Get your popcorn ready.
Better yet, get your comments ready, because here comes the big one:
Green Bay will face San Diego in the Super Bowl.
Bold prediction you might say. Call me a fool will you? Even say I am crazy perhaps?
Go ahead. What is the fun in making a prediction if you know what is going to happen?
I can not name a single team that is locked for the playoffs that does not have a great chance to reach the Super Bowl. I also can not name a single team that is a lock for the Super Bowl. So if everyone is eligible, why not these two?
I will explain why both should finish atop their collective conferences. I look forward to any type of reception I get.
San Diego is arguably the hottest team in the AFC. They are playing as well or better than any other team in the league, and with Indy suffering their first loss, there is no longer an “invincible” label on any team.
Phillip Rivers is a touchdown machine, rarely turns it over, and can make any throw at any time. He also gets great protection regardless of which lineman is hurt during a given week. If not for Brees and Manning having stellar years, Rivers would probably be the unanimous MVP.
Rivers is complimented by a slew of talented receivers, including two giants among secondaries. Vincent Jackson (6’5”) and Antonio Gates (6’4”) provide matchup nightmares for any defense, and if you put too many defenders on them, Legedu Naanee and Malcom Floyd will eat the single coverage up all day long.
Running backs LaDanian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, and Jacob Hester can hit the home run on any play. All three are capable of running the ball as well as being excellent receivers out of the backfield.
Match that red-hot offense with a stalwart defense featuring Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips, Larry English, Antonio Cromartie, and Quentin Jammer, and you have a recipe for disaster.
This front seven will eat your QB alive, and if he somehow gets the ball away, this aggressive and opportunistic secondary is ready to pick it off and run it back at any given moment.
The Chargers are averaging 29 points and 360 yards of offense per game. Their defense is allowing 20 points and 326 yards. The Chargers are scoring nine more points and accumulating 30 yards more their opponents.
So we know why they are good football team. Why will they beat their opposition en route to the Super Bowl?
I believe their best competition will come from the Colts, Pats, and Bengals.
Here is why I believe each team to be inferior to the Chargers:
I liked the Colts chances if they went 16-0, or at least lost while their starters were playing. Now they have two monkeys on their back. This year’s version of the Colts will not have the chance to prove they know how to rebound from a loss that matters, and they will have to deal with the “Super Bowl or bust” label they branded themselves with when they passed on perfection. I sense a massive collapse brewing in Indy.
Peyton Manning is playing inspired football, but he has not had to go head to head with a team as talented as San Diego in 2009. They are short handed and will have to deal with their first dose of adversity in the playoffs. Sounds like a one-and-done kind of scenario to me.
They are 0-2 against the Chargers in the last two playoff games.
New England is not the smash mouth team they once were, and have not shown they can play with the big boys this season. Their biggest matchups of the season against the Broncos, Colts, and Saints were all losses. The losses to the Jets and Broncos may help them get fired up for whichever team they face in the wild-card round, but I do not see them getting past the divisional round.
They are 2-0 in recent matchups against the Chargers in the playoffs, but those were different teams and different times.
They have had to deal with just about every physical and emotional problem that can hamper a team, and it has not slowed them down. They have talent on each side of the ball and the veterans on this team are hungry for a title.
The difference is that Carson Palmer seems to wait until the game is getting too high pressure before he will start taking over. This will be a “too little too late” problem if he does this against the Chargers. San Diego has the athletic corners to cover OchoCinco, Caldwell, and Coles, as well as the front seven can contain Cedric Benson.
The Bengals lost a 27-24 thriller to San Diego in week 15. This game was supposed to be a tribute to the recent death of receiver Chris Henry. If they can’t win during an emotional regular season game that helped lock the Chargers into the No. 2 seed, I do not think they will beat the Chargers when everything is on the line for both teams.
The Chargers seem to be the team to beat in the AFC, even though they own the second best record. This team is battle tested and hungry. The Colts and Pats already have won trophies this decade, so they will not be able to match the Chargers desire. The Bengals just don’t seem to know how to play an entire game anymore. You cannot always play so-so for three quarters and then win in the waning moments of the fourth.
Even if this conference is supposedly the inferior one, each of the six teams already locked in are riddled with talented veterans. There really isn’t one team that stands out as the clear juggernaut, but there are a couple that have been red-hot lately. It is just my humble opinion that the Packers will prevail. Here is why:
Green Bay boasts one of the best offenses in the league. They are averaging 28 points and 380 yards per game (both totals rank fourth in the league). They have failed to break 20 points just once (a 17-7 victory over Dallas). They gave up way too many sacks in the first half of the year, but have made the necessary adjustments and are currently winners of six of their last seven contests.
