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NFL Playoff Prediction: What Would Postseason Look Like If It Started Today?

Paul ThelenContributor IIDecember 12, 2016

NFL Playoff Prediction: What Would Postseason Look Like If It Started Today?

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    If only the playoffs started this weekend.

    Bears and Steelers fans find themselves wishing this were true based on their teams recent struggles and their fears that their teams will collapse down the stretch.

    Conversely, Patriots, Broncos and Packers fans would love this to be reality based on their team's recent success and the likelihood that the high level of football they're playing now could be the apex of their performance this season.

    So what if the playoffs started this weekend? How would it play out?

    For starters, here would be the playoff seeding for each conference as of today.

     

    NFC

    1. Atlanta 

    2. San Francisco

    3. Green Bay

    4. New York Giants 

    5. Seattle

    6. Chicago

     

    AFC

    1. Houston

    2. New England

    3. Denver

    4. Baltimore

    5. Indianapolis

    6. Pittsburgh

AFC Wild Card: Indianapolis vs. Baltimore

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    Why the Colts Would Win

    This team is not spectacular on offense nor are they on defense, but they have shown the ability to win close games. Andrew Luck has an uncanny ability to forgive himself for mistakes, and his leadership in the fourth quarter seems to exude confidence in his teammates.

    Indianapolis does not have a signature road win—notably they have lost road bouts against Chicago, the Jets and New England, all by significant margins—yet would anyone be surprised if they rode their Chuckstrong battle cry into Baltimore and stole a win?

    They also have the advantage of having nothing to lose. No one besides the 53 players on this roster, the coaching staff, their families and a few crazed fans thought the Colts could make the playoffs this season.

     

    Why the Ravens Would Win

    The Ravens are poised to make a playoff run. Their defense is not what it was, but it is certainly talented enough to win playoff games. Their balanced offensive attack allows them to both protect and chase a lead. Most of the starters were on last year's team which made the AFC Championship, so it would be unlikely that the moment would be too big for the Ravens.

     

    Prediction

    Baltimore's veteran experience holds off the young-and-coming Colts. The Ravens will win and advance to the divisional round. 

AFC Wild Card: Pittsburgh vs. Denver

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    Why the Steelers Would Win

    The Steelers have overcome adversity this season, as injuries have beset them from the first game. Their staunch defense ranks first against the pass, which makes Peyton Manning look much less scary. They also have the nightmare that was last year's playoff game in Denver—a game that needs no summary—to motivate their team for revenge. Ben Roethlisberger has thrived in playoff games in the past, including ones played on the road. 

     

    Why the Broncos Would Win

    Denver is one of the NFL's hottest teams. The combination of the brilliance of Peyton Manning with a defense that has stifled both aerial and ground attacks makes the Broncos dangerous in the playoffs. Furthering its case to win, Denver has lost just once at home this season. They beat the Steelers in their season opener, and Manning provides the team with a wealth of experience and leadership.

     

    Prediction

    Even though Denver beat Pittsburgh this season and in the playoffs a season ago, the Steelers are a great matchup for the Broncos and would not squander an opportunity for revenge. Steelers win a close game and advance to the divisional round.

NFC Wild Card: Seattle vs. New York

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    Why Seattle Would Win

    Seattle seems capable of any feat. Every time we have tried to pin down who the Seahawks are, they do something that makes our previous assessments look foolish.

    Russell Wilson has had moments of brilliance this season and could very easily have one of his games against New York. Wilson, albeit not as athletic, possesses a similar skill set as Robert Griffin III, who in two games against the Giants has given their defense fits.

    The Seahawks defense has bested Tom Brady and the Patriots this season, so it's not far-fetched to think they could also succeed against Eli Manning. Also, this Giants team has shown the vulnerability to lay eggs this season.

