Everyone enjoys looking into their crystal ball to predict the upcoming NFL season. The beautiful thing about the NFL is that fans of every team can believe their team has a chance; just look at the Colts turnaround from first pick to playoffs. Here I provide some playoff predictions in the preseason, predictions that are likely to be wrong
The Saints are a team a lot of people are pegging for a return to the playoffs, as Sean Payton comes off suspension and Rob Ryan joins the staff as defensive coordinator. I expect the Saints to be better, but that defense was second to last in the league in pass defense, last in run defense, and last in total defense by a mile. This defense was historically pathetic, and I don't think it's good enough for the Saints to overcome.
Many have Miami pegged as a breakout team after drafting Dion Jordan, signing Mike Wallace, and having Ryan Tannehill's progress in year two, but I think they're an overrated football team. I am certain that Dion Jordan is the biggest bust of this draft class; he played under 50% of the defensive snaps at Oregon. He's supremely athletic, a workout warrior, but his game tape is unimpressive, as he only has one speed rush move. I have zero faith he's an impact guy right now and little that he will ever be one. Mike Wallace is inconsistent and I believe Tannehill's progress slows. I actually think the Dolphins are a seven win team.
The Cowboys, "America's Team", have some serious talent, but some serious question marks. The running game and the offensive line are unproven and inconsitent. Behind the scenes this team is a mess. Jason Garrett lost his play calling responsibilities to offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, who will be the only line coach I can remember to call plays in this league, and Jerry Jones needs to relinquish some of his player personnel responsibilities because he's losing touch with this team. The Cowboys miss the playoffs and Jason Garrett gets fired after the season.
Fans are fascinated by the play of RGIII, but I think this team overachieved last season. Alfred Morris had a remarkable year, but can he repeat it? RGIII comes off a late season ACL injury, and though people are amazed at his recovery speed and progress, it will most definitely change his game. Tom Brady, arguably the best QB of all time, struggled for a period after his knee injury. We won't find out until Griffin takes a hit and takes off on his first zone read, but I'm doubtful they'll be back to the playoffs this season because of these factors.
The Ravens, the defending Super Bowl champions will not make the playoffs in my opinion. Joe Flacco had a magic run through the playoffs last season, and got vastly overpaid for it, but he's inconsistent with his accuracy and lost Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, two of his favorite targets. Boldin was arguably the most valuable Raven during the playoffs last season. The defense lost its identity with Ray Lewis retiring and Ed Reed signing with Houston, as well as a majority of its starters. I don't see Flacco taking the Ravens to the playoffs, and for the record, Ron Jaworski having him as the league's fourth best quarterback is a joke, but that's a different debate.
1. San Francisco
3. Green Bay
4. New York
NFC Wild Card Round
Green Bay over Chicago
I think Chicago is flying a little under the radar, but Green Bay has playoff experience and the best QB in football right now in Aaron Rodgers. Jay Cutler will be better this season, and Brandon Marshall is phenomenal, but it's not enough to take out Green Bay on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.
Seattle over New York
The Giants are full of postseason magic and know how to peak at the right time, as seen by their Super Bowl upsets of my Patriots, but I just think Seattle is better. New York wil be hungry to get to the Super Bowl and play at Metlife Stadium, but the Seattle defense is loaded, especially in the secondary. Seattle also has added to their offense with the addition of Percy Harvin, who should be healthy for the playoffs. They also have a power running game with Marshawn Lynch and a smart, young QB in Russell Wilson. I think Seattle is ready to take the next step.
NFC Divisional Round
Seattle over San Francisco
Though I have San Francisco winning the NFC West, with Seattle a close second in the division, I think Seattle catches them in the playoffs. Seattle was 4-6 on the road last season so winning back to back playoff games on the road will be a tall order, but I think they have the pieces to beat San Francisco. I think Seattle has the pass rush, with Bruce Irvin and the addition of Cliff Avril to get after and contain Colin Kaepernick. They can make him have to win the game with his arm, which is a matchup I like for Seattle. Russell Wilson wins his second straight playoff game.
Atlanta over Green Bay
Matt Ryan won his first playoff game last year, getting over the hump and almost taking the Falcons to the Super Bowl. The Falcons offense is explosive, as they have major weapons on the outside with Roddy White and Julio Jones, in my opinion the best TE of all time in Tony Gonzalez, and an upgraded running game with Steven Jackson in the backfield. The Green Bay defense leaves much to be desired, and the Georgia Dome will be as loud as ever. Atlanta moves on.
