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Revisiting My NFL Predictions and Revised Playoff Picks: Part Three, Super Bowl XLVI and Awards

SUPER BOWL XLVI

Preseason Pick:

Packers over Ravens

Revised Prediction:

Packers 31 Ravens 20

I’m not going to change a thing. I think the Packers ride home field advantage to another Super Bowl, where Aaron Rodgers wins the game’s MVP again as the Packers win back-to-back Super Bowls for the second time in their history.

POSTSEASON AWARD PICKS (Preseason picks in italics):

NFL MVP: Aaron Rodgers, GB – 4,643 yards, 44 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.3 comp %

Preseason Pick: Aaron Rodgers, GB

You really can’t go wrong picking Rodgers or Drew Brees as the league’s MVP. They both had outstanding seasons, two of the best season-long performances in NFL history. You really have to nit pick to choose one over the other. In the end, I went with Rodgers because he threw less interceptions and won two more games, including the head-to-head match-up between the two quarterbacks way back on the season’s opening Thursday. Rodgers’ 44-6 TD-to-INT ratio was just out of this world good.

Honorable Mentions: Drew Brees, NO; Tom Brady, NE

Offensive Player of the Year: Drew Brees, NO – 5,476 yards, 46 TDs, 14 INTs 71.2 comp %

Preseason Pick: Rodgers

I hedged my bets by picking Brees as the offensive player of the year. Brees put up tremendous numbers, breaking Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season and his own record for completion percentage.

Honorable Mentions: Rodgers; Brady, NE; Calvin Johnson, DET; Matthew Stafford, DET; Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX; Rob Gronkowski, NE; Jimmy Graham, NO

That would be T-Sizzle, from Ball Hard University of course…

Defensive Player of the Year: Terrell Suggs, BAL – 70 tackles, 14 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 2 INTs

Another tough call here. I ended up going with Suggs because his numbers, 14 sacks and 7 forced fumbles, were too great to ignore. T-Sizzle made big play after big play this season, helping the Ravens to 12-4 record and AFC North division crown. 49ers’ lineman Justin Smith was also phenomenal this season, and was a big reason why the Niners had so much success his season. He would also be a deserving winner of this award.

Preseason Pick: Ndamukong Suh, DET

Honorable Mentions: Justin Smith, SF; Jared Allen, MIN; Jason Pierre-Paul, NYG; DeMarcus Ware, DAL; Darrelle Revis, NYJ; Jonathan Joseph, HOU

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Cam Newton, CAR – 4051 passing yards, 21 TDs, 706 rushing yards, 14 TDs

Preseason Pick: Mark Ingram, NO

This was a no-brainer. Newton had one of the best rookie seasons of all time. Newton has out of this world talent. I’m not sure there has ever been a quarterback with as much potential as Newton.

Honorable Mentions: A.J. Green, CIN; Julio Jones, ATL; Andy Dalton, CIN; DeMarco Murray, DAL

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Von Miller, DEN-  64 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Preseason Pick: J.J. Watt, HOU

Another really tough call here, this time between Miler and 49ers’ linebacker Aldon Smith. In the end, I went with Miller because he was the best player on a playoff team (be it as it may, an 8-8 playoff team). Tebow gets all the pub, but Von Miller was outstanding this season. Without Miller, the Broncos are likely out of the playoffs.

Honorable Mentions: Smith, SF; Watt, HOU

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Revisiting My NFL Predictions and Revised Playoff Picks: Part Two, NFC

Preseason Playoff Picks:

WILD CARD ROUND:

Falcons over Rams

Eagles over Bucs

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

Packers over Falcons

Saints over Eagles

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP:

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

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

Packers over Giants

Saints over 49ers

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP:

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.

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Put on the belt, Packers are champions

As confetti rained down the field at Cowboys Stadium after the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers stood at the podium with the glistening silver Lombardi Trophy in his left hand, and a bright gold title belt draped over his right shoulder.

This lasting image of Super Bowl XLV, a scene taken straight from the dreams of Packer fans, seemed far from realistic in the waning weeks of the 2010 NFL regular season.

In week 14, Rodgers suffered a concussion as the Packers lost to the Detroit Lions. Rodgers sat out the Packers’ week 15 road game against the team with the NFL’s best record, the New England Patriots. The Packers, led by back-up quarterback Matt Flynn, played one of their best games of the year but lost to the Patriots, 31-27.

From that point forward, every game for the Packers was do or die.

In week 16, with Rodgers back behind center, the Packers pummeled the Giants at Lambeau Field, 45-17.

The Packers entered halftime of their week 17 matchup against the Chicago Bears trailing 3-0. The Packers were 30 minutes away from missing the playoffs. But behind Rodgers and a solid performance from the defense, the Packers came back and won 10-3, clinching the NFC’s 6th seed.

As it goes, the rest is history.

The Packers overcame that halftime deficit in week 17 just like they overcame season-ending injuries to key players like running back Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Nick Barnett.

The Packers overcame even more adversity and solidified their legacy as resilient champions as they defeated the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

Veteran leaders Charles Woodson and Donald Driver both suffered injuries in the second quarter that knocked them out of the game. Cornerback Sam Shields missed a significant amount of the game with an ankle injury.

“We’ve been a team that’s overcome adversity all year. Our head captain goes down, emotional in the locker room. Our number one receiver goes down, more emotions are going, flying in the locker room. But we find a way to bottle it up and exert it all out here on the field,” said Greg Jennings in a television interview after the game.

The Packers were led by the steady-as-a-rock Rodgers, who completed 24 passes for 304 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Rodgers was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, capping one of the greatest postseason performances in NFL history.

In four playoff games, Rodgers threw for 1,094 yards, 9 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He also ran for 2 more touchdowns.

“Aaron’s proved that he’s one of the best, if not the best, quarterback in this game today,” said Driver, a 12-year NFL veteran who won his first Super Bowl championship on Sunday.

The Packers built a 21-3 lead with 2:24 left in second quarter thanks to Rodgers touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson and Jennings and a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown by Nick Collins.

The Steelers closed the gap to 21-17 after an 8-yard Ben Roethlisberger-to-Hines Ward touchdown pass late in the second quarter and an 8-yard Rashard Mendenhall touchdown run with 10:19 left in the third quarter.

Perhaps the key play in Super Bowl XLV happened early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers had the ball at the Green Bay 33 when Clay Matthews forced Mendenhall to fumble, and Desmond Bishop recovered for the Packers.

On the ensuing drive, Rodgers hit Jennings for another touchdown, putting the Packers up 28-17 with 11:57 remaining in the game.

The Steelers responded with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace and a successful two point conversion on a Roethlisberger to Antwan Randle-El option pitch to make the score 28-25 with 7:34 remaining.

The Packers ate up 5 and half minutes of clock and got a 23 yard Mason Crosby field goal on their next drive to put them up 31-25 with 2:07 seconds left.

Roethlisberger, who orchestrated a late game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLIII, had another chance to pull off a fourth quarter comeback on football’s biggest stage.

However, there would not be an encore performance. Roethlisberger ended the game with three straight incompletions, including one on 4th and 5 from the Pittsburgh 33 yard line that was intended for Wallace.

“I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, the fans, my coaches and my teammates and it’s not a good feeling,” said Roethlisberger.

As the ball hit the turf and the Packers gained possession, one thing was clear. The Lombardi Trophy was going home to Titletown.

I wrote this story in Feb. 2011 for my Sports Journalism class with Len Shapiro.

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