NFL 2012 Preview Part 5: Painting the Playoff Picture
Finally, we have arrived at the juicy part. This is what the people want: playoff predictions.
If you haven't been following along with my six-day mega NFL preview (I don't blame you if you haven't, I'm sure it's been utterly exhausting), let me give you a quick rundown of the teams I think will be in playoff contention in 2012.
In the AFC, I have New England, San Diego, Baltimore and Houston all topping their respective divisions. In the wild card hunt, I have Oakland, Denver, Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
From the NFC, Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago and New Orleans will be capturing the division crowns, with wild card chasers Dallas, San Francisco, Green Bay, Detroit and Tampa Bay hot on their heels.
Obviously I have listed far too many teams to actually be in the playoffs, but I will clear all that up very soon (explaining any necessary tiebreakers along the way).
Breaking the Ties
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
First things first. We need to figure out which six teams will make the playoffs for each conference. Obviously the four division winners I mentioned will comprise the top-four seeds, but we have a combined nine teams competing for only four open spots.
In the AFC, Denver will fall short with a record of 8-8, so they're out. That leaves us with a three-team tie between Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tennessee, all at 9-7. I had to eliminate one of these three teams, and it just so happened that the "sweep" tiebreaker so conveniently applied. The "sweep" tiebreaker is applicable when either one team has defeated both of the others in the regular season, or if two teams have both beaten the third.
Maybe you should sit down for this one...
The AFC wild cards go to Oakland and Tennessee.
Don't question me, ok? I went through every game of the entire season, and for whatever reason, I circled both the Raiders and Titans the weeks they played Pittsburgh. They were just gut-feeling picks, but those are the best kind. Always trust your gut.
As for the NFC, the wild card is much easier to deal with. Green Bay (11-5) and Dallas (10-6) have the two best non-division winning records. Sorry to the Giants, Buccaneers and 49ers. Better luck next year.
Hunter Martin/Getty Images
With that, the postseason seeding is complete:
American Football Conference
1. New England Patriots (13-3)
2. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
3. Houston Texans (10-6) - wins conference record tiebreaker over San Diego
4. San Diego Chargers (10-6)
5. Oakland Raiders (9-7) - wins strength of schedule tiebreaker over Tennessee
6. Tennessee Titans (9-7)
National Football Conference
1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-4) - wins common game record tiebreaker over Chicago
2. Chicago Bears (12-4)
3. New Orleans Saints (10-6) - wins strength of schedule tiebreaker over Seattle
4. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
5. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
6. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Let's break into the early round matchups.
Wild Card Round: 6. Tennessee Titans at 3. Houston Texans
Bob Levey/Getty Images
This will be the third time these teams meet in 2012. Unfortunately for the Titans, I think it will be the third time they lose to Houston as well.
Jake Locker is going to have some nerves in his first postseason start, and the Houston defense is going to give him fits. Arian Foster will break a couple big plays, Andre Johnson will tear up the secondary and the Texans will run away with the game in the third quarter.
Final Score Prediction: Texans 31-13.
Wild Card Round: 5. Oakland Raiders at 4. San Diego Chargers
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
It's like I could just use the last slide for this one too. Another division matchup. Another 2-0 sweep by the division winner over the wild card. Another third defeat.
If there is one thing I know about the Chargers, it is that they get up at home for the Raiders. On the road at Minnesota? No promises. But the Chargers won't lose this game.
Philip Rivers will find Antonio Gates in the end zone (like in this perfect picture I found) once or twice. Carson Palmer will throw a couple of picks, maybe one will even be returned for a touchdown. Maybe you could call it wishful thinking, but I don't think this matchup is going to be close.
Final Score Prediction: Chargers 28-10.
Wild Card Round: 6. Dallas Cowboys at 3. New Orleans Saints
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Tony Romo will go off in this game. I'm thinking something like 26/34, 360 yards and three TDs. Add one more on the ground for DeMarco Murray, alongside his 120 yards rushing. Clearly I'm not too high on the New Orleans defense.
DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys defense will shut down the Saints running game (under 70 yards allowed on the ground) and Drew Brees' late-game charge and three TD passes won't be enough to bring his team back. First upset of the postseason.
Final Score Prediction: Cowboys 28-24.
Wild Card Round: 5. Green Bay Packers at 4. Seattle Seahawks
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Well this hardly seems fair.
Another rookie quarterback makes his first playoff appearance, and even though his team has the higher seed, they are at least 10-point underdogs. And for good reason.
