The regular season is finally over, meaning the NFL postseason will begin in less than a week. What a season it was.
The Houston Texans blew a costly opportunity at the first overall seed in the AFC, dropping the season finale to the Indianapolis Colts. They will now open the playoffs in the wild card round as the third seed for the second straight year.
In the NFC, the Green Bay Packers missed a crucial opportunity to take the number two seed. Instead, they will open in the wild card round against the division rival Minnesota Vikings and dominant running back Adrian Peterson.
And, of course, the regular season finale saw the Washington Redskins defeat the Dallas Cowboys to capture an unlikely NFC East title, where they will host the Seattle Seahawks in the wild card round.
The following slides will highlight my predictions, game by game, in each round of the postseason.
During Marvin Lewis's 10 seasons as the Cincinnati Bengals' head coach, his teams have lost all three of their postseason games. Unless they can take down the 12-win Houston Texans on the road, they will drop to 0-4.
I am picking the Bengals in an upset though. I think the deciding factor in this game is AJ Green against a Texans' pass defense that has been picked apart in recent weeks. Look for the Bengals to take this one, 23-17.
I have been a huge fan of Andrew Luck all season and I think he deserves to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year over a pair of equally deserving candidates in Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. But I think he will struggle against an experienced Ravens team in the postseason, particularly ball-hawking safety Ed Reed.
The demise of the Ravens was greatly exaggerated. I have them defeating the Colts 24-16 behind a pair of Ray Rice touchdown runs and a trio of interceptions from Luck.
The Vikings-Packers game in week 17 was arguably the best game of the entire season, as Adrian Peterson rushed for 199 yards and Christian Ponder threw three touchdowns to lock the final wild card spot for the surprising Vikings.
But things will change this week, especially in Lambeau. It is playoff time, and Aaron Rodgers is at his best in January, where he has thrown for 15 touchdowns against just four interceptions in six playoff starts.
He will easily outduel Christian Ponder. Expect Peterson to have another big game but teams do not win in the postseason with an elite running back. They win with an elite quarterback. Rodgers' two touchdown tosses and one rushing touchdown will lead the Pack past the Vikings, 31-16.
This has the potential to go down as one of the most exciting wild card postseason games in recent memory.
The Seahawks have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the past month. But the Redskins have won their last seven games to capture the NFC East title.
Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III have been two of the three best rookie quarterbacks in the league this season, and each has an equally great running back to help him out. But the difference in this game is the Seahawks' top-ranked defense. Throw in RGIII's bad knee, and I am taking the Seahawks to win this game 23-17 in overtime.
This is where the Bengals' run comes to an end. They really do not have any chance traveling into Denver against Peyton Manning, who could be on his way to winning his fifth MVP this season. The Broncos also have the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL.
This one has blowout written all over it. Behind Manning's three touchdown passes, the Broncos will win 27-10 and advance to their first AFC championship game since 2005. That was the Jake Plummer era, by the way.
For the third time in four seasons, the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will play in the postseason. They have split their first two matchups. I do not expect this one to be close.
Tom Brady quietly turned in a season that should earn him some MVP votes. The Patriots scored the third-most points in a season in league history, and they're finally going to have star tight end Rob Gronkowski healthy for the postseason.
The Ravens are still quarterbacked by Joe Flacco, and even though he outdueled Brady in Foxboro last season, I do not see it happening again. The Patriots will advance to their seventh AFC championship game in 12 seasons behind a 31-20 victory.
All the pressure is going to be on Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in this game, as Ryan has lost three playoff games without a victory in his first four seasons.
The Falcons will deliver. The Seahawks are going to be one of the league's top teams for years to come, but their 2012 season will come to an end in the divisional round.
Do not expect Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and company to shred the Seahawks defense. Seattle's too good for that. But expect Atlanta's veteran defensive backs, notably Asante Samuel, to make plays against Wilson when it matters the most.
The Falcons will win a close one, 24-21.
Here's a rematch from week one, but this time, the 49ers will be led by second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick instead of veteran Alex Smith. You could pick either team in this game and I wouldn't argue but I'm going to go with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Kaepernick is more or less a rookie and I think he'll be vulnerable against Green Bay's defense, led by Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson. I have Rodgers, the only NFC quarterback with previous postseason success, tossing a pair of touchdowns and leading Green Bay to a 21-17 victory. This puts them in their second NFC championship game in the last three seasons.
Here's the game that everyone wants to see. This is the game that fate made possible, as the Houston Texans coughed up their top overall seed in the AFC, allowing the Denver Broncos to host the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game instead of the divisional round.
This game will be a toss-up, but I will take the Patriots and their offensive power. They did score 76 more points than Denver this season and they also have thrived despite the loss of both tight ends for significant periods of time.
Look for Brady and Manning to turn this game into a shootout, and yes, it will probably come down to a last-minute drive. And that's where I will take Brady over Manning. The Patriots will win 38-34 and advance to their sixth Super Bowl in the last dozen seasons.
Home-field advantage really doesn't seem to matter in the postseason anymore. The Falcons' win in the divisional round would make them just the second NFC top seed to win their first playoff game in the last five years. That's as far as I think they'll go.
The Packers have flown under the radar all season, but they're one of the more dangerous teams in the NFL. They won 11 games and would have collected 12 victories if the replacement referees didn't botch the Fail Mary game in week three. Aaron Rodgers threw 39 touchdowns against just eight interceptions despite the absence of Greg Jennings for half the season, and the talk around the league is that Rodgers had a slightly down year.
I have the Packers winning 34-28 and advancing to the Super Bowl with their second road defeat of the Falcons in the last three postseasons. The loss drops Matt Ryan's career playoff record to 1-4, which really doesn't help improve his reputation. For Rodgers, it improves his career postseason record to 7-2 (and he led his team to 45 points in one of the losses).
Here's the Super Bowl shootout that fans hoped for last season, when both the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots entered the postseason as top overall seeds.
I think New England will be favored coming into this game, thanks to their incredible offense. And I think Tom Brady will deliver his finest Super Bowl performance yet, throwing for four touchdowns against the Packers.
The Packers will still pile on the points, with a trio of touchdowns by Aaron Rodgers. But look for the Patriots to win a close one, 31-27, bringing a championship back to Belichick and New England for the first time since 2004.