Official NFL Playoff Predictions Sure To Go Wrong… But Not Really
It’s finally here… one of the greatest months in sports. After 17 long, grueling, fantasy filled weeks, it all comes down to this loaded 12-team field of teams ready to vie for the Lombardi Trophy (which will eventually be renamed the Jim Harbaugh Trophy… you heard it here first). Let’s just hope the terrible officiating we’ve been subject to all season does not directly affect any of these outcomes. On the surface, though, this shapes to be one of the most even and strong playoff fields in recent memory.
A couple of quick thoughts before I dive into some of my own personal analysis and predictions:
- Thank God the Cowboys and Lions are not part of these playoffs. Ain’t nobody got time to watch that train wreck.
- Don’t be fooled… Peyton Manning CAN play in cold weather. But I’d still take Brady and the Pats all day in cold or bad weather games (spoiler on future predictions).
- Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb coming back makes the NFC a lot more interesting.
- I believe that 11 of the 12 teams can win the Super Bowl. It’s going to come down to matchups and who gets the most breaks at the most opportune time.
Kansas City (11-5) @ Indianapolis (11-5)
These two teams meet again in a rematch from Week 16, when the Colts dominated the Chiefs in Kansas City. After a 9-0 start, catching the league by storm, the Chiefs finished 2-5 in their last seven games, with their only two wins coming against the bottom-feeding Redskins and Raiders. League history shows that it’s often the hottest team, and not always the best team, that ends up making a run to winning the Super Bowl. Given how the season ended, I’m not so sure it was a great idea to rest players in week 17 against San Diego, despite almost pulling the upset without the likes of Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles. Much of the Chiefs early success was predicated on a stout and opportunistic defense. During the 9-0 start, the Chiefs defense allowed an impressive 13.4 points per game. Over the last seven, that number ballooned to 27.7 points per game. The combination of an exposed defense and some untimely injuries prevented KC from finishing strong. Linebacker Justin Houston is expected to return for this game, which is important as KC will need to regain that early season defensive prowess to earn the victory.
On the other side of the ball, Indy started the season with a 4-1 record and finished the season with the same record over the final five games. They went full steam ahead in Week 17 and played a flawless game against Jacksonville. Yes, it’s the Jags, but Indy will be riding high with confidence as the playoffs get under way in Lucas Oil Stadium and the recent memory of dominating in Kansas City gives the Colts even more of an upper hand. Indy has not been the same team offensively since Reggie Wayne was lost for the season with a torn ACL, but letting Andrew Luck make plays, starting to feed the beast in Trent Richardson, and playing off the energy of the home crowd will fuel the Colts’ victory.
X-Factor: Trent Richardson
Prediction: Colts 23 Chiefs 17
New Orleans (11-5) @ Philadelphia (10-6)
Let the offensive fireworks show begin. The Saints are terrible on the road and the Eagles, until lately, have been oddly dreadful at home. Despite that, one thing is certain in this game: offensive firepower. Drew Brees leads the high powered Saints offense into Philly to go head-to-head with Chip Kelly’s high octane offense in what is sure to be highest scoring game of the first round. The Eagles finished the season fourth in the league in scoring with 27.6 PPG and the Saints finished tenth at 25.9 PPG. This game will feature the league’s number two passing attack (Saints @ 307.4 YPG) and the league’s top rushing offense lead by Shady McCoy (Eagles @ 160.4 YPG). However, with Nick Foles finally entrenched as the starting QB, the Eagles were able to achieve the ninth best passing attack in the league while the Saints rushing attack was the league’s 25th best. Watch out for Brandon Boykin (six interceptions this season, including four in last seven games) and emerging star linebacker Mychal Kendricks to attack Drew Brees and company. Philly finished 10-6 after a 1-3 start and have won seven of their last eight, and with a more balanced offensive attack, the Eagles have the advantage in this matchup at home.
X-Factor: Brandon Boykin
Prediction: Eagles 38 Saints 27
San Diego (9-7) @ Cincinnati (11-5)
Another rematch. Cincinnati went into San Diego in Week 13 and won a critical game 17-10. In my opinion, San Diego is the worst team to make the tournament. They are the one team of the 12 that I don’t think can win it all. They finished the season with the second easiest strength of schedule, which included four games total with the 13-3 Broncos and 11-5 Chiefs. They were gift wrapped the number six seed with some help from the officials (and the Dolphins and Ravens) despite almost losing at home to a Chiefs team who rested their studs in Week 17. Yes, I will admit, Philip Rivers had a great season, better than anyone probably expected, but let’s not kid ourselves, he’s still Philip Rivers, and these are the playoffs. It’s big boy time, not cry baby time. It doesn’t help that they are playing possibly the most balanced offensive/defensive team in the AFC in the Bengals, who ended the season winning five out of six and by a scoring margin of plus-67. Having the best player on the field in AJ Green, I’m picking the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, despite the fact that they are quarterbacked by the inconsistent Andy Dalton. After losing first round games the past two seasons to the Houston Texans, the Bengals finally get it done for their first playoff victory since 1990.
X-Factor: Giovanni Bernard
Prediction: Bengals 20 Chargers 13
San Francisco (12-4) @ Green Bay (8-7-1)
Spoiler Alert: I LOVE the 49ers. Will some teeny tiny bias creep into this pick? Probably. But facts are facts. The Niners finished the year 12-4 and have been clicking on all cylinders since the return of star wide out Michael Crabtree in Week 13. I know that Rodgers and Cobb returned dramatically in Week 17 and hit on a 4th and 8 connection late for the winning touchdown. I know, that unlike last year’s playoff game as well as Week 1 of the 2013 regular season, this game will be in Green Bay, where it is bound to be cold and miserable conditions. But what more does San Francisco have to do? They have beaten Green Bay decisively three times in the past two seasons, including Colin Kaepernick’s coming out party last postseason. Despite losing Mario Manningham, this is the healthiest they have been on both sides of the ball all season. Without looking past this first round game, there also has to be some inkling of Seattle on the mind next week, which should provide enough motivation to get them through on the “Frozen Tundra”. Green Bay’s defense has proven weak all season (8th worst in YPG and PPG) and will be without Pro-Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews, while the Niners boast the 11th best offense and 3rd best defense, despite an array of injuries which lead to inconsistency for much of the season. They can run it, and now with a three headed monster of Crabtree/Boldin/Davis, they can throw it again. The return of Rodgers and Cobb, as well as the hometown elements and a proud history, will keep it close, but the 49ers ultimately win this game and earn a date with Seattle next week.
X-Factor: Michael Crabtree
Prediction: 49ers 31 Packers 24
Next Week’s Playoff Scenarios Based on These Predictions:
Indianapolis @ Denver
Cincinnati @ New England
San Francisco @ Seattle
Philadelphia @ Carolina