NFL Playoffs 2013-14: 8 Bold Predictions Including Super Bowl Picks
The NFL postseason and Wild Card Weekend are just five days away now and with the league-wide offensive boom this season they could not be more exciting. In the Year of Offense, the four best quarterbacks in the league all made the postseason: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
Great defensive seasons from teams like Seattle, Carolina and Kansas City have made for some interesting bouts in the weeks to come, but with the first games right around the corner, it’s time to make some bold predictions on the playoff picture.
Will this be the year that Peyton Manning, after posting arguably the greatest regular-season numbers, finally wins another Super Bowl? Does the Legion of Boom have enough firepower to take the Lombardi Trophy back to Seattle? How the heck did the Green Bay Packers even make it in, and what does that mean for the playoff scheme?
You’re about to find out.
Philadelphia will host the NFC Championship Game
There is always a certain amount of speculation surrounding first-year starting QBs come playoff time and while it’s merited, Nick Foles is primed to answer that speculation.
The 24-year-old had a fantastic season after taking over for the injury-prone Michael Vick, throwing for 2,891 yards and 27 touchdowns against only two interceptions. One of those came in Week 15 against the Detroit Lions in the “Snow Bowl” where the weather clearly affected Foles’ throw.
Philadelphia has the easier path to the NFC Championship Game, with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina on their side of the bracket, but Foles will be given every opportunity to carry the team. Drew Brees and the Saints just aren’t the same team away from the Superdome and the Panthers inexperience will be their undoing.
LeSean McCoy finished a ridiculous season on the ground with 1,607 yards to go along with the 539 yards he gained through the air and 11 combined touchdowns. McCoy only fumbled once on the season, despite operating in rookie Head Coach Chip Kelly’s insanely fast-paced offense. More than anything else, Philadelphia understands getting hot at the right time. Foles threw for 11 touchdowns and 1,337 yards in December alone and will make the Eagles a very tough out this postseason.
The AFC West will sweep Wild Card Weekend
The Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals both had great seasons, going 11-5 and winning their divisions to ensure home field advantage during Wild Card Weekend. The AFC West will politely choose to ignore that advantage en route to wins for the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers.
While the Colts defeated the Chiefs in Week 16 23-7 in Kansas City, Andy Reid and Alex Smith will be better prepared this time around, and Jamaal Charles will show everyone why he was one of the most dynamic running backs in the league this season.
Fresh off a four-interception victory over Baltimore, Andy Dalton still compiled a respectable month of December, leading the Bengals to a 4-1 record and an AFC North title. Cincinnati defeated the Chargers 17-10 on Dec. 1 in San Diego, the last time that Philip Rivers and Co. lost a game. San Diego won its final four to get into the postseason, including impressive road wins over Kansas City and the Denver Broncos.
Ryan Matthews rushed for over 100 yards in three of his final four games after being held to just 61 yards on the ground against the Bengals. However, this game is going to come down to leadership from the QB position, and Rivers has the edge there over Dalton, who still has room to grow in that department. Knowing that a victory paves the way to playing at Mile High in Denver, a favorite venue of Rivers’, San Diego will squeak out a win and set up the game against their division rival and Peyton Manning.
Superman Cam Newton won’t be flying high
Cam Newton has matured a lot this season, both on and off the field and finally began to look like the explosive player out of Auburn who was named the AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year when he got to the NFL in 2011.
While the Panthers have had a great season en route to winning the NFC South and securing a first-round bye, their wins have been bolstered by outstanding play from its defense. While the Panthers finished the season 11-1 after dropping three of their first four, the defense didn’t play an offense as dynamic and two-dimensional as the Philadelphia Eagles, the likely opponent in the conference's divisional round.
The problem for Carolina will come largely from its quarterback position. Cam Newton at times struggled passing this season, going for over 300 yards only once, in a Week 4 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Philadelphia has the worst pass defense in the league, but Newton’s average of 190.2 yards per game and 13 interceptions doesn’t bode well.
If Philadelphia starts running up the score, don’t expect the Panthers and Newton to make a comeback. Part of the problem lies in the wide receiver corps, where Steve Smith has been manhandled this season, failing to record a single game over 69 yards receiving. Without a true No.1 receiver it’s hard to envision Newton contributing to a shootout.
Great defenses will struggle
In a year in which NFL offenses scored more points than ever before, it’s been lost that there have been some truly great defensive teams this season, most notably Seattle, Carolina and Kansas City.
The “Legion of Boom” along with the crowd in Seattle helped make the Seahawks the most dominant home team in recent memory…that is, until they lost in Week 16 to Arizona, 17-10.
In the Season of Offense, there are too many good quarterbacks in the postseason to believe that the defenses are going to continue to play well and that the games will be low scoring. The Chiefs found that out the hard way after giving up 103 points in a three-week stretch against Denver and San Diego after starting the season 9-0.
Carolina was torched by the Saints in New Orleans this season, and while they'll have home-field advantage for their first game, a likely matchup against the Eagles and their explosive, two-dimensional offense doesn't bode well.
The Seahawks haven't seen an offense as good as the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers this season. Seattle's defense won't be able to handle the running game of Eddie Lacy and James Starks while trying to keep Jordy Nelson from making one highlight-reel catch after another and Randall Cobb from reaching the end zone. Playing the San Francisco 49ers for a third time would be just as tough, as San Francisco seemingly solved their issues since the last meeting of the two teams in Seattle early in the season.
In today’s modern game, defense no longer wins championships, and after an incredible season for the league’s offenses it will be more of the same in the postseason.
