Once again, it is that time of year sports fans. Readers might remember that Gaming Illustrated typically picks one of the two conferences perfectly, and has a stellar track record predicting the Super Bowl. This year, there are some very intriguing matchups which should make for a very interesting Super Bowl in New York come February. Let’s get to it.
AFC Wild Card Round
#6 San Diego Charges vs #3 Cincinnati Bengals
Somehow, someway, the San Diego SUPER Chargers luckboxed their way into the NFL playoffs. It was the stuff of lore – they needed not one but two teams to lose their final two games and had to win their last two to get in. Cincinnati cruised to a division title and arguably has the AFC’s best playoff defense. The Bengals are a very interesting playoff team since they might just be the most well rounded and defend very well. The Chargers are unquestionably hot, but they go on the road to play in the cold against a great defense that hasn’t lost at home this year.
Prediction: Cincinnati 27, San Diego 20
#5 Kansas City Chiefs vs #4 Indianapolis Colts
This was a non-contest just two weeks ago and the Colts are streaking while the Chiefs are limping to the playoffs. Andy Reid’s decision to rest his starters should pay off and he does have a great track record in the playoffs. The Colts defense doesn’t scare anyone and with the loss of Reggie Wayne, the offense just isn’t the same, although the last three weeks have been impressive. This is a tough one to call, but the home crowd in Indy should help and Kansas City has no chance to come back if they get down by even 10 points.
Prediction: Indianapolis 31, Kansas City 24
NFL Wild Card Round
#6 New Orleans Saints vs #3 Philadelphia Eagles
This might be a really fun game to watch with two explosive offenses facing off. The Saints have been an enigma this season and nobody knows for sure whether they are a real contender or a team that just plays amazing at home. It feels as if Philly has played better down the stretch but the Saints are just downright scary if they get hot. One major factor – Sean Payton (Super Bowl winning coach) versus Chip Kelly (rookie NFL coach). That just might be what tips the scales for the Saints.
Prediction: New Orleans 34, Philadelphia 31
#5 San Francisco 49ers vs #4 Green Bay Packers
The 49ers started out this season cold, while the Packers were hot. Down the stretch that changed dramatically with the 49ers playing as well as anyone heading into the playoffs. The Packers somehow managed to take a mediocre 8-7-1 record and turn it into a home playoff game. Regardless, the 49ers are simply a better team overall and despite the return of Randall Cobb and Aaron Rodgers, the 49ers really should dominate this one.
Prediction: San Francisco 37, Green Bay 17
AFC Divisional Round
#3 Cincinnati Bengals vs #2 New England Patriots
Somehow, someway, the Patriots found a way to win enough to get the #2 seed in the AFC. While there is no more help coming on the offensive or defensive side, they just find ways to win given amazing efforts by Tom Brady, Julius Edelman, and the running backs on offense. The defense is very underrated, but losing Vince Wilfork is a killer for the Pats. The Bengals have a legit shot to win this since they have an explosive offense and a stout D, but the playoff inexperience for the Bengals will be their downfall.
Prediction: New England 24, Cincinnati 17
#4 Indianapolis Colts vs #1 Denver Broncos
It is very poetic that Peyton Manning’s return to the Super Bowl would have to start against his old team, whom he lost to earlier this year on the road. This time, Manning can be focused at home in Denver and riddle the Colts defense with a nearly unstoppable aerial attack. If the running game in Denver clicks around Moreno, this won’t be much of a contest.
Prediction: Denver 31, Indianapolis 17
NFC Divisional Round
#6 New Orleans Saints vs #1 Seattle Seahawks
These two franchises just always seem to have a destiny to meet each other and it always seems like the Seahawks get the better of it. While the game will be on turf, it’ll be played in one of the most hostile environments in the NFL. The Saints can make this a game, but if the Seahawks defense is healthy and clicking, this one can be over early in the third quarter. Russell Wilson should cement his status this playoff year as a legit football superstar, but not having either Sidney Rice or Percy Harvin will leave people to wonder what might have been.
Prediction: Seattle 31, New Orleans 21
#5 San Francisco 49ers vs #2 Carolina Panthers
While the 49ers have been particularly impressive over the last quarter of the regular season, there have been some very troubling trends. Particularly, Colin Kaepernick being able to regain the form he showed in last year’s playoff run. Against what many believe is the best defense in the NFL (with all respect to Seattle) Kaepernick will most definitely struggle to make completions and if Gore can’t break through what might be the best defensive line in the game, it might be a really long shocking game for San Francisco. Carolina has the defense to go all the way, it is just a matter of limited mistakes from DeAngelo Williams (fumbles, pass blocking) and Cam Newton (living up to the pressure).
Prediction: Carolina 28, San Francisco 13
AFC Conference Championship
#2 New England Patriots vs #1 Denver Broncos
Once again, Manning will have to overcome a nemesis to get to the Super Bowl in the form of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Since the game is in Denver, the Broncos should have a huge advantage. It’s quite simple – if the Broncos defense wakes up, plays to their potential and can get contributions from some players like Champ Bailey they can win this game. Once again, if the Broncos can get the running game going and convert on third down (hello, Julius Thomas, you need to show up in this one) they should win. For the Patriots, Brady has to find some consistency with his receivers and it’s time both Edelman and Amendola showed up at the same time. Blount and the rest of the running backs frankly have to play ball control to win. In the end, Manning should overcome what should be a back-and-forth struggle for both teams.
Prediction: Denver 34, New England 27
NFL Conference Championship
#2 Carolina Panthers vs #1 Seattle Seahawks
The two best defenses in the NFL, and certainly the two best remaining in the playoffs face off for the right to go to the Super Bowl. The Seahawks must establish the run and be able toe spread the ball around which will be no easy task. The Panthers pretty much have to do the same. Both offenses are pretty similar with power running backs, quarterbacks that can beat you with their arm or their legs, and amazingly physical defenses. The Seahawks do have a little more playoff experience than the Panthers and that home field advantage, however.
Prediction: Seattle 20, Carolina 17
Denver Broncos vs Seattle Seahawks
The preseason prediction holds true, as the Broncos and the Seahawks will face off in the Super Bowl, played in “New York” (it’s in New Jersey). This should be a great matchup, but at this point, Peyton Manning and the Broncos will be on a mission that practically seems preordained for them to fulfill. The Seahawks will miss those players on offense that are injured, but if Percy Harvin can come back to play in this one, he might be the wild card that keeps the Seahawks competitive in this one. Don’t expect a blow out and in fact, the Seahawks could very well win this one if their secondary makes some big plays. In the end though, it’s Peyton’s year.
Prediction: Denver 37, Seattle 24