NFL Playoffs 2012: Predicting the Road to Super Bowl XLVI
Someone will take the Vince Lombardi Trophy away from the 2010 Green Bay Packers.
History tells us it is not likely to be the 2011 Green Bay Packers: Only one time in the last 12 years has the previous champion repeated, and that has not happened since 2004.
The first week could have changed my predictions from those I did for each division (click these links to read previews of the NFC West, NFC South, NFC North, NFC East, AFC South, AFC West, AFC East and AFC North). After all, statistics show that over twice as many teams winning in the first week make the playoffs than teams losing since the league went to the 16-game format.
If we were to take something away from the first week, it would be that the NFC North is vastly superior to the more highly-touted NFC South, winning all three games head-to-head (including the season kickoff reviewed at the link). So based on that pattern, no one from the NFC South is likely to make the playoffs.
The truth is that a lot of the game has changed in the last few years. For instance, last season, seven teams that won their season-opener failed to finish above .500, and six opening week losers managed to win more than half their remaining games.
Thus, there are only two change I will make from my original picks in the above links:
2. San Diego will beat Kansas City in the AFC West. As I said in my NFC North preview, watching the Chiefs play changed my mind about their readiness...
"Sure, they won last year and got better in the offseason, while the vastly overrated San Diego Chargers got worse for the second year in a row. But if you have to play some of your starters a full game to get them going, you do not have a winner’s mentality. If those players cannot even beat Packers who were cut, you do not have winner’s talent."
I will ignore the rest of first week and stick with my original predictions, with each slide being a game of the playoffs...
Saints over Giants
Moreover, the New Orleans Saints secondary is better than the Giants, making it easier for a quarterback to exploit. Finally, New York is questionable at best on special teams, while New Orleans is excellent. They are not losing at home in perfect conditions.
Falcons over Rams
In a match-up of two of the league's best young quarterbacks, there are reasons to not believe in either.
Matt Ryan has performed poorly and lost both playoff games of his career and will be under a lot of pressure. Sam Bradford has not been in a playoff game, and young quarterbacks often do not perform well in their first game.
Chargers over Ravens
As I have previously stated, the San Diego Chargers have less talent than they had last year, when they missed the playoffs in a bad division. Why so many people are drinking that Kool-Aid, I do not know.
But playing at home, I will take them in this game because they match up very well against the Baltimore Ravens. Philip Rivers is an elite quarterback and has pretty good receivers to hit, while the Ravens have a terrible secondary outside of Ed Reed. Since the Chargers do not run the ball much anyway, Baltimore's front seven will be somewhat neutralized.
Jets over Texans
For all their talk about being the best team in football, the New York Jets have yet to even make it to the Super Bowl. If anything, they lost talent in this offseason.
However, they have won four playoff games on the road in the past two seasons, more than any other NFL team. They are the only team to make the conference finals in each of the last two years. They know how to get things done.
The Houston Texans have never been to the playoffs. They have had only one winning season.
Even if you take the experience factor out, New York is a better team and can overcome the home field advantage of Houston. The Texans do have the better quarterback and receiving corps in this pass-driven league, but that edge is not as tremendous as New York's edge in all three units on defense.
Packers over Falcons
There is only one quarterback who has ever lost a home playoff game in the 90-year existence of the Green Bay Packers. That quarterback is supposedly finally retired, and his successor has not legitimately lost a single playoff game. (That one loss took two bad calls on the deciding play to come to pass.)
Not only that, but no team in the NFL has the elite level of a passing attack the Packers have: Aaron Rodgers is not only the highest-rated passer in both the regular and postseason history of the NFL, but he has five very good wide receivers and one of the best tight ends in the game.
As previously mentioned, this is a passing league. The Falcons may have improved their passing game, but the only places they are superior to Green Bay on either side of the ball are with regard to the run. They can win this game, but are not likely to unless the weather neutralizes the Packers passing attack...something that could suck the will right out of a southern dome team.
Eagles over Saints
The Saints do have the superior quarterback, but Michael Vick looks like he is ready to take the next step.
Philadelphia spent a lot of money in the offseason to upgrade everywhere but the offensive line, and that is the one question: Can Vick's fleet feet avoid the Saints pass rush? If not, this game could get ugly.
However, the Eagles secondary should be able to handle the Saints receivers, and their defense is better overall. New Orleans is another southern dome team, and the weather could be an issue for them...I would take Philly at home.
Patriots over Jets
However, much like it did for Randy Moss and Corey Dillon (and Terrell Owens with Philly), this is likely to work in the first year. It will not be until they do not get a win that everything blows up, and those moves, plus stealing Shaun Ellis from New York, make them the better team on paper.
Steelers over Chargers
I am sure you have heard that Ben Roethlisberger is 10-3 in the playoffs. That is incorrect: Pittsburgh is 10-3 with him under center.
You win and lose as a team, and Big Ben is the perfect example. He has accounted for 22 TDs and 18 turnovers (including rushing and fumbles) in the playoffs compared to 159 and 112 in the regular season. His playoff passer rating is 7.4 points lower in the playoffs than the regular season.
In other words, he is not clutch. But he still is good enough to be at least equal to Philip Rivers, and his team knows how to get things done in January, whereas the Chargers do not. Pittsburgh is as good or better in every unit than San Diego, and this may be the surest win in the playoffs.
Packers over Eagles
There may be no two teams who improved more in the offseason than Green Bay and Philadelphia. While the Eagles added players via free agency, the Packers simply had theirs return from injury.
There is no doubt that Philadelphia closed the gap. The question is, did they pass the Packers?
The answer is no. The Eagles are not better at quarterback, running back (where the Packers are deeper), offensive line or wide receiver. They may be better on the defensive line and certainly are on the corners, but the Packers hold the edge at linebacker and safety. The Eagles edge in special teams is more minimized by rules changes and the drafting of Randall Cobb by Green Bay.
More to the point, no team has ever won the Super Bowl by making major free agent additions. If it did not work for the New York Jets with a five-month offseason last year, why would it work for the Eagles in a five-week offseason?
Patriots over Steelers
Both of these teams have chemistry issues.
The Patriots have the aforementioned selfish player additions, but I am predicting they will not catch up to them this year. The Steelers had a crazy, gun-toting, spearing linebacker call out their running back and quarterback and a receiver who danced his way into drunk driving.
I will take the hungrier team with the better quarterback whose legacy would be affected by another home loss.
Packers over Patriots
Yes, I am a Green Bay Packers fan. It is entirely possible my bias is influencing this pick.
On the other hand, I was the one telling Packers fans last year that a Super Bowl was out of the question before the playoffs started. I picked my team to lose 35 percent of the time last season and was 2-5 in those seven picks.
In other words, I have more often over-compensated than bet my heart. Besides, I would love to hear someone tell me the Packers are not the team to beat.
Rodgers gets better come playoff time, while Brady's numbers fall in the postseason. Rodgers has 100 total TDs and 43 turnovers with a 98.4 rating in the regular season, but 16, 5 and 112.6 in the playoffs. Brady has 268, 135 and 95.2 vs. 32, 19 and 85.7.
Why? Because a four-man rush that can get to Brady makes him beatable, and there are a lot of those in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Rodgers can avoid the rush and make plays downfield.
The Packers have a better pass rush, better secondary, better receivers and at least a comparable quarterback. The Patriots' only advantages are on the offensive line and special teams. It could be enough, but I would not bet on it.