The holidays are over, and the 2011 NFL regular season has concluded along with them.
Before we as sports fans switch our focus to other items like March Madness or the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather fight that I will keep assuming will happen, we get 11 more games that make up the annual NFL playoffs. These 660 minutes will re-write, or at very least alter, the season’s script to which many think they already know the ending.
Remember, last season at this time, the Green Bay Packers were a #6 seed that only made the playoffs because the New York Giants practically handed them the last spot.
So, with that in mind, I thought I would give you some insights to, depending on your objectives, make some money during playoff season or simply sound smart around the water cooler.
I have put together 10 predictions and things that you should look for during the playoffs. I guarantee at least three or four of them will be right.
#10: The NFL Wanted Parity, They Got Mediocrity.
It is great for ratings that everyone’s favorite team has a chance to compete, if not one year, then certainly the next. Ever since St. Louis and a former Hy-Vee bag boy came from nowhere to win the Super Bowl just over a decade ago, we have had a revolving door for the most part.
The problem with this is that the quality at the top of the league is watered down, and the opportunity for epic battles between the titans is low, because there are no titans. Every team has major flaws.
So, the bad news is that the overall level of play may be lower in the playoffs than 20+ years ago, but the good news is that the results are more unpredictable.
#9: To Play Touch Football or To Risk Death.
This one really has nothing to do with the playoffs, but the National Football League has a conundrum.
The league continues to come down with harsher penalties for hard and high and low and late hits. The problem is they continue to take aggression out of a game that is by design violent. On the flip side, if they don’t, with players as big and strong as they are today, there will be the first death on the field since Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait.
I really an not sure what the league can do about this, but this issue, with on-field injuries combined with the lasting effects of concussions, will haunt this league for a long, long time.
#8: Every Once in a While, It Sucks to be Vegas.
Detroit is playing at New Orleans. The two quarterbacks in this game have combined for three of the five seasons of 5,000 yards passing in NFL history. Both defenses give up points, and Detroit’s even scores some.
Vegas opened the total of this game at 58.5, higher than any total (previous high was 57 in 2009 when the Saints battled that Hy Vee bag boy and the Cardinals), but probably not high enough to keep 80% of the action from going on the over.
Is there any way Drew Brees scores less than 38? Will Stafford score less than 28? And Vegas can’t even get bad weather indoors….
#7: Tim Tebow is the Worst Starting Playoff QB in last 10 Years, and That Includes Trent Dilfer.
Tim Tebow is a fantastic human being. He is a wonderful leader of men. He was a tremendous college quarterback. But, let’s face it, now that the league has figured out the Denver gimmicks, Tebow is not a quality starting quarterback in the NFL.
In his last three games, Tebow is 30-73 (41%, ouch), with 1 TD and 4 INT’s. And he has lost multiple fumbles as well. The best thing that can possibly happen this week to Denver is that Tebow and crew get shut out, so that John Elway can do what he knows is the right thing: find the franchise quarterback of the future.
#6: The 49ers Have the Formula to Win It All, If It Were 1986.
The 49ers run the ball very effectively with Frank Gore, control the ball with Alex Smith making few mistakes, and play great defense. That was a great formula before teams started scoring 500+ points a season.
As great as their defense is, the teams they will face in the NFC will get their points, and Jim Harbaugh’s team will just not be able to keep up.
#5: When Was the Last Time Two Rookie QB’s Started Against Each Other in a Playoff Game?
Houston has waited FOREVER to get to the playoffs, and now that they are here, their hopes rest on the shoulders of rookie 5th round draft choice T.J. Yates. Yates has come a long way since beating out Greg Paulus’ brother for the starting job in Chapel Hill a few years back.
The Texans will try to rely on a great one-two running attack of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The problem is that the Bengals have a top 5 rush defense.
I am not sure that Andy Dalton and his weapons have enough experience to take advantage of this opportunity on the road, but one thing I look for is the anti-Lions/Saints, with a final score like you might find after the 1st quarter in New Orleans.
#4: Watch Out For the New York (Football) Giants.
Admittedly, the Giants only got into the playoffs because the Eagles did not realize the season had started until 75% of it had been completed. But this team is for real and can beat anyone.
Eli Manning has taken his level of play up significantly this year, and on the defensive side of the ball, with Umenyiora back with Tuck and JPP, they have enough pass rush to hide their deficiencies in their thin secondary.
If they get by the Falcons this weekend, watch for a monumental upset the following weekend, because….
#3: Green Bay Will Not Win the Super Bowl.
Green Bay has had a spectacular season. But they, better than anyone after their run last season, understand that the Super Bowl is not always won by the best team of the season, but the team that is playing the best at the end.
Green Bay will get a boost if they get Greg Jennings back for the playoff push, but as you look at the competition, other teams are just playing better right now.
#2: Will the Patriots Win a Playoff Game?
It has been four long years since David Tyree made the LAST catch of his illustrious career and kept the Patriots from a perfect 19-0 season by winning Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots have not won a playoff game since.
While they went 13-3 this season, do not be surprised if that playoff futility continues after their bye week.
The Patriots defense is awful, so bad that they have used receivers as starters in their secondary multiple times this season. As great as Tom Brady is, if they run into a well-rounded team, they will have a difficult time advancing, even with the friendly Foxborough crowd locked in throughout the AFC playoffs.
#1: New Orleans Will Beat Baltimore in Indianapolis.
First, I thought Pittsburgh would get to the big game, but I have switched to Baltimore because they are healthier than Pittsburgh heading into the playoffs, especially with news that Rashard Mendenhall may be out.
But these are the two teams that will wade through the kiddie pool and get to swim in the deep end. And in the end, Drew Brees and company will have just enough to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the second time.
And then, we will be less than 6 months away from training camps!