Follow David S. London on Twitter
The Second Season..
Green Bay Packers-It was a storybook season for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, the loss to Kansas City aside, as Rodgers set a team-record with 45 touchdown passses. Green Bay lit teams up on a weekly basis, scoring 33 points or more in 11 games. At 15-1, the Packers clinched the top record in the league and home-field advantage.
Why They Win-Green Bay went an entire calendar year without losing a game, that’s serious business. Rodgers’ aeriaul assault is an impressive one, one that only Drew Brees could truly keep up with. Points come in bunches with this team and anyone would be hard-pressed to keep up. Even with a quality defense, if you can hold this team to under 30 points, it would be a major victory.
Why They Won’t-The defense has been a liability for most of the season. Their excuse has been that they are an agressive unit, one that is able to take chances thanks to it’s high-powered offense. There are playmakers in Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk, and Charles Woodson, but too often they have allowed teams to come back in games which were seemingly out of reach. Rodgers doesn’t have many off days, but a game like they had against the Chiefs would smell trouble if the defense is needed to save the day.
San Francisco 49ers-It was a renaissance season for the 49ers as rookie Head Coach Jim Harbaugh changed the culture in the locker room along with providing a stout defense and a steady offense to complement it. The likely coach of the year led San Francisco to a 13-3 season and a bye week as the No. 2 seed.
Why They Win-Defense wins championships and this one is one of the better ones, if not the best defense in the playoffs. Alex Smith has had a career year under Harbaugh. Not one with the glitz and glamour ala Rodgers and Drew Brees, but completed over 60 percent of his passes and only 5 interceptions. Smith also has a nice runnning game to work with in Frank Gore and two nice weapons in Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.
Why They Won’t-The NFC is loaded with high-octane offenses, and the 49ers will likely have to face New Orleans and/or Green Bay to get to the Super Bowl. The defense may be able to contain them slightly, but as mentioned earlier, holding either under 30 would be a great accomplishment. That being said, the 49ers offense is not built to win shootouts, so falling behind early won’t bode well for Smith, who would have to step out of his element and go into a heavy passing mode.
New Orleans Saints-After a terrible loss to the then-winless St. Louis Rams, New Orleans reeled off 8 wins to end the season as Drew Brees had a season for the ages, surpassing Dan Marino’s passing yards record with 5,476. Brees play the last 2 months puts him in what will be a tight race for MVP with Rodgers. The Saints won the NFC South at 13-3.
Why They Win-The script is no different for the Saints than the Packers. Their offense can score with the best of them and Brees rarely has an off game.
Why They Won’t-Again, much like the Packers, it will be interesting to see what the defense has to offer. If they can simply contain opponents, they should have no problem rolling into the Super Bowl. If they have a letdown circa Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks last season, they’ll be doomed.
New York Giants-It was a roller coaster season for the New York Giants. A 6-2 start while sitting atop the NFC East was followed by a 4 game losing streak, which was then followed by an improbable come-from-behind win against Dallas Week 14 which saved their season, only to fall flat on their face against the Redskins the following week. The Giants recovered, winning their last two, the final one against the Cowboys, to clinch the division at 9-7.
Why They Win-Momentum has proven to be significant heading into the postseason, often playing a bigger part then seeding in recent memory. The Giants aren’t a Wild Card team that snuck in, but their backs were against the wall much like one for much of the second half. Eli Manning is playing arguably his best football right now and has developed a nice rapport with Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and rising star Victor Cruz.
Why They Won’t-Inconsistencies at defense and in the backfield can hold the Gmen back. The defense has shown flashes at times, but has gotten lit up by teams like the Packers and Saints, understandably so. With that, can Manning keep up with either of those two? They couldn’t in the regular season.
Atlanta Falcons-My Super Bowl pick got off to a rocky start, but rounded into form during the second half on their way to an 11-5 record. Julio Jones recovered and gave the Matt Ryan a nice toy on offense that he hasn’t had in the NFL.
Why They Win-The Falcons have transformed into an offense that leans on the pass, but the running game is one of the more formidable ones in the playoffs with Michael Turner. Head Coach Mike Smith makes the aggressive play, which has cost him in the past, but bold moves will also lead to bold rewards.
Why They Won’t-Their defense is middle of the pack and their offense doesn’t look to be able to compete with the Saints and Packers. Ryan has elevated the passing game, but it still pales in comparison to the aforementioned ones.
Detroit Lions-A great season for the Lions which ended a long playoff drought was soured by a weak finish to the season. The Lions finished 10-6, but lost the 5 seed after losing to the Packers sans Rodgers. Matt Flynn may be a quality quarterback, but Detroit had everything to play for in locking up the 5 seed. The 5 seed would face the Giants and 49ers assuming the Saints win, a far more desirable path than the Saints and Packers. Flynn, a backup quarterback, couldn’t be stopped, good luck with Brees.
New England Patriots-The defense left plenty to be desired, but Tom Brady was, well, Tom Brady, and would win MVP any other season if not for guys like Rodgers and Brees. The Patriots snagged the top seed in a conference that was up for grabs until mid-December.
