The 2012 NFL playoffs are almost upon us.
The defending Super Bowl champions—the Green Bay Packers—are the favorites to win it all. The New England Patriots are also always a favorite to win it all. The team that was the Super Bowl runner-up last year—the Pittsburgh Steelers—are also back in the dance.
The Houston Texans are here for the first time ever. The Bengals slipped into the playoffs with a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton, and Tim Tebow leads the Broncos into the playoffs for the first time since Mike Shanahan was the coach.
The Baltimore Ravens are here and are also a tough out.
The New York Giants are coming in with a full head of steam after stomping the Cowboys for the NFC East Sunday night, and the Saints are the hottest team in the NFL right now and another favorite to win it all. The San Francisco 49ers are here for the first time since Jeff Garcia was the quarterback. The Falcons and Lions are always dangerous.
The question is: Who will win it all? Who will hoist the Lombardi trophy at the end? Here are my predictions for the 2012 playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
The Steelers have been here before. They almost won the Super Bowl last year and are hungry once again.
The Broncos are lucky to be here. They finished the year at 8-8 and lost their last three games. The Tim Tebow magic wore off, and the team could not recover. Will Tebow regain some of his magic to win in the big time?
The Steelers are just too tough. Tim Tebow hasn't faced a defense like the Steelers all season, and he has no idea what kind of physicality Pittsburgh brings to the table. Even though the loss of running back Rashard Mendenhall will hurt eventually, they should get by with backup Isaac Redman.
A gimpy Ben Roethlisberger will still do enough to win.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
The Texans are in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, they are without their franchise quarterback, Matt Schaub. They have rookie quarterback, T.J. Yates, but have Andre Johnson back and will be with the best running-back tandem in football.
The Texans defense has been a force to be reckoned with all year under Wade Phillips. The Bengals come in with no momentum and have not beaten a winning team all year. Andy Dalton has done a nice job this year and rookie phenom, A.J. Green, has done a tremendous job. Running back Cedric Benson is also having a good year once again—averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Their defense has also been solid, and the edge goes slightly to the Texans with home-field advantage. They have more offensive weapons with Johnson, Owen Daniels, Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints
This is the biggest mismatch in the first round. The Saints have not lost a game at home all year. They are nearly impossible to beat in the dome. Drew Brees is having an MVP year, and he has so many weapons.
Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are having great years, but it won't be enough to overcome the Saints in New Orleans. It will be a shootout as both teams can score a lot of points. The Lions rank fourth in the league in points scored and the Saints rank second.
The home-field advantage for the Saints will play a huge factor. The Lions also struggle to run the ball and the Saints can focus on stopping Stafford and their passing attack.
Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants
Both teams are coming into the playoffs with a lot of momentum. The Falcons just destroyed the Tampa Bay Bucs at home and the Giants knocked off their division rival Cowboys.
The only problem is that the Falcons are not as good on the road with a 4-4 road record. The crowd at MetLife Stadium was rocking after the Giants beat Dallas. The Falcons have not won a playoff game with Matt Ryan or coach Mike Smith. Eli Manning is having his best season yet.
Jason Pierre-Paul is having a Defensive Player of the Year-type season. If the Giants get a good pass-rush, then they will be tough to beat. We know Manning will get the ball to Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and Matt Ryan will try to get it to Roddy White and Julio Jones. Michael Turner should find running room as the Giants struggle against the run.
If the Falcons can control the clock with Turner, they can win this game. This should be an exciting and fun game to watch with a lot of offense. Which defense breaks first?
Steelers at Patriots
This has the makings of a fantastic matchup. The Steelers defense would be a huge test for the Patriots.
Pittsburgh has already beaten the Patriots earlier this year, but they are a different animal at home. The Steelers also lost Rashard Mendenhall for the playoffs, and that will be a huge loss for this game.
The Patriots have too many weapons for the Steelers. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are tough enough to defend, but then you add in Wes Welker and Deion Branch to the mix as well. Tom Brady is having one of his best seasons ever. Ben Roethlisberger is playing hurt, and who knows how long he will last.
