Since I wrote each NFL division predictions, there have been a few major transactions. First, the Saints acquired Jeremy Shockey, which helps bolster my confidence in the New Orleans pick.
Second, Jason Taylor became a Redskin. While he does make the defense better, I don’t expect a big improvement from my 7-9 prediction, due to the questions I have on offense. The final move is Brett Favre being reinstated by the Packers and traded to the Jets for a conditional fourth-round pick.
The bottom line is that it would be foolish to project the Jets as a playoff team at this point. Favre is 38-years old going on 39. He is late getting into camp. He needs to learn a new offensive system.
I believe this will work out and he will make the Jets a better team. Still, they have about a 1 percent chance of overtaking the Patriots in that division. The Jets will be competing for a wild-card spot, most likely the No. 6 seed.
Jacksonville and Indy are both better than the Jets and one of those teams will be the No. 5 seed.
Favre is an exciting signing, but whether that allows them to beat out the Browns, Broncos, and Titans for the final wild card is another story.
Therefore, I am just doing my predictions as I did this summer, with the acknowledgement that the Jets could scare some people of this media circus and could be nothing more than preseason excitement that will not yield any meaningful advancement in the standings.
I have already released my eight NFL Division Previews. If you missed any of them, the links are as follows:
These are the teams I had making the 2008 NFL Playoffs:
AFC Playoff Teams
1) Jacksonville Jaguars 13-3
2) New England Patriots 13-3
3) San Diego Chargers 12-4
4) Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5
5) Indianapolis Colts 12-4
6) Cleveland Browns 10-6
NFC Playoff Teams
1) Dallas Cowboys 12-4
2) Minnesota Vikings 11-5
3) New Orleans Saints 10-6
4) Arizona Cardinals 9-7
5) Philadelphia Eagles 10-6
6) New York Giants 9-7
Here is how I see the playoffs going based on where the 32 teams in the NFL stand at this moment.
AFC Wild Card Round
Cleveland Browns (10-6) at San Diego Chargers (12-4)
I would expect this one to be a lopsided game. The Browns have a great offense, but Derek Anderson didn’t always take care of the ball in 2007. While the Browns will be improved at stopping the run with Williams and Rodgers on the defensive line, they won’t be good enough to stop LaDainian Tomlinson.
I think the big-play defense of the Chargers and a healthy Tomlinson put up a bunch of points on the Browns, who will be making their first playoff appearance since 1994.
Score: San Diego Chargers 35–Cleveland Browns 17
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
This would be a very interesting matchup. It was a classic back in the 2005 playoffs. Both quarterbacks have won Super Bowls. The Steelers were the champions in 2005. The Colts brought home the trophy in 2006. My concern about picking the Colts is that they usually stop playing their best football once the calendar turns to January.
The Steelers having this game at home will be a huge advantage, although they lost at home playoff game last year to the Jags. The Colts actually seem to do worse in the playoffs at home in recent years, having lost there in the divisional round in both 2005 and 2007.
The key is going to be which team can establish the running game and which quarterback will make the fewest mistakes. I would expect a very tough game going down to the wire with the Colts winning it at the end.
Score: Indianapolis Colts 28–Pittsburgh Steelers 24
NFC Wild Card Round
New York Giants (9-7) at New Orleans Saints (10-6)
The NY Giants will begin their title defense in the Big Easy. The Saints will look to win their first playoff game since they made the run to the NFC Championship Game in 2006.
I think the NY Giants will try to do the same things they did last postseason. They will try to run the ball, put pressure on the quarterback, and avoid the big turnover. I think the difference will be that the Saints have just enough firepower on offense to make up for the deficiencies they have on defense.
The Giants lost a lot of defenders this offseason, most notably future Hall of Famer Michael Strahan. Shockey gets his revenge against the Giants as the Saints win a close one.
Score: New Orleans Saints 27–New York Giants 21
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) at Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
I would also expect this to be a lopsided game. The Cardinals will be making their first playoff appearance since Jake Plummer led the Cardinals to the Divisional Round back in 1998.
While they are able to pass the ball, the Eagles have set up well to stop the pass with Asante Samuel, Brown, and Lito Shepherd. The Cardinals have no answer for Brian Westbrook, and Donovan McNabb will play a good game as well. Eagles win big.
