NFL Playoffs Prediction: Post-Week 2 Edition
Before the season started, I predicted the Kansas City Chiefs were going to run away with the AFC West.
Obviously, now my prediction doesn't look so hot. In fact, some of you may be laughing at me right this moment. So it goes when trying to forecast a league as unpredictable as the NFL.
With two weeks of games set in stone, I have a much better idea of which teams will be playing football in January. Sure, injuries and other unforeseen variables will force me to fiddle with my predictions throughout the year.
But for now, these are the 12 teams I expect to make the playoffs.
AFC 1. Houston Texans (2-0)
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No team has been as dominant as the Texans have to begin the 2012 season.
In two 20-point drubbings, the Texans have allowed 392 yards total. To compare, the Baltimore Ravens have allowed 404 yards per game.
The Texans should win every game against the AFC South en route to winning the conference's top seed.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)
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After getting beat by Denver, Pittsburgh was desperately in need of a bounce-back performance.
Enter the brilliance of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
Without Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, the Steelers defense executed LeBeau's defensive game plan, holding the Jets to just 10 points.
People seem to forget that the Steelers allowed the fewest points in the league last year. The Ravens may have the more balanced offense, but Pittsburgh has the better quarterback and defense.
The AFC North race should go down to the wire, but I'll take the Steelers, for now.
3. New England Patriots (1-1)
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Don't blame the Patriots' 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Stephen Gostkowski.
After making four field goals, including two from more than 50 yards, Gostkowski missed a potential game-winning 42-yard attempt.
If one unit deserves blame, it's the New England offensive line, which didn't protect Tom Brady (four sacks allowed) and didn't open up enough holes in the running game (90 yards on 28 carries).
Some bold pundits may say this is the beginning of the end in New England. The Buffalo Bills looked very impressive in their win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and they absolutely have the talent to dethrone the Pats in the AFC East.
Just when you think the Pats are down, Brady and Bill Belichick always seem to put together a momentous performance. I predict the Patriots bounce back in Baltimore next week, just because that's what the Patriots do.
4. Denver Broncos (1-1)
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The San Diego Chargers have looked great, but they've also played two mediocre teams.
Meanwhile, the Broncos have played two of the best teams in the NFL (according to these rankings) and have a 1-1 record.
Over the course of the season, the Broncos should be able to pass the Chargers.
Both teams feature great signal-callers and productive running games (when Ryan Mathews is healthy). The key difference is that Denver has the more imposing pass rush (thanks to Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil).
This is another race that could go down to Week 17, and you can expect the Broncos to win it.
5. Baltimore Ravens (1-1)
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What happened to Joe Flacco in the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles?
After a masterful first half in which the 6'6'' gunslinger completed 14-of-17 throws, Flacco completed just 8-of-25 passes with an interception in a one-point loss.
Of course, with a two-score lead, Ray Rice should have had more than nine carries in the second half, especially when he was averaging 6.2 yards per carry for the game.
With a first-place schedule, the Ravens have to play the Patriots and Texans, whereas the Steelers, with a second-place schedule, have to play the Titans and Jets (they just beat NYJ 27-10).
The schedule advantage, along with Roethlisberger still edging Flacco in the quarterback battle, should be just enough to make the Steelers the favorite in the AFC North.
6. San Diego Chargers (2-0)
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The Chargers are here almost by default. They haven't beat anybody of note, but they also haven't been blown out like the two other teams I considered (the Jets and the Bills).
Still, you can't deny how outstanding the Chargers' run defense has been. Free-agent acquisitions Aubrayo Franklin and Jarret Johnson are plugging up running lanes for opposing running backs. Just ask Chris Johnson and Darren McFadden.
The key to the rest of the season is the health of Ryan Mathews. If he can give the San Diego offense some balance, it should be able to carry the Chargers to a wild-card berth at the least.
Philip Rivers looked great against the Tennessee Titans, but a better litmus test should come against Atlanta Falcons' opportunistic defense in Week 3.
AFC Teams That Just Missed the Cut
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7. Buffalo Bills (1-1): Was Week 1 or Week 2 an aberration? The Bills must beat the Browns this week with the Patriots and 49ers coming up on the schedule.
