The second season is here. We have the match-ups, we have the times. The NFL Playoffs are here. It was an interesting regular season, that saw one division finish under .500, while another sent 3 teams to the playoffs. The rookie wide-receiving class was one of the best we’ve ever seen. Two of the teams with the longest playoff droughts (Buffalo and Cleveland) both had chances for much of the season to snap said postseason ruts, but neither could. Tom Brady proved he wasn’t done, Aaron Rodgers continues to climb up the ladder and JJ Watt can do no wrong. How about the defending champs with a chance to repeat? Not to mention all the off-the-field issues. The regular season was full of intrigue, and the playoffs promise to be just as entertaining.
As for my regular season picks record, I ended at 165-90 after a 10-6 week 17, which is pretty good if I do say so myself.
Before we get to my first round playoff picks, let’s see how my preseason predictions for playoff teams went.
NFC Playoff Teams
- Eagles, Packers, Seahawks, Saints, Panthers, 49ers
(I got the NFC North and West winners right, but I had Carolina in as a wildcard. Not bad, not great.)
AFC Playoff Teams
- Broncos, Patriots, Colts, Bengals, Ravens, Chiefs
(I was a lot better here, missing on the Steelers and where the Bengals would end up).
- Cardinals @ Panthers: It’s the NFC 4-5 match-up that pits an 11-5 West team versus the 7-8-1 South Champions, and the first meeting between the two teams since October 2013. Arizona was the class of the NFC for much of the season following a 9-1 start, but the loss of starting QB Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton saw them close the regular season losers of 4 of their last 6. They lost possible home-field, a bye and the division they were running away with and now they have to open up on the road, where they were .500 in the regular season. Carolina is hot and holds the momentum of a 4-game win streak into the playoffs. Cam Newton seems revitalized after early season injuries and escaping a car accident. The Panthers run game is better than the Cardinals. Arizona’s defense has been huge all season, while the Panthers has come on of late. The biggest difference is at QB with Ryan Lindley, the Cardinals 4th stringer, vs Newton. Midway through the season there was a chance of seeing the Superbowl host city’s team playing the big game, now I see a 1st round knock out. CAROLINA WINS
- Ravens @ Steelers: AFC North foes meet for the 3rd time this season in a 3-6 match-up. These two teams split the season series, each winning in blowout fashion. Pittsburgh reeled off 4-straight wins en-route to the division title, whereas the Ravens needed everything to fall right in week 17 for them to make it in. The Steelers boast the 2nd ranked offense in the league, who will be up against the Ravens 8th ranked defense. With rain in the forecast, the ground game becomes even more important. Pittsburgh could be without their great back Le’Veon Bell, who finished the season 2nd only to DeMarco Murray in rush yards with 1,361. Baltimore has the 5th leading rusher in Justin Forsett, so this one is going to be fun to watch in the trenches. If the rain isn’t too bad, Ben Roethlisberger holds the advantage in the air over Joe Flacco. Both teams have won a Superbowl in the past 6 years, so neither will be scared off by the bright lights. I think this will be a close one, but give me the home team to take this one. PITTSBURGH WINS
- Bengals @ Colts: The AFC 4-5 game starts things off early on Sunday with two teams that were in the playoffs a year ago. Cincinnati lost their chance to host a game in week 17, and now look to snap their 3-straight one-and-done playoff streak on the road. Indianapolis had been struggling despite locking up back-to-back South titles, but got back on track last week with a big game against Tennessee. Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton both have something to prove in this game, as both had way too many turnovers in the regular season. That being said, I like Luck better than Dalton in every facet of the game. Cincinnati’s only real the edge is on the ground with the emergence of Jeremy Hill. I picked the Bengals to finally advance to the 2nd round, and if they control time of possession they very well could get the road victory. But I think Andrew Luck is poised to make a run, and because I had them losing to Denver in the AFC Championship game before the season, I’ll stick to that now. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
- Lions @ Cowboys: The game of the weekend in the NFL pits an 11-5 Detroit team against a 12-4 Dallas team most didn’t see coming. The Lions finally put all their talent together, but offensive struggles in the 2nd half allowed the Packers to sneak in and steal the division, forcing them to open up on the road. Most thought the Cowboys defense would be historically bad once again, and while it was still bottom half in the league, they made the stops they needed to. What really carried Dallas was the three headed monster on offense of Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo, who all broke Cowboy records for yards at their respective positions. Good thing Detroit has the 2nd ranked defense to try and combat Dallas’ 7th ranked offense. Both teams have been regarded as two of the most talented teams over the past 6 years or so, but neither have done much to earn too much praise. So who moves on? Both QBs have been known to commit turnovers in key situations, but Romo hasn’t in a while now. I think the Lions defense finally forces a mistake, while slowing down Murray in the process. It’s going to be close, but I think Detroit finds a way, with Calvin Johnson looking like his old self, to win on the road. DETROIT WINS