NFL Predictions: If the Playoffs Started Today
NFL Playoff Predictions
The greatest NFL rhetorical question has been and always will be: What if the playoffs started today? Many teams that are barely qualify for the postseason now wish that were true while others that are "in the hunt" are desperate for another game to prove they belong in the postseason.
The 2012 NFL season started off as one of the most wide open in league history. As it always does, the pack has thinned out a bit as 12 weeks of the season have now passed. However, no team has even clinched a playoff berth at this point, much less wrapped up a division title, first-round bye or home field advantage. Even teams like the 10-1 Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans could mathematically miss the playoffs while teams like the 5-6 New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins could still get in. Ask most any football fan and they'll tell you that three-fourths of the way through the season that's just the way they like it.
So what would happen if the playoffs started today? Well for starters, there'd be some very interesting first-round matchups that would undoubtedly lead to some crazy games in the second round, conference title games and ultimately the Super Bowl. Many teams that would be in today likely will be when the real playoffs start in a little over a month, but that's certainly not guaranteed. The fact that so many teams with losing records still have a shot at the playoffs is the main reason why football is America's most popular sport. Let's dive into what would happen if the playoffs started today.
AFC Wild Card: Steelers vs. Patriots
The sixth-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers likely won't make the playoffs, but they'd be in if the postseason started today and they'd be on the road against the third-seeded New England Patriots. Without Ben Roethlisberger, this won't be a game and the Patriots would run away with it.
NFC Wild Card: Seahawks vs. Bears
When is the last time an NFC West team made the playoffs as a Wild Card? I can't remember, either. Regardless, the Seattle Seahawks would be in the playoffs if they started today and on the road against the NFC North champion Chicago Bears. If the game was in Seattle, the Seahawks might have a chance, but not on the road without their starting two cornerbacks against a healthy Jay Cutler.
AFC Wild Card: Colts vs. Broncos
How fitting; Peyton Manning against his successor and his old team, the Indianapolis Colts. Although Andrew Luck has had arguably the best season of any rookie quarterback, his good fortune will run out if he has to go on the road against arguably the greatest signal-caller to ever play the game.
NFC Wild Card: Packers vs. Giants
The New York Giants made it clear they're still an NFC powerhouse while trouncing the Green Bay Packers in a Week 12 prime time showdown, but the tide will turn if these teams meet in the Wild Card round. Even though Eli Manning and company came out on top in the 2011 NFL playoffs, Aaron Rodgers and his Super Mario Bros. mustache will get the best of a third-time's-the-charm scenario in January.
AFC Divisional Round: Broncos vs. Texans
The Houston Texans roughed up Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos back in Week 3, but the Sheriff has straightened everything out and would be ready for a trip to Reliant Stadium. The Texans' defense isn't nearly as stifling as it was at the beginning of the season and the Broncos' offense is now a well-oiled machine. Don't bet on the "favorite" if this matchup happens.
NFC Divisional Round: Packers vs. Falcons
In 2010, the Packers derailed the Falcons' fantastic regular season, but Matt Ryan and company are a much better team in 2012 and they will be ready at home for the streaky Packers if this matchup happens. There's no way Green Bay's porous secondary can contain Atlanta's dynamic passing attack, so expect a Falcons win if the Packers advance from the Wild Card round.
AFC Divisional Round: Patriots vs. Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens knocked off the Patriots at home back in Week 3 and they'll do the same if these two teams meet again in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Rob Gronkowski is out, Terrell Suggs is back, Courtney Upshaw is coming of age and Ray Lewis might even be back in time for the playoffs. Add up those four things and you get a Baltimore victory in a rematch of last year's AFC title game.
NFC Divisional Round: Bears vs. 49ers
Colin Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers to a big Monday night win against the Bears in Week 11, but Chicago was without Jay Cutler. However, he won't be enough to save the Bears at Candlestick Park happens as the 49ers' defense will clamp down on Chicago's porous offensive line. Regardless, if Kaepernick plays half as well as he did in Week 11, San Francisco will cruise in this one.
AFC Championship: Broncos vs. Ravens
Talk about a prime time NFL playoff matchup! Peyton Manning and the Broncos will march into M&T Bank Stadium and take down the Ravens. This will be the most memorable playoff game of the 2012 season and the last of Ray Lewis' career. However, it could be the beginning of a new dynasty in Denver.
NFC Championship: 49ers vs. Falcons
The Falcons have a ton of firepower, but not enough to break the 49ers' stifling defense. Colin Kaepernick will put up career-highs in every category while playing inside the Georgia Dome and Atlanta will once again come up short. Falcons fans will ask once again 'What went wrong this time?' but the answer will be nothing; the San Francisco will simply outplay Atlanta.
Super Bowl XLVII: Broncos vs. 49ers
In one of the most intriguing Super Bowl matchups in recent history, Peyton Manning will get the better of the younger Colin Kaepernick, who will fold on the game's biggest stage. That won't be the case in 2013 and beyond, but the second-year pro isn't ready for a showdown with the Sheriff in the world's largest one-day sporting event. The Broncos' investment (or gamble if you see it that way) will pay off big time with another Lombardi Trophy.