NFL Playoff Thoughts

In less than 3 hours time the 2011 NFL Playoffs will have their lid-lifter in Seattle.  A few semi-random thoughts and predictions.

It would not shock me at all to see all 4 road teams win on Wildcard Weekend with Indianapolis and Philadelphia being the home teams more likely to succeed.  Even with New Orleans figuring to not have much, if any, of a running game, having the defending champs play a 7-9 team looks like a mismatch, even given Seattle’s 12th man advantage plus having a dome team play in the chill and damp of January Seattle.  Its just really hard to conceptualize the Seahawks winning this game.  The night game tonight I can truly see going either way.  Both the Colts and Jets had a shaky November only to rebound with strong Decembers, especially Indy.  I expect the battle between the Jets defense and Peyton Manning to be about a push with the Colts scoring roughly 20 points.  The question in my mind is if Sanchez and the Jets offense can outscore that.  I am going to guess they do.

Sunday afternoon will see the Ravens visit upstart Kansas City.  I just can’t help but look at this as Baltimore being the better team all the way around, and the Chiefs also dealing with the distraction of the news that Charlie Weis is leaving at the end of the season to take the same job with the Florida Gators.  Look for Weis to be in Gainesville Monday.  A month ago everyone in their right mind would have said the Eagles would handle the Packers with no problem.  But except for the last 6 minutes of the New York game the Eagles did not play very well at all in the last 2 games they were trying to win.  And I realize you can say what if with a lot of teams but I’ll say it about the Eagles; if they lose that Giants game, even if they beat Dallas in Week 17 because they cared about the game, they miss the playoffs.  The Giants would win the division at 11-5, putting the Eagles in the wildcard mix at 10-6.  They lose said tiebreaker with Green Bay and Tampa Bay.  As for the Packers, even though it was a loss, coming as close to beating New England with Matt Flynn at quarterback seems to’ve given them a ton of confidence and they won what was in essence for them 2 playoff games the last two weeks of the season.  I like the Packers here.

If those picks are right it means divisional weekend would be Baltimore @ Pittsburgh, Green Bay @ Atlanta, New Orleans @ Chicago, and New York @ New England.  The stat the past few seasons is that the Steelers beat the Ravens if Roethlisberger plays, and lose to the Ravens if he does not.  The balanced football the Steelers have been playing I think they are in good shape to win the Divisional round game against any possible opponent (Indy, KC, or Baltimore).  Green Bay at Atlanta would be a good game if it does happen, and I think I have to favor the steady Falcons offense of Matty Ice to get it done.  Allow me to join the list of people that are not sold on the Chicago Bears; I see the Saints getting consistent pressure on Cutler and scoring enough on the Bears defense to win.  If the Bears did somehow win the Super Bowl they would have to be the worst championship offensive line of the Super Bowl era, even worse than the Steelers of two years ago.  But the only possible Division round matchup I would like the Bears in would be against Seattle.  The Jets wouldn’t get beat as bad by the Patriots as they did a few weeks ago, but the Patriots are playing very sound football since their early November loss to Cleveland and I can’t imagine they would lose to New York at Gillette Stadium right now.

That would set up New Orleans at Atlanta and Pittsburgh at New England in the conference championship games.  In Atlanta the Saints could finally be running into a team good enough that the lack of a running game is a problem.  Advantage Falcons.  While the Steelers are certainly capable of beating New England; they have been playing better of late than they were in mid-November when the Pats handled them, its still certainly true that New England is a bad matchup for the Steelers defense.  Also, I have no doubt in my mind that if the game were close, the Patriots would get the call from the refs late in the game.  James Harrison would get flagged for being near Brady, a Steeler drive would not get a deserved flag for roughing Ben, something would happen in New England’s favor.  Call it fatalism, call it me being permanently scarred by the raw deal the Steelers got during the Oakland to at Baltimore corridor of their schedule, but its my working assumption.

Which leaves a Super Bowl of New England vs Atlanta.  As much as it gags me to say this, Brady/Belichik get their 4th rings and tie Bradshaw/Noll but get a lot more love than Bradshaw/Noll ever get.

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