This offense can do it all. Aaron Rodgers has shown he can make every kind of throw, and is deceptively mobile. He has thrown for more than 4,000 yards for the second straight year, and leads all active QB’s in rushing yards. His 29 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions proves he can score at will and take care of the football at the same time.
The offensive line has improved since re-signing veteran right tackle Mark Taucscher, and the running game has been resurgent as a result. Ryan Grant, Ahman Green, and Brandon Jackson are all capable of running up the gut or catching passes out of the backfield, and are averaging a combined 118 yards per game.
If you are looking for a depleted receiving corps, look elsewhere. Green Bay has one of the deepest and most talented group of wideouts. Starters Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are both deep threats who can also make tough catches over the middle. Backups James Jones and Jordy Nelson have become proven targets against the league’s best secondaries, as they usually enjoy single coverage while defenses game-plan around Driver and Jennings.
Second year tight end Jermichael Finley is a matchup nightmare, as he is faster than most linebackers, and is far taller than most safeties. His size and soft hands make him a great target at any point on the field, but he is deadly in the red-zone. Backups Spencer Havner and Donald Lee are both capable, but both lack the big play ability Finley brings to the table.
Green Bay’s defense ranks first in the NFC, and second in the NFL. They are allowing a league low 85 rushing yards per game, and just 205 yards passing. Opposing offenses have averaged just 19 points per game, which ranks ninth in the NFL.
Let me clear this up:
Green Bay is averaging 28 points and 380 yards while their defense is holding opponents to just 19 points and 290 yards. A differential of 9 points and 90 yards is a very healthy number. Green Bay also ranks first in turnover differential with +22.
The defense is lead by all-pro all-everything captain Charles Woodson. This guy can cover like Deion, pass rush like Strahan, and tackle like Lambert. His aggressive playing style has catalyzed the 3-4 scheme, and led to many opportunities for some otherwise unsung heroes.
The front seven is ferocious. Linemen Cullen Jenkins, BJ Raji, and Johnny Jolly are quickly emerging as one of the best lines in football. All have immense pass rushing abilities, and are quick to stop the run as well. Linebackers Clay Matthews, Nick Barnett, AJ Hawk, Brandon Chillar, and Brad Jones are becoming a fearsome group. All of them have immense run and pass coverage abilities, and can beat the stuffing out of a QB.
The secondary is loaded as well.
Previously mentioned Charles Woodson is having another pro-bowl year, as is safety Nick Collins. They are joined by journeyman Tramon Williams and Atari Bigby. All four can lay out a receiver just as easy as picking off the pass. The loss of all-pro Al Harris stung at first, but Williams has done a standup job filling his cleats.
Coordinator Dom Capers has done a phenomenal job transitioning the team into the new scheme, and they are getting hot just when it really counts. Other than a five-hundred yard passing nightmare courtesy of Pittsburgh, this defense has been playing lights out since mid-season.
So why is this the best team in the conference? It is not because Green Bay is simply superior. It is because each of their opponents are fatally flawed.
The Saints have proven over the past couple of weeks that they have severe weaknesses. Shut down the run and cover 2 deep, and suddenly the offense looks incomplete. Drew Brees is turning the ball over way too much, and the running backs are all backups at best.
The talented group of wideouts is suddenly inconsistent, since only Meachum seems to get open on a frequent basis. Losses to Dallas and Tampa Bay, coupled with dangerously close calls against Atlanta and Washington have to be recognized as troubling.
The offense has been held to 17 points in the each of the last two games, and both were losses. The defense has become a cause for concern as well as they are just not shutting down opponents the way they were up until midseason.
This team has no proven track record in the postseason, and until they prove us all otherwise, I see no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially with their recent decline on both sides of the ball. They will most likely rest their starters in week 17 and enter the playoffs cold, rusty, and still wondering how tough they are.
The recent problems between Favre and Childress could not have come with worse timing. The locker room is a divided mess, Adrian Peterson can't seem to gain more than three yards per carry, and the offensive line, once a mainstay, is falling apart.
Oh, and the secondary just got burned for fourtouchdowns by Jay Cutler. Things look bleak indeed.
