The 2012 NFL season has brought astonishing amounts of surprises.
It has been the year of the rookie quarterback, and if all goes as I envision, we will see three rookie quarterbacks start in the playoffs this year. We will even get a chance to watch two of them—Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson—square off in the first round of the playoffs.
Yes, we are approaching Week 16, but it is never too early to make some bold predictions for what lies before us.
Here, I will predict each team that I see making it to the playoffs as well as the records that they will finish with to close out the regular season. I will also break down each of my expected match ups, round-by-round, eventually leading up to a Super Bowl champion.
*Winning teams are in bold
NFC Wild Card Round
(1) Atlanta Falcons (14-2) BYE
(2) San Francisco 49ers (11-3-1) BYE
(3) Green Bay Packers (12-4) vs (6) Chicago Bears (10-6)
Green Bay has owned the Bears in recent years. In fact, dating back to 2009, the Packers have won eight of their last nine contests against them. Each game this year between the two has been somewhat close, but Lambeau Field in January for a Packers/Bears game? Sorry Chicago fans, your season is over.
(4) Washington Redskins (10-6) vs (5) Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
This will probably one of the most anticipated matchups of the Wild Card Round, with two rookie quarterbacks possessing similar playing styles will square off. Seattle has had plenty of trouble making the haul over to the East Coast and picking up a victory this season. Had this game been in Seattle, I would take the 'Hawks in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, it is not. The Redskins will win thanks to RGIII.
NFC Divisional Round
(1) Atlanta Falcons vs (4) Washington Redskins
Atlanta will finally get their chance to prove that they can actually play football after December. It starts with a game against the 'Skins. The Falcons' Matt Ryan and his trio of targets in Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez will be way too much for the Redskins 30th-ranked pass defense to handle. Atlanta will win and will also be one step closer to New Orleans.
(2) San Francisco 49ers vs (3) Green Bay Packers
As Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been saying all year, "on the inside we are just fine." They will prove it when they avenge their Week 1 loss to the Niners at home. They will head to Candlestick Park and welcome Colin Kaepernick to playoff football. I am impressed with the way that Kaepernick has been playing this year but I don't think he is ready for the pressure that the playoffs bring. He did go into Foxborough and beat the Patriots last week, though, so I could be wrong. We will see, but the Packers should still win in my mind.
NFC Championship Game
(1) Atlanta Falcons vs (3) Green Bay Packers
This is a rematch of the 2010-11 Divisional Round matchup, where Green Bay embarrassed Atlanta on their own turf. I don't think Green Bay will embarrass the Falcons like they did last time, but I do think the Packers will come out on top and head back to the Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers is simply too good.
AFC Wild Card Round
(1) Houston Texans (13-3) BYE
(2) Denver Broncos (13-3) BYE
(3) New England Patriots (12-4) vs (6) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)
Pittsburgh will barely slip in to the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, Tom Brady is going to be way too much for their stellar pass defense to handle. What makes the Patriots more dangerous than they were last year is their balanced rushing attack. The Patriots will advance. Sorry, Steelers fans.
(4) Baltimore Ravens (10-6) vs (5) Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
I really want to see the Colts win this game for Chuck Pagano, but I just don't see it happening. The Ravens are ice cold right now, but once they slide into the dance, they will be just fine for this round. The matchup is very favorable for the Ravens. The Colts rush defense is too poor to handle a guy like Ray Rice. I see him getting 25-plus carries for 150 yards and a few scores to lead the Ravens back to the Divisional Round.
AFC Divisional Round
(1) Houston Texans vs (4) Baltimore Ravens
The Houston Texans will avenge last year's loss to the Ravens by winning big at home to open their 2012 playoff campaign. Arian Foster and Andre Johnson will be way too much for a depleted Ravens defense to handle. The Texans will advance.
(2) Denver Broncos vs (3) New England Patriots
Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning; the old, epic rivalry continues. Brady has gotten the better of Manning in the past and I don't see that changing this year. The Patriots are just too good. It kills me to say it as a Dolphins fan, but I see the Patriots beating the Broncos once again. Denver's winning streak has to end at some point. It will in this game, and they will go home.
AFC Championship Game
(1) Houston Texans vs (3) New England Patriots
The Patriots manhandled the Texans in Week 14 but that game was in Foxborough. This game will be at Reliant Stadium in Houston, but I don't think it will make too much of difference. As electric and loud as that place will be, Brady is eagerly looking to make up for not winning the Super Bowl last year when he had the chance. This game will be much closer than the last time these teams met, but ultimately, the Patriots will advance to their second consecutive Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLVII
(3) New England Patriots vs (3) Green Bay Packers
I just feel that Tom Brady has at least one more Super Bowl victory in him. This will be an epic matchup and a shootout if it does indeed turn out this way. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will likely be healthy at this point. When that's the case, the Patriots are nearly impossible to stop. Yes, the Giants did it last year, but the Packers won't this year. The Patriots will win the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl Champion
New England Patriots
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