NFL: The complete playoff special preview
This year’s NFL regular season is over, and now we know who has made it to the post-season. Week 17 gave us plenty of thrills and spills, mostly spills if your name’s Tony Romo. The drama and excitement that this week’s matchups brought us has given us high expectations going into the wild card week, and the rest of the playoffs.
For this post, we’ll take a look at each team’s chance in the playoffs with a little hint of how they may do, as well as a prediction for the NFC and AFC championship games.
1. Atlanta Falcons – South winners – 13-3-0 (Home field advantage and first round bye)
2. San Francisco 49ers – West winners – 11-4-1 (First round bye)
3. Green Bay Packers – North winners – 11-5-0
4. Washington Redskins – East winners – 10-6-0
5. Seattle Seahawks – Wildcard – 11-5-0
6. Minnesota Vikings – Wildcard – 10-6-0
During Matt Ryan’s time as quarterback for the Falcons, he and the team have lost three playoff games with the most recent coming last season in a crushing 24-2 defeat to eventful Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants. This season the Falcons have finished the 2012 regular season with the leagues joint best record, 13-3; but despite that, many have written them off. Ryan himself has had another productive year throwing 32 touchdowns to only 14 interceptions, and with this being his fifth season in the league, you can see he is improving. He has learned the ropes this Atlanta team needs to step up when it matters. They will look to prove the doubters wrong, by beating who ever they’ll welcome to the Georgia Dome in the NFC divisional round, out of the Seattle Seahawks or the Washington Redskins. Despite their recent woeful playoff record, Atlanta’s offense also has two very good receivers in the shape of Julio Jones (who has had a breakout season with ten receiving touchdowns) and Roddy White, as well as a defense that finished the regular season sixth in turnover differential with +13.
Matt Ryan can take inspiration from Eli Manning who lost his first two playoff games but won in his third appearance. So, can Ryan make it lucky number four in year number five and take the Atlanta Falcons to the NFC Championship game? Out of the four teams in the NFL with a bye week, the Falcons are the most likely to bust and, regardless if they do manage a long awaited playoff win, they don’t have the type of defense the Giants delivered on two occasions to help Eli Manning get over the line. Matt Ryan and co will have to wait another year for a shot at greatness.
San Francisco 49ers
It has been an eventful and positive season for the San Francisco 49ers. The team headed in to the 2012 season as one of the favourites to go to the Super Bowl, and that view has not changed among many. The 49ers possess one of – if not arguably – the best defense in the league, and statistically are third in total defense during the regular season, giving up only 294.4 yards per game. They have 25 takeaways and a turnover differential of +9, which leaves them ranked ninth in the league in that field. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith was also in fine form as he racked up 19.5 sacks on the season.
For Jim Harbaugh, it has been a good end of season with second-year pro Colin Kaepernick coming in to replace Alex Smith. Smith finished the season with a passer rating of 104.1 (which made him the third best rated quarterback in the league) but young Colin Kaepernick is considered more dynamic with his ability to move out of the pocket as well as scramble, and has shown to have better arm strength. As well as this, his abilities have shown in his statistics with the young QB throwing ten touchdowns for 1,814 yards and just three interceptions along with five scores on the ground in his seven games as the team’s starter. Kaepernick has also been able to link up with veteran Randy Moss at times, and has racked up a very good partnership with his main wide receiver Michael Crabtree who is now starting to look like the big time NFL player many predicted he could be.
The decision to switch quarterback has paid off so far. San Francisco went on to clinch a bye in the playoffs, taking them straight to the divisional round, one game away from the NFC Championship. But, despite us all seeing a season full of many surprises (especially at the quarterback position) this situation in San Francisco probably won’t see the team replicate a Tom Brady-Drew Bledsoe-type scenario in which Brady went on to win the Lombardi trophy in his second year as a pro, following him becoming the starter due to an injury to Bledsoe.
Green Bay Packers
A win on that night would have given them a first round bye but following their week 17 defeat to divisional rivals the Vikings, they only have themselves to blame after missing out on a week off. But it is only a blip, and overall, Green Bay’s season has been a success.The Green Bay Packers were controversially defeated by the Seattle Seahawks on a Monday-night game early in the season that saw the end of the replacement refs taking charge on the field.
Aaron Rodgers has led the way once again by continuing to get it done with an offense that doesn’t possess as many weapons as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have at their disposal. With Rodgers leading the league with an incredible passer rating of 108.0 as well as 39 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions, the quarterback could be the difference maker for Green Bay to make a playoff run. He’s turned Jerry Jones in to a top receiver, he leads the league with 14 scores on the season, and the Packers also have their defense getting healthy again. It all makes them one of the favourites in the NFC to compete for the Lombard trophy in February.