NFC Championship Game
Atlanta over Seattle
That's right, I'm going with the Falcons. I know people will heavily disagree with this and I don't blame them, because in many eyes Atlanta stunned some people last season with their top seed NFC performance. I just think this offense is explosive, and is run by an elite quarterback in Matt Ryan. I think Ryan is a top five quarterback in this league, and he takes the next step by getting the Falcons to the big game. Three road wins in a row will also be tough for a team that went 4-6 on the road last season, especially in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons repeat the feat of last season by beating Seattle in the playoffs.
2. New England
AFC Wild Card Round
Houston over Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh will be a tough out, as they have an experienced QB in Ben Roethlisberger and a hard nosed team that I'm higher on than most people, but they don't they have too many question marks to make a run in my eyes. Who will be carrying the load for Pittsburgh on the ground? Houston has the NFL's best defensive player, JJ Watt, and a solid, balanced offensive attack paced by Arian Foster. They also have Andre Johnson, who when healthy is an exceptional talent, and Owen Daniels, who when healthy is also a huge asset in the passing game. The addition of Ed Reed and the return of Brian Cushing makes this a dangerous football team. Houston moves on.
Indianapolis over Cincinnati
Andrew Luck is the best young QB in football, period. He takes another great step forward in an offense he played at Stanford. I understand the Colts have a questionable running game and defense, but I have complete faith in Luck's ability to lead his team to victory. Cincinnati is a solid, yet unspectacular team to me. I think they win the AFC North but I don't think they scare anyone in the playoffs. AJ Green is a top tier wide receiver, but Andy Dalton still lacks the consistency he needs in order for this offense to succeed at the top level.
AFC Divisional Round
Denver over Indianpolis
This is a matchup ESPN would love, as Peyton Manning's former team rolls into town with the QB that replaced him. The QB that was also pegged as the best prospect at the position since John Elway, who is the most famous Bronco of all time, and who happens to be running the team. Though Peyton has struggled to win cold weather playoff games, I think Denver is just too talented for Indianapolis, especially with the addition of Wes Welker. Indianapolis is still a few pieces away.
New England over Houston
Tom Brady and the Patriots put a beating on Houston last season, and I expect them to eliminate them from the playoffs. People have been pegging Houston to take that next step, but beating the Patriots in Foxborough will be too much for Matt Schaub. I know the Patriots are being heavily questioned, but Tom Brady has gotten it done with worse receivers and this Patriot defense is underrated. The running game should be exceptional for the Patriots, who have the best offensive line in football and a series of solid running backs, lead by Stevan Ridley. With everyone questioning them they will carry the "us against the world" mentality into this one and take it.
AFC Championship Game
New England over Denver
This is the dream matchup for fans and media, as the Tom Brady led Patriots travel into Denver to take on the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos. The Patriots have struggled in the last two AFC Championship games, mainly due to Tom Brady's struggles. Denver took the most consistent piece of the New England offense in Wes Welker, though I think Danny Amendola will be able to fill the roll just fine. All the pressure will be on Denver to get over the hump, but the problem is I don't see Brady struggling in three AFC Championships games in a row especially because he has owned the Denver defense lately, as seen by the 126.9 QB rating in their last three meetings. Brady will pick apart the Broncos and the Patriots shock pundits by moving onto the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLVIII
Atlanta over New England
I hate this pick and I'm still making it just because the Falcons feel like a team of destiny to me. This just feels wrong, especially picking against my Patriots, but Atlanta feels like this year's Baltimore to me. Tony Gonzalez comes back from retirement to get his Super Bowl. Matt Ryan takes the next step. The odds will be against them playing Bill Belichick and the Patriots in a cold weather Super Bowl, as the Falcons are built for a speed game, but I just have a gut feeling. The Patriots question marks finally hurt them. Tony Gonzalez retires on top. Matt Ryan joins the elites. Arthur Blank, after all the hardship, gets his title.
I will probably change this pick tomorrow, and I know this will spark the Dylan you're an idiot craze, which I understand completely. I'm going with my gut and not my head here. Atlanta winning the Super Bowl is the romantic story that a man who appreciates romance comes to love. I guess that's why this romantic is leaning in that direction.