NFL Playoffs: Predicting the Winners
This is one of my favorite types of articles to write. In mid-August I predicted the winners of each division and more on B/R. I nailed eight of 12 playoff teams, though the seeding was more off than a David Akers field goal attempt.
Now that the playoff seedings are finalized, we are looking forward to a good month of postseason pigskin. I'm incredibly intrigued by every single opening weekend matchup for the first time in what feels like forever.
So knowing what we know now about the playoff teams, who will be advancing to New Orleans at the end of the month? These are my official predictions for the 2012-2013 NFL playoffs. All comments, debates, and harsh assessments of my personality are welcome below.
Wild Card Weekend: NFC
(5) Seattle Seahawks at (4) Washington Redskins
This game is going to be awesome. On offense, the two teams mirror each other. In my opinion, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III are the frontrunners for Rookie of the Year, as each showed why a dual-threat quarterback can be so valuable.
On defense, the 'Hawks definitely have an advantage, but they do struggle on the road (3-5 this year). The Redskins may be the only hotter NFC team than Seattle right now, having won six straight, including a huge one against Dallas to clinch the NFC East this past weekend.
What it comes down to for me is the defensive prowess of Seattle. Sure, they struggle on the road, but they had the fourth-best D in the NFL this season, and that's the way to move on in the playoffs. Both rookie QBs will struggle a bit, but Marshawn Lynch and the defense will outclass Alfred Morris and the 'Skins front seven in a big win in D.C.
Seahawks 33 Redskins 20
(6) Minnesota Vikings at (3) Green Bay Packers
Green Bay really blew it in Minneapolis this weekend by dropping their final regular season game to division rivals and losing a first-round bye in the process. On the bright side, they get a rematch with should-be MVP Adrian Peterson and the Vikes in the playoffs this weekend.
On the brightest side, they will be playing at Lambeau Field, where the test for Minnesota will be much, much more difficult. Aaron Rodgers is always a dangerous man, but that will be magnified in this home game with redemption on his mind.
I think the Packers will still get shredded by Peterson, but Christian Ponder will struggle and the Packers will take advantage of a couple big plays in the second half to pull away for good and advance to the next round.
Packers 35 Vikings 24
Wild Card Weekend: AFC
(5) Indianapolis Colts at (4) Baltimore Ravens
As much as I like Andrew Luck, I don't know if he can handle a Ravens defense that still performs at a high level with injuries and old age creeping up. Baltimore has been in a tailspin of sorts over the last few weeks of the regular season, but can the inconsistent rookie QB rough them up?
Luck is going to be a great quarterback and has shown flashes of brilliance all year long, but I can't put my faith in him in a first-ever playoff game on the road in Baltimore against a team full of veterans who have been in this situation multiple times.
I think Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and the Ravens will do enough to hold off a good game from luck and the Colts who will fall late in the fourth quarter on a field goal that seals the deal. This should be the first of many times we see Indy in the playoffs with Luck under center, though.
Ravens 20 Colts 17
(6) Cincinnati Bengals at (3) Houston Texans
This game is similar to Indianapolis and Baltimore in that the higher-seeded team has been playing their worst football of the season recently. The Texans were the class of the AFC for most of the regular season before dropping off at the very end and losing the coveted first-round bye.
And while Gary Kubiak's team is insanely talented—aren't they always?—I do think this has the makings of a disappointing upset for Texan fans. Cincy is playing very good football right now, and I don't think they are going to cool down, even against a staunch Texans defense.
This will be a grind-em-out, hard-hitting contest that I think the Bengals ultimately win because of the play of quarterback Andy Dalton. Look for A.J. Green (and Andre Johnson on the other side) to have huge games for their teams, with the Bengals ultimately landing the final blow and advancing.
Bengals 27 Texans 24
Divisional Round: NFC
(5) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Atlanta Falcons
Beating the Redskins in Washington will give the Seahawks some big-time momentum heading into a tilt with the top seeded team in the NFC, but it's going to be a tougher challenge this time around. Matt Ryan doesn't present a running threat like Robert Griffin III, but his arm is golden.
And with receivers like Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez to throw to, even the Seahawks defense might find themselves in a tough spot. If Seattle is going to pull another upset on the road, it will be due to a couple turnovers forced by the secondary.
Unless they bring a good game plan to disrupting Ryan's rhythm, the Seahawks are going to lose in Atlanta. They are a very good, up and coming team. But you have to win at home and on the road in this league. I don't see them doing it in the playoffs two weeks in a row.
Falcons 20 Seahawks 16
(3) Green Bay Packers at (2) San Francisco 49ers
A rematch of Week 1 of the regular season, except in San Francisco this time. For 49ers fans, the first game seems like years ago, as the offense is now under the command of Colin Kaepernick, and some once-reliable veterans (David Akers, Justin Smith, etc.) are either injured or slumping.
