John Canton: The regular season is over and now it's time for the "win or go home" NFL playoffs featuring the twelve teams that have earned the right to compete for the Super Bowl.
For this week since it's the start of the playoffs we're going to each offer up our prediction for the Super Bowl. I asked the guys to write about a paragraph or so with some thoughts on who they think will meet in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
Joining me as always is Mike Maloney and usually Bret Clev.
Our friend Bret was unable to write this week, but has let us know that he picks the Broncos to win the Super Bowl. He's a Broncos fan. Of course he does!
Mike: To say I feel incredibly unsure about the playoffs and who is going to the Super Bowl would be an understatement. In the NFC I think San Francisco is the favorite followed by the Packers, but if Atlanta shows an ability to win a playoff game I see no reason why they can't make it there, and then there's the Seahawks, who I don't think can win three games on the road, but on paper the talent is there that they're a contender. In the AFC you have Denver and New England in a toss up, but there's also Houston, while they've sort of limped in to the playoffs, I certainly think they have the talent to beat anyone in that conference.
Ultimately I think it will be some combination of GB/SF vs. NE/DEN. They're 4 of the 5 best teams in DVOA, and the main reason Seattle doesn't register for me is they have to win three road games. Since I don't feel strongly about it one way or the other I'll take Green Bay over Denver in the Super Bowl, allowing Green Bay to seek revenge on the Niners for their early season loss, and getting the ultimate revenge on Denver for that miserable Super Bowl XXXII loss against John Elway. Green Bay over Denver
John: My Super Bowl pick in the preseason was Patriots over Packers. As we head into the playoffs the Patriots are the #2 seed in the AFC and the Packers are #3 in the NFC after failing to win last week to get that second seed. Do I still like that prediction? I do, but not that much. I wish I had a better answer than that, but it's tough for me to decide who to go with.
I think Denver is the best team in the AFC. They have arguably the best QB ever in Peyton Manning running the offense in a very effective manner and the defense is strong against the pass while doing a good job against the run as well. They're going to be a tough team to knock out of the playoffs especially considering they have home field advantage. New England will probably give them a good run if they meet in the AFC title game like I expect. I think I'll stick with my Patriots prediction just because their defense has improved enough this year that I think they can make it back to the Super Bowl again. I'll be very surprised if the Broncos or Patriots aren't representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. I don't think the other four teams are at their level.
For the NFC it's more wide open. I'm going to stick with my Packers prediction. However, I can definitely see the Falcons, 49ers or Seahawks making it all the way. I don't think the Redskins or Vikings are good enough, but the other four certainly are. I think for Green Bay what sets them apart is Aaron Rodgers, to me, is significantly better than the other NFC QBs and as we have seen in recent years strong QB play is what is going to get a team to the Super Bowl. If their defense can keep them in game by not giving up too many yards I think they can win tough road games in San Francisco and Atlanta to make it to the Super Bowl. With the way Rodgers is playing this year I like their chances. I'm officially sticking with my Patriots over Packers preseason prediction.
Final Regular Season Standings Straight Up
John 176-79-1 .690 (Last week 15-1) - My only loss was Houston. I'm pretty sure that was my best year ever in terms of picking games.
Bret 169-86-1 .663 (10-6)
Mike 169-86-1 .663 (13-3)
Exact same record for Bret and Mike. I'm sure they don't like tying, but it was still a great record!
All game times are Eastern.
(6) Cincinnati at (3) Houston 4:30 PM (SAT)
Bret: He picks Houston.
Mike: It seems like Cincinnati is getting a lot of momentum in the media this week. They've won 7 of their last 8 heading into the playoffs, Houston has gone 1-3 in their last four, lost the #1 seed and now dropped down to the #3 seed and are stuck playing opening weekend. And I can appreciate that, and it's plain to see that the Texans don't look as dominating at the end of the season as they did at the beginning of the season. Could that hurt their chances of making it to the Super Bowl? Definitely. Do I care as much about that for this week's playoff game? Not too much.
There are a few things that give the Texans the edge for me. The first is Arian Foster. He's clearly not having the same kind of year this year, while he's rushed for over 1,400 yards, he's had to do it over 351 carries at a pace of 4.1 ypc, the lowest of his short career. However, I don't think you can make the argument that he's been wearing down due to his workload (His YPC in the second half of the season averages out to 4.1 ypc, same as the first half). Also, if you look at his last five games, he's had over 16 carries just once, so if anything he's been getting a fair amount of rest heading into the playoffs. Cincy's strength lies with their pass rush, not with their run defense, so a healthy and energized Arian Foster could be in for a big game.
