Preseason Playoff Picks:
WILD CARD ROUND:
Falcons over Rams
Eagles over Bucs
Packers over Falcons
Saints over Eagles
Packers over Saints
I didn’t do as well with my NFC picks, I picked five of the eight playoff teams correctly. Picking the Bucs to earn a wild card slot really damages my limited credibility. I knew a big reason they won 10 games in 2010 was their incredibly easy schedule. But still, I saw a very talented roster led by quarterback Josh Freeman that I assumed would only get better with another year of experience. However, when the Buccaneer ship started to sink, that team flat out quit. I’m pretty sure the Colts would have beat them by four or five touchdowns if they had played in week 17. Raheem Morris deserved to lose his job, a coach just can’t let things get that ugly, that quick. A quick aside, there are rumors that the Bucs are looking at former Packers and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman to replace Morris. Meh, that would be an uninspiring hire.
Actually, I’m not sure, picking the Rams to win the NFC West might be more embarrassing. Again, I saw a young team that barely missed out on the playoffs (albeit with a losing record), led by a young, talented quarterback, that should have only gotten better with a year’s experience. Alas, Sam Bradford couldn’t stay healthy and the Rams never got on track. I also didn’t expect the NFC West to feature one of the best teams in the NFL in 2011. The Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers were great from start to finish, and the Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks never had a chance.
I don’t regret my Eagles pick. The Eagles brought in a ton of new talent this season that didn’t really mesh until it was too late. That’s not all too surprising, considering the lockout washed out the offseason. Philly is expected to fire offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator (great idea, right?) Juan Castillo and replace him with Steve Spagnoulo, former Rams head coach and defensive coordinator of the 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants. If they draft or sign a legit linebacker or two, watch out for the Eagles in 2012.
Revised Playoff Picks:
WILD CARD ROUND:
Falcons over Giants
Saints over Lions
Packers over Giants
Saints over 49ers
Packers over Saints
As with my AFC picks, I’m sticking with my preseason conference championship pick, Packers over Saints. The Saints have looked sensational lately, they’ve been playing as well as any team in the NFL since their baffling loss to the Rams in week eight. While the Packers have cruised to a outstanding 15-1 record, one can argue that they have never looked as dominant as the Saints have since the team’s bye in week 11. The Saints have not just been beating fellow NFC playoff teams, they’ve been embarrassing them. They’ve beaten the Giants by 25, the Lions by 14 and the Falcons by 29.
However, all three of those games came at the Super Dome. If the Saints are to make it to Indianapolis, they’ll most likely have to win two road games, in San Francisco and Green Bay (Well, not if the Giants or Falcons knock off the Packers, but we’ll get to that later…).
I think a Saints/49ers match-up would be close and entertaining, but I like the Saints to win. The Niners defense, led by All-Pro lineman Justin Smith and linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, has been superb this season, but San Fran just won’t have the offense to keep pace with Drew Brees and company.
If the Saints end up playing the Packers in the conference championship game, I like the Packers to ride their home field advantage to a victory. I tend not to believe that home field advantage plays a huge role in determining a winner, but I believe it does in this circumstance. The Saints are so dominant in the Super Dome, and their offense is best in an indoor, controlled atmosphere. While the Packers’ offense is best in dome conditions, I think the Saints would be two or three point favorites in a home game against the Packers. But, Lambeau is Lambeau. The frozen tundra, where the Packers have just lost two playoff games in its history (2003 to the Falcons and 2008 to the Giants).
The Packers/Saints game in week one was sensational, and I believe a re-match will be as well. I like the Packers in a tight game, just like week one. I just can’t see the Saints defeating the Packers at Lambeau in January. I would love to be proved wrong.
On the other hand, I would not be shocked to see the Packers lose in the divisional round against the Giants, or even the Falcons. I think the Giants especially pose dangerous match-up problems for the Packers.
To beat Green Bay, you must be able to generate an effective pass rush with your front four. You can’t afford to sacrifice coverage by constantly blitzing linebackers and safeties against Aaron Rodgers. With Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka, the Giants definitely have the ability to do that. Throw in the fact that the Packers enter the playoffs with an injury-riddled offensive line, Rodgers could face a lot of pressure in a potential match-up with the Giants.
The Giants offense should also put some fear into the Packers’ faithful. The Packers’ defense gave up the most passing yards in the history of the NFL this season. Eli Manning has entered the elite level of quarterbacks and, if they’re all healthy, Manning will be working with one of the best recruiting corps in the NFL (Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham).
The Packers have also had trouble stopping the run, and just stopping offenses in general, as they forced the least amount of punts of any team this season. The Giants haven’t run a ton this season, but with a solid O-line, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants should have the ability to hold the ball and control the pace of the game.
All that said, I still believe the Packers will get to Super Bowl XLVI. Do I think they’ll defend their championship belt in Indy? I’ll post my Super Bowl and award picks soon.