After an exciting 2011 NFL season, the playoffs are finally ready to begin. With great matchups coming as soon as this Saturday, many fans are already deciding who will represent the NFL in the upcoming Super Bowl next February.
While I cannot guarantee that my picks will all be accurate, I can guarantee that I will not be holding back. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not making any picks strictly for shock value or to provoke comments from angry fans. But, many writers (excluding Skip Bayless) may refrain from making that gut prediction that they know will get a lot of backlash.
Me? I'm not afraid of the backlash. (Maybe because sportswriting isn't my source of income? That could play a role.)
In the NFL playoffs, anything can happen. Who saw the Seahawks beating the Saints last year? What about the Cardinals in 2008? The Cardinals weren't even the hot team in 2008, considering they went 9-7 after starting 7-3.
No matter what is written in this article, we all know the comments will come from all angles.
"Did you seriously pick *team x* to beat *team y*? Dude, there's no chance."
"C'mon man. There's no way any of this stuff happens."
Well, that's what happens when you write these articles. I don't mean to hype up this article and make it seem like I'm picking a Texans vs. Lions Super Bowl because I'm not. But I'm just giving everyone a warning so when you comment on this piece you can begin it with, "I appreciate that this is a bold prediction article, and if I may, you are a @#$&!."
Let's get started.
Lions @ Saints
Well, the Lions have a pretty good offense too.
This game will most likely be a shootout, but most slate the shootout to end in the third quarter with the Saints pulling away late. While that's the way it should play out, when's the last time that happened?
What happens if it's Matt Stafford who has the ball last and not Brees? What happens if Brees is the one that throws the one or two picks and not Stafford?
The Lions may not be the hot team like the Saints, and they may be coming off a bad loss to the Packers last week, but they still have a dangerous offense that's capable of keeping up with the Saints. All it takes is one late-game drive, one crucial turnover or one missed opportunity by the Saints to make this game available for the Lions to take.
You might as well stop reading right now and start writing your comments because the Lions are going to turn a lot of heads in their first playoff appearance since 1999.
This game is sure to be exciting. Matt Ryan is still looking for his first-ever playoff win, and Eli Manning finally has his shot to back up his "I'm an elite quarterback" talk in games that really matter.
I think what's going to make the difference in this game is the Giants' ability to get to the quarterback. Both teams will be able to score points, with Julio Jones only adding to the Falcons arsenal in recent weeks and Eli Manning being on a mission. But the Giants' pass rushers will get to Matt Ryan and force him into at least one mistake and probably a couple of sacks.
Not that the Falcons defense won't make some plays, but I like Manning, who already has a ring, to outlast the still young Falcons quarterback.
Bengals @ Texans
I think Arian Foster can have a huge game, but I'm not sure he can carry the team by himself.
Maybe he won't have to, though. Maybe home-field advantage, a strong defense going up against a rookie quarterback and a good game by T.J. Yates will be enough, as long as Foster also plays phenomenally. But I'm liking Cincinnati.
You figure the first step is to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. It makes sense for the second step, winning a playoff game, to come during the season after they have the experience of playing in the postseason.
But if the Texans had Schaub, Mario Williams and a healthy Andre Johnson, then I would say this Texans team is too good to wait until next year. Unfortunately, they don't have those players, and they will get upset by a solid, young Bengals team. The Bengals went 1-7 this year against teams with a winning record, but I don't think this Texans team would have finished the season higher than 8-8 as currently assembled.
The magic in Denver appears to be over. Tebow looks awful again, their defense is no longer enough to win and they've lost their last three games in a row. Oh, and they're matched up against one of the best teams in the AFC.
The Steelers don't have Rashard Mendenhall or Ryan Clarke, and their quarterback has a bum leg. Yes, the Steelers defense is great and should hold down this Broncos offense, but this Broncos defense is playing pretty well in its own right.
The Broncos will be able to keep a Steelers offense in check with no Mendenhall and a hurt Big Ben. I still think Ben will make some plays, as he always does, but some big plays by Tebow and McGahee, Denver's home crowd and a late mistake by Big Ben will cost the Steelers.
Bengals @ Patriots
While the Bengals may be able to beat a Texans team that has a lot of injuries, they are not ready to beat New England on the road. This one really isn't that hard, as Tom Brady finally wins his first playoff game since 2007.