Their journey starts this weekend when they face the Vikings again, but this time the game takes place at Lambeau field. A win this weekend would mean they have to travel to Candlestick Park to take on the 49ers and then would have to beat whoever they face in the NFC title game to get to New Orleans. These days in the NFL nothing comes easy and a number-one seed hasn’t won the Super Bowl since the 2003 Patriots. So don’t be surprised if Green Bay is the team representing the NFC at Super Bowl 47.
A seven-game winning streak has seen the Redskins make the playoffs as NFC East champions. I bought in to the whole RGIII being black Jesus and he really has been Washington’s saviour by guiding them to the post-season.
The second overall pick out of Baylor has turned the franchise around and his clutch performance, in the win-or-go-home game against the Cowboys this past week, has started off Griffin’s legacy. Griffin is always graceful and shows veteran-type skills on and off the field; he is also keen to praise his team-mates and rightfully so, since Pierre Garcon and fellow rookie Alfred Morris have also assisted in the Redskins transformation. Morris’ impressive rookie season has seen him rush for 1613 yards; he stands second in the league, only behind Adrian Peterson. His 13 rushing touchdowns again leave him second in scores, this time only behind Marshawn Lynch. The stats show that the young running back is establishing himself as one of the best in the league. The running game has helped RGIII succeed as well as other various skills, including his veteran-like pocket presence and ability to scramble the options Washington have on offense. Griffin’s impressive season has put him in the running for rookie of the year; his stats include 20 touchdown passes to just five interceptions, which is outstanding. He threw 3,200 passing yards and rushed for over 800 yards, as well as scored seven on the season.
Washington will host the Seattle Seahawks this weekend, which makes for an interesting matchup as both teams possess similar offenses and have defenses that like to force turnovers; Washington are ranked third in the league with a +17 turnover differential and 31 takeaways. The Redskins are on a hot streak. The Seahawks don’t have the best record on the road, but now that their monster defence is fully equipped, it’s pretty much too close to choose a winner. How far Washington can actually go is anyone’s call. But I think it is safe to say that, whoever gets the win this Sunday, will go on to knock off the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. A rookie could be starting in the NFC Championship game.
The Seattle Seahawks are an intriguing football team and have come a long way under head coach Pete Carroll’s guidance. They are a surprise package in some people’s eyes but from the start of the season, it was clear to see that this team had talent. Seattle haven’t lost a game at home his season and their 8-0 record at Century Link Field saw them knock off the New England Patriots, the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. Despite being only 3-5 on the road, the Seahawks have showed signs of improvement away from Seattle towards the end of the regular season with a win in Chicago and a blowout against the Bills – both of which were part of the teams give game winning streak to end the season on a high. The Seahawks travel to the capital to take on the Washington Redskins for wild card week after narrowly missing out on the NFC West title and a first round bye. The game itself is too close to call but Seattle have dangerous weapons on both sides of the ball: on offense, rookie Russell Wilson justified his selection in the draft and Pete Carroll’s decision to name him as the team’s starting quarterback over Matt Flynn. Wilson racked up a passer rating of 100.0 in the regular season throwing 26 touchdown passes, which tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record for touchdowns in a season and threw just ten interceptions for over 3,000 yards and also scored four rushing touchdowns, putting him in the rookie of the year conversation.
The ground game has helped the rookie with Marshawn Lynch putting on another great display this season rushing for 1590 yards and 11 touchdowns. The offense has got things going despite any major weapons at receiver, but the team’s success has started from its foundations set on defense and the standards have been set high.
The return of Browner and Sherman at cornerback is a huge boost as Seattle have had to cope without their two starters at the position, but have actually managed fine. Seattle’s pass defense ranked sixth in the league allowing just 203.1 yards per game, finished fourth in the league in total defense only giving up 306.2 yards per game, and was fifth in turnover differential with +13 and 31 takeaways.
The statistics are all there to suggest that this Seahawks team could go far in the post-season and some do believe they have a genuine shot to reach New Orleans. Their first test will be against the Redskins and a road win will only boost their confidence. If they win and then go on to face the Falcons, the pass defense will give the Falcons a torrid time and Seattle could well be in the NFC Championship game come the end of the month.
No disrespect to the Minnesota Vikings but Adrian Peterson has pretty much carried the team on his own this season.
