AFC Playoff Picture: How The Road to Super Bowl XLV Will Play Out
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For the majority of the last decade, the AFC Champion has ended up with a larger trophy than the Lamar Hunt trophy at the end of the year. Between the Patriots' three Lombardis, the Steelers' two and the Colts, the AFC has had the best teams in football.
Not saying that teams like the Falcons, Packers or Eagles would even compete—this year's Super Bowl could be the best in a very long time—the AFC seems to have the better teams, which will result in better playoffs.
Here is my opinion as to how the AFC Playoff field is going to sit, and how everything is going to shake out come January.
No.1 Seed: New England Patriots
Since man-handeling the New York Jets on Monday Night Football, the New England Patriots seem to have a lock on the AFC's top spot. In order for the Jets to overtake the Patriots, they are going to have to finish with two more wins than the Patriots in the last four games.
That would mean that the Patriots would have to finish the final four games no better than 2-2, and honestly, does anyone see that happening?
The same situation would have to apply for the Steelers to overtake the Patriots for the top seed, or if the Ravens would win the AFC North, then the Patriots would have to finish no better than 1-3, and the only way that is going to happen is if Tom Brady is injured.
My prediction is that the Patriots finish the season with a 3-1 record and the AFC's top seed, earning a first-round bye.
No. 2 Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers
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Similar to the Patriots, by defeating the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night, the Steelers have essentially a two-game lead over the Ravens, based on the Ravens and Steelers splitting their season series, and the Ravens having lost to the Cincinnati Bengals earlier in the year.
The Ravens could pass the Steelers, but their remaining schedules favor the Steelers over the Ravens. As long as the Steelers defeat the Bengals and Browns, then they would only have to defeat either the Jets or Panthers in order to secure the AFC North, and that is if the Ravens finish the season 4-0.
Having lost to the Steelers, the Ravens are now playing for the Wild Card rather than home field advantage.
The Steelers will finish the regular season with a 4-0 mark and take the AFC's second seed, while earning a first-round bye week.
No. 3 Seed: Kansas City Chiefs
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Prior to the beginning of the 2010 season, no one thought that the Chiefs would have a chance to make it to the playoffs. But, on any given Sunday, the Chiefs have become a different team.
With the coordinator combination of Weis and Crennel, the Chiefs of today are starting to resemble the Patriots of the past. They are playing smart football and will earn a home playoff game, while knocking the Chargers from the playoffs.
No. 4 Seed: Jacksonville Jaguars
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As shocking as it is to not have the Indianapolis Colts winning the AFC South, they just don't seem to have what it takes this year. Call it injuries, Manning losing a step or just dumb luck, the Colts are not going to be playing any home games (if any games at all) in the postseason.
But this is not about the Colts. It is about the AFC South Champions, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Prior to the start of the season, everyone, including myself, said it was only a matter of time before Head Coach Jack Del Rio was fired. Some people, me included, said he would be better served by becoming the Head Coach of the USC Trojans.
Turns out, we (me included) were wrong. The Jacksonville Jaguars have taken a HUGE step, and will earn the AFC's No. 4 seed.
No. 5 Seed: New York Jets
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We have heard a lot out of New York about this year being Super Bowl or bust, or that they are the best team in the NFL, or that, well, if I were to name it all, then this page would be longer than Yongle Dadian.
If the Jets are going to make it to the Super Bowl, they are going to have to do it from the road. Not saying that they have no chance, but to make it to the Super Bowl, having to win three games on the road is not an easy task.
Can the Jets do it? You are going to have to read on to find out.
No. 6 Seed: Baltimore Ravens
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Currently, the Baltimore Ravens hold a two-game advantage over the Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders. In order for any of those teams to pass the Ravens, the Ravens would have to lose AT LEAST three games, while the other teams would each have to win out.
The Colts, Chargers and Raiders all have more than two losses in their respective divisions, which gives the Ravens the tiebreaker over each of them.
The Ravens were a Joe Flacco fumble away from all but locking up the AFC North Crown against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Had they won that game, it would have given them a one-game lead over the Steelers plus the head-to-head tiebreaker with a sweep of the season series.
Not looking to the past though, the Ravens, like the Jets, will have to win on the road if they hope to play in the Super Bowl.
On the Outside Looking In
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As shocking as it is, the Colts and Chargers are going to need TONS of help if they want to be able to make the Playoffs in 2010.
