Super Bowl Predictions 2012: Ranking the Most Likely Matchups
Now that we are down to the NFL's final eight teams, the divisional games will certainly be an exciting bunch.
That being said, the odds for each have increased and so has the level of confidence. With Super Sunday approaching fast, here are the most likely Super Bowl XLVI matchups after Wild Card Weekend.
5. 49ers vs. Ravens
A rematch of their Thanksgiving Day game, the 49ers-Ravens matchup is not only a realistic Super Bowl but an interesting one as well.
Round two of the Harbaugh Bowl, it would be one low-scoring Super Bowl, however, a nail biter to say the least. This time around though, San Francisco has a more confident passing game and the rush offense is still one of the best.
As for Baltimore, their defense maintained their top-five status and the offense remains focused around Ray Rice. Both are one in the same and because of their stellar defenses, each have a better shot at making the Super Bowl than most cynics believe.
The most concerning problem for each is their passing game, however, the postseason provides a different set of issues. Ravens QB Joe Flacco has had numerous bad outings in the playoffs and San Francisco simply lacks experience.
Then again, neither are expected to win their respective conferences so the underdog motivational factor is there.
The Ravens would be a favorite to get here because they don't have to go through Pittsburgh, have already beaten Houston and the Patriots' extremely weak defense could be vulnerable. San Francisco has a niche advantage in the NFC as they actually have a consistently sound defense.
4. Saints vs. Texans
Another regular season rematch, the Houston Texans versus the New Orleans Saints would be a great Super Bowl.
For starters, the Texans have arguably the NFL's best defense against the league's most prolific passing game. Add in Houston's rushing offense as well as receiver Andre Johnson, and it's quite possible for the Texans to win the AFC.
As for New Orleans, they have the ability to outscore anyone in the NFC as evidenced by their 600-plus total yards against Detroit. San Francisco has a great defense, but they are still a few steps back of the Saints offense.
In this Super Bowl, Houston must get pressure on Drew Brees, period. It's the only way to really slow the Saints down and Andre Johnson must draw much attention from New Orleans' secondary. Then, Texans running back Arian Foster can bowl over the Saints like he did to Cincinnati and take over the game.
With a top-five defense and rush offense, as well as one of the NFL's most dangerous receivers, the Houston Texans are a formidable Super Bowl opponent. The challenge for New Orleans would be to remain explosive with limited opportunities.
Houston will run the ball to control the tempo and keep Brees off the field. And with limited possessions against Wade Phillips' defense, an upset is quite possible.
3. Packers vs. Ravens
Much like the Saints-Texans matchup, the Packers and Ravens clash is similar.
This would feature an explosive offense in Green Bay versus a stout defense in Baltimore, while the Ravens also have one of the better ground games with Ray Rice.
Green Bay allows almost five yards per carry, but they also led the league in picking off 31 passes. Being that Joe Flacco has been prone to poor play in January, if Baltimore gets this far, the Packers defense will force the game into his hands.
On offense the Packers will need to stay balanced.
The Ravens are stellar against the pass and run just like Houston, so Aaron Rodgers will need to remain mobile the entire game. Baltimore will blitz early and often to prevent a rhythm and although turnovers won't happen, punts will.
Green Bay will simply need to win by using a consistent ground game while also shutting down Rice. This is not a typical situation and one that can catch Baltimore off guard. As for the Ravens, receiver Torrey Smith is the answer to burn the Packers deep, thus setting up the run.
The last thing Baltimore wants is for Flacco to get into a shootout with Aaron Rodgers.
2. Patriots vs. Saints
Of all the Super Bowl matchups, this would be the highest-scoring of them all.
In their Wild Card game New Orleans put up over 600 yards on the Detroit Lions, so it's safe to say that Drew Brees and Co. would shred the Patriots.
On the contrary though, Tom Brady would dice up the Saints' 30th-ranked pass defense who also struggles with forcing turnovers. Now, the Saints are a more aggressive defense with Roman Harper patrolling the area, but the Pats do have a better pass rush.
Both Brees and Brady have excellent pass protection and their receiving corps are practically exact replicas of one another. Both have dominant tight ends, neither have a stretch the field receiver, but both have an abundance of targets and a better than advertised ground game.
The difference in this game comes down to which tight end gets shutdown the most, Rob Gronkowksi or Jimmy Graham, arguably the two best players at their position in the NFL right now.
Neither team has a defender who can match up in single coverage. And playing double-coverage would only open up the underneath routes to the slot receivers and running backs on check downs.
In short, whoever has the ball last wins.
1. Packers vs. Patriots
No surprise here with the two No. 1 seeds duking it out.
Both have explosive offenses, opportunistic defenses and can run the football effectively when needed.
This is a great matchup as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady will match one another punch-for-punch while the defenses struggle to keep up.
Rodgers is more agile, however, Brady is just as accurate and with his postseason experience, arguably better. The difference in this game strictly comes down to which defense step up and can slow the other offense.
Special teams won't have much of an affect unless turnovers occur, and therefore the game comes down to the better pass rush.
Regardless of how great a QB is, his production can be held in check with a great pass rush. As for this game though, both QBs have solid protection and can read when a blitz is coming.
Perhaps the best aspect of a Patriots-Packers matchup would be the chess match between the coaches and how the plays develop on the field. And with two of the NFL's best QBs leading the way, this is the best Super Bowl matchup.
Not to mention it's a rematch of Super Bowl XXXI.
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