The Seahawks defense will have no answer for big Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, who will haul in two of Aaron Rodgers five TDs. Yes, you read that right.
Marshawn Lynch will put in a decent performance, but the Seahawks offense won't be able to get anything going until it is already far too late. Green Bay puts the game away by halftime.
Final Score Prediction: Packers 45-17.
Divisional Round: 3. Houston Texans at 2. Baltimore Ravens
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Ah, a nice little rematch from last year. Actually... an eerily similar rematch from last year.
In 2011, the Ravens were the two-seed with a 12-4 record and the Texans were the three-seed with a 10-6 record. They met in the divisional playoff round in Baltimore.
One could argue that T.J. Yates cost the Texans this game last year. One could argue that with a healthy roster, Houston was the best team in the AFC. As much as I believe that these things were true in 2011, I don't believe they are true in 2012.
The Ravens are the better team, and there will be no doubt this time around. Their defense will hold against Arian Foster, and will put heaps of pressure on Matt Schaub.
Ray Rice will be unstoppable for the Ravens, and Joe Flacco will find his stride. Baltimore will put their naysayers to bed and advance to the AFC Championship game for the second straight year.
Final Score Prediction: Ravens 26-7.
Divisional Round: 4. San Diego Chargers at 1. New England Patriots
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Sigh... The Patriots just have the Chargers' postseason number. It doesn't matter how good the Chargers are, they'll lose to the Patriots if given the chance. Now, give them Peyton Manning, and that's a different story.
New England is simply too powerful. Brady will throw all over the Chargers defense, and even if he doesn't he'll find a way to get the job done. Philip Rivers doesn't seem to have his greatest games against this defense (although it has been relatively weak of late).
The Chargers will fumble at least one punt, and Nate Kaeding will miss at least one makeable field goal (trust me, I've seen this one before). San Diego will do all it can to keep it close in the first half, but mistakes will allow Brady and the Pats to pull away at the end.
Final Score Prediction: Patriots 35-21.
Divisional Round: 5. Green Bay Packers at 2. Chicago Bears
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
What a game this will be. Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers going to toe-to-toe in an absolute thriller. I don't care about the weather. Who cares if it's snowing? If you're looking for a matchup that could combine for 100 points, you've come to the right place.
Games like these come down to that one big mistake. Which team will blink first? Which team throws the gut-wrenching pick, or leaves you cursing the heavens with a fumble deep in opponent territory?
I can't look back now, I have to dance with what brought me. Bold predictions make the world go round.
The Packers' running back—I'm not even going to try and guess who it will be at that point— will cough up a costly fumble sometime in the fourth quarter, and the Pack will fall just short as the Soldier Field crowd goes crazy.
Final Score Prediction: Bears 42-38.
Divisional Round: 6. Dallas Cowboys at 1. Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Doesn't it always seem like there is at least one top-tier team that lays a big, stinky egg in their first playoff game? There is something about locking up a top seed early, resting your starters, getting a first-round bye and then trying to get up against an opponent who has been in "win or go home" mode for weeks.
Don't believe me? Here's a list of teams who lost in the divisional round:
2011: Packers (15-1) best record in the NFL
2010: Patriots (14-2) best record in the NFL, Falcons (13-3) best record in the NFC
2009: Chargers (13-3) second in the AFC
2008: Titans (13-3) best record in the NFL, Giants (12-4) first in the NFC, Panthers (12-4) second in the NFC
2007: Colts (13-3) second in the AFC, Cowboys (13-3) first in the NFC
2006: Chargers (14-2) best record in the NFL, Ravens (13-3) second in the AFC
2005: Colts (14-2) best record in the NFL, Bears (11-5) second in the NFC
That is seven years straight in which a one or two-seed has lost their opening game at home. I have noticed that we do not have one of those yet. So I guess it has to be here.
I like this Dallas team anyway. I think their defense will be improved, they have potential with running back DeMarco Murray. And doesn't it seem possible that Vick could throw a pick or two in a big game? Or maybe he won't be around at all, he has already suffered two injuries in the preseason.
I've talked myself into it. Dallas advances in a nail-biter.
Final Score Prediction: Cowboys 30-27.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
So who will win it all? Will the Patriots avenge last year's loss? Will Joe Flacco or Jay Cutler take home the prize? Will the Cowboys shock the world? Find out tomorrow in the thrilling conclusion of the 2012 NFL Preview!