Broncos @ Ravens
Can the Broncos pull off two back-to-back upsets against AFC North powerhouses?
The Broncos defense is playing very well and their offense still has the ability to rush the football. Joe Flacco is going to have to play a good game and not think it's going to be easy just because it's Tim Tebow on the other end.
The Ravens have gotten beat by bad teams throughout the season, such as the Seahawks and the Jaguars. While the Broncos are a playoff team, they don't have a lot of respect around the league, so the result could be the same.
I know I'm going against everything I've just said, but it's just because this game is in Baltimore that I like the Ravens. The Ravens are a great football team, and that'll show in this game.
Lions @ Packers
The Lions will be very dangerous in this matchup, because if Matt Flynn had thrown for just one less touchdown than his remarkable six, then the Lions would have won the game in Week 17.
And the Lions can win this game, without a doubt. All it takes is a pick by Rodgers, or five touchdowns from Matt Stafford, for the Lions to do it again.
But the Packers will be ready for this game. They should be able to make a few adjustments to knock down the Lions' 41 points in Week 17, not to mention the return of Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews.
With Chad Clifton, Bryan Bulaga, Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb also returning, the only thing that can hurt this team is their defense and the loss of timing with the injured players returning. I'm going to bet that timing won't be an issue with the bye week, though.
Giants @ 49ers
Now comes the time where you have to ask yourself, if your'e a 49er fan, is Alex Smith ready to deliver for this team in the playoffs?
I bet he is, and that he can make some big plays in this game.
I just still like the Giants. I don't want to fall in love with the "hot team." but the Giants have a QB who I've never doubted while other people have. Yes, he threw a lot of picks last year, but that type of season sometimes happens. He's come back this year and proven he can get it done, and I like the Giants in this game.
Smith will have a chance, but he'll throw a pick.
Giants @ Packers
This will be a rematch of the 2007 NFC Championship where Eli Manning picked apart the Packers late in the game. The Packers will be looking for revenge and the Giants will be looking at the game film of 2007.
Some people on ESPN have been saying that, if the Giants can get to this game, then they can beat the Packers because they already have in this situation. While they certainly can beat the Packers, why would you bring up the 2007 game? Yeah, there are similar players and Eli Manning is back, but Aaron Rodgers was not starting that game. It seems silly to me to say the Giants can win because they already have when it's a completely different situation now.
Eli Manning can most definitely play great again late in the game, but I don't think Rodgers would throw that game-ending pick like Favre did. Can Rodgers choke? Absolutely. But Rodgers doesn't have a track record of it, so unless you're a Packer hater, you shouldn't expect it now.
Manning makes a strong push in the second half, but it's over midway through the fourth.
Ravens @ Patriots
I don't think Flacco can keep up with Tom Brady. I used to think Flacco was a pretty good QB with his success in the playoffs, but he is just so inconsistent that it's impossible to tell anymore. When it's that hard to tell, he usually isn't a great QB. He's not bad, but he's no Brady.
A player I do think can keep up with Tom Brady, though, is Ray Rice.
If the Ravens implement Rice into their offense like they should, the Ravens are going to be tough to beat. Brady is going to have to go up against a great defense in the Ravens, and they will be coming after him from all angles. Brady will not be stopped, but I just don't think he can score enough points on this defense to win the game. It's that simple for me.
Look for a big game from Rice and for Flacco to be just good enough.
Packers vs Ravens
If Joe Flacco can make all the necessary throws he needs to make against a defense that's given up a lot of yards against the pass in this game, then the Ravens will win. With Rice set to play a big role and a Ravens defense ready to try and shut down a hot Green Bay offense, the Ravens should feel good about their chances.
I don't think Joe Flacco will be able to make all the plays needed, though. The stats for the Green Bay defense says he'll be able to, but the Packers defense also has a lot of interceptions this season. With Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams lurking in the secondary, I think each of them will have a pick in the game.
It's hard to say QBs will throw picks in the Super Bowl because you imagine the QBs stepping up their game in the biggest stage and not making mistakes. Sometimes, though, it's the play of the players making the pick, and I think Woodson will want to play a big role in this game after missing most of last year's Super Bowl.
I like either Aaron Rodgers or Charles Woodson to get the Super Bowl MVP, and for the Packers to outlast Flacco and the Ravens.
Thank you for reading. Let's hope the playoffs are just as exciting as last year's playoffs.