With each passing season, I seem to get a little better at making predictions. Last year was the first time I can remember both my Super Bowl teams making the playoffs. This year, both teams I picked to make the trip to New York (well, New Jersey), Seattle and Denver, are the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences.
I wish I could say all my predictions were great, but having gone back and listened to Monday Morning Huddle in August, I had Houston in the AFC Championship Game and Atlanta with a first-round bye. Hopefully, the playoff predictions are a little better.
In what has been one of the craziest year's in NFL history, fans should probably expect most of the same in January, and with several storylines intriguing fans everywhere, the next 11 games are cannot miss football. How will Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton fair in their second and third playoff games? Are the Eagles this season’s dark horse? Will we see Peyton and Brady one more time in the playoffs? Can Seattle be beaten at home?
Here are my answers to all those questions and more:
AFC Wild Card
Kansas City at Indianapolis
This is a rematch of the Week 16 matchup at Arrowhead in which the Colts defeated the Chiefs 23-7. Both these teams slept walked through the last few weeks of the season coasting to the playoffs.
Heck, Kansas City sat half its starters in a meaningless game last week, but still nearly won. It will be interesting to see which team can turn it on and which one has more difficulty getting things going.
This game is also a rematch of the 2007 Wild Card Game in which I picked Kansas City to win. Then Indianapolis went on to win the Super Bowl.
I will not make the same mistake. Look for the Colts and Andrew Luck to continue having success moving the ball against the tough Chiefs defense.
San Diego at Cincinnati
If not for some real juice in this season’s Wild Card Weekend, this one would get more media hype. The team that barely got in the playoffs by winning its last four games, San Diego, goes up against an inexperienced playoff team that is undefeated at home, Cincinnati. Not only are the Bengals unbeaten in the jungle, the team outscored its opponents 275-134 in its eight games in Cincinnati.
These two teams also squared off this season and that was one of the rare road wins for the Bengals. Expect Cincinnati to give Mike McCoy a dose of his own medicine: run the ball, keeping the pressure off Dalton while controlling the clock.
NFC Wild Card
New Orleans at Philadelphia
This would probably be a lot more difficult to pick if the game were at the Big Easy. In Philadelphia, despite the home woos for the Eagles, Chip Kelly’s offense is clicking to well to expect Rob Ryan’s defense to slow them down at the Linc.
Any shot the Saints have relies on defensive end Cameron Jordan and company pressuring QB Nick Foles like the Cowboys did last week.
More than likely, Quarterback Drew Brees will have to go point-for-point with Foles and the Eagles. The Saints have not scored more than 20 points in a road game since Week 6 when New Orleans lost in New England.
San Francisco at Green Bay
In my opinion, this is the game of Wild Card Weekend even though it could get lopsided. For the fourth time in less than 17 months and the second time in the playoffs, these two teams will be on the same field. The 49ers have won all three of those previous contests. The Packers have the advantage of playing at home in the cold, but the 49ers are built to win in bad weather with great defense and a solid running game.
Green Bay ranks in the bottom 10 in both rushing yards and passing yards allowed. San Francisco will run Frank Gore early and often, getting a relative easy playoff victory.
San Francisco 30-17
AFC Division Round
Indianapolis at Denver
Peyton vs. Luck. If this ends up being the matchup for Division Weekend, the media will go crazy. Peyton Manning going up against his former team for the chance to move closer to another Super Bowl (if the teams meet in this round, obviously the winner only advances to the Championship game).
The Broncos have been hungry all season to get back to this position after what transpired against the Ravens last season. Fans should not forget, however, the Colts also lost to the Ravens last year and have something to prove themselves. This is also a rematch of the Week 7 matchup in which the Colts won. It will be a different result at Mile High.
Cincinnati at New England
This is another rematch of a regular season game with only the location of the match switching. The Bengals snapped Tom Brady’s consecutive games with a passing touchdown streak in Week 5 when they beat the Patriots 13-6 in Cincinnati.
Although the Bengals are a more talented team on paper, the team struggles too much on the road to predict a Bengals win in a playoff game at Foxboro. Plus, Dalton is just not ready to beat Brady on the big stage. He will need a lot of help. Cincinnati’s best hope is for New England to continue its redzone blues.
New England 23-16
NFC Division Round
San Francisco at Seattle
Perhaps the most anticipated rematch in these playoffs, the two division rivals split during the regular season with the home team winning each time. Arizona proved the Seahawks are not unbeatable at home, but for whatever reason quarterback Colin Kaepernick has really struggled in front of the 12th man in Seattle. He will have to exercise some huge demons in order for the 49ers to win this one.
Expect a hard fought match that is a playoff game for the ages. As if these teams did not hate each other enough.
Philadelphia at Carolina
You know, I really don’t like picking all the favorites and one has to figure that something crazy is going to happen this January because the 2013 season was too insane for it to end with only the number one and two seeds going to the Championship Games. However, with the way the playoffs fell, I cannot predict it going any other way.
Carolina has had a top three defense all season and comes in really as the NFL’s hottest team winning 11 of its last 12 games. Philadelphia is a good road team and will definitely threaten the Panthers in this one. Carolina loves to be physical, but can they keep up with the speed of the Eagles? My answer: yes.
The two conference championship games will be polar opposites of each other as New England and Denver will be setting records on offense while Seattle and Carolina will probably send the NFL back a few decades. Again, both these games would be rematches from the regular season, but in the opposite stadium that the games were held in during 2013.
New England at Denver
Brady has Manning’s number in this rivalry, but look for the difference to be the running game from Denver. RB Knowshon Moreno rushed for 224 yards in the regular season matchup.
The key to winning for the Patriots may be how effectively they stop Moreno which would put Manning in obvious passing situations in the bitter cold, Denver air. New England cannot fall behind 24-0 in this one and expect a comeback especially without tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Carolina at Seattle
One has to go all the way back to Week 1 for the regular season game between these two with the Seahawks edging the Panthers 12-7. This one will be a slug-match as the teams are such mirror imagines of each other. Even the quarterbacks, both young, rocket arms and ability to run, are nearly identical. The team that makes the costly mistake in the fourth quarter will lose. The Seahawks have the edge playing at home.
Super Bowl XLVIII
Denver vs. Seattle
Denver let me down last season so hopefully Manning can come through this year. Seattle has consistently been the NFL’s best team and if both these teams make it to New York (cough, New Jersey) then it should be a great Super Bowl. It could very well be Manning’s last real chance at a second Super Bowl title.
Unlike so many of the potential playoff matchups, these two teams did not meet during the regular season and unlike the championship matches, it would be hard to find two teams that were more different in the NFL.
Seattle wants to play defense, pound the ball in the running game and scare teams with loud noises. Denver wants to outscore teams, gain 500 yards and scare opponents with four and five wide receiver sets.
It should be noted that the winter weather at Metlife Stadium would probably favor the Seahawks. In a snowy low scoring affair, one would expect Seattle to win its first championship. If the game becomes a shootout, the pendulum tips to Denver’s favor. The game may not be in front of the 12th man, but Seattle is the more complete, balanced team and is more suited to win a bad weather game. Seahawks win the city’s first championship since the SuperSonics in 1979.