Monday, January 4, 2010

NFL Playoff predictions

This may not be the year to trust the No. 1 seeds in the NFL playoffs, especially in the AFC, where four of the six teams could win the Super Bowl. Here are a few of my thoughts and predictions on the AFC as Wildcard Weekend approaches:
  • The Baltimore Ravens will surprise a lot of people, but that shouldn't surprise anyone.

The Ravens enter the playoffs with the necessary fundamentals to win January and February games: They run the ball and play tough defense. Ray Rice has emerged as a workhorse and Willis McGahee is consistently good. The Ravens face the Patriots, who will go without the perfect slot receiver, Wes Welker, and a banged up Tom Brady at quarterback.

This match-up has all the makings for an upset. The Ravens defense may not be as stingy as in the past, but the offense is picking up the slack. Joe Flacco is a much better quarterback than a year ago and if the running game is clicking, the Patriots won't spend much time on the field.

  • I have no confidence in the Bengals.

Chad Ochocinco hurt himself in warm-ups Sunday, but is expected to play against the Jets this weekend. The Jets thoroughly waxed the Bengals on Sunday. The Bengals ended the season losing three out of four and did not beat a team with a winning record since winning over the Steelers in week 10. The Bengals are in because they started fast and destroyed all the teams in their division. They have not proven anything in the last month of the season.

  • The 2010 playoffs are shaping up to strongly resemble the 2006 playoffs.

The Colts had a chance at perfection, only to lose late in the year and then rest all their starters. Sound familiar? In 2006, the Colts won 13 in a row, lost, then chose not to take the last three games seriously. The 6-seeded Steelers had had win their final four games to qualify for the post-season and entered scored the upset.

Hmm...The Colts started 14-0, only to lose late in the year and rest all their starters. They will open the playoffs Jan. 16, having not played a meaningful game in a month. Did they learn their lesson? It doesn't appear so.

  • The Ravens could end up in the Super Bowl.

The similarities are striking: The Ravens are a lot better than their record indicates and the AFC has no dominant team in the playoffs this year. They have playoff experience, having come close to beating the Steelers in the AFC Championship last year (The Steelers in the 2006 playoffs lost in the AFC Championship the previous year). The No. 1 seed enters the playoffs rusty and will play a No. 6 seed that can play tough defense. I don't think it's unthinkable that the Ravens knock out the Patriots, then upset the Colts and head to San Diego for the AFC Championship. At that stage, the records don't matter.

This may be the year the Ravens get back over the hump.

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