The law of averages has finally caught up to the Colts. The last time they won less than 10 games was Peyton Manning's rookie season. Now, they are a .500 team and are going to need a minor miracle to make the playoffs.
The Chargers, who normally start the season slow, only to turn it on in the second half of the year, turned it on a little too late, and now trail the Chiefs for the division.
The Colts and Chargers both still have a chance to make it to the playoffs. Their best chance is to win their respective divisions, rather than fight for a Wild Card spot. The Ravens and Jets have simply played too well this season, and the Colts and Bolts dug themselves too big of a hole.
I am not saying that they CAN'T, I am simply saying they won't.
Wild Card Game 1
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Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The Ravens will start their quest for the Super Bowl in Kansas City. The Chiefs have had a Cinderella type of season, but the clock will strike midnight for them when they play the Ravens.
The Chiefs have come a long way this season, but they do not have the offensive fire power to keep up with the Ravens, or the defensive gusto to keep the score low enough to have a chance.
Wild Card Game 2
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New York Jets vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have done what no one thought they could. They took the AFC South Crown from the Indianapolis Colts and earned a home playoff game.
The bad news is, they are going to have to play the Jets.
The Jets have a TON of weapons on both sides of the ball, and they are going to be a little too much for the upstart Jaguars.
New York Jets—27
Divisional Round Game 1
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Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
As great as the Patriots have been, I believe they have peaked a little too early. They will hold the top seed in the AFC playoff field, and because of that, they will host the lowest seed to enter the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, that is the Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots have done what not too many people expected them to do. They have an extremely young team, which means they have little to no playoff experience. Ask anyone that has ever played in the NFL, and they will tell you that come playoff time, experience means the world.
The Ravens are a very experienced team, and come playoff time, they know exactly what to expect.
For those of you that say the Patriots already beat the Ravens once this year, you are right. But, the Pats defeated the Ravens last year in the regular season but still lost to them in the playoffs, IN New England.
New England Patriots—13
Divisional Round Game 2
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New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Jets will make their second trip to the Steel City in a month. This time, instead of the regular season, the Jets will be playing for their playoff lives against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This game features two very similar teams. Both with great defenses, great young QBs and a host of talent.
Which team is going to pull this one out? It is hard to beat the Steelers in a divisional round of the playoffs and even harder to do so when they are coming off a bye week.
Mark Sanchez is going to get a lot of looks when they play the Steelers in Week 15, but nothing like he is going to get when it comes to the playoffs.
The Steelers are going to simply be too tough of a team to beat in Pittsburgh, and the Jets' season is going to be ruined by the Black and Gold.
New York Jets—21
AFC Championship Game
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Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Round 3 of the AFC North battle will take place at Heinz Field, when the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.
The Steelers and Ravens split their season series, with both away teams winning. The playoffs will be different because the Steelers will be playing with Ben Roethlisberger instead of Dennis Dixon.
Though the Ravens and Steelers are sure to have a slug fest that only a defensive-minded fan will be able to appreciate, this one is going to be like every other time these two teams have faced each other—hard hits, lots of injuries, a boatload of personal fouls and a few fights between the teams.
Both teams have a defense that is one of the best in the NFL. They have great receivers and strong running games (against everyone but each other).
This game is going to come down to which QB plays better.
Will it be Joe Flacco? Flacco (3-2 playoff record) has shown that he is a quality signal caller. He is the best QB the Ravens have ever had. But, every time he plays the Steelers, the long-haired Samoan, Troy Polamalu does SOMETHING that ruins the game for Joe Cool.
Ben Roethlisberger, simply put, knows how to win. He is a big game QB that plays his best ball when the season is on the line (8-2 playoff record, 2-0 Super Bowl record). When he plays the Ravens, he almost always finds a way to stick the dagger in their heart when there is little time left on the clock.
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Prior the the beginning of the NFL season, most people that are not Steelers fans said that the Steelers had no chance to make the playoffs. It was believed that the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger would be too much for the Black and Gold to overcome.
The Steelers have proved the doubters wrong and could be on their way to their eighth Super Bowl.
Who are the Steelers going to play? I made that prediction last offseason, and instead of telling you, you can check it out for yourself right here.
If you take the time to read the entire article, not only will you find out who the Steelers will be playing in the Super Bowl, but you will find out the winner as well.
For those of you that don't want to read it, allow me to say this. In the article, I have the four teams with the best chance of making it to the Super Bowl as the Steelers, Patriots, Packers and Giants. I was pretty close at that, if I do say so myself.