NFL Playoffs: Where Each Team Ranks and How They Will Finish

Adam WaldmanContributor IJanuary 6, 2011

NFL Playoffs: Where Each Team Ranks and How They Will Finish

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    The NFL Playoffs have finally arrived.  It’s time to separate the pretenders from the contenders.  This year, more than any other in recent memory, it feels like many of the teams are evenly matched.

    The NFC seems to be very much up for grabs.  It wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of the playoff teams represent the conference in the Super Bowl, with one glaring exception that is so obvious, it need not even be written.

    The AFC, on the other hand, seems to be split down the middle between contenders and pretenders.  This is not to say that one of the bottom three teams couldn’t get on a roll, but the road to the Super Bowl for any of them is extremely challenging.

    Which two teams will be the first to christen Jerry World on February 6, 2011 in Super Bowl XLV?

    Check out the NFL Playoff power rankings and predictions and find out!

No. 12: Seattle Seahawks

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    While it is tempting to rank the Giants and Bucs in this slot, these power rankings and predictions are limited to playoff teams, so the Seattle Seahawks get the nod here.

    The Seahawks lost five out of their final seven games, but they won the game that mattered most.  By beating the St. Louis Rams on the final day of the season, the Seahawks made league history and became the first team to ever make the playoffs with a losing record.

    Seahawks fans are up in arms that the masses don’t want to see their team in the playoffs.  It would be interesting to see how many of them would put down money on the longest of long shots (according to Las Vegas odds).

     

    PREDICTION:  The defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints travel across the country and knock the Seahawks out in the wildcard round.

No. 11: Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Chiefs were one of the surprise teams of the year.  When the Chargers shut out the Chiefs 31-0 on December 12, it looked as though they would once again win the AFC West.  However, the Chargers were unable to mount their annual surge after their customary slow start.  A shocking late season loss by the Chargers to Bengals sealed the division for Kansas City.

    The trio of Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe had an outstanding season and turned the Chiefs into a fun offense to watch.  With a coaching staff that has a ton of playoff experience, the Chiefs should be prepared for their game against the Ravens.  But it most likely won’t matter.

    The Chiefs beat only one playoff team during the regular season (the Seattle Seahawks).  However, the Ravens are a whole other species of bird.

     

    PREDICTION:  The Ravens take care of business as expected, but the Chiefs take solace in the fact that they had a remarkable season, despite losing in the wildcard round.

No 10: Philadelphia Eagles

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    Momentum is a huge factor in the NFL once you get into the playoffs, and the Eagles’ momentum is carrying them in the wrong direction.  The season finale against the Cowboys was a meaningless game, but the game against the Vikings the week before was not.

    As the season progressed, teams started game-planning much better for Michael Vick.  The Vikings punished Vick so badly that he might not have been able to start against the Cowboys last week even if the game meant something.

    Vick’s comeback story is a good one, but his production in recent weeks is far from the dominance that he showed earlier on in the year.  We don’t really know how healthy Vick will be when the Eagles take on the Packers.  If he is slowed at all, Dom Capers’ aggressive defense will have their way with him.

    The Eagles only go as far as Vick’s arm and legs can take them. 

     

    PREDICTION:  Andy Reid almost never loses an opening round playoff game.  But he did last year, and the streak continues this year as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers show why they were the team that no one wanted as the No. 6 seed.  For all of the hype that Vick created, the Eagles are one and done in the wildcard round.

No. 9: New York Jets

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    The Jets were the glamour pick to make it to the Super Bowl before the season based on last year’s playoff performance.  However, they never lived up to the lofty expectations that Rex Ryan boasted about on a regular basis.

    Aside from an important victory over the Steelers in Pittsburgh, the Jets come into the playoffs stumbling.  They were blown out by the Patriots 45-3 and then held to two field goals in a home loss to Miami the following week.