I'm also just not buying the momentum of both teams heading into the playoffs. I don't think Houston losing three of its last four games means they were playing as a completely different from the team they were when they started 11-1. They struggled to beat bad Jacksonville and Detroit teams because their defense was so banged up. Just because they were wins doesn't mean the Texans were playing any better than if they had lost those games in overtime. Same goes for Cincinnati. They played a lifeless Pittsburgh team and then a Baltimore team that rested its starters the last two weeks of the season and they struggled to win both of those games. Just because they won doesn't mean Cincinnati was playing well.
Finally, I just don't trust Cincinnati's offense. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is banged up with a hamstring issue, and I don't know that he'll be 100% out there. And it's not exactly news to anyone that the Bengals' receiving corp is fairly limited outside of AJ Green, and Andy Dalton is not the QB to make some no name receivers look good. Jonathan Joseph appears to finally be healthy for the Texans, and if he can be somewhat effective on AJ Green, I don't think it matters how good the rest of the defense is, Cincy is really going to struggle.
I expect this to be a pretty low scoring game, I think both QBs will struggle, and Houston's superior running game will make the difference here. Houston 17 Cincinnati 13
John: This will be the most defensive game of the weekend as long as these teams play like we expect them to. The Bengals are coming into the playoffs as winners of seven of their last eight games. The Texans have stumbled into the playoffs by losing three of their last four and letting home field advantage slip out of their fingers.
I think the Bengals offense will struggle to get touchdowns. They might have some good drives that get them deep into the Texans end, but one of their problems is converting drives into touchdowns. They settle for field goals a lot. If the Texans can neutralize the ground game then they can focus on stopping AJ Green and I think if that happens then Andy Dalton will have a tough time moving the ball because they don't have a lot of depth on that offense.
The Texans, on the other hand, have more consistent play on offense and I think their star RB Arian Foster will carry the offense on his back. With Andre Johnson playing at an elite level again the passing game is strong. As long as Matt Schaub doesn't turn it over (he is good at protecting the ball) then I think the Texans offense should be fine. As long as their offensive line can handle the ferocious Bengals defensive line I would expect the Texans to win this game.
Houston fought too hard to let a playoff game slip at home. I know they're mad about not getting that first round bye, so I expect them to play an inspired football game and remind everybody why they are still a legit Super Bowl contender. Texans 23-17
(6) Minnesota at (3) Green Bay 8:00 PM (SAT)
Bret: He picks Green Bay.
Mike: At the risk of sounding cocky, as the week has gone on I've definitely talked myself into the Packers winning this game. I know they're 9.5 point favorites so it's not exactly a risky prediction, but still, the Vikings did just beat the Packers, so let's not act like it's an impossible task.
I think the takeaways from last week's game are this: Minnesota's secondary struggles against Green Bay's offense. I mean, really their secondary struggles in general (24th in pass defense DVOA), but with Brian Robison banged up and an average pass rush even with Jared Allen in play, it was pretty clear watching as the game went on that Minnesota couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers. After punting the first three possessions, Green Bay went TD, FG, TD, fumble, TD, FG, TD to finish out the game. Rodgers ended up with 365 yards and 4 touchdowns. DuJuan Harris also had 70 yards rushing and averaged 5 yards per carry. They may not put up the same offensive numbers outside in the cold at Lambeau, but even with Antoine Winfield probably playing the whole game (in a cast), I think the Packers should find some success in scoring points.
Then there's Christian Ponder. Now, I expect Adrian Peterson to have another big game, just like I expect Aaron Rodgers to have another good game. But Christian Ponder is the one guy I don't expect to have the same kind of game. Ponder had the highest rated game of his career on Sunday, going 16-28 for 234 yards with 3 TDs and 0 turnovers. So let's say he's not likely to repeat that performance. His numbers are certainly different at home versus on the road. He's completing fewer passes (60.7% vs. 63.7%) for fewer yards per attempt (5.27 vs. 7.00) and throwing fewer touchdowns (7 vs. 11). His last game at Lambeau he was 12-25 for 119 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs. While he may not be that bad on Saturday I'm expecting something closer to that than what we saw in Minnesota.
The only other thing I thought might be an issue for Minnesota is the fact that Adrian Peterson ran the ball 34 times last week and now has to turn around and play again on a short week. This most likely won't matter because the man is an absolute freak and probably isn't even human, but he did average 26 carries a game the last seven games of the season (A pace that would put him at 411 for the whole year), and he did wind up with 348 carries, basically what Arian Foster did, only Foster's been resting up going into the postseason while Peterson has had most of his carries happen in the second half. As I said, it probably won't matter because the guy is ridiculous, but he has had a ton of work the last couple months.
