It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Hey Hey Hey, everyone! Happy New Year! Hope you all have had a great winter vacay. We, Will and I, have had our own little vacation, so we haven’t had a lot of time to write for the blog. But we’re back! And at a good time, too.

The postseason seeding has finally come together, and it’s an interesting lineup of teams this year. The NFC has three new entries in the Redskins, Seahawks, and Vikings in the wild card round. On the other side, the AFC only has one new entry in the Colts. The Big Three of the 2012 quarterback draft class (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson) all have their teams in the postseason, and RG3 and Wilson are facing off on the first wild card weekend, while Luck faces a shuffling Ravens team without a lot of momentum coming in.

Let’s take a moment and examine these teams to see what we can expect from the twelve best of 2012 by seeding:

AFC:

Denver Broncos: Without a doubt, this team is the most complete in the NFL. We can speculate and say that the Texans and 49ers are just as stacked on both sides of the ball, but Denver has the numbers and talent to clearly show them above the rest. The offense is ranked fourth in the NFL with 397.9 yards per game and second if you go by its 30.1 points per game total. And the defense ain’t too bad neither, having allowed only 290.8 yards a game.

Peyton Manning needs to keep this team chugging
along at the same pace that’s gotten them to 13-3.


Peyton Manning was the missing piece on the offense that finally made a talented unit into one of the most consistent in the league. Manning is fully integrated in the MVP award conversation, let alone Comeback Player of the Year, and it’s safe to say that he’s not going to squander what could be his best shot at another Super Bowl ring. And defensively, second-year linebacker Von Miller, who himself is vying for the Defensive Player of the Year award, is motoring a defense who, since Week 6, has given up less that 12 points a game. The team is riding an eleven-game win streak, so they have to be accounted for on every level. This team is the Super Bowl favorite, hands down.

New England Patriots: Who woulda thunk it? The Patriots in the playoffs. What a change of pace. New England is annoyingly consistent and continues to be a force in the late season. And it’s all thanks to Tom Brady, who solidly shoots the offense into the stratosphere, killing opponents with his many weapons in WR’s Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and Brandon Lloyd, and TE’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Also, the running game has finally proven to be a difference maker, making the Pats a more diverse team on offense. Stevan Ridley has had a great season keeping some pressure off of Brady, scoring on short yardage touchdowns and grabbing the first down in a pinch.

Who else would we put in this picture? He’s been playing
lights out again, and he wants a fourth ring.


The defense, on the other hand, hasn’t been great yards- or points-wise, but they get takeaways when they need them the most. It’s been a huge help having Aqib Talib playing cornerback the way they needed it, along with the payoff stemming from moving Devin McCourty to the safety position. This is the side of the ball, however, that will make or break this team’s Super Bowl opportunity. If Tom-terrific can’t quite get it done on offense and the defense can’t hold in make-or-break situations, then New England, and Tommy, can say “wait ’till next year” for another season.

Houston Texans: I really don’t know how you can go from being undefeated halfway through the season, to a team with only one loss, to being called the best team in the league, to being shattered by the Patriots, to losing your last two games, and then to losing home-field advantage in the last loss of the season. Especially considering that that last loss came against a division rival with a rookie QB who hasn’t been as on-target as he was earlier in the season. Coach Gary Kubiak had better toss out his copy of “How To Look Awesome And Then Suck for Dummies”.

J.J. Watt, the man who has to lead the charge
to get the defense going.


In all seriousness, the Texans can still be dominant. They haven’t lost any key players since losing Brian Cushing earlier in the season. Matt Schaub hasn’t looked like the Pro Bowler he was to begin the year and right now is the best time to get back there. He’s got Andre Johnson, Jacoby Jones, Owen Daniels, and Arian Foster catching passes for him, along with Foster himself being a force on almost every down. The entire offense needs a regrouping, and fast. The defense has also lost some of its power since losing Cushing, however its still an important part to how the Texans win. J.J. Watt is still playing quality football, but the linebackers and the secondary are getting beaten consistently. Yes, they did hold Adrian Peterson to 86 yards in Week 16, but they still lost because they made Christian Ponder look like Aaron Rodgers Lite. If they want any chance at winning even their first playoff game against an upstart Cincinnati Bengals team, they had better get it together on both sides of the ball.

Baltimore Ravens: I don’t see this team winning the Super Bowl. At all. I mean, seriously, the team doesn’t even know that it has weapons. They run everything through Flacco and it hasn’t helped. Joe Flacco is not Peyton Manning, he doesn’t seem to make everyone around him better. Sure, he’s got a .45 Magnum for an arm and can make the deep pass to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, but here’s the deal: until they learn to give RB Ray Rice 25 to 30 carries a game, the Ravens have a hobo’s chance in Wyoming to succeed going forward. The playoffs are not for teams with identity crises, especially when you face teams who know exactly what they want to be their strengths in the most crucial times of games.

If the Raven want any chance at even a win,
they need to feed the ball to this guy, Ray Rice.


