With heavy focus being on NCAA and CIS football this season, I have really neglected the Sunday tradition of NFL football. Well with the playoffs kicking off this weekend, it is now time to really get going on this. The NFL playoffs are always fun to watch. The road to the Super Bowl brings out the best in fans from all over. Let the chirping and argument over which QB is better, which D is weak, which team should win because they won a game against the team they are playing 5 years ago in the playoffs and that of course means they will win again.
This has been an interesting season for the NFL. Some teams did better than many expected (Browns, Cardinals), some under performed (Saints, 49ers) and some just continue to win (Seahawks, Patriots). Here are the final standings heading into the playoffs (in comparison to how I predicted the season to unfold way back in September).
Final Playoff Standings (League) Final Playoff Standings (#TwineTime)
1. New England Patriots (12-4) 1. Denver
2. Denver Broncos (12-4) 2. New England
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) 3. Pittsburgh
4. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) 4. Indianapolis
5. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) 5. Cincinnati
6. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) 6. San Diego
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) 1. Seattle
2. Green Bay Packers (12-4) 2. Philadelphia
3. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) 3. Green Bay
4. Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) 4. New Orleans
5. Arizona Cardinals (11-5) 5. San Francisco
6. Detroit Lions (11-5) 6. Detroit
My AFC picks were close to accurate, at least correctly picking 5 of the 6 playoffs teams. The NFC was a bit more an issue unfortunately. I only correctly had 3 of the 6 teams, but hey at least I nailed Seattle and Detroit in the right seeding line right?
Just to put this out there now, so to avoid the negative comments later, my AFC Championship prediction was Pittsburgh over Denver. My NFC Championship prediction was Philadelphia over Seattle. I really wanted to see the All-Pennsylvania Super Bowl! Obviously this will not happen but my Super Bowl Champion prediction could still come true (Go Steelers!!)
On to the wild card round picks....
(3) Pittsburgh over (6) Baltimore - The Steelers have turned in on the last few weeks and have been playing playoff-style football for awhile. This is quite a different Steelers team than what your grandpa or dad would know though. While championship Steelers teams of the past rode a smothering D to win, this year's team is trying out a blistering offense. Big Ben has been playing exceptionally well all season and looks primed for a deep run. It won't be easy though starting off against a divisional rival. The Ravens are a surprise to be in the playoffs I think but they are more than deserving. The key to the Ravens winning will be if they can run the ball. Both teams do not have the strong defenses we are used to seeing, so which offense will step up more? If the Ravens can run the ball for over 120 yards, they have a shot to win. If Big Ben can air it out and hit the end zone at least 3 or 4 times (last time these teams played he threw 6!), the Steelers can prevail. I think Big Ben will continue the play he had in December and the Pittsburgh D will step up at home. The home team won both meetings this season.
(4) Indianapolis over (5) Cincinnati - What an enigma of a game we have here. I think if the Colts were playing Baltimore I would side with the Ravens. I want to go with the Bengals in this game but until Cincinnati finally proves they can win a playoff game with the red-haired Dalton at QB, I cannot pick them. Plus playing Andrew Luck, on the road, doesn't bode well for Cincinnati fans. The Bengals will need a big game from Jeremy Hill if they want to win. I don't see Dalton throwing for record breaking numbers here but if the running game finds traction, the Bengals have a great shot. The Colts, on the other hand, will need to ride the arm of Luck to win this one. He has struggled down the stretch and the Colts have had problems scoring lately. They need to find the end zone often to hold off the Bengals effective run game. This could turn into a shootout, high scoring affair. But remember, last time these teams played in October, Luck lit up the Bengals D for 344 yards. I expect a similar performance from him at home.
(3) Dallas over (6) Detroit - I'll be honest, I have been waiting for the Cowboys to tank all season but they just continued winning. The undefeated record on the road was a HUGE surprise and bodes well in the playoffs, should they survive the Lions. The Cowboys average almost 30 points per game this season. In fact, in their last 4 games of the season they scored no fewer than 38 points. If the Lions are to have any chance in this game, they need their D to come up with big 3 and out drives and possibly get a few turnovers. The Lions have only allowed 17 points per game, on average, this season so they have the defense to keep it close. The problem here is history is working against the Lions. The last Lions playoff win? 1991. But against whom? Dallas. Hmmm....
(4) Carolina over (5) Arizona - Lots of talk and upset fans over seeing Carolina host a playoff game, and win their division, because of their sub-.500 record. I agree it is a bit disappointing to see an 11-5 team have to travel on the road playing a team that, based on records, probably should not even be in the playoffs. However, this is the format the league has so go with it! At the end of the day, the Panthers have been playing outstanding ball the past few weeks. If you ignore their record (and play mid-way through the season) and look at their body of work over the past few weeks, this is a playoff team. They won when they needed to and they are division champs. Arizona, on the other hand, slid into the playoffs....on a long, sad, disappointing slide! The Cardinals looked like a possible Super Bowl threat, a chance to see a home team play in the Super Bowl, at the beginning of the season. But things have fallen apart. They let the division slip away and almost let their playoff spot slip with it. This is a game of QB's and the Cardinals could be in trouble. Ryan Lindley has looked better but I don't think he (and the Cardinals offense) can go blow for blow against Cam Newton. Cam has been on fire since his return to the game. The Panthers D will be able to keep Lindley in check and scrambling most of the game, unable to make the big plays. Cam is capable of pulling out a few long yardage plays to make a difference. Carolina will be playing at home remember so add another advantage check to the Panthers. Should Arizona be hosting? Yes! Should Arizona win this game? Yes. Does Carolina deserve a home playoff game? No. Will it matter in the long run? No. Remember the last time a sub-.500 team won their division and hosted a playoff game? Back in 2010-2011 season when the Seahawks finished 7-9 and hosted the 11-5 Saints. Hmmm, interesting similarities here. Almost identical records and situations this year (minus that tie of course). Same two divisions matching up (NFC South vs NFC West). The Seaawks won that game to become the first team to win a playoff game with a losing overall record. History could repeat itself here.