NFL Playoff Picture: Updated Predictions for Every Game Through the Super Bowl
We are typically treated to at least one unexpected outcome in the NFL playoffs.
With Super Bowl XLVII less than a month away, intensity has increased, pretenders have vanished and the true title contenders have stepped into the ring.
The conference championships are set, so let's take a stab at how the rest of the postseason will shake out.
AFC Divisional Round: No. 4 Baltimore Ravens at No. 1 Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos gashed the Baltimore Ravens in their regular season meeting, 34-17.
While the play of John Harbaugh's club should be more spirited in this divisional clash, it simply doesn't have the overall talent to topple Peyton Manning's squadron.
Manning has the Broncos offense operating at an insanely efficient level, and the defense doesn't get nearly enough credit.
According to Football Outsiders, no team allowed fewer yards per drive than Denver in 2012.
I just can't trust Joe Flacco and a inconsistent Ravens defense to do enough to beat a supremely balanced Broncos team.
Broncos 30, Ravens 17
Final Score: Ravens 38, Broncos 35
AFC Divisional Round: No. 3 Houston Texans at No. 2 New England Patriots
Over the years, I've learned many harsh lessons when I've bet against Tom Brady.
To put it succinctly: Don't bet against Tom Brady.
In the long run, you'll be better off.
I can't envision the Houston Texans getting thoroughly outclassed in Foxborough for a second time, but there is no way they will be able to slow down Brady's attack and do enough on offense to outscore the New England Patriots at home.
In a more competitive, more physical game than the regular season meeting, the Patriots still have more overall talent on both sides of ball and, especially, at the quarterback position.
Patriots 34, Texans 21
Final Score: Patriots 41, Texans 28
NFC Divisional Round: No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 1 Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan is looking for his first playoff win, but the matchup with the streaking Seattle Seahawks certainly is not a good one.
Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have the body types and play aggressively enough to make things exceedingly difficult for Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside.
While Atlanta's secondary should be able to limit the production of Seattle's wideouts, the ground game will be the deciding factor in this one.
The Seahawks' running game is, arguably, the most efficient in the league, and the Falcons struggle to stop the run and run it themselves.
Seahawks 27, Falcons 23
Final Score: Falcons 30, Seahawks 28
NFC Divisional Round: No. 3 Green Bay Packers at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers
This will be the most thrilling and tightly-contested game of the divisional round—an instant classic.
The quintessential electric offense against an intimidating defense and the Jim Harbaugh-Mike McCarthy coaching chess match will keep us transfixed in front of our televisions from start to finish.
Aaron Rodgers will severely test the San Francisco 49ers secondary, and the San Fran power running game will keep the Green Bay Packers defense on its heels.
The Packers will play better on defense than initially expected, and the 49ers will move the ball rather efficiently with Colin Kaepernick under center.
In the end, Rodgers will trump Kaepernick, and the shaky Mason Crosby will win it for Green Bay.
Packers 34, 49ers 31
Final Score: 49ers 45 Packers 31
AFC Championship Game: No. 4 Baltimore Ravens at No. 2 New England Patriots
The Ravens upset the Broncos in Denver and squashed the Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning matchup everyone penciled into their playoff bracket.
Just as we all expected, right?
Joe Flacco showed great maturity and has received tremendous play from pass-catchers Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta in the playoffs.
Baltimore did beat the Patriots in controversial fashion early in the season, and its win in the Mile High City will provide plenty of momentum heading into what should be a compelling rematch of last year's AFC championship game.
However, I can't envision Baltimore pulling off another upset win against another future Hall of Fame quarterback in his house.
Tom Brady has too many weapons, the running game is sound and the defense is under-appreciated.
Flacco will make plays against New England's secondary, though.
Patriots 30, Ravens 24
NFC Championship Game: No. 2 San Francisco 49ers at No. 1 Atlanta Falcons
Russell Wilson worked his magic against the Atlanta Falcons defense in the second half of the thrilling divisional-round game, and Mike Smith's club must deal with another read-option quarterback in the conference championship.
Colin Kaepernick is even more of a running threat than Wilson, and Jim Harbaugh has built a variety of designed signal-caller runs into the 49ers offense.
Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez were stellar against the vaunted Seahawks defense, and Atlanta got a fantastic effort from Michael Turner on the ground.
However, without the extra week of rest, the Falcons running game won't be as dynamic, and Kaepernick will have similar success against Atlanta's defense.
Matt Ryan will keep it close, but the punishing San Fran defense will win this one, sending the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
49ers 31 Falcons 27
Super Bowl: No. 2 San Francisco 49ers vs. No. 2 New England Patriots
The Super Bowl will be a rematch of, arguably, the most riveting prime time battle of the 2012 regular season.
Colin Kaepernick is truly unflappable under center, and he showed amazing poise with an outstanding bounce back performance following his pick six to start the divisional round game against the Green Bay Packers.
The read-option will certainly be a tough test for Bill Belichick, and the vaunted San Francisco defense will make it hard for Tom Brady's offense to run as smoothly as normal.
In a back-and-forth thriller, the 49ers defense will limit the Patriots' offense enough to provide Kaepernick a chance to lead a game-winning drive, and the second-year quarterback will deliver.
49ers 38 Patriots 35