The NFL playoffs have begun and even though there is a team that lost only one game (Green Bay), I still feel the road to the Super Bowl is far from determined. In the NFC, there are at least three, maybe four teams that individuals can make an argument that certain teams can make a run to the Super Bowl. In the AFC, I feel there are three serious contenders that might possibly play in Indianapolis on Super Bowl Sunday. Even though there are only three true contenders in the AFC, I feel you can make a case for each team going to the Super Bowl. The following section of this outlines who I feel will advance in the NFL Playoffs, and eventually hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans
These two teams meet three weeks ago, with Tyler Yates leading a last minute comeback and giving the Houston Texans a 20-19 victory at Paul Brown Stadium. Even though the game was played in Cincinnati and the Texans won, I feel the Bengals will return the favor and show why they were a playoff team this year. For Bengals fans, I feel the drought of not winning a playoff game since January of 1991 (yes you read that correctly, 1991) will come to an end. With the exceptions of Andy Dalton (who played in and won the Rose Bowl last year), and A.J. Green (who played in the SEC), many of the other prominent Bengals have played in an NFL playoff games. On the other hand, many of the Texans players are playing in the first playoff game (in fact this is the first playoff game in Texans history); they're starting either T.J. Yates or Jake Delhomme at the most important position in sports, and Andre Johnson still isn't 100% healthy. That's enough for me to believe the Bengals go on the road and defeat the Texans in Houston.
Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints.
For the Detroit Lions, welcome back to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade (12 years to be exact). Unfortunately for Lions fans and players, this will be short lived as their playing a team that is perfect at home this season. In fact, the Saints scored at least 30 points in seven of there 8 home games this year (against Tampa Bay they only score 27 points). The Saints ranked number 1 in average passing yards per game this year and 9th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. The Saints also have many players on this team that won the super bowl two years, and still have the bitter taste of loosing to the Seahawks last year in the NFC Playoff game. The Lions also have a great offense as well with Matthew Stafford, Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, and the fifth ranked passing game in the NFL. But like what I said about the Texans also hold true for the Detroit Lions, they are young, unproven, that is going against a veteran team on the road. The Lions have a very bright future, and this is a great learning experience for the young Lions.
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants.
To me, this could not have worked out any better for the New York Giants. The Giants needed to avoid a great passing offense (Lions) as there passing offense has been "less than satisfactory this year. " The Falcons have a good passing offense, but Matt Ryan won't be in the cozy indoor Georgia Dome, and instead will be in the cold and windy MetLife Stadium. The Falcons only won 4 games on the road this year (6 at home), and their best road win was against a Detroit team that wasn't fully recovered from the week before loss to the 49ers. The Falcons other road wins were"¦Seattle (before they turned their season around), Colts (winless until week 14), and Carolina (Cam and the offense is great, the defense"¦needs some work and I expect will be much better next year but that's for another time). The bottom line is all of these statistics, along with a Giants team that is playing their best football (won three of their last four games and have a defensive line that is going to make Matt Ryan on the run all day), leads to a Giants victory.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos.
Tim Tebow, I hope your ready for the Blitzburgh defense (no that's not a spelling error). The last few weeks, Tebow has gone from being the media's darling to"¦not much the last few weeks. If the Broncos could only muster out 3 points against a good Kansas City defense, how are they going to score against the likes of James Harrison, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, Troy Polamalu, and a Pittsburgh that has won two Super Bowls this decade and appeared in another one as well. Not to mention they have to stop a two time super bowl winning quarterback that loves playing in the big games. The Broncos will get a break with not having to face Rashard Mendenhall or Ryan Clark, but sorry Tim Tebow the fairy tale season will officially end on Sunday.
The next round of matchups would be: Cincinnati @ New England, Pittsburgh @ Baltimore in the AFC, and New York Giants @ Green Bay and New Orleans @ San Francisco. The second round of games features two different rivalries (one old school matchup and another that features old school football), and two matchups with great offenses against great defenses.
Cincinnati Bengals @ New England Patriots
I want to start by saying I was wrong about Marvin Lewis, as I feel he has done a great job with the young and exciting Bengals. Many of my Bengals friends said that the key problem with the Bengals was that they had a terrible offense. I wasn't sure if this was the case, but after watching the Bengals this year, I will agree as the past Bengals offense was terrible and Jay Gruden, Andy Dalton and the rest of the Bengals offense has been much improved this year. As for this game, it's a tough matchup for a young Bengals team, going against an offensive powerhouse like New England (Brady, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Green-Ellis). If there's one place that Bengals fans can look for hope, it can be from Patriots past playoff history. Shockingly, since Brady and the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the Giants, they haven't won a playoff game and played poorly in each playoff game (2010 playoffs lost 33-14 to Baltimore, last year lost 28-21 to the Jets). I think this is where the Bengals end their season, but if you're a Bengals fan you have to realize that you had a great year, finally won a playoff game, Andy Dalton will have a full offseason (and will only get better), and remember they have two first round picks (thanks to the Carson Palmer trade).
