NFL Playoff Picture: Projecting Every Matchup Through the Super Bowl
It's time to have some fun and project how this year's NFL playoffs will play out—from the wild-card round all the way to Super Bowl XLVII.
Chances are, things won't play out the way I expect them to, but that doesn't bother me one bit. In fact, my favorite aspect of the NFL playoffs is that the games are so unpredictable.
When teams face one-and-done situations, funny things can happen. Sometimes, a team's Super Bowl chances go out the window with one injury—and it doesn't have to be a quarterback (just ask the San Francisco 49ers, who lost last year's NFC Championship Game due an injury to Ted Ginn).
Here's how I see the 2012 NFL playoffs playing out. Please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts and predictions in the comments section below.
Wild Card Round
Seattle Seahawks (5) at New York Giants (4)
The Seahawks as a team have taken on Marshawn Lynch's "Beastmode" attitude and are playing with a level of determination, grit, skill and poise that will be tough to beat in January.
The Giants, on the other hand, have been up to their old tricks again, showing up for some games and forgetting to get on the bus for others. They won't get away with it again this year.
Lynch will have a monster game at MetLife Stadium, gashing the Giants for huge gains and setting up Russell Wilson and the team's passing attack for big play-action passes.
The Seattle defense has the pieces to minimize the Eli Manning's passing attack, and the Seahawks will upset the defending Super Bowl champs on the road.
Prediction: Seahawks win 24-20
Washington Redskins (6) at Green Bay Packers (3)
It'll take some magic for the Redskins to get into the playoffs, but the Chicago Bears will give them an assist by continuing to slide down the home stretch.
Unfortunately for Washington, the magic will run out at Lambeau Field.
Aaron Rodgers has put together another incredible season, and he's been making do without his top receivers for much of the year. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson have been out of the lineup for games at a time, and Rodgers continues to find ways to get it done.
Going up against a porous Redskins secondary will make life easier on Rodgers, and he'll have a huge game at home.
Prediction: Packers win 35-24
Pittsburgh Steelers (6) at Denver Broncos (3)
This game won't be pretty for Steelers fans.
Von Miller and the rest of the Broncos' pass-rushers will tee off on the Steelers pathetic offensive line, putting pressure on Ben Roethlisberger all game long (assuming he doesn't get hurt again before the playoffs).
Peyton Manning will find soft spots in the Steelers defense and chip away until he finds a big play. He has the Broncos on a league-best eight-game winning streak, and It won't surprise me in the least if they've won 11 straight by the time the playoffs roll around.
Prediction: Broncos win 31-17
Indianapolis Colts (5) at Baltimore Ravens (4)
As much as I'd like to see the Colts go deep into the playoffs this year, I don't see it happening.
The Ravens, for all their flaws, are still a veteran team with playoff experience. They'll figure out a way to win this game at home.
It'll be interesting to see how the Ravens offense operates under Jim Caldwell now that Cam Cameron is finally gone, and I'm betting Ray Rice will be a bigger piece of the puzzle.
That doesn't bode well for the Colts.
Prediction: Ravens win 27-23
Green Bay Packers (3) at San Francisco 49ers (2)
The 49ers defeated the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 1, but these two teams have evolved over the course of the season, and we shouldn't expect a duplicate performance from either team.
The 49ers have developed into a more dangerous team on defense, with Aldon Smith piling on sacks at a record pace, and they should be able to get to Aaron Rodgers on a regular basis.
On offense, the 49ers have become more explosive with Colin Kaepernick behind center—both in the running game and in the passing game—and if the Packers aren't careful, the 49ers could go up big before halftime.
Prediction: 49ers win 28-21
Seattle Seahawks (5) at Atlanta Falcons (1)
This matchup is tailor-made for an upset.
The Falcons can't run the ball and can't stop the run, and the Seahawks feature one of the best—if not the best—secondaries in the NFL.
Matt Ryan will have trouble finding open receivers, and if the Falcons can't establish a running game, the Seahawks will bring plenty of pressure to make his life more difficult.
Prediction: Seahawks win 23-20
Denver Broncos (3) at New England Patriots (2)
This game has prime time written all over it.
Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.
The one thing Brady has that Manning doesn't is a dominant running game. We saw how effective the Patriots were against the Houston Texans by utilizing the run to set up big plays in the passing game, and I'd expect to see a similar strategy employed in this contest.
Prediction: Patriots win 35-31
Baltimore Ravens (4) at Houston Texans (1)
Does anyone remember the first meeting between these two teams?
The Ravens might not lose by 30 points, but they simply do not stack up well against the Texans.
Prediction: Texans win 35-21
NFC Championship Game
Seattle Seahawks (5) at San Francisco 49ers (2)
The 49ers defense stymied Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense to the tune of 251 yards and six points when the two teams met up at Candlestick Park in Week 7.
And with Colin Kaepernick behind center, the 49ers are better equipped to gash the Seahawks defense for big gains.
Frank Gore has had the Seahawks' number the past few years, too, and he'll have a big game at home again in this contest.
Prediction: 49ers win 24-13
AFC Championship Game
New England Patriots (2) at Houston Texans (1)
The Texans got lambasted by the Patriots in Week 14 in Boston, losing by a score of 42-14.
They were outmatched in every possible way, as the Patriots were simply too hot to handle.
By the time this game rolls around, Rob Gronkowski will likely be back in action, too, and the Patriots will once again annihilate the Texans through the air.
Prediction: Patriots win 35-20
Super Bowl XLVII
San Francisco 49ers vs. New England Patriots
The 49ers have the personnel on both sides of the ball to beat the Patriots.
The Patriots have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
This contest will come down to which team executes the game plan better, and given the Patriots' experience in Super Bowls of late, it would seem they have a better chance of coming through in the clutch.
But that's why they play the games. We never know what's going to happen until it does.
We'll have a better grasp of how these two teams actually match up after they compete in Week 15, but for now, I have to go with my gut.
Prediction: 49ers win 27-24