A look at the 2016 NFL Playoffs- Can anybody beat Carolina? Is Peyton Manning finally back? Are people underestimating Seattle? Are the Patriots really in trouble?
I'm not happy. I'm just not happy with the way things went down in week 17 of the NFL season. I mean sure, I won my fantasy league, but at the end of the day, it's really just a fake game, in a fake league, full of people I don't even know, that I joined on a while, for no prize or money (because my other league- the one that actually counted- I had the best record and lost in the first round, thanks to 46 points put up by one Cam Newton). So I'm upset. The Patriots played about as well on Sunday as the Bruins did in the Winter Classic. All they had to do was win ONE game. And they lost. For the second time. In a row. For the second time this season (Is this what fans of normal NFL teams go through?). Denver's favorite son came off the bench and led his team to victory, as well as home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This is the same group that, three weeks ago, had lost something like three in a row and were on pace to miss the playoffs altogether. Now, with Manning back and the Patriots spiraling out of control... I'm not happy.
That said, there are a few things to look forward to this NFL postseason. We get to see a Pittsburgh Steelers team that just squeaked into the playoffs (thank you Rex Ryan- even when he's not coaching them, he's helping the Jets miss the playoffs), but I believe will be very dangerous down the stretch. We'll get to see a Kansas City Chiefs team play, a team that many think could be very dangerous. Also on the AFC side are the Cincinnati Bengals, who may be getting their star QB back. On the NFC side, we've got teams like Seattle. Seattle is dangerous, maybe not in the same way they were last season, but still a very real threat. We've got teams like Minnesota and Green Bay, who are coming off an epic NFC North division showdown, eager to prove their worth against Seattle and an upstart Washington team, respectively, who is somewhat of a dark horse heading into these playoffs. Finally, there's Arizona and Carolina- two very, very good football teams.
So what of the Patriots and Broncos, anyway? I've been trying to rationalize the results of Sunday and the playoff implications surrounding them. So the Patriots need to win to clinch the #1 seed in the AFC, thus sealing home field advantage throughout the playoffs. If New England loses, all Denver needs to do is beat San Diego at home to clinch the #1 seed and home field, bumping New England to #2.
New England goes with a more conservative approach, with the typically passing-potent Tom Brady only throwing the ball five times in the first half. I'm under the impression that in order to win this game, New England was trying to establish the run (which they failed miserably at), and beat the Dolphins in one half (which they also failed miserably at).With no Julian Edelman and a limited Danny Amendola, Brady had no quickness in his wide receiver corps, and with a struggling offensive line, had to use tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler to pass block whenever he took shots down the field to Brandon LaFell and Keyshawn Martin- which were far and few in between. It also doesn't help the fact that Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal that would have made it 6-3 New England, and may have also made it 20-13 Miami with 2 minutes to go (giving Brady a chance to tie the game) instead of 20-10 and the game being all but over. The Patriots keep blaming these losses on injuries. That might work, if it didn't look so obvious that they wanted to lose this game.
So New England loses. All Brock Osweiler and the Denver Broncos need to do is win at home against San Diego. And for the first 10 minutes, it looked like it was going to be all Denver, with Osweiler hitting Demariyus Thomas for a 72-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage. However, San Deigo held fast, holding Denver only to a touchdown and putting up 6 points of their own, while forcing six Denver turnovers. San Diego took a 13-7 lead in the third quarter- until Gary Kubiak took Osweiler out, replacing him with some unknown backup, a five-time NFL MVP named Peyton Manning. From there it was all but over. San Diego made it interesting, but Denver's run game, with the addition of Manning being able to read defenses and change plays the line sunk the Chargers. This all comes with the simple fact that the Chargers had a total of 7 points off turnovers. SEVEN. They had almost as many turnovers as points converted off of those turnovers. The league's #1 defense sure didn't look like the league's #1 defense (given, San Diego's offensive line is shot) giving up 20 points to the Chargers, but COME ON. Seven points is inexcusable, especially when you have SIX forced turnovers, five in the first half.