Since starting the season poorly, the Pack has really stepped it up, and was rolling before losing last week to Minnesota. After righting the ship with a big win against those same Vikings in the Wild Card round, the Packers are going to be a much more dangerous team than the first time these two met.
I hate going against conventional fandom, but objectivity is the name of the game in journalism, and I truly believe the Kaepernick-led Niners aren't consistent enough to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, even at Candlestick Park. I think a close game is sealed when the San Francisco offense turns the ball over on the final drive.
Packers 31 49ers 27
Divisional Round: AFC
(6) Cincinnati Bengals at (1) Denver Broncos
Hey, remember when Peyton Manning was a risky signing because of his neck injury two seasons ago? And how he wasn't going to be the same old Manning from before? Oops. He might even be better than before, and he has the Broncos on absolute fire, ready to blaze a trail to the Super Bowl.
The red-hot Bengals will stand in their way, and unless something goes very wrong, I fully expect the football gods to smite Cincinnati in this round. Manning will pick apart the defense—as he does to any defense—and the banged-up running game of the Broncos will do just well enough.
I've been impressed with the Bengals fight this year and think they are really on to something. Give them a good draft this year, and they may be very scary next year. For now, though, it's a second-round exit for Dalton and company.
Broncos 41 Bengals 26
(4) Baltimore Ravens at (2) New England Patriots
I think beating Indianapolis in the first round will give this Ravens team a big boost in Foxborough. Not enough to topple Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, mind you. Just enough to make it a dangerously close game for the Pats.
Baltimore is going to put up some points in this game, led by one of those where-did-that-come-from types of games from Flacco. But even at his best, Flacco is a mere mortal compared to Brady. He will connect with Wes Welker late in the game for a go-ahead touchdown that spoils the Ravens' hopes.
The Patriots should advance to yet another AFC Championship game, but things could really go wrong if they fail to get Stevan Ridley going against a good Baltimore defense. If they rely on the passing game too much, they could become victims of an opportunistic Ravens secondary.
Patriots 34 Ravens 31
Championship Round: NFC
(3) Green Bay Packers at (1) Atlanta Falcons
This is Matt Ryan's big moment to finally make his mark on the elite QB conversation. He will have finally won that first playoff game against Seattle the week before, but the Packers are a whole different beast. Sure, he'll have an easier time scoring on their defense, but can he out-gun Aaron Rodgers?
My gut says no. Good thing I never listen to my gut (unless it's a toss-up between pizza and brussels sprouts). My brain says that yes, the Falcons will find a way to win this game and become quite possibly the flimsiest No. 1 seed to earn a Super Bowl berth in recent memory.
The Packers are going to pour the points on, but I think Ryan will connect with one of his big wide outs on a deep ball behind that Green Bay secondary in the fourth quarter to take a lead into the final minutes of the game. One furious Rodgers rally later, the Falcons will be heading to New Orleans.
Falcons 44 Packers 42
Championship Round: AFC
(2) New England Patriots at (1) Denver Broncos
Do you smell that? It's the odor of ESPN already getting funky over the possibility of an epic Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rematch. I can't say I blame them. This game should be one for the ages, and who doesn't enjoy the two best quarterbacks in football squaring off with the Super Bowl on the line?
Brady and Manning both are leading great offenses with average running games into this contest, but two things are in Denver's favor: First, they have a better overall defense (though the Patriots D has been playing very well of late). And it's at Mile High Stadium.
You can play in the icy conditions of Foxborough all you want, but getting used to that thin air in Denver is something else entirely. The Broncos will have that distinct home-field advantage and a better ability to disrupt Brady with their defense. Manning will be returning to the Super Bowl, continuing his Comeback Player of the Year campaign.
Broncos 33 Patriots 27
NFC No. 1 Atlanta Falcons vs. AFC No. 1 Denver Broncos
I know, I know. How boring—both No. 1 seeds squaring off in the Super Bowl? Well folks, they are ranked that highly for a reason. It's a story of two great offenses trading punches for the Lombardi Trophy, and it's going to be a good one.
This is a bad time for Ryan's playoff inexperience to haunt him, but I truly think it will. Manning has been here before, and just has the Broncos offense in an unstoppable rhythm right now. For all the good that Ryan and other great QBs can do, Manning does even more at the line than they can imagine.
At the end of the day, I foresee the Broncos taking a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter and grinding out the win, sealing it on a long scoring drive that wears down the Falcons defense. Manning will get his second ring and the saga of his comeback will be completed in a perfect fashion.
Broncos 30 Falcons 23