     

    Why New York Would Win

    This Giants team has shown that they can beat anyone (Green Bay) and lose to anyone (Philadelphia). Ultimately, their season has been impressive as Eli Manning gives the Giants a chance to win any and every game. I wouldn't call their matchup with Seattle ideal, but the Seahawks have struggled on the road this season, and the Giants' experience suggests they would be mentally prepared for this game.

     

    Prediction

    Betting against Seattle has proven foolish at every turn this season, but with two Super Bowl championships, I can't bet against Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning—Giants win.

NFC Wild Card: Chicago vs. Green Bay

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    Why Chicago Would Win

    To say the Bears have struggled against Green Bay is understatement. Yet, the Bears have a strong pass rush and a secondary poised to force turnovers, which matches-up well against Green Bays leaky offensive line.

    Offensively, the Bears have shown that they can be potent. The Marshall-Cutler connection demands a double-team, which could open up the middle of the field for the Bears running game and their supporting cast of receivers.

     

    Why Green Bay Would Win

    In the past, Clay Matthews has had a field day against the Bears offensive line. Rodgers knows where the holes in Chicago's defense exist. He has plenty of weapons to distribute the ball to, and with his athleticism, he can move Chicago's zones into vulnerable positions.

     

    Prediction

    The Packers have dominated the Bears in recent history and playing at home against them in the playoffs shouldn't be much different—Packers win. 

AFC Divisional: Baltimore vs. New England

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    Why Baltimore Would Win

    The Ravens beat the Patriots earlier this season and are more than capable to beat them again. The Patriots struggle when Brady is pressured and when they are forced into a low scoring, slow-tempo game. The Ravens can do both of these well, lest we forget that Baltimore was a Billy Cundiff chip-shot from beating New England in the AFC Championship a season ago.

     

    Why New England Would Win

    Baltimore does have the secondary it had a season ago when it gave Tom Brady fits. In addition, New England has found a balance offensively this season with the emergence of Stevan Ridley. Also, last season, Julian Edelman played significant time on defense. This year the Patriots have the eight-ranked run defense.

     

    Prediction

    The Patriots are significantly better then they were a year ago—Patriots win.  

AFC Divisional: Pittsburgh vs. Houston

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    Why Pittsburgh Would Win

    Riding the momentum of their upset of Denver, the Steelers matchup well against the Texans. The key to this matchup is whether or not Matt Schaub can make plays against the NFL's top-ranked pass defense. On the other side of the ball, the Steelers strengths can expose Houston's weakness in its pass defense.

     

    Why Houston Would Win

    The Texans have been dominant at home, losing only once this season. Arian Foster and the zone-running scheme he excels in can find room to run against Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense. Given Pittsburgh's struggles to run the football, J.J. Watt and the Texan pass rush will be rushing Big Ben furiously.

     

    Prediction

    Pittsburgh doesn't run the ball well, which makes the Texans vaunted third-ranked rush defense near irrelevant in this matchup. When it boils down, I trust Big Ben more then I trust Matt Schaub. The Steelers will upset the AFC's top-ranked team. 

NFC Divisional: Green Bay vs. San Francisco

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    Why Green Bay Would Win

    The 49ers don't have any glaring weaknesses that Green Bay can expose. The one obvious advantage Green Bay holds over San Francisco is at quarterback. A few weeks ago, Aaron Rodgers made the Houston Texans' defense look silly. Comparisons can be made between the 49ers and Texans defenses, which will give Rodgers and the Packers confidence.

     

    Why San Francisco Would Win

    The 49ers are the most complete team in the NFL. They're ranked second in rushing offense, pass defense and rush defense. Colin Kaepernick's mobility will test Green Bays average rush defense, and Aldon Smith and the 49ers pass rush will challenge the Packers below-average pass protection.

     

    Prediction

    On paper the 49ers should win this game, but I have trouble trusting that a young, inexperienced Colin Kaepernick will do well in the clutch against Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers. The Packers will win and advance to the NFC Championship.  