The Steelers wide receivers will be tough to beat with the speedy Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Good thing for them: The Patriots have the second worst ranked defense in the league. This should be a close game, but the Patriots will win.
Texans at Ravens
This is the Ravens first home playoff game under Coach John Harbaugh. As long as the Ravens give Ray Rice enough touches, they should control the clock. The Texans defense is tough, but can they stop Rice?
We know the Ravens defense is tough and they will have a huge advantage over T.J. Yates. The Texans offense lost its luster once Schaub went down, and they won't be able to overcome the Ravens defense here. The Ravens are the second toughest team to run on besides the 49ers.
Rice averaged 4.7 yards per carry and won't be stopped. Anquan Boldin will be back for this game too.
Giants at Packers
The Giants almost beat the Packers in Week 13, and will get their chance at revenge here.
The Packers have not lost a home game since October of 2010: They will be pumped up and healthy. They will get guys like Greg Jennings, Bryan Bulaga, Chad Clifton and Ryan Pickett back for the game.
The Giants are on fire, and Victor Cruz and Nicks will be a tough tandem to stop for the Packers. The Packers defense ranked last in the league in points per game and yards given up per game. Eli Manning will be licking his chops, but the Packers defense will do everything they can to force the Giants to run.
The Giants have not run the ball well this year, and ranked last in the league in rushing. The Packers offense has been a juggernaut all year and Aaron Rodgers is having an MVP year. The Packers don't run the ball well either, but can the Giants pass-rush stop Rodgers? This will be a tight game, but the Packers are too talented at home.
Saints at 49ers
The Saints are the hottest team going into the playoffs, and the 49ers have one of the best defenses in the league. They also have one of the best running backs in football in Frank Gore.
Alex Smith is playing in his first playoff game. The Niners have Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis as their top passing attack weapons, but that won't be enough to keep up.
Experience will play a huge factor here. The Saints don't play well on the road, but the 49ers don't have the firepower to keep up with Drew Brees. Saints Coach Sean Payton will find ways to score points. This game will be close, but the Saints will prevail.
Ravens at Patriots
This game involves one of the best defenses in the league against one of the top offenses in the league.
The Patriots rank third in the league in points scored, and the Ravens' defense ranks third in points allowed. The Ravens have a scary and tough defense and have the pass-rush to stop Tom Brady. It will be very tough for the Ravens to stop the weapons of New England, but the Ravens will step up to the task.
They will also be able to run the ball with Ray Rice and control the clock. The way to stop the Patriots is to keep Brady and the offense off the field. It will be an intense battle, but the Ravens will come out on top.
Saints at Packers
The first game was an old fashioned shootout, and likewise, this game will not disappoint.
The Saints offense has been unstoppable lately and have shown they can win on the road. Drew Brees is playing at such a high level that it would be tough for anybody to stop him. They can also run the ball—they average 132.9 yards per game.
How will the Packers be able to stop them? Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will find a way to stop the Saints juggernaut offense.
Aaron Rodgers and the offense will also be very tough to stop—nobody averages more points per game than the Packers. They will also have the home-field advantage and Lambeau Field will be rocking.
It will be Jermichael Finley's time to shine, and he won't disappoint. There will be a lot of points scored, but Rodgers will get a late touchdown to win it. Clay Matthews will also have a big game and bring the pressure on Brees. The Pack will move on to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year.
Super Bowl XLVI: Ravens vs. Packers
The Ravens will do everything they can to stop the Packers, but Packers Coach Mike McCarthy will win his second consecutive Super Bowl.
They've been there before, and they have the experience that will play a huge factor.
The Ravens defense is loaded with key guys like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. Quarterback Joe Flacco is having a solid season, but if the Packers can somehow contain Ray Rice—they will be able to stop Flacco, Anquan Boldin and the other weapons for the Ravens.
B.J. Raji will have a huge game and help contain Rice. The Packers' receivers will be too much for the Ravens thin secondary. It will be an intense game, but the Packers' offense is too talented.
Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson will come through in a huge way. Woodson will finally be able to enjoy it after getting hurt last year during the big game, and the Packers will win a close game and hoist the Lombardi trophy once again.
Super Bowl MVP: Woodson