Really I just think it's unlikely that last week's game repeats itself in Green Bay. Christian Ponder is very clearly the weak link when looking at both teams, and not even Adrian Peterson can always fix that, as evidenced by their 23-14 loss to the Packers early in December when Peterson went off for 210 yards on 21 carries. Green Bay may not have quite the fire power to cover the spread, but I think they should win comfortably. Green Bay 27 Minnesota 17
John: Last week I got the Vikings pick right against the Packers because I thought they would play with a sense of urgency. They were terrific all game as Adrian Peterson had a well documented 200+ yard rushing day and Christian Ponder played one of the best games of his life when he needed it too. That surprised me quite a bit.
This week I like the Packers. They're more comfortable on their home field and it's less comfortable for the Vikings to play there. I don't expect Ponder to have as good of a game this week in part because of the environment around him. It's not like the Vikings have a lot of WR weapons without Harvin, so I expect them to struggle a bit. Of course Peterson will get his, but it's stopping the others around him that will be the key for the Vikings.
I'm expecting a big game from Aaron Rodgers this week. Last year they went 15-1, were the heavy favorites and lost their first game because they were dominated by the Giants. This season they've had that bitter taste in their mouth and this is their chance to show everybody just how good they are. I expect Rodgers to spread the ball around to his talented group of receivers, hit some deep balls and then the defense will do enough to win the game. Packers 31-20
(5) Indianapolis at (4) Baltimore 1:00 PM
Bret: He picks Baltimore.
Mike: Well this sounds like a fun game, the team that somehow won 9 of its last 11 to not only make the playoffs but win 11 games against the team that lost 4 of its last 5 and gives you no faith in them whatsoever.
As we've been saying for much of the season, Indianapolis' defense is just awful, second-to-last in DVOA behind only New Orleans. Their offense isn't even that good either, ranking 18th in DVOA. And yet here they are, 11-5. Baltimore isn't a statistically great team either coming in 13th offensively and 19th defensively. While I can certainly appreciate the Colts going back to Baltimore to play in a playoff game, I can't say I'm super excited to watch this one.
While I think Vick Ballard can have a good game for the Colts, I'd be pretty surprised if Ray Rice didn't have a huge game, and I think Torrey Smith is also in line for some serious production as well. I hate to bet against #Chuckstrong, and I especially hate betting for the inconsistent and sometimes awful Ravens, but the Colts have just had so many things go their way this year (I know, I know, in spite of their coach having leukemia and all that), that I just don't believe in them at all.
I will never be surprised at a Chuck Pagano-coached team doing anything in the playoffs, but if I had to put money on it I think Baltimore's offense overpowers Indy's terrible defense and gets it done. Baltimore 28 Indianapolis 23
John: What force of power will prevail? Baltimore at home in Ray Lewis' last home game (win or lose) or the Colts winning a playoff game for their cancer fighting coach known as #Chuckstrong? It will be a very emotional game for both reasons, that's for sure.
I like the Ravens to win largely because of their more consistent play at home. That doesn't mean Indianapolis will fail because of the loud Baltimore crowd. It means that the Ravens play much better at home. If you look at their season they have been much more consistent at home (6-2) and the play of their QB Joe Flacco has been consistent on their home field as well. At home Flacco has 15 TDs with 5 INTs while on the road he has just 7 TDs with 5 INTs. There's more of a comfort level playing in Baltimore.
The Ravens come into this game rested because they benched a lot of their guys early during the loss to Cincinnati last week. That will be a good thing for them especially Ray Rice, who is likely to have a big game. He's not old by any stretch, but he has been used a lot this year and I think having that week off is going to pay off this week because of how fresh he will look. If the Ravens are smart they will feed him the ball with runs to the outside and throwing to him out of the backfield. Once the Colts focus on Rice too much I'd expect Flacco to take deep shots down the field to Torrey Smith, which is something they've been good at this year.
I think the Colts have overachieved this year. They went from two wins to eleven wins in large part because of an easy schedule and their ability to never lose focus late in games. That's a testament to them, specifically QB Andrew Luck. He's had an amazing rookie year and got better as the season went along. However, I think if he's going to stumble it may be in a playoff game like this facing a veteran defense.
I know the Ravens have been inconsistent on defense, but they know how to win playoff games. Grind it out, force turnovers, capitalize on those mistakes and hopefully don't have a kicker miss a field goal or Lee Evans (out of the league) drop a pass in the end zone that would have got you to the Super Bowl last year. I'm not saying they will only win because of experience. I'm just saying that it helps.
Can the Colts defense slow down the Ravens when they get rolling? I'm not sure about that. I think the Ravens will establish Ray Rice early, hit Torrey Smith with some deep balls later and then prevent that Colts comeback in the fourth quarter. Ravens win and cover that seven point spread by a bit. Ravens 33-24
(5) Seattle at (4) Washington 4:30 PM
Bret: He picks Seattle.
Mike: Did you know Washington won 7 straight games to finish the season at 10-6? I was in disbelief when Al Michaels brought this up during Sunday Night Football. I'm not sure that it really means anything because the wins were against the Eagles (twice), Cowboys (twice), Giants, Browns, and Baltimore in OT, but nonetheless I feel like that win streak really flew under the radar.