Score: Philadelphia Eagles 38–Arizona Cardinals 20
AFC Divisional Round
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (13-3)
If this matchup came to life, what a treat this would be. The physical smash-mouth style of the Jaguars collides with the high-scoring air attack of the Colts. Divisional matchups in the playoffs are always intriguing.
The Jaguars usually play the Colts tough, and I would expect that the Jaguars could run the ball effectively against the smaller front of the Colts. The difference for the Jags is that, with the addition of Harvey and Graves, they will be able to put enough extra pressure on Manning to win a close game in Jacksonville.
Score: Jacksonville Jaguars 24–Indianapolis Colts 21
San Diego Chargers (12-4) at New England Patriots (13-3)
We’ve seen this matchup each of the last two years. Is this the year the Chargers can finally beat New England in the playoffs? I think the Chargers would have had a great chance to beat the Patriots last year had Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, and Philip Rivers all been healthy.
They put enough pressure on Tom Brady to disrupt the passing game, but just weren’t able to convert in the red zone on offense. Settling for four field goals in a playoff game is a recipe for disaster.
The Patriots are rebuilding their defense this season. Patriot fans will say that Brady never loses home playoff games, but then again, he never lost Super Bowls until last season. Still, I think the Patriots will find a way to do what they do best, win a close playoff game in the fourth quarter.
Score: New England Patriots 28–San Diego Chargers 21
NFC Divisional Round
New Orleans Saints (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
The Dallas Cowboys will have waited a year to atone for their home playoff loss to the New York Giants in 2007. This will be a good opponent for the Cowboys. A defense that Romo can look to put up some numbers against and build some confidence.
Both offenses will be able to move the ball. The Cowboys don’t have a perfect defense, but they will be able to make enough plays with their solid pass rush to stop Brees and the Saints. I look for the Cowboys to win a high-scoring game.
Score: Dallas Cowboys 42-New Orleans Saints 28
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) at Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
This is where Minnesota will regret having Jackson. While he is still developing, he just doesn’t make enough plays to win playoff games when the defenses get better and the yards get tougher to come by.
The Eagles have more than enough secondary help to put eight in the box and concentrate against Peterson and Taylor. While Westbrook will find rushing yards hard to come by, he still could score a couple big plays in the passing games. Eagles in a low-scoring affair.
Score: Philadelphia Eagles 20–Minnesota Vikings 10
New England Patriots (13-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (13-3)
Jacksonville is the team I am picking to come out of the AFC. People still think of Jacksonville as this low-scoring team that can’t put up enough points against the big offenses in the AFC.
Jacksonville scored 411 points, which ranked sixth in the NFL. That was despite David Garrard missing four games with an injury. They finished the season winning six of their last eight games and scored 32 points per game.
Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor are arguably the best running duo in the NFL not in Minnesota, and Garrard really came on in the second half of the season.
The Patriots averaged 32.3 in their last eight games, which compares favorably to the Jaguars. While people remember the 2007 Patriots as this 40.0-point per game juggernaut, the Patriots offense did not play at that level on a consistent basis after the first eight games.
The Jaguars had enough offensive talent to compete with the Patriots in the playoffs last year. The biggest difference was that the Jaguars didn’t have enough receiver speed to exploit the Patriots' secondary, and they didn’t have enough pass rushers to get to Brady.
They tried to address that by adding Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson. Porter is expected to miss training camp, but should be ready for the opener. Harvey and Graves will give the Jaguars players that can get to the quarterback.
The Jaguars have been knocking at the door the last few seasons. Last season was big in that they won a playoff game and should be more comfortable and experienced come playoff time.
Outside the Patriots, the Jaguars played as well as anyone the second half of the season last year. I believe that carries over to this season. This is the year the Jags represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Score: Jacksonville Jaguars 34–New England Patriots 27
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
I really didn’t know what direction to go in the NFC. It seems like the NFC is up for grabs every year. No one would have predicted the NY Giants to win the Super Bowl in the preseason, and the ones that did should have abandoned the bandwagon after Week Two.