It was this time last year when Peterson underwent surgery on a potential career threatening torn ACL injury. He has come back and produced one of the best seasons ever by a running back in the history of the NFL, as he racked up 2097 yards leaving him only nine yards shy of Ed Dickerson’s record. He also rushed for an impressive 12 scores on the ground. The Vikings and Peterson himself have been written off many times this season, but the team rallied to win their last four games with the last coming against the Green Bay Packers, ensuring they got the last NFC wild card spot ahead of the Chicago Bears.
The Vikings will matchup against Green Bay again this weekend when the playoffs begin, as Peterson and co look to pull off another shock, as well as another win, over the Packers. This time though, they’ll have to do it on the road where the team are 3-5. It would be foolish to rule the Vikings out, especially as Christian Ponder even produced in week 17 when he threw 3 touchdown-passes in the win and notably no interceptions. Everyone likes a fairytale story but this one will end at Lambeau Field, as a playoff run is most likely a step too far for Minnesota. They’ve made big strides this season and can look back on it with fond memories, especially as Peterson should walk away for the regular season MVP award and deservedly so.
NFC title game prediction:
1. Seattle Seahawks vs Green Bay Packers
or 2. Washington Redskins vs San Francisco 49ers
or 3. Seattle Seahawks vs San Francisco 49ers
Out of the six NFC teams, these four are the ones to watch out. I reiterate the fact that the Falcons will crumble again in the playoffs meaning that a rookie quarterback will have a shot at the Super Bowl. If it’s RGIII, the Redskins will lose: a trip to New Orleans is a step too far for a team that is still rebuilding. But they won’t face the Packers because those two teams rely mainly on offense and one defensive team will be in the title game. I don’t see the 49ers losing an NFC title game if they get there. The more I think about it the more I am convinced that, on January 20th, the fifth seeded Seahawks will take a trip to Lambeau Field to take on the third-seed Green Bay Packers in a repeat of that Monday night madness from week 3 – with both fighting it out to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. All in agreement that the game ends on a last second touchdown again… I thought so.
1. Denver Broncos – West winners – 13-3-0 (Home field advantage and first round bye)
2. New England Patriots – East winners – 12-4-0 (First round bye)
3. Houston Texans – South winners – 12-4-0
4. Baltimore Ravens – North winners – 10-6-0
5. Indianapolis Colts – Wildcard – 11-5-0
6. Cincinnati Bengals – Wildcard – 10-6-0
From the thrills of Tebowmania and a playoff win last season, the Denver Broncos have gone that step further this season, thanks to a rejuvenated Peyton Manning who has come back playing some of the best football of his career despite having neck surgery, which ruled him out of the 2011 season. It was foolish for anyone to write Manning off – and anybody who did has been proven wrong as Manning has thrown 4,659 passing yards this season, his second best season in his 15 years as a pro. As well as this Manning threw 37 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions, meaning he finished the regular season with a passer rating of 105.8. With the stats suggesting he is the frontrunner, along with Adrian Peterson, to win the NFL comeback player of the year award, and possibly league MVP.
The future hall of fame quarterback has turned receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas in to big-time players with the two hauling in 23 of his 37 touchdown passes, giving Denver an offense to be feared as well as a defense that is ranked second in the league for total defense, giving up only 290.8 yards per game overall.
The Broncos defense also has Von Miller, a thorn in many opponents’ side, as the outside linebacker who went on to get 18.5 sacks during the regular season and even contributed for an interception that went for a touchdown. All there is to say about this football team is that they are well equipped all around, and with them locking up the number-one seed, thanks to an 11-game winning streak, you could forgive Peyton Manning for having one eye on going back to his place of birth for Super Bowl 47. It’s been an emotional ride for Manning and it could end in fairytale fashion with a win in New Orleans that could include a divisional round matchup against his former team (the Colts) and an AFC championship game against long-time adversary Tom Brady.
With Manning at the helm, this Denver Broncos team has the tools to go all the way. The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will go through Denver, but in the playoffs anything can happen so expect the unexpected and lots of drama.
New England Patriots
It’s always eventful in New England and once again the Patriots are among the top contenders to win the Super Bowl.
Quarterback Tom Brady is looking to win the elusive fourth ring, which would quite possible cement his place as the greatest quarterback of all time. Thankfully for Brady, head coach Belichick has formed a football team that knows how to win games and, most of the time, win in style.
In the 12 games won by the Patriots during the regular season they outscored their opponents 452-215. In the four games lost, they were only outscored 105-116; with narrow losses to Arizona (2 points), Baltimore and Seattle by a point and finally San Francisco (who lead by 28 point at halftime) by seven points.