Okay, that had nothing to do with my thoughts on the game, just thought it was an interesting way for the Redskins' season to play out. I am very conflicted about this game. I really don't know how it's going to play out, and can see both teams winning.
Yes, I know, Seattle was playing out of its mind at the end of the season, running through the Cardinals, Bills, and Niners in consecutive games. Because of those three games they've taken over the #1 spot in overall DVOA, 4th in offense, 4th in defense, 3rd in special teams. It's impressive, I'm not saying that it's not. However, I'm not totally on board with the sky high expectations this team now has because of the second half of their season. Sure, they played really well at home, no one expects any differently (And 5 of their last 8 games were at home), but they're the #5 seed in the playoffs. They don't get home games. And I'm not as convinced at their ability to win tough games on the road.
They've had two wins on the road since October 7th. They beat the Bears, in overtime, in a game where they needed a last minute touchdown to avoid losing. Then they beat the 6-10 Bills, and while the 50-17 score is impressive, it's just the Bills. And that's it. They went 3-5 on the road this season, and while they didn't get blown out in any of those games, they didn't look particularly impressive in them either. So let's just say I certainly don't buy Seattle winning three games on the road and making it to a Super Bowl, and I do have some questions about their ability to even win one game in Washington.
But...I don't think Robert Griffin is healthy. He's still wearing a knee brace, and watching him in that Cowboys game, despite rushing for 63 yards he looks a little hobbled. Whatever I think about Seattle's play on the road, they're still a really good team with a really good defense, and that means Washington's offense needs to be at its best, and for me that means Griffin needs to be at his best, and I'm not sure that he is. I love everything he's done this season, 3,200 yards, 20 TDs to only 5 INTs, 800 yards rushing and 7 TDs, if I thought he was 100% for this game I'd definitely take them to win. But what makes Washington's run game great is RGIII's ability to be a great runner, and I don't think he's going to be able to give that to the team. Maybe I'm wrong and he'll look better than he did against Dallas, but for now I have to go with Seattle in a close win. Seattle 20 Washington 17
John: I've gone back and forth on this one all week. I think Mike's writeup for this one is outstanding and I agree with a lot of what he's saying up there. It's a very difficult game to pick. I think if it was in Seattle I'd pick them to win for sure because of their home field advantage, but in Washington I think the Redskins can make a game of it.
Ultimately I'm going with the Seahawks due to having the better and more consistent defense. I think the Seahawks offense will have a lot of success against the inconsistent Redskins defense. Yes I know the Redskins have won seven in a row, but they haven't played that many great teams. Can they stop excellent Seahawks run game for four quarters? I don't think so. Then when the Seahawks look to run some play action I fully expect them to try some deep shots down the field. I think they'll have success there because Marshawn Lynch is a special running back.
They key for the Redskins offense is running the ball with Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III. That's what got them to the playoffs. Obviously RG3 has a great arm too, but I don't think their limited pass game will have that much success here. The Seahawks are too physical for them. I expect the Seahawks to put eight men in the box, fully commit to stopping the run and then trusting their corners, who are the best in the game, to handle the Redskins receivers.
I think this will be a close game that Seahawks win on a late field goal after rookie QB Russell Wilson moves them down the field to get them into position. It will be a fun one to watch. Both of these teams have deep playoff runs in their futures thanks to their amazingly gifted rookie QBs. Seahawks 24-23
The Degenerates Dungeon
This is where we give you some picks for our best bets of the week. Note that lines moves from the time we write this (Friday AM) to the time the games kickoff. We keep track of the odds and we'll use that to write down our records too.
Records at the end of the regular season:
Mike 42-41-2 (2-3)
John 40-43-2 (3-2)
Bret 38-45-2 (1-4)
Congrats to Mike on the win. My second half was very good while my first half was brutal. To nearly finish with a .500 record was good enough for me.
For the playoffs we've decided to give our three best bets.
Unable to make picks this week.
Cincinnati @ Houston Under 43 - Two defense-first teams with less than stellar QBs, feels like a low scoring game to me.
Indianapolis @ Baltimore Over 47 - Along those lines, Indy's defense is atrocious and Baltimore's defense is subpar.
Cincinnati +4.5 @ Houston - I actually really like all the spreads on these games, but I feel like I have to pick one, so I'll go with the Red Rifle.
Minnesota @ Green Bay OVER 46 - Just a feeling.
Indianapolis @ Baltimore -7 - They can't let Ray Lewis down!
Minnesota @ Green Bay - 8.5 - Believe in Rodgers too much and Ponder not enough.
That's all from us for this week. Follow us on Twitter:
You can also email John Canton at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.