Why They Win-Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have done this before, having won 3 Super Bowls. Experience is invaluable, which can compensate for a shoddy defense which will likely have to withstand at least one high-powered offense to win a 4th title. Brady’s offense is no slouch, as he has Rob Gronkowski, arguably the most dynamic weapon in the game. As far as we know Gronk is human, but it would surprise noone if we found out he was in fact, man-made.
Why They Won’t-The Patriots offense lacks a vertical threat for Brady to expand the field. Chad Ochocinco never lived up to that role, leaving New England with an intermediate passing game. The defense may be the worst Belichick has ever had in New England, which has been an issue all season.
Baltimore Ravens-Believed to be the most complete team in the AFC, Baltimore won the AFC North at 12-4. The Ravens toyed with experts throughout the season, dashing positive momentum time after time with mind-boggling road losses to the Titans, Seahawks, Jaguars, and Chargers. Joe Flacco was more of the same this year, consistently inconsistent, showing flashes of being a potential top-10 quarterback only to throw in games with completion percentages hovering around 40. Ray Rice was ol’ reliable in the backfield, piling up 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Why They Win-The Ravens are the most complete team in the playoffs, a stiff defense anchored by seasoned veterans Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Ed Reed along with a run-heavy offense behind Flacco. Rice can carry the load when given carries, controlling the clock and sitting on leads they build. Although inconsistent, Flacco has shown signs of dominance under center, and can be counted on when playing ahead.
Why They Won’t-A road game is possible down the road, and as we’ve learned with Baltimore, anything goes once they leave home. Rice at times has been inexplicably forgotten by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. So it’s not safe to assume Rice will be heavily involved with Cameron calling plays.
Houston Texans-The team’s best season in their short history took a turn for the worse as players dropped like flies throughout the season. Matt Schaub was lost for the season in November from a foot injury, Mario Williams has been out since October, and Andre Johnson is returning, albeit in a limited role. The defense has carried the team since while Arian Foster and Ben Tate have become the team’s main outlet on offense. T.J. Yates and Jake Delhomme are Houston’s options under center, yikes.
Why They Win-It would oppose what the NFL has become, but it would be all about the defense and the ground game. Houston boasted an elite defense all season and managed the clock game behind Foster and Tate. Yates and/or Delhomme would be best suited when not being relied on for more than 15, 20 passes.
Why They Won’t-The defense has little room for error as the run-heavy approach with no quarterback leaves them unable to compete in shootouts. If a team puts up 21 on the Texans, say goodnight.
Denver Broncos-The most unlikely playoff participant, the Denver Broncos will be hosting a playoff game as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town. Tim Tebow is the story here and one of the biggest this past NFL season. His unconvential style of play at quarterback has been discussed enough to last us a lifetime by now.
Why They Win-Denver’s run to the playoffs ranks among the most improbable as Tebow led the Broncos to one unlikely win after another. The storybook ending calls for a championship and for Tebow to put all the doubters in their place. Now in all seriousness, Tebow cannot be relied on to take the Broncos far with his arm, so a heavy dose of the running game along with the defense contuining its solid play is a must.
Why They Won’t-The defense is not capable of shutting teams down entirely, especially elite offenses, and Tebow hasn’t shown that he’s capable of beating teams with his arm. Until he can solidify the passing aspect to his game, the Broncos won’t go far.
Pittsburgh Steelers-It was a solid campaign for the Boston Celtics of the NFL, a team many deemed aging and on the decline. Only head-to-head losses to Baltimore prevented the Steelers from winning the division as they finished tied at 12-4. Pittsburgh comes into postseason play hit by the injury bug.
Why They Win-Experience is present here much like New England, where Ben Roethlisberger has won 2 Super Bowls and played in a third last season. The defense is among the best remaining and is capable of shutting opponents down. That leaves Big Ben to work his magic, albeit on a gimpy leg.
Why They Won’t-Injuries coming at the worst time. Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL and will miss the playoffs. Isaac Redman will replace him and looks capable of matching Mendenhall’s production. Roethlisberger is the biggest concern. Since the high-ankle sprain against Cleveland, Roethlisberger has been limited to say the least. It’s especially restrictive considering Big Ben works best while on the run and adjusting to the defense.
Cincinnati Bengals-The Bengals came out on top in the battle for the final Wild Card spot over the Jets, Titans, and Raiders. A rookie duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green highlighted the team’s unexpected success.
Why They Win-This team isn’t going to win any shootouts, but they play a style of football much like their AFC North counterparts, strong defense and heavy doses of running. Sprinkle in some production from Dalton who has proven to be clutch down the stretch in games and there’s potential for a Cinderella story.
Why They Won’t-Inexperience and a lack of firepower to compete with the elite will likely do them in. They face a depleted Texans team which they may be able to take down, but I don’t like their prospects against the rest of the field.
Prediction-Baltimore over New Orleans
The Ravens are the most complete team in the field and put aside their road woes. New Orleans gets past Green Bay as the Saints are on the upswing while the Packers have seemingly slowed down. My original pick of the Falcons, don’t feel so good about them anymore.