So Denver wins, they clinch the #1 seed, New England gets bumped to #2. I reiterate- I'm upset.
So, I guess we should get to the main point of the article- the playoffs. Some interesting matchups on Wild Card weekend.
Wild Card Weekend (Saturday, 1/9 & Sunday, 1/10):
#5 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at #4 Houston Texans (9-7)- 4:35 p.m. (ESPN/ABC)
Houston plays in a terrible division, the AFC South. Sure, they had a hot streak about two thirds of the way through the season, but they were playing teams like the Jets, Titans, Colts, Jaguars, and Saints, and their quarterback is also Brian Hoyer. Kansas City's offensive line is too good for Houston's defensive line (J.J. Watt can't do everything), and they'll not only clear the way for the running game, but be able to block for Alex Smith (who can also scramble out of the pocket if need be). Houston will make it interesting (at least on the scoreboard), but this one will be all Kansas City, who will win their first playoff game since 1993.
Prediction: Kansas City 27, Houston 17.
#6 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at #3 Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)- 8:15 p.m. (CBS)
Pittsburgh is a dangerous team. Cincinnati, at this point, doesn't have a quarterback. Cincy also hasn't won a playoff game since 1990, and has lost in the Wild Card round of each of the last four seasons. Even without RB DeAngelo Williams, Ben Roethlisberger looks like the best QB in the AFC, and he and Antonio Brown will destroy you. Andy Dalton plays, but is pushed to return too early and is very close to ineffective. Pittsburgh goes on the road, looking for vengeance against their AFC North opponents and takes care of business.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 31, Cincinnati 23.
#6 Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at #3 Minnesota Vikings (10-6)- 1:05 p.m. (NBC)
When I first saw that the Packers could have this spot as the #3 seed, I thought about what a great matchup that would be: Russell Wilson returns to Lambeau Field and seeks vengeance against an ailing Packers team that beat him in week two. However, Seattle instead gets to deal with the frigid cold of TCF Bank Stadium in Minnesota. While no one is exactly afraid of Seattle's defense anymore, all they really need to do is stop Adrian Peterson, as Teddy Bridgewater isn't capable enough to pick apart the remains of the Legion of Boom. Russell Wilson is going to throw bombs to Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. All day, baby, all day. Seattle rolls and moves on to Carolina.
Prediction: Seattle 38, Minnesota 14.
#5 Green Bay Packers (10-6) at #4 Washington Redskins (9-7)- 4:40 p.m. (FOX)
Green Bay is ailing. Washington also comes from a terrible division, the NFC North. They're basically here because every other team in that division wet the bed. This is the game I care least about, actually. Washington's been playing really good football lately, and the Packers have not, losing their last two. Green Bay just barely squeaks by in this one.
Prediction: Green Bay 30, Washington 24 (OT).
Divisional Weekend (Saturday, 1/16 & Sunday 1/17):
#5 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at #2 New England Patriots (12-4)- 4:35 p.m. (CBS)
This game could go one of two ways here. Either the Patriots come back with all of their players healthy from injury and destroy the Chiefs, or the Chiefs will be ready for the Patriots, overpowering them and taking it to them at home. I want to be safe here and say that the Patriots were playing more for health's sake than for seeding on Sunday against Miami. But the supposed injury to Tom Brady is something to worry about. People say that the AFC is still New England's to lose; I think it was lost about two weeks ago against the Jets. New England loses their third game in a row for the first time since 2002.
Prediction: Kansas City 35, New England 33.
#5 Green Bay Packers (10-6) at #2 Arizona Cardinals (13-3)- 8:15 p.m. (NBC)
Arizona has had a chance to rest up, while Green Bay is still reeling from the overtime bout with Washington. Carson Palmer's got too many weapons for Green Bay to handle, and the Arizona defense is too good, even without Tyrann Mathieu. Honey badger don't care about Aaron Rodgers. Arizona goes to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 2008.