NFC Divisional: New York vs. Atlanta

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    Why New York Would Win

    Without beating the proverbial dead horse, Matt Ryan and the Falcons have struggled in the playoffs, whereas Eli Manning and the Giants have excelled. Specifically in this matchup, New York has the advantage, because they're a more balanced team. This balance allows them to set the pace of the game, which, if set at a slow-pace, favors the Giants because of their superior defense and rushing attack.

     

    Why Atlanta Would Win

    Atlanta is unbeaten at home this season, and its passing game is dynamic. With Roddy White and Julio Jones on the perimeter and Tony Gonzales invading the middle of the field, Matt Ryan has a wide array of options when dropping back to pass. Stopping the pass is something the Giants struggle to do, as they're ranked 27th against the pass defensively. 

     

    Prediction

    The Falcons have had a great season, but they have yet to win a game that solidifies themselves for this stage. New York, on the other hand, has beaten both Green Bay and San Francisco, both handily I might add, which gives them the advantage in this game—Giants win.  

AFC Championship: Pittsburgh vs. New England

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    Why Pittsburgh Would Win

    Pittsburgh's pass defense, which got it to this point, matches up well with New England. But can its offense go round-for-round with Tom Brady?

    Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offense have shown the ability to put up numbers this season. The Patriots defend the run well, but their pass defense has been scorched multiple times this season. For Pittsburgh to win, the passing attack would have to be clicking on all cylinders.

     

    Why New England Would Win

    New England's good has been better than Pittsburgh's good. When the Patriots are clicking offensively, they are nearly unstoppable. The Steelers will likely attempt to pressure Brady, which will mean New England will counter with Stevan Ridley and the short passing game. New England will want the game to be high scoring, because Pittsburgh's offense lacks the balance of the Patriots.

     

    Prediction

    New England made the Super Bowl last season without a defense or a running game. Now that they have both, Pittsburgh won't impede them from winning a second consecutive AFC Championship.

NFC Championship: New York vs. Green Bay

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    Why New York Would Win

    New York seems to have Green Bay's number. This season when the two teams met, New York flexed its muscles and crushed the Packers 38-10. A season ago, en route to their Super Bowl victory, the Giants went into Lambeau Field and beat the 15-1 Green Bay Packers. In both wins, the Giants were able to force Green Bay out of rhythm offensively by pressuring Rodgers.

     

    Why Green Bay Would Win

    Revenge is quite the motivator. After a sensational season a year ago, Green Bay was shocked by the Giants at home in its first playoff game—don't expect that to happen again.

    Green Bay has shown at times this season that it can run the football. Each time it has been beaten by New York, it has struggled with running the ball. If Green Bay can keep the Giants' pass rush guessing by running the football, Rodgers can pick apart one-on-one matchups with his superior accuracy.

     

    Prediction

    This game can go either way. However, I have faith that Green Bay will establish the run early against New York and come out victorious by a narrow margin.  

Super Bowl: New England vs. Green Bay

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    Why New England Would Win

    The Patriots no-huddle offense can attack the thin Packers defense. By balancing its offensive attack, New England can slow down Clay Matthews and the Packers' pass rush. Given time, Brady can exploit any defense. On the other side of the ball, this year, the Patriots finally have a defense that can make enough plays to let their offense shine. A sack here and a turnover there will give the Patriots the upper hand.

     

    Why Green Bay Would Win

    By this point, Aaron Rodgers is going to have a sore back from carrying the Packers. The Patriots defense is improved, but it pales in comparison to the 49ers and Giants, two teams the Packers have beaten to get to the Super Bowl. Rodgers and the Packers' offense will need to score in bunches to beat the Patriots. The Packers were able to drop 42 on Houston, whose defense is far superior to New England's.

     

    Prediction

    The road to the Super Bowl was more taxing on Green Bay than it was New England. Because of this, New England gets the edge and brings the Lombardi Trophy home.

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