The defense is also suspect, and I’m not sure that having Ray Lewis back is the answer to all of their problems. They haven’t been the defense that Baltimore has been known for over the last decade. They’re ranked 17th in the league, allowing 350.9 yards and 20.1 points per game. Now, the points part doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but when you’re allowing so many yards, better teams are going to score with that much leeway. You can bend and not break, but this team has broken a few times on both sides of the ball that makes their Super Bowl chances pretty much zero.

Indianapolis Colts: For Andrew Luck to be so good in his first season is a very promising sign. But he’s been declining recently. Not badly, but for a rookie who is making his postseason debut soon, it might bring on some concern for Colts fans. The team’s engine is headed by eight starters on offense who weren’t even on the team last season. That’s like forcing a Hummer to run with water in the gas tank and rubber bands holding the transmission together. It’s worked thus far, but eventually it doesn’t work. I hope Luck gets a playoff win, especially considering how weak the Ravens have looked late this season. But I don’t know that this attacking unit can hold.

He’s been one of the best first round picks in NFL
history. Let’s see if he can make it more.


The defense is in roughly the same shape. Some players like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are a little older, and there’s a lot of new blood. They’re ranked 26th in the league, so they’re not really scary to go against. But they look like they’re a unit that can pick up the pace in the postseason. They’ve been consistently average, but Luck isn’t the only reason that they’ve gone from two wins last season to eleven this season. I’m not sure I’m sold on a deep playoff run here, but crazier things have happened in the NFL.

Side note: How incredible would it be to watch Luck beat Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship game? WHAT A SHOW IT WOULD BE.

Cincinnati Bengals: The team has won six of their last seven games. Yeah, they’ve lost one game since Week 10. The defense is stifling, the offense is high octane, and they’re riding a three game winning streak into the playoffs. If any team in the AFC is ready for a deep playoff run, look out: it might be the Queen City Cats.

Geno Atkins is a prime reason as to why the Bengals
are so hot on defense.


Cincinnati is a force on both sides of the ball as of late. This isn’t the only team we’ve seen get hot late in the past few seasons. Of course, these are the Bengals, originally the Bungles of the 90’s. They’re a young team that’s destined to get better and better, year after year. Andy Dalton to A.J. Green has, in its second season, already become a fearsome connection, accumulating 1350 yards and 11 TD’s on the year. Other receivers on the team such as Brandon Tate, Marvin Jones, and Andrew Hawkins are quickly rising and making this receiving corps. one of the most deep and talented rotations in the league. And defensively, coordinator Mike Zimmer has worked magic again for a fifth year. The unit allows only 20 points per game total, and only 12.7 since Week 10. The whole team has come together and formed into a complete unit, ready to make a deep playoff run.

NFC

Atlanta Falcons: The team is 13-3 going against one of the ten weakest schedule in the league. However, they’ve won when they’ve needed to, and they wrapped up the top seed in the conference a game early. Matt Ryan has the offense running again, with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, and Jacquizz Rogers working to restore some positive vibes going into the playoffs.

Thomas DeCoud, the ball hawking safety, and leader of
the Falcons defense.


You may have noticed that I mentioned Rogers, and not Michael Turner. That’s because I think Turner is going to be supplanted as the starter in the postseason. Rogers has looked like a force from the backfield, running and receiving, and he’s productive as hell. Turner’s losing tread on the tires after four season of bruising technique, and Rogers will get hot at the right time for the Falcons. They’ll likely face either the Packers, Seahawks, or Vikings, and they’ll need a back who can truly attack those defenses in multiple formations. Rogers will be that back.

The defense is also a huge part of the Falcons and their Mid-Season Reputation Reformation and Implementation Project (we’ll call it the MSRRIP). It’s a group that has become a force that is hard to run or pass safely against. It’s one of those units that can play well with a lead and hold opponents in crunch time. FS Thomas DeCoud is the only real ball-hawk on the team, but we don’t know how Asante Samuel will be since his absence from postseason play back from 2008 with Philadelphia. The team is 0-3 in postseason play since Mike Smith and Matt Ryan came to town, so it’s now or ridicule for the Atlanta Falcons. They’re an NFC power until proven otherwise.

San Francisco 49ers: They’re a competitive and aggressive team on both sides of the ball. RB Frank Gore is a power hitter and one of the best pass-catching running backs in football, and the whole D from Aldon and Justin Smith to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis is scary. QB Colin Kaepernick has also shown some serious balls in and outside of the pocket, producing big plays often and in crunch time. We haven’t seen him in the clutch yet, but we can assume he’ll be reliable.

Strangely enough, Willis hasn’t been the best defensive
player for San Fran this year. That speaks volumes.