Prediction: Arizona 41, Green Bay 27.
#6 Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at #1 Carolina Panthers (15-1)- 1:05 p.m. (FOX)
By far, the most interesting matchup in the postseason thus far. Carolina won in Seattle in week six earlier this year. Seattle was a different team then than they are now, of course, but I don't think that should change. The presence of a cornerback who can actually cover receivers (I speak of course, of Carolina's Josh Norman) will benefit Carolina greatly, as the Panthers can use a variety of defensive packages to both cover the Seattle receivers, and contain Russell Wilson, who is the best QB in the NFC right now. Wilson will need to play a really good football game against a very tough, healthy Carolina defense. Panthers dab their way to the NFC title game.
Prediction: Carolina 31, Seattle 27.
#6 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at #1 Denver Broncos (12-4)- 4:40 p.m. (CBS)
I take it back- this is the most interesting matchup in the postseason. I think Kubiak goes with Peyton Manning to start this game, and Denver begins to chug along on all cyllinders- their offensive unit can be a juggernaut when it gets going, since Manning's got 15 million targets and two incredible running backs in Hillman and Anderson. However, if Pittsburgh can get to Manning and/or force a turnover or two, the game will swing the other way. I think the Broncos have backed themselves into a corner with this quarterback situation- one might be too old and volatile, the other is too young and inexperienced. I give the edge to Pittsburgh in this one.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 38, Denver 20.
Championship Sunday (1/24)
#6 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at #5 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)- 3:35 p.m. (CBS)
Who knew. The two teams were fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the season will now be fighting it out for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. I think crowd noise will be a factor here. Arrowheads Stadium is loud, and the Kansas City faithful want another championship run for their city (as they come across the parking lot from Kaufmann Stadium where the Royals just won the World Series). Kansas City started the season at 1-5, and has won its last 10 heading into the playoffs. This is not the team you want to mess with. If DeAngelo Williams is indeed out, that could spell trouble for the Pittsburgh run game, leaving Ben Roethlisberger to have to throw the ball a lot. The Chiefs defense can figure out how to stop Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton. Kansas City goes to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1970.
Prediction: Kansas City 24, Pittsburgh 17.
#2 Arizona Cardinals (13-3) at #1 Carolina Panthers (15-1)- 6:40 p.m. (FOX)
It all comes down to this- the two best teams in the NFC, and possibly the NFL. Arizona and Carolina have not faced each other this regular season, so neither has had any experience other than game film. The two teams are just about even on both sides of the ball, with two MVP-candidate QBs in Carson Palmer and Cam Newton, as well as the defensive side of the ball. When you don't know any of the guys' names on defense, and they're 15-1 and 13-3, you have to assume they're pretty good. Very much like cornerbacks. I think Darrelle Revis is so good because you never hear about him during games- because the opposing QBs are always afraid to throw in his direction. However, I give the edge to Arizona in this game. They got decimated at home against Seattle, but then were playing merely for health instead of seeing. Carson Palmer likes to spread the field out and throw to his many, many wide out options. On top of that, Arizona's David Johnson has become a folk hero in his own right. It'll be either a shootout or a defensive struggle. I'm opting for the former.
Prediction: Arizona 45, Carolina 41.
Super Bowl 50: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, CA- Sunday, 2/7
#2 Arizona Cardinals (13-3) vs. #5 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)- 6:30 p.m. (CBS)
The biggest Super Bowl in history, represented by two franchises that, ten years ago, nobody thought would be here. In this matchup here, I have to go with Arizona. The Cards' defense is too good for any of the weapons that Alex Smith can throw to. Alex Smith, Charcandrick West, Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce in the Super Bowl? Come on. The road warrior, the 36-year-old Carson Palmer, picks apart the Chiefs defense to win his first Super Bowl and MVP award.
Prediction: Arizona 38, Kansas City 17.
I enjoy making lists, countdowns, and making sense of the world that I see around me.