2011 NFL Playoff Predictions: Doomsday Edition
The 2011 NFL season has had great storylines.
The Philadelphia Eagles were the offseason Super Bowl champions and lost four of their first five games. We went from talking about Peyton Manning's record-setting contract extension to whether he would ever play again, and his Indianapolis Colts are winless without him. There are two other winless teams.
There are good stories, too. The Detroit Lions have gotten off to a start hotter than any of their optimists could have reasonably counted on. They could meet the Packers on Thanksgiving for a chance to take the division lead by handing an unbeaten team their first loss.
Wait, both Bay Area teams are contenders? No wonder Bay Area prophet Harold Camping has maintained, even in lieu of his promised rapture May 21, that the end of the world will indeed come today. Yesterday's three earthquakes were God's last warning.
In fact, what other conclusion for this event could there be but the end of the world? I am disappointed that while covering his message for SF Christian Examiner, I overlooked the obvious.
That is too bad, because this was really brewing up to be a special season. In fact, while God has given Camping the vision for what will happen, I have the gift of seeing what would have happened had God decided that the destruction we bring upon ourselves will bring Judgment Day, not some predictable date.
Since I like writing, I have decided to pen what can only be my last article given the inevitable. If I have to read but not respond to a bunch of negative comments I know I am in Hell for the blasphemy of not believing Camping. If I start getting job offers from this piece, I will know that I have accepted into heaven...
Everything Changes on New Year's Day
The 2011 NFL season ends on the first day of 2012.
The country is recovering economically because after Camping's predictions proved false, order came out of chaos. The two parties in Washington decided to work together.
Rational voters finally spoke up and demanded only a tax raise on NFL and NBA owners and players as retribution for putting fans through the meat-grinder at the end of their collective bargaining agreements.
Just two months into that revenue being pumped into jobs creation funding, unemployment is already lower than this time last year and the nation has a trade surplus.
Even more importantly, players are back to doing it for the love of the game. And because they are allowed to keep previous earnings, they have time to moderate their lifestyles and identify with their fans without going destitute.
Unfortunately for the Philadelphia Eagles, they dug themselves too big a hole. Three other 2010 NFC playoff teams fail to qualify for the post-season: Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle. In their place are the Lions, Buccaneers and Forty-Niners.
The AFC South battle goes down to the final game, but Tennessee holds on to the lead they established after Mario Williams was hurt and before Houston got Andre Johnson back. And obviously since the world did not end, the apocalyptic signs of success in Oakland and Buffalo do not come to fruition—they play well but miss the playoffs.
Playoff Are Set
On October 22, Sean Payton learns that he has to endure his leg injury that happened last week, after all. Doomsday did not save him, and his dedication to return to action fuels his team to the third seed in the NFC.
That pits them against the division rival he was injured coaching against. He gets his revenge a second time, as the Saints down the Bucs in New Orleans again.
The Detroit Lions travel to New York and take a little time to adjust to playoff football. The Giants hang on to beat them thanks to a relentless pass rush in a defensive struggle.
The New York Jets sneak into the playoffs, with Mark Sanchez playing his best football late again. That and Rex Ryan's hot air lift the Jets past the one-dimensional and untested San Diego Chargers, getting Norv Turner fired by the end of that week.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are unable to catch up to the Baltimore Ravens, but no one remembers saying they were too old and would never contend again. They go right through the Titans, making both AFC games rubber matches with their divisional rivals.
Who Goes from Boyz II Men?
The Green Bay Packers lost only the Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions. Because the Lions could take the season finale and win the head-to-head, the Packers continued to have something to play for through the penultimate game against the Bears.
They knocked the Bears out of the playoffs with the season sweep one day after Detroit's win over San Diego. That ensures the top seed and locks the Lions into the fifth seed, so the two teams meet with nothing more on the line than a potential Detroit season sweep, and Green Bay does not let that happen.
