Now that all the 2013 NFL divisional previews are complete, let’s check out how I think the postseason will unfold.
Surprisingly, I have all of 2012’s postseason teams making it back to January. Yes, that lame and not creative, but other teams on the edge of the playoffs, such as the St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears remain just back of those from last season.
Obviously it’s more wide open in the NFC, but we’re not going to see three teams from one division reach January. Divisions like the NFC North, South and West run too deep and the AFC is much more shallow. No division is capable of taking over everyone else.
Perhaps 2014 will be different, and it’s reasonable to suspect as much. However, 2013 only mirrors 2012 regarding the qualifiers for the postseason, but the seeds get altered.
Baltimore Ravens (6) at Cincinnati Bengals (3)
These offenses are fairly equal, but the Ravens are better on the ground. Defensively, though, Cincinnati has a slightly better pass rush and coverage team. Baltimore also no longer has Ed Reed or Ray Lewis, while the Bengals have playmakers in Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson in the secondary.
Pick: Bengals over Ravens
Indianapolis Colts (5) at New England Patriots (4)
The Patriots haven’t proven in recent years that their pass defense is consistently reliable. Against Andrew Luck and Indianapolis’ balanced attack, that will be a problem. In addition, the Colts have a better defense than 2012 and Tom Brady has to reestablish chemistry with a new group of receiving targets.
Pick: Colts over Patriots
Minnesota Vikings (6) at Green Bay Packers (3)
Last season these two met and the Packers were able to slow down Adrian Peterson enough to win. Well, Minnesota’s passing game still pales in comparison to Green Bay’s because of Aaron Rodgers. Plus, the cheeseheads have proven young playmakers defensively and the Vikings remain susceptible to the pass.
Pick: Packers over Vikings
San Francisco 49ers (5) at Washington Redskins (4)
Robert Griffin III’s athleticism will cause problems for San Francisco. That said, the 49ers have a disciplined front seven that has also been together for a while. As a result, the ‘Niners will isolate Alfred Morris and force RG3 to win it by himself. If anything, Washington’s offense slows down and the 49ers slowly pull away. The Redskins’ defense must still prove itself versus the run and against physical teams to win in January.
Pick: 49ers over Redskins
Cincinnati Bengals (3) at Denver Broncos (2)
An interesting matchup between two pass-balanced offenses and strong defenses. The Broncos, however, have more established veteran playmakers on defense to limit the damage of A.J. Green. Factor in Von Miller’s presence and the Bengals will be running the ball more, which feeds into Denver’s defensive strength. Peyton Manning will have more possessions and Wes Welker will be tough to cover.
Pick: Broncos over Bengals
Indianapolis Colts (5) at Houston Texans (1)
This is where the presence of Ed Reed gives Houston a major league advantage. The Colts have the passing game to stretch the field, but Reed’s instincts allow Houston to play Cover 1 press and blitz relentlessly. When on offense, Houston also features the better ground attack and ball control to keep Indy off balance.
Pick: Texans over Colts
Green Bay Packers (3) at Atlanta Falcons (2)
Green Bay undoubtedly provides the offensive firepower – thanks to Aaron Rodgers – to match the pace of Matt Ryan and the Falcons. The challenge comes from the Packers defense in slowing down Atlanta’s offense. The Falcons have a better defense than in 2012, while the Packers are still young by comparison. In short, the veteran experience of Asante Samuel, Thomas DeCoud and William Moore in Atlanta outshines the youth in Titletown.
Pick: Falcons over Packers
San Francisco 49ers (5) at Seattle Seahawks (1)
The tides have flipped in the NFC West with Seattle now in the driver’s seat and San Francisco in the rearview mirror. Two teams that are virtually exact replicas of one another, the advantage here comes from man coverage isolation. Seattle’s Legion of Boom secondary is capable of jamming at the line and disguising looks more consistently. At the same time, Russell Wilson is a better pocket passer than Colin Kaepernick, and Marshawn Lynch has a bit more punch than Frank Gore. Finally, Seattle’s depth along the defensive line with star talent will take over as the game progresses.
Pick: Seahawks over 49ers
Denver Broncos (2) at Houston Texans (1)
Once again Ed Reed meets Wes Welker in the postseason, but this time Peyton Manning is his quarterback. Fortunately, though, Houston brings other defenders in J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed to clog lanes and stuff the line of scrimmage. So, what will the Broncos do? Expect plenty of no-huddle from Manning who sees everything a defense can throw at him. If anything, that innate talent to quickly dissect an opponent is Manning’s advantage over that of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.
The Broncos’ defense is just as technically sound as Houston’s, not to mention the presence of seasoned veterans like Champ Bailey, Quentin Jammer and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the secondary. Mix in Shaun Phillips to complement Von Miller and Houston’s offense will have issues moving the ball. Here, it comes down to quarterback play and Manning has a significant edge over Schaub.
Pick: Broncos over Texans
Atlanta Falcons (2) at Seattle Seahawks (1)
Another postseason rematch from last season, the Seahawks get the Falcons on their turf instead of inside the Georgia Dome.
The inexperience of Russell Wilson last year didn’t impact Seattle, but it was the Seahawks defense that let the team down and gave up 30 points. At its core, playing weaker offenses in the NFC West compared to the NFC South was a factor. This time around, though, Richard Sherman and co. know what to expect from Atlanta, and still present the capability of locking down the Falcons’ outstanding receivers one-on-one.
Make no mistake about it, each offense will move the ball well as they’re simply too good not be stymied. But the pass rush and run defense will be the ultimate decider in this NFC clash. Seattle brings in a better front seven thanks to free agency and the draft. Atlanta remains vulnerable to the run and the Seahawks still feature Marshawn “Beast-Mode” Lynch to slam the trenches.
Pick: Seahawks over Falcons
Super Bowl XLVIII
Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks
Two old AFC West rivals square off for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLVIII. It’s also a classic quarterback duo in legendary veteran/future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning against the emerging star Russell Wilson in his second season.
An exciting chess match between Manning and Seattle’s defense will certainly commence and the Broncos will have to feed Wes Welker and establish the run to keep the Seahawks honest. Failing to do so will allow Seattle’s Legion of Boom secondary to take over in man coverage. Thereafter, the front seven will blitz constantly and Denver’s running game will become useless.
When Seattle has the rock, Wilson must take flight to put Denver’s Orange Crush defense on its heels. Speedster Golden Tate will fly past one-on-one coverage and draw safety attention which will allow Sidney Rice and other targets to get wider space to work underneath. Denver’s defensive weak point remains in coverage, because not many turnovers were forced in 2012 despite the front seven’s quarterback pressure.
Here, expect a solid dose of Marshawn Lynch to keep Von Miller and co. honest. The Seahawks have a better chance of working off of play-action compared to Denver, which establishes a multidimensional attack. The Broncos aren’t as balanced offensively and Seattle’s defense is too well disciplined, especially against opponents that don’t have a punishing ground attack.
Super Bowl Pick: Seahawks over Broncos
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