    The Jets grab the media attention, but often times for the wrong reasons.  If the playoffs were about in-your-face boasting and foot fetish videos, the Jets would have already been crowned champions.  But since that is not the case, it doesn’t end well for the not-ready-for-primetime players of Hard Knocks.

    PREDICTION:  The Jets’ season once again ends at the hands of Peyton Manning in the wildcard round.

No. 8: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

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    During a brutal three-game stretch around Thanksgiving, it started to look like the Colts playoff streak would come to a screeching halt.  In those three losses, it looked like Eli Manning had stolen Peyton’s uniform and suited up for Indianapolis, as he threw 11 interceptions, 4 of which were returned for touchdowns.

    Peyton righted the ship and lead the Colts to victory in the final 4 games of the season with 9 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions.

    There is no reason to think that Peyton’s hot hand is going to cool down when he faces the Jets at home.

     

    PREDICTION:  After beating the Jets, the lack of a running game will hurt the Colts as they travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.  There will be no return trip to the Super Bowl for Indianapolis after they fall to the Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs.

No. 7: CHICAGO BEARS

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    The Bears managed to win 11 games and secure a first-round bye.  And yet, for some reason, their bandwagon has plenty of empty seats to go around. 

    Until last week’s meaningless game against the Packers, the Bears were lighting up the scoreboard the way that you would expect a Mike Martz offense to do.  Their defense plays tough, and Devin Hester is simply amazing whenever he touches the ball on special teams. 

    It wouldn’t be a big surprise if they got on a roll and ended up in the Super Bowl.

     

    PREDICTION:  The Saints have not been as dynamic as last year, and Drew Brees has turned the ball over much too often for a star QB.  Despite their flaws, the Saints seem to be able to win when they need to.  Experience wins out over home field advantage in this one as the Bears’ surprising season comes to an end in the divisional round.

No. 6: BALTIMORE RAVENS

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    The Ravens defense is not what it once was, but it was good enough to get them to 12 wins this season.  Their offense is solid and efficient.  Ray Rice gets the job done in the running game.  Joe Flacco protects the ball and manages the passing game well.

    Although no longer dominant, the Ravens defense is still one of the better defenses in the NFL.  Even though the NFL is now a passing league, teams that can run the ball and play good defense always have a chance once the playoffs start.

     

    PREDICTION:  The Ravens are too much to handle for the improving Chiefs, but they run into a buzz saw of their own the following week when they travel to Foxboro to play the Patriots.  If they had the tiebreaker on the Steelers, they would have played the Patriots in the AFC championship game.  But their wildcard status sends them packing in the divisional round.

No. 5: GREEN BAY PACKERS

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    This is the team that no one wants to face.  Aaron Rodgers is undoubtedly amongst the elite QB’s in the game now.  Dom Capers has this defense hitting on all cylinders.  Clay Matthews Jr. is all over the field and sets the tone for the entire defense.

    The Packers don’t run the ball as well as you would like for a cold-weather team, but they do enough to get by.

    The blueprint is out there to stop Michael Vick now, and defensive mastermind Dom Capers will add his own wrinkles.

     

    PREDICTION:  The Packers show why they were the team that no one wanted to play as they knock the Eagles out of the playoffs in the wildcard round.  Their lack of a running game is too much to overcome as they lose a close one to “Matty Ice” and the Falcons.  If not for all of their injuries, the Packers would likely be the ones going to the Super Bowl.

No. 4: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

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    The defending Super Bowl champions have managed to fly under the radar a bit, but they finished the season only 2 games behind their magical 2009 season.  If not for the fact that the Falcons were destroying the Panthers in the early game, the Saints may very well have taken care of the Bucs and ended with a 12-4 record.

    Injuries have stripped the defending champs of some of their luster, but they still find a way to get it done.  The Saints, more than any other team, have to be wondering “what if?”

    If not for Garrett Hartley’s missed chip-shot field goal against the Falcons, the Saints may very well be marching in to Dallas in February.