8. New York Jets (1-1): Sometimes, Mark Sanchez looks so bad that you wonder why the Jets ever gave him this contract. Similarly to the Bills, the Jets simply can't lose to the Dolphins this week with games against San Francisco and Houston looming.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)
10. Miami Dolphins (1-1)
11. Indianapolis Colts (1-1)
12. Kansas City Chiefs (0-2)
13. Cleveland Browns (0-2)
14. Tennessee Titans (0-2)
15. Oakland Raiders (0-2)
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2)
NFC 1. San Francisco 49ers (2-0)
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The 49ers may not run away with the NFC West after all, as all four teams beat 1-0 teams on Sunday.
Still, San Francisco handled the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions with stellar defense, a productive running game and above-average quarterback play from Alex Smith.
Seems like a pretty bulletproof formula to me.
Before you consider the Falcons or the Packers for the top spot, take a look at the 49ers' schedule.
I'd guess that the 49ers will be the favorite in every game until their Week 15 tilt against New England in Gillette Stadium.
Another 13-3 season could be in the cards for San Francisco.
2. Green Bay Packers (1-1)
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Why not the Atlanta Falcons here, you ask?
First off, we all seem to forget that the Packers have won 16 of their last 18 regular-season games.
Secondly, and much to my surprise, the NFC North may be worse than it was last year.
The Bears' offensive line simply can't match up with the Packers' defensive line (which we learned once again last Thursday). And something just doesn't look right with Matthew Stafford, so far. If he doesn't have another 5,000-yard season, the Lions and their mediocre defense and run game will finish under .500.
With Clay Matthews back to elite form after a year hiatus, this Green Bay defense could be an above-average unit. Once Aaron Rodgers gets going, the Packers will be nearly impossible to beat.
3. Atlanta Falcons (2-0)
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It wouldn't surprise me if the 49ers, Packers and Falcons separate themselves from the rest of the NFC.
Matt Ryan has looked awfully impressive. He leads the league with a 117.6 passer rating and five touchdown passes.
But, the most important development for the Falcons has been the emergence of their defense. Atlanta's defense has five interceptions and six sacks.
If the Falcons can continue to force a bunch of turnovers, they should run away with the NFC South.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (2-0)
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How does a team with nine turnovers in two games win both?
Great defense and clutch quarterback play—that's how.
Michael Vick has led two go-ahead touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter of Philadelphia's two wins. Yet, the Eagles' defense deserves the majority of the credit for the team's fast start.
The Eagles have allowed just 267.5 yards per game, fourth best in the NFL. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are playing like the shutdown corners they were thought to be before last year's debacle.
Even if Vick misses a couple of games because of an injury, the Eagles should be able to stay in the playoff picture by leaning on LeSean McCoy and their phenomenal defense.
5. Seattle Seahawks (1-1)
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If the final wild-card berth comes down to a tiebreaker, the Seahawks already have an important one—a head-to-head win over the Cowboys.
Seattle's defense has allowed only 92 rushing yards in two games. The Seahawks also return a stellar secondary quartet of Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
In short, the Seahawks have one of the top five defenses in the NFL.
As long as Russell Wilson manages games, Seattle will be able to ride Marshawn Lynch to a playoff spot.
6. Chicago Bears (1-1)
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The Bears offense looked so bad against the Packers last Thursday that I wanted to drop Chicago from playoffs entirely.
Then, I remembered Chicago's schedule.
The Bears still get to play the Vikings twice. They also play the Jaguars, Titans and Rams. They should be heavy favorites when the Seahawks, Panthers and Lions visit Soldier Field.
NFC Teams That Just Missed the Cut
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7. Dallas Cowboys (1-1): I debated putting the Cowboys in more than any team I left out in this slideshow. Dallas' improved secondary has been very impressive, so far. Can Tony Romo step up to the challenge in December when a playoff bid is on the line?
8. New York Giants (1-1): I'm not so sure the Giants will solve their defensive issues this year. Eli Manning will eventually crack if he has to lead this offense to 30-plus points every game.
9. Arizona Cardinals (2-0): Great defense and anemic offense can only take a team, so far. The Cardinals have won nine of their last 11 dating back to last year, but they haven't won any of those games convincingly. Their luck has to run out, doesn't it?
10. Detroit Lions (1-1)
11. Carolina Panthers (1-1)
12. Washington Redskins (1-1)
13. St. Louis Rams (1-1)
14. New Orleans Saints (0-2)
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)
16. Minnesota Vikings (1-1)