NFL Playoff Predictions: Will the Green Bay Packers Continue To Dominate?
With one final week remaining in the 2011 NFL season, it's time to find out who has the resolve to win their way to a Super Bowl Championship.
The Green Bay Packers have been almost as perfect as a team can be this year and they lead a group of 11 other teams into the playoffs that all look to have as good a shot to win it all as any other.
The questions remain: Will Aaron Rodgers and the Packers continue to steamroll their way to a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy, the first team since the New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004? Or, are we in for a surprise come February?
It will surely be exciting but let's discuss what could and/or may happen.
Final records are projections.
AFC Final Seeding Prediction
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1) New England Patriots (13-3)
The Patriots have locked up a first-round bye and look to win home-field advantage throughout the playoffs this Sunday. Buffalo obviously has a shot at spoiling, especially after last Saturday's dominating win over Tim Tebow and the Broncos, but it's a long shot with their 1-6 record on the road.
2) Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
Baltimore has been this year's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, winning games by large margins against expected Super Bowl contenders (Week 1 against the Steelers) and losing games against much-less challenging teams (Week 7 against the Jaguars), but still remain in position to lock up the second seed in the AFC.
3) Houston Texans (11-5)
The Texans have secured the AFC South and the No. 3 seed in the AFC regardless if they win or lose on Sunday against the Titans. Houston will enter the NFL playoffs for the first time in team history since entering the league in 2002.
4) Denver Broncos (9-7)
This is going to be an exciting finish to the AFC West, which means it's the hardest to predict. Tim Tebow has, almost single-handedly, saved the Denver Broncos' season. It is now a win-or-lose scenario for himself and his team.
5) Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Per the usual in the AFC North, the Steelers and Ravens will come down to the very end and either one will be a dangerous Wild Card, most likely Pittsburgh.
6) Oakland Raiders (9-7)
The final wild-card spot in the AFC is so up in the air that it's almost impossible to predict, but with the Broncos likely beating the Chiefs at home, it's going to come down between the Raiders, Jets, Titans and Bengals.
The Jets will struggle against Miami, who looked ready to spoil the Patriots this past weekend, and the Titans are going to have a handful with Arian Foster and the Texans so expect the Raiders, with San Diego at home on Sunday, to surprise and wind up with the No. 6 seed.
NFC Final Seeding Prediction
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1) Green Bay Packers (15-1)
While Aaron Rodgers and the Packers may not be fighting for an undefeated season at this point, they are finishing the regular season with a game against their rivals from Detroit. The NFC playoff picture is all but wrapped up and both the Packers and Lions on their way to the postseason; Week 17 is more about sitting starters and resting for the playoffs.
2) San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
Not since Joe Cool and Jerry Rice were wearing the scarlet and gold has this team enjoyed such success. With the Rams reeling and Alex Smith playing his best football ever, the 49ers should walk into the playoffs with the No. 2 seed.
3) New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Week 17 has its own story waiting to be written, as the record-setting rookie QB (Cam Newton) comes to town to face the record-setting veteran QB (Drew Brees) in an NFC South showdown. The Saints will be playing for a first-round bye and the Panthers will be playing for pride—just don't discount the latter.
4) New York Giants (9-7)
With the only remaining question in the NFC, the East will come down to the final game of the season. Tony Romo left the game against the Eagles early with a hand injury but he should be good to go against the Giants this Sunday. However, the Giants are riding high after beating their in-town rivals, the Jets, and should carry that momentum into the playoffs.
5) Detroit Lions (10-6)
The Lions are heading to the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and may be the one team that nobody wants to see walking into their stadium come January.
6) Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
The Falcons proved they still aren't on the level of the New Orleans Saints after being drubbed to the tune of 45-16 but regardless, they have locked up a wild-card seed and have a shot to prove their worth, probably against the Saints.
Wild Card Round
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No. 6 Oakland Raiders at No. 3 Houston Texans
They have met once this season and in their wild-card matchup, it'll be the same old story over again except it's Carson Palmer at QB and Michael Bush at RB.
The Houston Texans will be strong heading into their first playoff matchup in team history but however well T.J. Yates has played in relief, the heightened playoff pressure will be too much for him to handle. Arian Foster will be his usual self but unfortunately, he's not going to be able to carry the team all alone.
Oakland 24, Houston 21
No. 5 Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 4 Denver Broncos
Tim Tebow, whether you're for or against him, has been quite the story this year in the NFL. Possibly one of the most controversial players in recent years, he has taken more criticism and still found ways to win games to put the Broncos back into the playoff picture.
He'll bring them into Wild Card Weekend but that's where the magic stops. The Steelers, with or without Ben Roethlisberger, are still a dangerous team and seem to perform even better when they reach the playoffs.
Pittsburgh 32, Denver 14
No. 6 Atlanta Falcons at No. 3 New Orleans Saints
Matt Ryan and the Falcons have worked their way into the playoffs again but they have shown they still aren't anywhere near Drew Brees and the Saints. On Monday night, Brees broke Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record as he took down the Falcons in dominating fashion.
Much won't change from now until Wild Card Weekend when these two rivals face each other one more time. Atlanta should keep it closer this time but once again, the Saints should walk out on top.
New Orleans 38, Atlanta 21
No. 5 Detroit Lions at No. 4 New York Giants
Detroit has enjoyed one of its best seasons since 1999, their last season in the playoffs, and much of the credit goes to Matt Stafford playing healthy for most of the time. Now that Calvin Johnson has a QB capable of putting the ball downfield, he has more chances to make plays.