Seattle won’t win a game
I’ll preface this by saying that I absolutely love Russell Wilson; he’s a competitive, solid quarterback, a good player and teammate and quite possibly a better human being.
The problem is Wilson will have a difficult time escaping his semi-final game with a win, even despite the 12th man home field advantage. Regardless of if Seattle plays Green Bay or San Francisco, the matchup isn’t going to favor the Seahawks in a shootout and either opponent is likely to run up the score. The 49ers finished the second half as the better team in the division, winning six straight including the head-to-head matchup in San Francisco, while the Seahawks lost to two of the three teams they played in the second half with records above .500 (beat NO, lost to ARI).
The Packers present a number of challenges now that Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb are healthy and displayed exactly why the pair was so lethal during the 2012-13 season in Sunday’s NFC North-clinching win against the Chicago Bears.
If the Packers win at home against the 49ers, it’s hard to trust Wilson to run up the score, even with the return of a healthy Percy Harvin, as his top performance over the final quarter of the regular season was a 206 passing yard game in a win over the Giants.
Marshawn Lynch will be able to do damage on the ground but if Seattle is losing a close game against either opponent late, Wilson will have to go to the air, where he was picked off both times on the final drive in losses to Indianapolis and San Francisco. If the 49ers prevail, they’ve limited him to just 341 yards through the air in the two meetings between the teams.
Manning and Brady will meet again
Is it bolder to say that Peyton Manning will lead his team to the AFC Championship Game this season or lose in his first game again? It’s no secret that the elder Manning has struggled in the postseason during his storied career, posting a 9-11 record that includes EIGHT one-and-done appearances.
Despite the fact that he’s had the greatest regular season ever by a quarterback, throwing for a career-high 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, none of Peyton’s accolades will mean anything if he doesn't win his second championship this season.
To be the best in the game, you've got to beat the best, and while the debate between Manning and Tom Brady will continue to rage, the latter has won their head-to-head meetings nine out of 14 times, including once earlier this season when Brady's New England Patriots won 34-31 in OT on Nov. 24.
Just like two great prize fighters, Manning and Brady will duke it out all the way to Round 15, where Peyton and the Broncos will have to hope that home-field advantage is enough to oust his rival.
A No. 1 Seed Won’t win the Super Bowl
Unfortunately for Peyton Manning, no No. 1 seed has won the Super Bowl since the 2009-2010 season when his No.1-seeded Indianapolis Colts were defeated by Drew Brees and the No.1 seed New Orleans Saints. Since that point, the only No. 1 seed to make it to the Super Bowl were the 2011 New England Patriots, where they fell for the second time in five seasons to the New York Giants.
It’s tough enough to make it to the big game, let alone win it, and while there's been some anticipation of a potential Super Bowl meeting between the high-powered Broncos passing offense and the stingy Seahawks secondary, it’s simply not going to happen.
While the Seahawks are the odds-on favorite right now to win the Super Bowl at 12-5, the Broncos are right behind them at 14-5, according to vegasinsider.com. However, the road ahead for both teams is murky and filled with matchups against potentially dangerous rivals, meaning...
The Packers and Patriots will meet in Super Bowl XLVIII
In a matchup that many fans have hungered for over the past few seasons, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady will finally square off in what will be a battle between each league’s best quarterback.
This matchup might have seemed preposterous a few weeks ago with Rodgers and Chicago's Jay Cutler sidelined and the Detroit Lions looking like the presumptive NFC North champion. But a miracle win over the Dallas Cowboys, consecutive losses from Detroit and Chicago and the return of Aaron Rodgers in the season finale have the Packers back as division champs and in the postseason for the third straight year.
While their 8-7-1 record may seem less than impressive, given that it's the worst among NFL postseason teams, the Packers went 6-2 in games that Rodgers started and completed this season including five straight. The two losses came in the first three weeks of the season, in which the Packers overprepared for the read-option against the San Francisco 49ers and lost 34-28.
In Week 3, a late-game return for a touchdown by Cincinnati's defense off a fumble by Packer rookie running back Jonathan Franklin gave the Bengals a dramatic 34-30 win.
In the eight games that he was healthy during the regular season, Rodgers’ numbers were among the league’s best: He threw for 2,509 yards, an average 313.6 per game. The return of Randall Cobb enabled the Packers to edge out the explosive Chicago Bears in a Week 17 shootout to claim the NFC North title.
The dynamic rushing duo of Eddie Lacy and James Starks makes the Packers offense two dimensional and allows Rodgers to use play-action to be even more dangerous. Despite the defensive struggles this season, there is no one better in the NFC at winning shootouts, and the Packers, reminiscent of the 2010-11 squad that won it all, will be a hungry team looking for recognition this postseason.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have had a slew of injuries on the offensive side of the ball and lost almost all of their top pass-catchers from a season ago. Despite not having stud tight end Rob Gronkowski for most of the season and losing Wes Welker, Tom Brady just keeps plugging along, leading New England to a 12-4 season and another AFC East title.
The Patriots could have been the No.1 seed and enjoyed home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if it had not been for a controversial ending in Week 11 against the Carolina Panthers, in which they lost 24-20.
Despite having their offensive weapons limited this season, there is just something about the Brady-Bill Belichick combination that allows the Pats to continuously win big games, and this season has been no exception. Already with a win over Denver under his belt and owning the head-to-head matchup against Peyton Manning, Brady will get the job done in Denver once again to send his squad back to the Super Bowl.
In the Year of Offense, it’s clear that the best teams this postseason will be the ones that employ the best quarterback, and the best two from each conference, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, will be the last two standing on Feb. 2 in East Rutherford, NJ, as the Pack and Pats fight it out for Super Bowl supremacy.