NFL Playoff Predictions: Projecting Every Matchup, from Wild Card to Super Bowl
There’s still one very critical week left in the NFL regular season.
Even so, let’s go ahead and predict what’s going to happen in the postseason. We’re predicting every game, from Wild Card Weekend to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
Obviously, in order to do that, the outcomes of some massive Week 17 games that will determine playoff spots and seeding still have to be predicted. Here’s how those matchups will play out.
Bears over Lions: Calvin Johnson will eclipse 2,000 receiving yards, but the Bears will prevail.
Packers over Vikings: With a bye week on the line, the Packers will overwhelm Adrian Peterson and Minnesota.
Cowboys over Redskins: Tony Romo—yes, Tony Romo—is the NFL’s hottest quarterback, while his counterpart Robert Griffin III isn’t fully healthy.
Colts over Texans: The Colts will play hard for the returning Chuck Pagano. Meanwhile, the Texans still won’t have ever beaten the Colts in Indianapolis.
Patriots over Dolphins: Knowing the Colts have beaten the Texans, the Patriots will go hard after the AFC’s second seed.
Now, with those logistics out of the way, it’s time to see how the 2013 NFL postseason will pan out, game by game.
(6) Bengals at (3) Texans
This projected Wild Card matchup between Cincinnati and Houston is a rematch of last year’s playoff game at Reliant Stadium.
It’s a different year, but the same result: a Texans home playoff win.
The game will be closer than last year’s 31-10 beatdown the Texans implemented on then-rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. This Bengals defense is much more ferocious than last year’s, meaning this could be a defensive struggle.
It’s a game that features two of the league’s most dangerous pass-rushers in Houston’s J.J. Watt and Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins. Watt may not have the same impact he had in last year’s clash, when he had an incredible interception return for a touchdown.
Still, expect Watt to have at least one batted ball and one sack, making the difference in a close Texans win.
Texans win 17-13
(5) Colts at (4) Ravens
This AFC Wild Card matchup between Baltimore’s two football franchises—the Colts and the Ravens—has the potential to be a great one from a nostalgic standpoint.
Too bad it will be a dud.
Nobody’s discounting the incredible year of inspired football the Colts have put together in head coach Chuck Pagano’s absence.
But this will be a rude homecoming for Pagano, the former defensive coordinator of the Ravens. Even with all the injuries it's suffered, Baltimore is still the more talented and experienced team overall.
And as well as he’s played in his rookie season, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will make his first career playoff start in hostile M&T Bank Stadium.
Don’t forget that Luck has thrown 18 interceptions so far this season. Surely, that stat isn’t lost on Ed Reed.
Ravens win 31-17
(3) Texans at (2) Patriots
The last time the Texans and Patriots faced off at Gillette Stadium, it was a Monday night massacre, as New England absolutely mauled Houston in prime time.
In the rematch, revenge will be the primary motivational factor for a proud Texans team. That will guarantee that this rematch will be much closer than the 42-14 Pats win late in the regular season.
However, Houston’s defense struggled to contain Tom Brady and the New England offense the first time without stud tight end Rob Gronkowski. The man called Gronk is expected to be back on the field in this divisional game.
Having Gronk and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez on the field simultaneously will prove too much for Houston to handle.
Patriots win 35-28
(4) Ravens at (1) Broncos
This AFC Divisional Round game is another regular-season rematch of a rout. Back in Week 15, Peyton Manning and the Broncos demolished the Ravens, winning 34-17 in Baltimore. This sequel takes place in Denver, historically a tough place to win in January.
It’s during this game that the Ravens will especially miss having injured cornerback Lardarius Webb on the field. Led by the rejuvenated Manning, Denver’s passing offense has been rolling the past several weeks.
Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Brandon Stokley and Jacob Tamme present Baltimore’s ailing defense with too many problems. That unit is going to find it mighty difficult to slow down Manning, especially with linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs nursing devastating arm injuries.
The key to slowing down Baltimore’s offense is to prevent running back Ray Rice from getting a full head of steam. Von Miller and Denver’s underrated defense will answer the call in that regard.
Broncos win 35-21
AFC Championship: (2) Patriots at (1) Broncos
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady squaring off with a chance to go to the Super Bowl on the line? No, this isn’t 2004, 2005 or 2007. This is the 2013 AFC championship game between the Patriots and the Broncos.
If everything in the AFC playoffs falls according to plan, this will be the fourth time Manning and Brady have met in the postseason, but obviously the first with Manning playing in Denver.
Keep in mind that the Broncos and Pats have met three times in the past two seasons. In those three games, New England has won all of them, outscoring Denver 117-54.
Yes, Tim Tebow was Denver’s starting quarterback in two of those games. But whether it’s Tebow or Manning under center, it doesn’t change the fact that New England’s offense matches up really well against Denver’s defense.
Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker are two Patriots receivers who have torched the Broncos in the past. That trend will continue, as the Patriots will win their second consecutive AFC title in the Mile High City.
Patriots win 35-31
(6) Bears at (3) 49ers
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s first NFL start came against the Bears back in the middle of the season.
His first postseason start will come against the same team, with the same results. On the Monday night before Thanksgiving, Kaepernick was brilliant in leading San Francisco to a 32-7 win over Chicago.
Part 2 will see Kaepernick continue to build on his promising beginning. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler will dread seeing Aldon Smith.
In the first meeting, Smith had a staggering 5.5 sacks against Chicago backup quarterback Jason Campbell. Cutler won’t fare much better, given how Chicago’s offensive line struggles against front sevens that emphasize rushing the passer, like San Fran’s.
It will be a quick playoff exit in the Bay Area for the Bears.
49ers win 24-10
(5) Seahawks at (4) Cowboys
The thought of facing the Seahawks in the playoffs probably still gives Tony Romo and his butterfingers nightmares.
Yet six years after Romo fumbled away Dallas’ chances of beating the Seahawks in the postseason, the two teams will meet again in the Wild Card Round. This time, Seattle won’t need a botched field-goal snap to prevail.
The Seahawks can rely on the league’s best cornerback duo in Richard Sherman and the returning Brandon Browner to shut down Dez Bryant. They can rely on power back Marshawn Lynch to keep Romo off the field. They can rely on poised rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to make smart choices with the football and continue his maturation.
You get the picture yet? Seattle will notch its first road playoff victory since 1983, when Chuck Knox’s squad upset the Miami Dolphins.
Seahawks win 21-14
(5) Seahawks at (1) Falcons
It’s a battle of the birds when the Seahawks and Falcons square off in the NFC Divisional Round in Atlanta.
Matt Ryan and Mike Smith haven’t won a playoff game together with the Falcons. After this, they’ll still be sporting that big fat goose egg.
Yes, Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Roddy White give the Falcons the NFL’s best receiving tandem. But defense wins championships, and Seattle has the game’s best cornerback pair in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.
They’ll negate Jones and White long enough to allow Seattle rookie defensive stalwarts Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner to do their thing. Seattle’s heroic defensive efforts against Atlanta’s high-powered passing offense will be the difference in an extremely tight Seahawks upset.
Seahawks win 21-20
(3) 49ers at (2) Packers
It’s one thing for the 49ers to go to Lambeau Field and knock off the Packers in Week 1, under clear skies with 80 degree temperatures.
It’s a totally different task to ask them to do the same thing in freezing temperatures with an inexperienced quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.
As mentioned, the 49ers kicked off their 2012 season by beating Green Bay on the road, 30-22. But that was with Alex Smith at the helm. Young San Francisco quarterback Kaepernick is going to struggle against a Packers defense that has been nursing its way back to full strength and is much better than it was last season.
Packers win 30-21
NFC Championship: (5) Seahawks at (2) Packers
The last time the Packers and Seahawks met up, it resulted in arguably the most notorious and controversial ending in NFL history: the Fail Mary.
Make no mistake—the way that game ended has stewed in the minds of Packers players for the better part of the past three months. They’ve wanted another shot at Seattle for a while now, and they’ll get it in the NFC championship game.
This time, there will be no replacement refs and no chance for the Seahawks. Green Bay simply has too many weapons in the passing game for Seattle to contain.
Seattle defensive backs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have received plenty of justified praise for their abilities on the gridiron. But where’s the love for Packers cornerback Casey Hayward?
The rookie out of Vanderbilt has six interceptions this season. He’ll make his presence felt in this game by intercepting fellow rookie Russell Wilson.
At the end of the day, Green Bay will advance to its second Super Bowl in three seasons with a big win at frosty Lambeau Field.
Packers win 28-25
Super Bowl XLVII: Patriots vs. Packers
The Packers and Patriots will face off for the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans.
That happened 16 years ago, with Brett Favre, Reggie White and Desmond Howard devastating New England in a Packers win. The players may have changed, but as Led Zeppelin once famously proclaimed, the song remains the same.
Aaron Rodgers, Clay Mathews and Randall Cobb will have big days for the Pack Attack on offense, defense and special teams, respectively.
It’s not very often that Tom Brady isn’t the best quarterback in the stadium on any given Sunday, but on this particularly important Sunday, he won’t be. Rodgers will win a second Super Bowl MVP, officially cementing his legacy as the best quarterback in the business right now.
Some Packers fans may find it unfathomable to picture Mike McCarthy winning as many Super Bowl titles (two) as Vince Lombardi. But that will be the case after McCarthy and Green Bay outlast New England in the Big Easy.
Packers win 34-30