Last week we finally concluded our look at the schedules of all 32 teams so it’s time to take that information to the next level. This week, the records of each team will be used for a number of applications and we begin today with the most obvious use – playoff predictions.
First of all, let’s summarise who makes the playoffs according to the scheduling data:
- 1. Houston Texans – AFC South Winner
- 2. New England Patriots – AFC East Winner
- 3. Pittsburgh Steelers – AFC North Winner
- 4. Denver Broncos – AFC West Winner
- 5. Cincinnati Bengals – Wildcard 1
- 6. New York Jets – Wildcard 2
- 1. Philadelphia Eagles – NFC East Winner
- 2. Chicago Bears – NFC North Winner
- 3. San Francisco 49ers – NFC West Winner
- 4. New Orleans Saints – NFC South Winner
- 5. Green Bay Packers – Wildcard 1
- 6. Detroit Lions – Wildcard 2
Now that we have the teams in place, let’s take a look at the matchups.
- New York Jets (6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3)
I expect this to be the ugliest game of the round with both teams basing their teams around defense. The main difference here is that Pittsburgh’s offense should be the better of the two by some margin and if this game comes down to offense Pittsburgh wins easily.
Winner – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Cincinnati Bengals (5) at Denver Broncos (4)
This is the most unpredictable game of the round. This prediction has Peyton Manning likely surviving the season which would challenge Cincinnati’s questionable defense but the Broncos own defense has plenty of holes. I’m going to back the younger Bengals squad to pull through as I’m expecting their defense, while inconsistent, to improve mightily from previous seasons.
Winner – Cincinnati Bengals
- Detroit Lions (6) at San Francisco 49ers (3)
This should be pretty back and forth with two hard-nosed defenses and two offenses that play very physically. The Lions have a very aerial based offense but the 49ers have an extremely good secondary that should be a match for them. Ultimately the Lions secondary will cost them this game as while Alex Smith is not a big arm quarterback the lack of depth to the Detroit corners in particular will make it difficult to contain the large number of high quality receivers San Francisco has this season.
Winner – San Francisco 49ers
- Green Bay Packers (5) at New Orleans Saints (4)
This is obviously the top matchup of the round. Two of the most high octane offenses in the league face off with both teams having aggressive but underperforming defenses. The over on total points in this game will hover around 100. I gave the edge to New Orleans due to having a more complete overall team although had the game been in Green Bay it would have been a different story.
Winner – New Orleans Saints
- Cincinnati Bengals (5) at Houston Texans (1)
This looks like one of those games that is a complete mismatch. Cincinnati has a pretty good offense but I expect their defense to have problems against teams with a strong running game and that’s going to be the Texans strong point this year. Arian Foster and Ben Tate should be the difference here putting the Texans through to the next round.
Winner – Houston Texans
- Pittsburgh Steelers (3) at New England Patriots (2)
This is always an entertaining matchup and a very tough game to try and predict. When I look at it I see the overwhelming offense of the Patriots and I see the dominating defense of the Steelers and I’m inclined to take Pittsburgh mainly because they have an offense that should be able to take advantage of the Patriots awful defense while their own defense contains Tom Brady just enough for a win.
Winner – Pittsburgh Steelers
- New Orleans Saints (4) at Philadelphia Eagles (1)
The Saints are once again in arguably the best game of the week as they take on the Eagles. Once again we have two top offenses and two aggressive but inconsistent defenses. This time however the Saints don’t come out on top – Philadelphia are too complete a team overall and if they storm through the season the way I think they will I expect them to beat this Saints team.
Winner – Philadelphia Eagles
- San Francisco 49ers (3) at Chicago Bears (2)
This is the game I personally would look forward to most. The Bears and 49ers defenses are almost a flashback to teams of the past but the difference will be that both teams have pretty good offenses too. I gave this one to Chicago although I have high expectations of both these teams and expect to be impressed by both all season.