     

    PREDICTION:  The Saints will dismiss the subpar Seahawks in the wildcard round.  Their experience and poise will carry them past the Bears in the divisional round, but they will not beat the Falcons in Atlanta twice in one season.  The Saints will not repeat, but they make things interesting as their season ends with an NFC Championship Game loss to the Falcons.

No. 3: PITTSBURGH STEELERS

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    With Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first 4 games of the season, expectations for the Steelers were lowered.  A narrow home loss to the Baltimore Ravens was the only thing that kept Pittsburgh from being undefeated in Roethlisberger’s absence.

    Roethlisberger had a solid season, but it is the running game and the defense that helped the Steelers win the NFC North and lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC.  A healthy Troy Polamalu has made a huge difference between this year’s and last year’s Steelers.  His play sets the tone for the entire team.

     

    PREDICTION:  Peyton Manning will not be able to put the Colts on his back and carry them past the Steelers in Pittsburgh.  With no running game to speak of, the Steelers will easily advance to the AFC Championship Game.  However, the Steelers have the misfortune of being in the same conference with the best team in football.  Their season ends in Foxboro as the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl.

No. 2: ATLANTA FALCONS

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    For many weeks, the Atlanta Falcons were considered one of the better teams in the league, but it wasn’t until late in the season that they started getting mentioned with the elite teams.  They only lost one game by more than 7 points, and all three of their losses came at the hands of playoff teams.

    Matt Ryan has proven to be one of the great young quarterbacks in the game.  The trio of Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White will remind the local fans in Dallas of the good old days with the triplets.

    If Atlanta had tripped up and not gotten the No. 1 seed, they would have a tough time getting to the Super Bowl.  The drama ended early against the Panthers in the final week of the season as the Falcons locked up the top seed in the NFC.

    The Falcons should send a gift basket to Garrett Hartley to thank him for missing a game-winning, chip-shot field goal earlier in the season.

     

    PREDICTION:  “Matty Ice” almost never loses at home, and this post-season will be no exception.  It won’t be easy, but home field advantage will propel the Falcons past the Packers and the Saints.  In this up-and-down parity-riddled NFC season, the No. 1 team rises to the top and earns a trip to Super Bowl XLV.

No. 1: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

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    When your star quarterback throws 335 passes over the last eleven games of the season with no interceptions, you expect your team to be at the top of the power rankings. 

    Tom Brady’s season is one of the greatest QB performances in NFL history.  What makes his season even more impressive is the fact that he has done this with a WR corps that has no true go-to receiver.

    Who else besides Bill Belichick and the Patriots could trade away Randy Moss, re-acquire Deion Branch in a separate deal, and end up better than ever?  To top it off, Belichick continues to stockpile draft picks for the future.

     

    PREDICTION:  The Patriots are a cut above the rest of the league.  They will dispose of the second and third best teams in the AFC in front of their home crowd, and then pack their bags for Dallas to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLV.   The Falcons will put up a good fight, but in the end, the combination of Brady, Belichick and the cast of characters that make up the New England Patriots will be too much for even “Matty Ice” to handle.  Tom Brady will be named NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP.  At which time, the debate over who is the greatest QB of all time will commence.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS

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    Jerry Jones will politely smile and congratulate his friend, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, on being the first team to win a Super Bowl in Jerry World.  All the while, he will be wondering why his Cowboys never even came close to playing the home Super Bowl game that he dreamed of.

    In 1993, the No. 1 seed Cowboys faced the No. 1 seed Bills in the Super Bowl.  It didn’t happen again until last year’s Super Bowl between the Saints and Colts.  Amazingly, in a year where a new “best team in the league” was seemingly crowned on a weekly basis, the No. 1 seeds hold serve and make it two years in a row that parity takes a back seat to greatness. 

    In the end, the New England Patriots prove that dynasties can still exist in the NFL.