These New England Patriots have all the pieces in place to go on and win a championship as they possess a devastating offense that is ranked first in the NFL with 427.9 yards per game in total offense, along with a vastly improved defense, and are even dangerous on special teams. The offense has continued to get it done despite injuries to Julian Edelman (who broke his foot in week 13) but key weapon Rob Gronkowski returned this week. And with Aaron Hernandez’s comeback earlier on in the season, the two-headed tight-end monster will be on the field for the playoffs, and has a bye week to prepare for its divisional round game.
Brady threw for 4,827 passing yards in the regular season, second best in his 13-year career, and threw an impressive 34 touchdown passes, making it only the fourth time in his career that he has thrown over 30 touchdowns in a season. He also threw just eight interceptions, making it the third time in his career that he has finished a regular season with under ten picks. Unbelievably Brady is always improving as a quarterback, although he has the running game established mainly by Stevan Ridley.
The running game is something New England had lacked in recent years but now that they have one, it gives opposing defenses something else to worry about, as well as opening up play action. Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden are also three very useful running backs who can come in and offer different options, so the position offers just as many alternatives to a passing game that includes Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd at wide receiver.
This new running attack reminds me of when Terrell Davis joined the Denver Broncos and helped quarterback John Elway win back-to-back Super Bowls, following three defeats in his other big game appearances. As well as this, the Patriots defense has come on leaps and bounds as the team has gone from being ranked 31st in total yardage last season, to finishing the 2012 regular season first in turnovers with a differential of 25, and second in takeaways with 41, thanks to an improved secondary as well as good defensive play all round.
This Patriots team will at least reach the AFC title game on January 20th with many predicting a New England vs Denver matchup. But with this year being a Super-Bowl-or-bust type season, you can bank on New England representing the AFC come Super Bowl 47.
The Houston Texans had hold of the number-one seed in the AFC for weeks and still held it going in to the last week of the regular season, but a defeat to their divisional rivals the Colts (along with wins for the Patriots and Broncos) saw the Texans slip in to the third-seed position, which now means they will play this weekend.
In wild-card week, the Texans will host the Bengals who have won their last three games in a row and their last 4 out of 5 games as opposed to Houston who are on a two-game losing streak and dropped to 12-4 following an 11-1 record after 12 games.
It’s hard to pinpoint Houston’s recent decline but they need to fix the problem now that the playoffs are here. Cincinnati is a team that shouldn’t be underestimated. They need their offense to click again and will look for quarterback Matt Schaub to rekindle his partnership with wide receiver Andre Johnson. They will also hope Arian Foster can recapture the sparkling form he showed for the majority of the season, when he racked up 1,424 yards on the ground and lead the league in rushing touchdowns with 15.
Their main goal to recapture that winning formula should be defense, as it was their hard-working efforts on that side of the ball that made them so hard to beat early on in the season.
In a lot of their big games this season, it’s almost as if the Texans have gone missing with defeats to the Packers 42-24 and the Patriots 42-14 standing out as well as the week 17 loss to the Colts leading to them having to play this weekend but if JJ Watt can step up to the MVP type form, he showed for the majority of the season Houston can stop the rot; the defensive end led the league in sacks with 20.5.
Whilst the Texans did clinch the AFC South divisional title, they (and their fans) will feel they should be resting this weekend since Houston was predicted as an early season Super Bowl contender. That’s not to say they can’t make the big game, but recent form is not on the team’s side. A win over the Bengals will mean they travel to Gillette Stadium in the divisional round, where they were blown out by the Patriots in week 14 and although they will want a shot at redeeming themselves, big defeats always remain in the back of your mind. Overall it is clear to see that Houston has the talent but this young franchise is still learning and will have to do it the hard way to reach New Orleans by going through two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Their task is almost certainly a step too far.
It has been an emotional week for all those associated with the Ravens, as it was announced Ray Lewis will retire at the end of the season. The 13-time pro bowler is one of, if not the greatest linebacker to play the game. And whilst the news is obviously devastating, it was also revealed that he will return for this Sunday’s playoff game against the Colts. Having their inspirational leader back on the field can only be beneficial for Baltimore. They need something to reignite them, following a roller coaster of a season.
The Ravens finished 10-6 and managed to clinch the AFC North but will host Andrew Luck and the 11-5 Colts in what will be a very close and exciting game. This game has all types of stories for Baltimore with Lewis playing and the fact that they use to be known as the Baltimore Colts. Can this team put a playoff run together? Given their unpredictability it is hard to hazard a guess to whether they can or not. Joe Flacco and the no-huddle offense slowly declined week by week, and despite injuries the defense still managed to finish eighth in the league for turnover differential and had 25 takeaways on the season.