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens.
This is always my favorite non-Bears game to watch every year. This matchup might feature 7 future defensive Hall-of-Famers (Harrison, Timmons, Polamalu, Ngata, Lewis, Suggs, and Reed) along with other great players on each defense. Did I also forget to mention two of the best offensive players in the NFL (Rice and Roethlisberger), two of the best coaches in the league (Tomlin and Harbaugh), and two teams that know and don't like each other. These two teams have meet in the playoffs two of the past 4 years and both matchups have been Steelers win in Pittsburgh. I have a feeling this year will be different, and shockingly, I predict the Steelers will loose to the same opponent thee times in one season. Joe Flacco has had his share of ups and downs this year. But surprisingly, many people don't remember that the Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense played good in the first half of last year's playoff game against the Steelers. Also, the loss of Rashard Mendenhall for the season will be devastating on the Steelers offense, as this will put even more pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers defense. This might be Ray Lewis and Ed Reed's last great chance at winning the AFC and a Super Bowl so I feel the Ravens will win this game and get the Pittsburgh Steelers "monkey off their back."
New Orleans Saints @ San Francisco 49ers.
Very simply, this matchup features one of the best offenses against one of the best defenses. The Saints feature the best passing offense and 9th best rushing offense, while the 49ers have a good passing defense (17th) and the best rushing defense in the NFL. It might also feature the offensive player of the year (Brees) vs. the defensive player of the year (Willis), which means other people will need to step up in this game. Two people that need to step up are Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree as if they are able to be successful, then Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter will be able to have more success against a Saints defense that at times will give up their share of points and yards. I've been going back and forth with this pick but feel that in the end the Saints experience will be the difference, but the 49ers will be back next year.
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots.
Earlier this year, I felt great about the Baltimore Ravens and thought this was the year they got over the hill and would get back to the Super Bowl. Then, I watched Joe Flacco play poorly against Seattle, San Francisco, Cleveland, and others. I'm still not sold on Joe Flacco, but feel the Ravens running game, along with a vey suspect Patriots defense should make Joe Flacco's job a lot easier. As for the other end of the ball, it should be very interesting. Who will win the matchup between Tom Brady and the New England offense vs. the dangerous Ravens defense? I don't know if the Patriots offense can be stooped, but I feel Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and the rest of the Ravens defense can help contain the Patriots offense. I feel between Ray Rice on the ground, and Joe Flacco able to make enough plays on the Patriots defense that they should be able to go into Foxborough and win.
New Orleans Saints @ Green Bay Packers.
In my original article, I predicted that the team that won the first game of the year would ""¦finish with the best record in the NFC and host the NFC championship game," and that's precisely what I feel would eventually happen. These two teams have two of the best quarterbacks in the league (Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers), and two of the best offensives in the NFL. In fact, these two quarterbacks won the last two Super Bowl MVP, and at least one (maybe both) of these teams will have a regular season MVP on their team in a few weeks. As for the game, this should be a high scoring game, and a game where punters will be rarely used (if at all). Both teams have running games that depend on more than one running back, but passing games that rank in the top three in football (New Orleans Saints 1st in the NFL, and Green Bay Packers 3rd). At the same time, the Packers (32nd) and Saints (30th) are two of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. I know it will be outside and cold (which will affect New Orleans), but I still feel there offense will be as dominant as ever. As good as New Orleans is, I think the combination of being outdoors (and not in the dome) along with the Packers making one big play will lead to Green Bay making a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers
So it's a matchup of one of the best offenses against one if the best defenses. At the same time, I don't feel this is a great matchup for the Ravens for three reasons. One, the Ravens like to blitz the quarterback, which Aaron Rodgers proved last year he can dominate, two, the game is indoors which will create a perfect climate for the Green Bay offense, and three, even though the Ravens have the best safety in the NFL (you read that correctly), the other parts of the secondary are questionable at best. The Packers have the best wide receiving core in the NFL with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones, Randall Cobb, and Jermichael Finley. The Ravens on the other hand have Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, Chris Carr, and Jimmy Smith. Webb has had the best year of his NFL career, but the Ravens haven't faced a group of wide receivers like the ones the Packers have. If the Ravens meet the Patriots in the AFC Championship, it will be the first tine all year that they will have gone against a dominant passing game all year long. The Patriots passing offense features dominate Tight end play (along with Wes Welker) but not any other wide receivers. As shown above, the Packers have a great wide receiver core and great tight end play on their team. This will be too much for the Ravens defense, and Ray Rice won't be able to do enough to carry the Ravens passing game. As a life long Bears fan, this next sentence is difficult for me to write"¦I think the Packers will repeat as Champions.
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