It's been said before and it's true: The Lions are probably the scariest team going in because they seem to buy into the idea that they are not just playing for a fanbase but an entire city that is desperate for something to believe in.
The Giants have been off and on throughout the 2011 season and now they have to welcome that team with that momentum and energy. It just seems like a recipe for an upset and a steamroll type of one, for that matter.
Detroit 34, New York 10
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No. 6 Oakland Raiders at No. 1 New England Patriots
This is a rematch of the Week 4 game when New England visited Oakland Coliseum and walked out with a 31-19 win. This time around, the game is in chilly Foxborough, MA and always with a chance for snow, this could be a game reminiscent of the infamous "Snow Bowl" in 2002.
Although there probably won't be any more tuck-rule business, the game will probably have its fair share of storylines and surprises. The Patriots defense is a shell of itself when they were on the top of their game early last decade and is easily the worst team against the pass. It needs to continue living off of the turnover and take advantage of mistakes made by Carson Palmer and his offense, which they should, earning the Patriots their first playoff win since 2007.
New England 34, Oakland 17
No. 5 Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 2 Baltimore Ravens
The final AFC North battle of the season will come in the AFC Divisional Round. The Ravens swept their rivals this season and look to complete the trilogy with a strong win to move on to the AFC Championship game. Both teams still employ aging defenses but they remain among the top 10 in the league.
Don't expect this to be a high-scoring affair; it should be decided on the ground. The Ravens, however, have the edge and that's Ray Rice. Joe Flacco will test the Steelers deep but with Rice, he won't have to often as Rice should play well enough in both the run game and on screens.
Baltimore 27, Pittsburgh 21
No. 5 Detroit Lions at No. 1 Green Bay Packers
The Detroit Lions are a new team and after advancing from the Wild Card Round, they get to face their rival Packers for the third time in the cold tundra they call Lambeau. Judging by how well Detroit performs in Week 17, this could change but the Packers will show the Lions who the better NFC North team was this season.
Detroit's defense may scare Packer fans early with a big play but Rodgers should be on the top of his game and put the Lions away relatively early.
Green Bay 42, Detroit 17
No. 3 New Orleans Saints at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers
This is going to be one of the most anticipated matchups of the playoffs. Record-setting Drew Brees is red-hot and is going up against one of the best, young defenses in the league. This game will be close all the way as both QBs should test their opposing defenses through the air but will have a healthy dose of the running game.
The 49ers are a breath of fresh air around the other usual crop of annual playoff teams but the Saints are playing on another level right now, which might be too much for them to handle.
New Orleans 28, San Francisco 21
AFC Championship Game
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No. 2 Baltimore Ravens at No. 1 New England Patriots
The last time these two teams faced each other in the playoffs, it was 2009 and Baltimore walked into a blustery Gillette Stadium handing Tom Brady his worst playoff loss of his career.
New England lives and dies by its offensive firepower and Brady has to be on his best to overcome the defense's faults.
Joe Flacco is a serviceable QB and has been successful with Baltimore his entire career. This seems to be the year that he will actually experience the Super Bowl for the first time.
The Patriots have recently struggled against opposing RBs and their passing defense is still atrocious, which will be ripe for Flacco's picking.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, who have been relying on their high-powered offense to win, they are going to go up against a stout defense that doesn't break often and an offense that limits the mistakes the Patriots defense can take advantage of.
Expect Baltimore to be tasting champagne after the game.
Baltimore 31, New England 27
NFC Championship Game
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No. 3 New Orleans Saints at No. 1 Green Bay Packers
It's the matchup that everybody's been waiting for and it's happening in the NFC Championship game with a spot in the Super Bowl up for grabs.
The Green Bay Packers have been an indomitable force the entire 2011 season and it all has led to this game. Behind the arm of Aaron Rodgers, they have given no opposing team room to breathe easily on their way to a nearly perfect record.
Now they meet Drew Brees and his New Orleans Saints, who—after an early exit in last year's playoffs to the first 7-9 team to make them, the Seattle Seahawks—look like they are ready to beat anyone who stands in their way of their second Super Bowl title.
The Packers and Saints are two teams capable of putting up some monstrous numbers on offense as both sport less-than-average defenses that do enough to keep opponents chasing.
Although most expect the Packers to play in their second consecutive Super Bowl, the Saints would like to think otherwise.
New Orleans 31, Green Bay 27
Super Bowl XLVI
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New Orleans Saints vs. Baltimore Ravens
Drew Brees is searching for his second Super Bowl ring and the second title for the Saints in their team history.
Joe Flacco is the young gun who has led his up-and-down Ravens to this final test, his first chance at the Lombardi Trophy.
Not since winning Super Bowl XXXV in 2001 have the Ravens played in the big game. Ray Lewis is the aged veteran, the loudest voice in the locker room and the only remaining player from that Super Bowl-winning squad.
The Baltimore defense will have to be at its most unbreakable as it will be tested deep, early and often, by an offense sporting some serious deep threats, especially young tight end Jimmy Graham.
All in all, I think it's Joe Flacco's year and it's about time he proves that he's capable of winning more than just regular-season games. He needs to prove that he can win when it counts and 2011 will be his year.
With help from speed-demon Ray Rice and a defense that is led by a player who knows how to win championships, the Baltimore Ravens will be the Super Bowl XLVI champions.
Baltimore 24, New Orleans 16