The Ravens are similar to the Texans as both were predicted to have a genuine shot at the Super Bowl, but the regular season has thrown doubt over that, and now, both teams face young opponents this weekend. Despite Baltimore being able to rest some key starters in week 17, I think they won’t get any luck against Indianapolis resulting in a disappointing end for Ray Lewis and his illustrious career.
Last season the “Suck for Luck” sweepstakes began and, following a disappointing 2-14 season, the Colts acquired the number one overall pick; via football not through the other type of sucking, I’m sure I am not the only one who thought that campaign name sounded weird.
Back to football, and one thing the Colts have not done this season is suck as the team have rallied together after head coach Chuck Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia to pull off a fairytale story by going 11-5 on the season with Andrew Luck putting in some spectacular performances as he starts off creating his own legacy in Indianapolis. The Colts made the playoffs and will go on the road to face the Baltimore Ravens this weekend with a very good chance of making the divisional round.
A win for the Colts would almost certainly match them up against former quarterback Peyton Manning and his new team the Denver Broncos. Of course everyone knows Manning was released when injured to pave the way for Andrew Luck to start the rebuilding process for the franchise as the team’s new quarterback. A 28-16 week-17 win over divisional rivals the Texans has proved they can compete against the best and on their day, Andrew Luck and these young Colts could beat anyone. Fellow rookies TY Hilton, Donnie Avery and Vick Ballard have also been very impressive for the Colts on offense in their first seasons as pros.
The Colts offensive line has also held up and their defense has slowly improved week by week. They produce big plays when it matters. The Colts are lucky to have Andrew Luck as he is something special, has come in to the league showing great pocket presence, arm strength, and is also great on the run to the surprise of some. He set a variety of rookie records this season such as the most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in a single season throwing for 4,374 yards. He threw 23 touchdowns on the season and scored five touchdowns himself. Luck also got the most game-winning drives by a rookie quarterback with seven, the most fourth-quarter comebacks by a rookie quarterback with six including the last second touchdown in Detroit, the most wins by a number one pick in his rookie season with 11. When the Colts got to eight wins on the season he became the first rookie QB to achieve this feat.
Will the pressure of the playoffs get to Luck? He showed composure all season long and predicted the Colts to get to nine wins at the start of the season, which many laughed at, but went on to surpassed that prediction and they have gone on to be the surprise package of the season. Come Sunday against the Ravens, the Indianapolis playoff run will begin with a win over Baltimore and they may even pull off a shock in Denver with the emotion of a game against his former team getting too much for Manning setting up Luck vs Brady, part two, in the AFC title game.
By going 10-6, the Cincinnati Bengals reached the playoffs for the second successive season and set up a wild card week matchup against the Houston Texans.
The two met at this stage of the post-season last year and the Texans defeated them 31-10 but the Bengals go into this match full of confidence following three successive wins.
Houston, on the other hand, have lost their last two and slipped from first seeds to third, on the last week of the season. This matchup could be a close one. Any success the Bengals hope of having in the playoffs will come down to three players. First up is second year quarterback Andy Dalton who has had a very good season throwing over 3,500 passing yards for 27 touchdowns; Dalton became one of three players in NFL history with at least 20 touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons along with Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. Dalton continued his good partnership with wide receiver AJ Green this season who also had a good second season as a pro, as he racked up 1,350 receiving yards, along with 11 touchdown receptions. Finally, the third key player in this team is on defense and his name is Gino Atkins. The defensive tackle had 12.5 sacks on the season and can produce big plays when it matters. If these three guys can get it going, the Bengals could get a road win against Houston.
Regardless of the result, this franchise has improved drastically over recent years and that is great to say as they can take a lot of pride away from this season as the team continues to grow.
AFC title game prediction:
1. Indianapolis Colts vs New England Patriots
or 2. New England Patriots vs Denver Broncos
It is bold to rule out three of the six playoff teams but the majority of people thinks that the AFC championship game will be contested in Denver at Mile High between the Broncos and the New England Patriots.
The Colts and Bengals could easily pull off shocks that won’t be so shocking in wild card weekend; if that was to happen, then I see the Colts losing to the Patriots and the Broncos defeating the Bengals to set up the dream matchup in the AFC. That is the most likely AFC title game. But in the playoffs, there is always some sort of shock and I see the Colts beating the Ravens this weekend, and the apprentice Andrew Luck defeating the master Peyton Manning, to take Indianapolis to an AFC title game at Gillette Stadium against the Patriots who (in this scenario) defeat the Houston Texans in the wildcard round.
There are bound to be thrills and spills this post-season but I think most are in agreement that the most likely championship game we’ll see will be between the Patriots and the Broncos, giving Tom Brady or Peyton Manning another shot at another Lombardi Trophy.