With arguably the greatest one month in sports set to begin, it’s time to offer some predictions for what exactly will happen over that time span. I’ll predict the entire NFL playoffs from the Wild Card round all the way to the Super Bowl.
The NFC looks like this:
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Carolina Panthers
3. Philadelphia Eagles
4. Green Bay Packers
5. San Francisco 49ers
6. New Orleans Saints
Seattle has clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC bracket, and luckily for them, Arizona didn’t make the playoffs. Carolina also has a first-round bye and will play the lowest winning seed from the Wild Card round while Seattle will play the highest winning seed.
WILD CARD ROUND
Philadelphia Eagles (3) vs. New Orleans Saints (6)
I keep hearing this talk about how the Saints are not such a good team on the road. I agree that they don’t play as well as they do in the Superdome, but the New Orleans actually has the best road record in the league since the start of 2009. The Saints’ offense is too much for the Eagles to handle, while an improved Saints defense will at least slow down the high-powered Chip Kelly offense. Winner: New Orleans.
Green Bay Packers (4) vs. San Francisco 49ers (5)
The return of Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb is huge for Green Bay. However, they barely escaped with a win over Chicago to win the NFC North, and that was against a porous Bears’ defense. Rodgers is going to be pressured, and the main matchup to watch is Green Bay’s offensive line against San Francisco’s front seven. Colin Kaepernick will shred the Green Bay pass defense as he did in Week 1; the return of Michael Crabtree helps Kaep as well. Winner: San Francisco.
Seattle Seahawks (1) vs. New Orleans Saints (6)
Don’t expect Seattle to blow New Orleans out again. The Saints will be more prepared this time around. It’ll be a close game, but Seattle is the more complete team overall – they have a better running game and defense, which is what you need to win in the postseason. The old phrase “defense wins championships” will never die out. Winner: Seattle.
Carolina Panthers (2) vs. San Francisco 49ers (5)
Carolina won by a point at San Francisco earlier this year. These two teams are strikingly similar – both have a mobile quarterback and an offense centered on the power run game, and both have excellent defenses. The ‘Niners have more offensive playmakers, however, and Michael Crabtree didn’t play against Carolina last time. Winner: San Francisco
Seattle Seahawks (1) vs. San Francisco 49ers (5)
Colin Kaepernick has been to CenturyLink Field in Seattle twice and has been blown out both times. Arizona proved that Seattle is vulnerable at home. The ‘Niners will get to Russell Wilson like the Cardinals did and Michael Crabtree will provide a spark to the otherwise dormant (in Seattle) passing game. Kaep beat the Seahawks in San Francisco earlier this year and I believe they’re one of the only clubs that can go to Seattle and win. Third time’s the charm, right? I think so. Winner: San Francisco.
The AFC playoff standings are:
1. Denver Broncos
2. New England Patriots
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Indianapolis Colts
5. Kansas City Chiefs
6. San Diego Chargers
Denver has clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC bracket, and New England also has a first-round bye. New England, in the Divisional round, will play the lowest winning seed from the Wild Card round. Denver will play the highest winning seed.
WILD CARD ROUND
Cincinnati Bengals (3) vs. San Diego Chargers (6)
We know all about the trends. Can the Chargers pull it off? The Bengals have a great defense even without Geno Atkins. Andy Dalton might be the key for the Bengals: will he do enough to win? He has the weapons to do so (A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, and the offensive line, which has been solid the whole season, and I believe he’ll deliver at least in the first round. Winner: Cincinnati.
Indianapolis Colts (4) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (5)
Stopping Jamaal Charles will be the key for Indianapolis in this game, especially in the receiving game. In the meeting earlier in the season between the teams (the Colts won 23-7), Charles had 106 rushing yards, but just 13 carries. Charles torched the Raiders a few weeks ago through the air, and if the Colts stop him, they’ll win the game. Winner: Indianapolis.
Denver Broncos (1) vs. Indianapolis Colts (4)
This time, Luck heads to his predecessor’s stadium in Denver. The Broncos need to force Andrew Luck into making mistakes, as their pass defense is one of the worst in the league. Peyton Manning needs to put points up and gain a wide margin early – that’s exactly what the Colts did to the Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium, spoiling any hopes of a triumphant return. Winner: Denver.
New England Patriots (2) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (3)
The Bengals’ defense snapped Tom Brady’s streak of games with a touchdown pass in October. More importantly, they won the game and held the Patriots to just six points. Although this game would be at Gillette Stadium, expect a similar result – that stout Bengals defense should power the team to a road win and punch the Bengals’ ticket to the AFC Championship game. Winner: Cincinnati.
Denver Broncos (1) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (3)
A top five defense against the best quarterback in the league – here’s where the loss of Geno Atkins hurts them. Contrary to popular belief, the Broncos are one of the most balanced teams in the league. Stopping Knowshon Moreno most likely won’t prioritize slowing down Peyton Manning. The Broncos have too many weapons to contain, many more than the Patriots do. I like Andy Dalton, but I’m not that confident in his ability to carry his team to the Super Bowl. Winner: Denver.
SUPER BOWL XLVIII
Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers
I’d think that most fans would probably want Seattle-Denver, but this is a great matchup as well. Jim Harbaugh would be returning to his second consecutive Super Bowl – each year, he’s taken it to the next level: his team lost the NFC Championship in 2011, then lost the Super Bowl in 2012. Now, it’s time to take that final step and win it all.
I am actually standing by my preseason Super Bowl pick back in July, and the matchups favor San Francisco. The 49ers are the more complete team with a better running game, and although the Broncos’ offense is historically great, the ‘Niners can contain it. Defense wins championships, and there’s no question that San Francisco has the better defense.
Super Bowl Champion: San Francisco 49ers.
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