Yet they not only made the playoffs, but also won three road playoff games and a neutral Super Bowl to capture the Lombardi Trophy.
There are a number of ways you could go with this.
You could pick the Vikings to win it behind a 2,000-yard season by Peterson. You could pick the Saints to rebound with a more consistent offensive approach and a better defense that features Vilma, Ellis, Gay, and McCray.
You could go with the NY Giants to defend their crown. Some expect Seattle to make a final push with Holmgren, although I didn’t have them even making the playoffs.
Here is why I went with these two teams.
Brian Westbrook is 29-years old. Running backs tend to go downhill at 30-years old. This is getting to be his final run as a featured offensive weapon. McNabb is 31 going on 32, and given his health issues, he probably won’t be a 38-year old superstar.
His last years are approaching. Jackson may have been the pick that gives them a breakthrough special-teams player. The defense was very solid in 2007, and Samuel will make them that much tougher.
Reid has a lot to prove after the drama he went through in 2007. The Eagles should be a hungry team in 2008.
This team has a wealth of playoff experience. When that many quality people have something at stake, and not many more years to get over the hump, they usually come through. I thought the Eagles would miss the playoffs, with McNabb needing a year to recover from ACL surgery. I expect them to make another run through the NFC in 2008.
On to the Cowboys.
People will say that Romo is Mr. September. That Terrell Owens and team owner Jerry Jones are an explosion waiting to happen in the locker room. That coach Wade Phillips has a 0-4-playoff record. That the Cowboys last won a playoff game back in 1996.
While criticism is warranted, I think some of that criticism is excessive.
Prior to Dallas, Phillips had last been a head coach for a full season in 2000. He had lost all three playoff games on the road. One of those was the Music City Miracle. Romo has a 0-2-playoff record.
Bradshaw was 1-2 to start the playoffs, with his sole win being the Immaculate Reception. Peyton Manning went 0-3 before winning his first playoff game, including a 41-0 spanking by the Jets. Eli Manning was 0-2 in the playoffs before his Super Bowl run. Two playoff games are not enough to earn a title of Mr. September.
The Cowboys had a disappointing end to the season, and I’m not sure what to think of them. I do think that Romo and Phillips handled the bye week poorly, prior to the NY Giants game.
That said I think that failure could make them stronger. Still, when you hear stories about Jessica sending Romo “pictures” of her that are just waiting to be leaked to the paparazzi, you have to wonder what circus awaits Dallas in 2008.
The Cowboys have the most individual talent in the NFC in 2008. If they can find a way to gel that, they should be playing in February. If they can’t, they are very beatable and could make for another interesting January in the NFC.
This game has all the storylines. NFC East rivalry. T.O. vs. McNabb. Romo and Jessica. I wasn’t sure who to pick to represent the NFC, and I’ve always believed that when in doubt, go with the most talented team.
That is clearly the Cowboys. I look for the Cowboys to advance to their first Super Bowl since 1995, behind the strength of their offense and a defense that will put enough pressure on the Eagles to put them over the top.
Score: Dallas Cowboys 31–Philadelphia Eagles 20
Dallas Cowboys vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
This will be the ultimate test for the Jaguars. The Cowboys have speed on both sides of the ball. They can score points in bunches and put pressure on the quarterback.
The reason I like the Jaguars is that they have the ability to run the ball and control the clock with their defense. They don’t have the sexiest names on offense. Neither did the Giants in 2007.
I think they have a great coach in Jack Del Rio. The running game is very versatile. They have a defense that can force turnovers and stop the run. Finally, they added some pass rushers to help put pressure on Brady and Manning.
That will help them against Romo. He didn’t handle that very well at times last season and is prone to interceptions. That is never good in a Super Bowl.
While I think Dallas has a great team, I don’t think they do the little things. They don’t pay attention to the small details, and they tend to make too many mistakes. I’m not ready to bet on Tony Romo as a Super Bowl champion. I look for the defensive-minded Jags to bring home the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy.
Score: Jacksonville Jaguars 30-Dallas Cowboys 21
What is your Super Bowl prediction in 2008? Do you like one of the early favorites like the Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, or Patriots? Do you like the Giants to repeat? Do you have a dark horse that nobody is talking about? Let me know your thoughts.