Having that top seed forces the New York Giants to return to the scene of their 2007 NFC Championship Game heist, and Brett Favre is not there to throw passes to them this time. Aaron Rodgers endures four sacks to tear up the Giants secondary, and Eli Manning is picked twice in the second half when the Giants have to abandon their running game to keep up with the Packers on the frozen turf.
Meanwhile, New Orleans is not about to underestimate an NFC West foe this season. As good as the Niners red zone defense is, a great precision quarterback like Drew Brees is still able to get the scores, including the game-winner inside the final two minutes.
The New York Jets have won their first two road games in each of the last two postseasons. The Patriots have lost their last two home games. But there is no way Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will lose consecutive home playoff games to Rex Ryan. Chad Johnson, having finally lived up to his promise to change his name back when Darrelle Revis shut him down last time, gets the winning score on Revis Island with 22 seconds left.
Baltimore and Pittsburgh have played evenly in stats and standings in recent seasons, but that does not mean they are equals. Both playoff matchups have resulted in Pittsburgh wins and until this season, not one of Baltimore's wins had been when Ben Roethlisberger was under center.
They get their revenge this year, taking the division and the playoff contest. The Ravens add Derrick Mason to the roster late in the season and apply the Packers Super Bowl strategy of spreading out the Steelers defense. Lee Evans gets over 100 yards and two scores, and Joe Flacco gets to do the victory formation after a late sack seals the game for the Ravens.
Ostensibly, the cold weather would hurt the potent aerial attacks of the two teams. However, Rodgers is more accustomed to it and delivers a couple more plays on the blitz-happy Saints defense.
The Packers do not run as much in the second half and build on their lead until it is insurmountable. New Orleans gets a late score to draw within a touchdown, but cannot recover the onside kick and Green Bay becomes the first repeat conference champion since New England in 2004.
The Patriots, meanwhile, cannot stop the Ravens offense from moving the ball, but do hold them to field goals. But the Ravens front seven allows them to get four-man pressure on Brady, taking away his hot reads on blitzes to exploit. Because he is unable to extend plays out of the pocket, he throws two interceptions in the loss.
Some people even put together that the Patriots are 3-3 since they lost the Spygate advantage despite not having a single game at another team's field. Brady's post-season numbers once again lag behind his regular season numbers and some people finally begin to question whether he or Belichick should be considered clutch.
The Cheese Stands Alone
In the Year of the Quarterback, who are you going to put your money on, Aaron Rodgers or Joe Flacco?
Rodgers tears up the Ravens secondary in one of his best games yet, getting that second title that eluded his predecessor. For the first time since Kurt Warner in 1999, the same player wins the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP.
It is more than Brett Favre can bear, and he returns to the game in the only place he can get his ego stroked enough after the Dallas Cowboys give up on Tony Romo. But this time he re-retires right before the season, saying he misses his tractor.
Packers fans become insufferable. Bears fans cannot take it anymore and show up with actual torches and pitchforks to get rid of Lovie Smith.
Steelers fans still have something to hang over the Ravens. But now they will have to worry about Cincinnati, whose trade of Carson Palmer to the Raiders for two 2012 rookie starters was the move that turned around their franchise. Mike Brown even spends money to improve his obsolete facilities and stops signing players who end up in jail.
The Colts decide they cannot pay a man that much guaranteed money who might never be able to play again, and release Peyton Manning. They draft 2012 Rose Bowl champion Russell Wilson to take his spot, while Miami gets Rose Bowl losing QB Andrew Luck. Atlanta finally realizes they need a secondary to win the modern NFL.
Philadelphia fans are finally humbled by the failure of all four franchises once the Flyers are eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. But that is too late for Andy Reid, who is literally run out of town over the span of hours waiting for the heavyset coach to catch his breath.
Washington finally decides their team name is too offensive to use anymore and does the right thing. Daniel Snyder returns to the wealth he enjoyed before the sports tax as all Redskins apparel sells out, followed by all the new paraphernalia of the Snakes, an homage to the former ways of doing business on Capitol Hill.