Winner – Chicago Bears
- Pittsburgh Steelers (3) at Houston Texans (1)
Here is the matchup that I really had to think about for a long time. For Houston you have the running duo of Tate and Foster who could get 2600 yards between them in the regular season, Andre Johnson who when healthy is one of the two best receivers in the league, Matt Schaub who has shown the ability to be a franchise quarterback and a very talented young defensive front seven who get after the quarterback every week. On the Steelers side you have a dominant aerial passing game with Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace capable of exploiting any opportunity given, Ben Roethlisberger who is the toughest quarterback in the league to bring down and is even better outside the pocket than he is inside, one of the toughest defensive lines in football and a secondary that includes a bunch of sensational players including Troy Polamalu who I am expecting a career year from. Give this one to Pittsburgh in a fight that could come down to who has the ball last.
Winner – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Chicago Bears (2) at Philadelphia Eagles (1)
What a game this is likely to be. Key matchups in this one will be the quarterback battle of Cutler vs Vick, the running backs Forte and McCoy trying to get past middle linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Urlacher respectively, the Bears pass rush of Peppers and Idonje trying to get around the sometimes questionable Eagles offensive line plus two of the best return men in NFL history in DeSean Jackson and Devin Hester. I chose the Bears in this instance because I firmly believe in the Bears ability to get to the quarterback and in games where Michael Vick is taken out effectively the Eagles usually can’t get over the line.
Winner – Chicago Bears
- Chicago Bears vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Predicting Super Bowls is always a risky business because it’s always about more than just the teams – the occasion can be overwhelming and provides that amazing atmosphere we all know and love. With that said, there must be a winner so here we go.
Both of these teams have outstanding leaders and outstanding leaders on defense. Both defenses are aging a bit but still get very good production from their veterans. Both defenses play that rough, in your face style from different formations with the Steelers using a modern 3-4 while the Bears are still using their old-fashioned Tampa 2 style but with a few new twists that have developed very well in the past couple of years as the team adapts to the new style of offense. Lawrence Timmons may not have the experience of the departed James Farrior but he’s a supreme talent all his own in the center of that linebacking corps although his opposite is arguably the best middle linebacker of this century – quality veteran Brian Urlacher.
Speaking of offense, there’s plenty of potential from both teams. Two of the strongest arms in the NFL on display from a pair of quarterbacks who while they have had some amazing seasons have yet to cement a legacy that would have them remembered as “legends” – not yet anyway. Both are supported by diverse but highly talented receivers. Brandon Marshall has been a multiple time Pro Bowler and with massive rookie Alshon Jeffery alongside as well as Devin Hester and Earl Bennett there’s certainly plenty of quality targets. For Pittsburgh you have a pair of prime young catchers in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown who can both outstrip defenses and with Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Heath Miller working underneath there’s plenty for Big Ben to aim at.
The biggest difference between these two teams is the running game. By this stage you can expect Rashard Mendenhall to be back for Pittsburgh but it has to be said that he hasn’t been particularly special for a while now. I expect Isaac Redman to fall by the wayside too as we’ve seen glimpses of good play but he’s just not an NFL caliber starter. Jonathan Dwyer looked very good in limited action last season but even he isn’t that big time Pittsburgh runner and Chris Rainey is simply a gadget player. By contrast, the Chicago Bears running game is the strongest it has been in years. Matt Forte is probably the best catching running back in the league and now that he is coupled with the highly talented Michael Bush they have a 1-2 punch that arguably is only rivalled by Foster/Tate in Houston and maybe Charles/Hillis in Kansas City depending on how that partnership holds out.
Ultimately for me this game will come down to the offensive lines. You know both teams are going to throw everything out on defense and both teams have superior defensive lines so the offensive line’s ability to hold off the onslaught is what is going to be most important. For me, this is advantage Chicago. Pittsburgh are trending in the right direction especially with the drafting of elite guard David DeCastro but overall that line is still a mess.
As I said, there must be a winner so…
Super Bowl Champion – Chicago Bears
What’s your Super Bowl prediction? As always you can leave your comments and we’d love to hear from you. Tomorrow I’m going to take the predictions data and turn out a strength of schedule for you guys based on the actual results for a projected view of which teams have it easy or tough. Be sure to check back in with NFL Spin Zone for that.
Tags: Chicago Bears Cincinnati Bengals Denver Broncos Detroit Lions Green Bay Packers Houston Texans New England Patriots New Orleans Saints New York Jets NFL Nfl Playoff Predictions Philadelphia Eagles Pittsburgh Steelers Playoff Predictions San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl XLVII