.
The San Francisco 49ers have been unwavering in their approach this season. They are unapologetically one-dimensional, relying heavily on defense and special teams and letting the rest take care of itself.
It has worked all season, but reaching the next level of contention will require some flexibility.
The expected home game against New Orleans in the Divisional round should provide a serious challenge to San Francisco’s Super Bowl dreams.
Their offense is capable, but their key players don’t have any playoff experience. So a loss on Jan. 14 is certainly feasible.
With rabid fanbases and quiet determination, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers have Ron Paul-esque momentum.
I’d hate to be one of those Packers fans that a few years ago wanted nothing to do with Aaron Rodgers. He’s been accepting apologies ever since.
The Packers put together a nearly-perfect 15-1 season and threw serious point totals on the board.
Even backup Matt Flynn got in on the action in Week 17. While Rodgers watched from the sideline, Flynn threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns against Detroit’s starters.
There are question marks on defense, but non-stop offensive production makes the Packers a threat to repeat as champions.
I learned a long time ago never to count out the Steelers in the playoffs. It’s not always pretty with Pittsburgh, but they seem to come out with big wins at key moments.
Couple that with an opening round game against a reeling Denver team, and Pittsburgh is set for another deep run. Look for a Divisional round showdown with the Patriots.
Making their ninth playoff appearance in 11 seasons, the Patriots are the elder statesmen of this year’s crop of postseason teams.
With excellent producers on offense and a completely absent defense, the Patriots got their 13 wins by scoring big.
New England led the AFC in both scoring (32.8) and passing yards (317.8). But they were last in the AFC in yards per game allowed (411.1) and pass defense (293.9).
The Saints also finished 13-3 but got the third seed in the NFC behind Green Bay and San Francisco.
Drew Brees is an unstoppable throwing machine and is capable of dicing up any defense in the league with his accuracy.
New Orleans finished the season with eight straight wins and opens the playoffs against the previously mentioned Lions. This will not be a repeat of last year’s debacle in Seattle.
The New York Giants represent Romney’s up-and-down popularity, while the Ravens represent his dwindling chances.
The Giants needed every week of the regular season to secure the NFC East with a 9-7 record. After starting 6-2, they suffered through a brutal four-game losing streak against San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Green Bay.
They were aided by the missteps of their division rival Dallas, much like Romney is probably aided by sharing debate stages with less popular candidates.
The Giants should pick up a Wild Card win against Atlanta, but the competition gets exponentially tougher after that.
Baltimore knows how to win in the playoffs, but the monkey is on their back to get to the Super Bowl.
In three straight playoff appearances (2008-2010), they lost in the AFC Championship to Pittsburgh, in the Divisional round to Indianapolis and last season in the Divisional round to Pittsburgh again.
With four curious losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle and San Diego, it’s hard to call this the Ravens’ breakthrough season. But with three under-performing teams in the AFC playoffs, Baltimore could be in solid position for another conference championship appearance.