However, I have one knock on this team, without bias. These guys don’t seem to be able to put back-to-back dominating performances together. It was especially on show in the two week stretch against New England and Seattle. They handily beat the Patriots, despite a late game comeback from Tom Brady, but they were shoved flat on their asses on the Clink’s field against the division rival Seahawks. To go from beating the then best team in the league 41-34, to losing 42-13 against a team on a 108-17 point, two-game win streak is not what a Super Bowl team should look like. But weirder circumstances have been overcome before. If they can string dominant wins together, they’re world champs, plain and simple. If not, then definitely next year with Kaepernick getting a full season of play under his belt.

Green Bay Packers: How do you not consider this team a Super Bowl contender? Aaron Rodgers, though not looking like his 2011 version, is playing lights out, and has gotten the Packers wins in nine of their last eleven. Only problem? They lost to Minnesota in Minneapolis in the season finale with the number two seed and a bye week on the line.

Aaron Rodgers started slowly, but now is the man
of the Packers who will carry his team once again.


They do get to play the Vikings again, but this time on their own turf. I don’t know that Adrian Peterson, with the Hall-of-Fame season he has had, will be affected by the Packer faithful in the stands, but Christian Ponder might be rattled. It’s ideal for the Packers, who need a momentum push before they play on the road against the 49ers, who who beat them in the season opener 30-22 at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers has been rising since that loss, and so it will be a different game this time around. The defense has also become more reliable, going from 32nd to 11th in the league in total yards allowed. The team has always had talent. It’s just a matter of it being healthy. Like a Victoria’s Secret Model, they’re young, they’re hot, and given their talent, they can go the distance.

Washington Redskins: RG3 is hurting. It’s as simple as that. RG3 is the main reason that offense works, and they did their job against the Dallas Cowboys in the season finale. But the ‘Skins rookie quarterback’s knee is still in a bad shape and it’s holding Griffin back from some of the more electric plays he usually produces running the ball. It’s also preventing him from being effective outside of the pocket and pretty much making him Tom Brady with some legs (that’s just average). It’s not a good thing.

He’s hurt, but he’s still RG3, the man who can
do it all and bring this team to unknown possibilities.


The defense has picked up the pace slightly in their seven game win streak, but they are also very suspect. They come up with stops at the right times, as they showed against Dallas, but they are not yet ready to hold off power scoring teams like New England, Denver, Green Bay, and Seattle. Yeah, they are on a seven game win streak, but the most important piece of their offense isn’t at his best, which could hold them back from a deep playoff run.

Seattle Seahawks: My ‘Hawks are in!! #GoHawks #foshizzle #okillstop. This is huge. Russell Wilson has this team hopping at the right time. 170-43 in their last four games is unprecedented. It shows that the offense and defense are both boasting power at the right time of the season. They’re going into wild card weekend on a five game win streak and having won seven of their last eight. There might not be a hotter team in the NFL right now, let alone the NFC.

Marshawn Lynch, third in the league in rushing, was
consistent and the main reason teams fell in Seattle.


Not only is the offense clicking, but the defense has been downright destructive. Richard Sherman has 8 INT’s on the season, with four of those coming in the last four weeks, along with a blocked field goal that he returned for TD against the 49ers. Add CB Brandon Browner coming back from suspension, and you’re getting a Seattle team that has the luck of the world on their side. It’s hard to not see this team, as young as it is, not winning a couple of playoff games. Frankly, I’m starting to get groggy here, writing this bit, and it’s unfortunate because it’s not only my team I’m writing about here, but they’re also the most likely NFC candidate, aside from Green Bay and San Fran, who could make it all the way to the Super Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings: Hellooooooo, Adrian! Here’s the part where Peterson runs all over Clay Matthews. This team relies on their star running back to win almost every game. Aside from the Week 16 Houston game that Christian Ponder finally got off the couch to win, Peterson has been the main reason why this team is in the playoffs. Yeah, Percy Harvin did some hard work earlier in the season, but the problem was that he went on IR and the Vikings had lost their MVP candidate. Well, they got another one. Peterson has already proven twice that even when an opponent’s sole focus is to beat the Vikes on the ground, he’ll still beat you. And he gets to go against the Packers for a third time in the wild card round. He rushed for 211 and 199 yards consecutively in their two meetings this year, and he might be even more dangerous with the Super Bowl on the line.

Let’s all hope the NFL AP is smart enough that they’ll
hand Peterson the MVP trophy. No one deserves it more.


And the defense compliments him in a way. Though ranked 16th in the league, they quietly hold opponents when needed. It gives the offense enough time to either choke or win the game. Minnesota hasn’t been terribly consistent this year on either side of the ball aside from AP2K, but they have the look of one of those low-seeded teams that could get hot at the right time. We know how those teams fared in the last few years. Yeah, they kicked ass. In fact, one of them was the Green Bay Packers of 2010. If Minnesota can make the Packers bite, then the Vikings have the assets to make a run at the championship game. Super Bowl? Well, it’s up to Ponder.

We’ll be back next week to review wild card weekend and make new predictions for the divisional round! Good luck to your team, and I hope Seattle destroys Washington!

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