I didn't have time to produce the following post before Cowboys-Giants on Wednesday night.
But then again, that outcome was essentially irrelevant to this predictions piece for the 2012 NFL season.
Wild Cards: Lions, Panthers
NFC Title Game: Packers over Eagles
Reasons for Excluding the Cowboys: In my opinion, Dallas has the NFL's most difficult road schedule this season in terms of quality of opponent and when the Cowboys pay the visits. Obviously, Wednesday's road victory against the Giants was a substantial triumph for the Cowboys ... but I still don't envy a road slate of Seattle, Baltimore, Carolina, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Washington from this point forward.
Reasons for Excluding the Seahawks: Two words: Russell Wilson. I may have been a fan of the kid's talents at North Carolina State and Wisconsin, but this rookie shouldn't be leading a playoff-ready club to start the season—especially over a healthy Matt Flynn.
Reasons for Excluding the Saints: Quite frankly, I'd rather have the Panthers' crossover slate of the Seahawks (NFC West) and Bears (NFC North) than the 49ers and Packers, respectively. That's a huge differential between teams that both feature elite-level quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Cam Newton).
Reasons for Excluding the Giants: New York gets all the props in the world for winning two titles in a five-season span. But that doesn't mean the club is a playoff shoo-in this year—especially in a highly competitive NFC. Just a hunch.
Wild Cards: Titans, Steelers
AFC Title Game: Ravens over Patriots
Reasons for Excluding the Broncos: Whatever happens this year, Peyton Manning's championship window in Denver shall remain open for another three or four seasons. From a defensive standpoint, I'm just not buying the Broncos as an elite group. Yet.
Reasons for Excluding the Bills: Believe me, I would looooove to be wrong here. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Bills owner Ralph Wilson, a fellow Detroiter; and it would be great to see his club make the playoffs sooner than later.
Reasons for Excluding the Bengals: I'll start touting the Bengals' long-term viability ... as soon as the club develops a dynamic No. 2 receiver to complement A.J. Green and, to a lesser extent, tight end Jermaine Gresham. That said, I really like the BenJarvus Green-Ellis upgrade at tailback.
Reasons for Excluding the Jets: Some 5-11 clubs have better offensive talent. And the 2012 Jets defense is a slightly older version of the group that allowed 100 yards rushing (combined) nine times last year. The defense is still good ... but no longer fearsome or elite.
Super Bowl XLVII: Packers 31, Ravens 23
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.
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