Jared Allen has been non-existent recently, EJ Hendersen is gone for the year, and all-pro cover man Antoine Winfield’s age may have finally caught up with him. The only one you can count on right now is old man winter himself, Brett Favre. I do not like their chances if Favre has to deal with the pressure of carrying the team in a win or go home situation. (hint: they are 1-3 in the last 4 contests, all were must win games for playoff seeding…)
This team has little to no recent playoff success, and unless they make some quick fixes, this ship will sink fast. If they face Dallas or Philly in the wild card, look out for a fast exit.
The offense can score at will, and the defense is full of talented playmakers that love to eat a QB alive. That being said, all is not well.
Brian Westbrook is playing here and there while recovering from a pair of concussions. No one knows how much if any playing time he will see this postseason. An already injury riddled offensive line just lost their star center.
LeSean McCoy is a fair impression of Brian Westbrook, but I do not want a rookie RB in the playoffs determining my offensive output?
DeSean Jackson really struggled against Champ Bailey, and each of the teams Philly will face in the playoffs have at least one great cover corner.
Philly as a team gave up a lot of plays and points to a so-so Denver team last week, and will face a tough must win game against Dallas on Sunday. They very nearly let San Francisco back into what should have been a blow out win two weeks ago. They allowed massive amounts of offense to the Giants three weeks ago, and came out alive due more to New York’s depleted secondary rather than a great offensive scheme.
Long story short, this is another team that has yet to prove they can win consistently when it matter most. This week will be their biggest test, and how they fare should be an image of what is to come.
The Cowboys have been way too inconsistent to predict correctly, but I will do my best. As they currently stand, they are capable of a deep playoff run. The offense is finally balanced. Romo has tightened the screws and become a much more efficient field general, and Miles Austin is the real deal. As a whole, the offense can attack from any part of the field, and has the receivers to get the deep ball in play.
The defense is coming together at the right time, finally playing the way they were built to. Ware and the front seven are racking up sacks, and the secondary is playing just well enough. No one other than Ware is having a great year save for Keith Brooking, but two linebackers do not a defense make.
Cover corners Terrance Newman, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins are all well rounded players, but I want to see how they perform in a must win matchup with Philly this weekend. If they pass that test, great. If not, it could be another decade before Dallas wins a playoff game.
Special teams is a massive concern, especially when it comes time for a field goal. Nick Folk was cut and Shaun Suisham was so inconsistent that he was cut from the lowly ranks of the Redskins.
Dallas has not won a playoff game in the current decade, and until they do, I will keep predicting quick exits in the second season.
This year’s Cardinals squad is full of questions and not so many answers. Kurt Warner is playing great, unless the defense applies pressure. Beanie Wells is running great, unless the defense tackles him. Larry Fitzgerald is catching everything, unless a corner and safety cover him.
Lets face it, this offense is not the dominant well oiled machine we saw last season. Boldin and Breaston are not having the breakout performances we saw in 2008, and so defenses are loading up against Fitzgerald. Beanie Wells is an inconsistent runner in the mold of Adrian Peterson, and fumbles just like him.
The defense is unable to figure out a way to stop the run and the pass, especially the pass. They have been torched for an average of 233 yards per game, ranked 22nd in the NFL. They have allowed just 19 points per game, but only score 24 on average.
The offense has been held to 17 or fewer points four times this season, all losses.
The defense is allowing nearly 350 yards to the opposition, which will not get it done. The offense averages just 354, not nearly enough to outgain the enemy on a consistent basis.
Chalk full of talented playmakers that can't seem to bring it all together, this Arizona team is in desperate need. They entered the post-season last year on a tumble, and ended up in the Super Bowl, so I am not ruling anything out.
The difference may be that this year’s crop of teams seems a lot deeper, so look out.
It looks like the clock is about to strike midnight on this Cinderella story, turning Kurt Warner into the proverbial pumpkin.
Green Bay has had to deal with a lot of adversity this season, having to bounce back from losing both Favre Bowls as well as being the first team to drop a game to Tampa Bay. They are 6-1 since midseason, and show no signs of slowing down. Their one loss during that stretch, a one point last second disappointment against a Steelers team with their backs against the wall. It was also a non-conference game that had little meaning for the Packers.
This team is battle tested, and might be the NFC’s version of San Diego. I conclude that both will make it to the Super Bowl. If I happen to be correct, I will be happy to write a preview article showcasing which team will emerge victorious.
I would like to thank anyone who gave their time to reading this novel, and look forward to your responses. Happy Holidays to all.
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