NFL Playoffs: AFC & NFC Championship Picks

And then there were four.  After the divisional round, the top 2 seeds in the NFC, the Seahawks and Packers will do battle for the right to play in the Superbowl.  On the AFC side, the Patriots will take on the Colts after a clear passing of the torch.

How did we get here?

The Packers were the first to secure a final four spot when Aaron Rodgers played through an injury to lift his team over the the Dallas Cowboys.  Both teams went over 100 yards on the ground, but Eddie Lacy ran for 22 more than the NFL league leader in DeMarco Murray.  Tony Romo was out-passed by nearly 130 yards and a TD.  The turning point was a 1st and goal catch by Dez Bryant that was overturned with 4 minutes to go in the game on 4th down.  They were down 5, and who’s to say the Packers don’t stop the TD on the goal line?  But the Cowboys weren’t given a chance when it was ruled Bryant didn’t complete the process of the catch to the ground.

Then we saw the Carolina Panthers run end when they went into 12th man territory. The big play was was when Kam Chancellor returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory in the 4th in a game that saw Seattle never trail. The Seahawks became the first reigning Superbowl Champ to win a playoff game since the Pats did so in 2006.

NFC Championship

  • Packers @ Seahawks: This is the game I thought we would see before the season.  And honestly, I think this match-up could be better than whatever turns into the final Superbowl.  Why?  Because you get the reigning champs playing the possible MVP.  You get the best home QB in the league playing on the road in the best home field advantage in football.  It’s a rematch of the season opener, a Seattle blowout at home and the reason why Green Bay didn’t get home-field as both teams finished with identical 12-4 records.  That will not happen again this time around. Aaron Rodgers calf injury is a concern, as is Eddie Lacy’s, but I still think this is the team that can go into Seattle and upset the reigning champs. Rodgers showed he could put this team on his back time and again.  This is going to be fun, and probably the better game of the day, but this is my reach pick, and I’m sticking with the my preseason pick of Packers over Seahawks for the right to play in the superbowl. GREEN BAY WINS

AFC Championship

  • Colts @ Patriots: New England is one win away from the Superbowl… again.  Remember when everyone thought they were done early in the season? They’ll play host to the Colts in a rematch of the 2006 AFC Championship game, except for one very big difference.  His counterpart at QB isn’t Peyton Manning, but the heir apparent in Indy, Andrew Luck. Indianapolis’ defense stepped up on the road, limiting the passing game of the Broncos.  The Patriots need to look to exploit their run defense however, which was the best part of Denver’s offense a week ago. Joe Flacco had his way with the Pats secondary as well, so look for Luck to have more success with deep passes in addition to his stellar short game.  Tom Brady has been here many times before, which is why I would say he has more to lose than the Colts in this game.  The Pats have been eliminated in this round the past two seasons and haven’t won on in a decade.  Indy continues to trend upward under Luck, so while they of course want to advance, but this was a great season no matter what happens Sunday.  Don’t forget that the Pats have blew out the Colts the past 3 meetings, including a 22-point victory in November. I want to pick Indianapolis, but I think it’s time for New England to make a reappearance in the big one.  It’ll be close.  NEW ENGLAND WINS
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NFL Playoffs: Wildcard Round Picks

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).

Saturday Games

  • 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

Sunday Games

  • 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

NFL: Wild Card Round Predictions

Here we are. The Playoffs. The second season.

My preseason prediction of a Broncos/Seahawks Superbowl remains in tact.  I also had the Bengals, Colts, Pats, Saints and Seahawks making the postseason as well.

So now that we’re here, it’s time to give my predictions for the first round.

Saturday Games

  • Kansas City @ Indianapolis:  For me, this is the most interesting match-up of the 1st round.  Two 11-5 teams. Both QBs were in the playoffs last season, Alex Smith as a member of the 49ers, of course he didn’t start, and Andrew Luck as a rookie. Both teams struggled in the 2nd half of the season, but did enough to get into the playoffs.  Indy has home-field because they won the South.  Smith and Luck both threw 23 touchdowns this season.  Both have good defenses.  The advantage for me, comes in the backfield.  The Chiefs have one of the best rushers in the league in Jamaal Charles, while the Colts have struggled all season with their run game.  I love Andrew Luck over Alex Smith, but I think being able to run the ball and control the clock is huge for Kansas City, and I think that’s why the Chiefs continue to put their 2-14 2012-2013 season behind them.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • New Orleans @ Philadelphia: I had the Eagles finishing last in the East, so clearly I was wrong.  I did however see the Saints in the playoffs as a wildcard, though I thought they’d lose the division to the Falcons.  Again, Philly won the down East, so they get to host, something that’s big on its own, but huge against a team like the Saints that are not the same team on the road, as they are at home.  With that being said, Drew Brees knows how to win in the playoffs. Nick Foles is getting his first crack at it.  Foles has been a revelation, and along with LeSean McCoy, carried this team to the playoffs.  But I like New Orleans to get out of the first round, even if they have to play on the road to do so.  NEW ORLEANS WINS

Sunday Games

  • San Diego @ Cincinnati: This is the only game I see the home team winning.  I know the Chargers are on a high from forcing their way into the playoffs.   But they have been so inconsistent this season, and I can’t see them getting past a stout Bengals defense on the road.  It’s time for Cincinnati to take that next step in the playoffs, and I think they do so and get out the first round. Neither team has had consistency from their run game, but Andy Dalton has many more weapons in the passing game than Philip Rivers does.  And I like the Giovani Bernard/ BenJarvius Green-Ellis backfield better than Ryan Matthews trying to carry the load for San Diego.  I do see it being a one score game however.  CINCINNATI WINS
  • San Francisco @ Green Bay: First of all, deja-vu anyone? I feel like I watch this match-up, at some point, every year. Not that that’s a bad thing. Second, it’s so wrong that a 12-win team has to play on the road, but that’s what we have here.  The 49ers play in a tougher division, while the Pack won a weaker North division, so they get to host in their home-field known as the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.  The Niners have the defense, the run game and a very good quarterback.  The Packers backed their way into the playoffs, getting Aaron Rodgers back in week 17.  I think this will be a hard fought game, but I think the more consistent Niners get the road win, and make it 3 of 4 for road teams in the Wild Card Round. SAN FRANCISCO WINS

That’s it from me. Enjoy the first round everyone.