2016-2017 NFL Playoff Preview
I've decided that the NFL season gets shorter every year, and it's reached the "too short" point. Probably the funniest part of this year's post is that I'm stressing to get it done before the first game starts, as though anyone will read this. Anyway, here's the perennial look back at how I did last year:
Chiefs v Texans: Prediction Chiefs, actual Chiefs
Steelers v Bengals: Prediction Steelers, actual Steelers
Chiefs v Patriots: Prediction Patriots, actual Patriots
Steelers v Broncos: Prediction Steelers, actual Broncos
Steelers v Patriots: Prediction Patriots, actual Broncos
Seahawks v Vikings: Prediction Seahawks, actual Seahawks
Packers v Redskins: Prediction Packers, actual Packers
Packers v Cardinals: Prediction Cardinals, actual Cardinals
Seahawks v Panthers: Prediction Panthers, actual Panthers
Cardinals v Panthers: Prediction Cardinals, actual Panthers
Cardinals v Patriots: Prediction Patriots, actual Broncos
While neither of my predicted Super Bowl teams made it to the big game, I did alright with the games leading up to it. And as a person who isn't particularly fond of Manning or Newton last year's Championship game couldn't have ended any better: Neither QB played well and Denver's Defense allowed Peyton to limp into retirement with his second Ring - tying his far less talented brother. So I got 64% right (7 out of 11). That's 1 better than last year. Let's see if I can get one better this year!
I got 100% last year's wild card weekend. That's not easy to replicate but here we go (I'll review them in the order in which they will be played):
AFC Saturday 1st game Raiders at Texans
Until about two weeks ago, the Raiders were the second scariest team in the AFC and were making a play at 1st overall. Then Carr broke his leg and their back up, McQloin, injured his non-throwing shoulder. They fell from fighting for first to fifth. While the Texans have had a mediocre season at best they have the good fortune of facing a decimated Raiders offense. Texans walk through this one.
NFC Saturday 2nd game Lions at Seahawks
This is a fairly evenly matched game: Two teams with better than average defenses playing with QBs who have been working with injuries this year. That means what might typically be considered a minor difference may end up being a major in the outcome. While Wilson dealt with a more serious injured earlier in the year, Stafford suffered a finger dislocation towards the end of it. Stafford's injury is on his throwing hand and has impacted his numbers - and the overall success of the team - ever since. The Lions finished the season on a three game losing streak (Giants, Cowboys, Packers). All three losses were to playoff teams but one would hope for at least one victory (which could have awarded them the division). Another factor to consider is the location. A few years ago, when the Seahawks won their division with a losing record they still went on to win their first playoff game because it was at home. Seattle is a difficult place to visit and win. I think the combination of 12th man pushes the Seahawks over the top for the win.
AFC Sunday 1st game Dolphins at Steelers
I don't put much stock in the Dolphins. They started the year 1-4 (their only win coming against the hapless 1-15 Browns) and faced 6 teams all year that finished the season .500 or better. The Dolphins went 1-5 in those six games. I feel like this playoff appearance is a consolation prize for being the best of the worst of the AFC. The Steelers should have little difficulty ending the Dolphins playoff hopes.
NFC Sunday 2nd game: Giants at Packers
In typical Giant fashion, they had flashes of brilliance and moments of utter confusion. They handed the vaunted Cowboys 2 of their 3 losses this year but then floundered against the likes of the mediocre Vikings. That type of inconsistent play has plague Eli his entire career (see: defeating the undefeated Patriots & starting a season with more interceptions than receptions). That's one thing that makes predicting Giant games so difficult. Especially when playing against a QB who has a higher passer rating when he is outside of the pocket than when inside!
AFC Saturday 1st game Seahawks at Falcons
This is a fascinating match-up. Falcons over-powering offense (#1) vs Seahawks stingy defense (#3). What makes this more interesting than the possibility of a Falcons v Patriots (#1 defense) match-up is that these two teams are equally weak on the opposite side of the ball (Seahawks #18 in offense, Falcons #27 in defense). While they say that defenses win championships and one, therefore, should side with the Seahawks, most of their great defense came against flat-out bad teams. The Falcon's offense, on the other hand, fared much better against strong defenses than the Seahawk's defense did vs stronger offenses. Accordingly, we predict the Falcons will move on to the Championship round.
AFC Saturday 2nd game Texans at Patriots
Once we enter the divisional round, the Texans will be the worst team remaining in the playoffs. Even if they had JJ Watt, the Texans would have a difficult time stopping TB12 and the Patriots. In order to keep the game competitive, the Texans will have to have at least two defensive/special team TDs. While the Patriots have been giving fans heart palpitations late in games recently, I don't think they will collapse to that extent. Look for Belichick's crew to waltz past the vastly over-paid Osweiler and the Texans.
NFC Sunday 1st game Steelers at Chiefs
"Don't be too proud if this [bye-week] terror you've constructed." If not for the devastating injury to Derek Carr the Chiefs would be sitting in 5th place and traveling to Foxboro this week after defeating the Texans rather than hosting the Steelers. The Chiefs only dropped two games at home this year but got embarrassed in Pittsburgh losing by 29 points. The Steelers had an easy trip into the post season, at least, on paper. They won their last 7 games against teams that won less than 1/3 of their games (31-64-1) and even faced a playoff team during that run. However, they didn't win convincingly, finishing out the season with four wins of only one score (and nearly allowing the Browns to notch a second win). Those factors make this a difficult game to evaluate. Additionally, I'm uncomfortable choosing all of the home teams and, though you've not read my Packers/Cowboys pick - that's what I've done. If I had to pick a visiting team to win, it would be the Steelers. Having said that, I won't be picking the Steelers.
NFC Sunday 2nd game Packers at Cowboys
Well put me in a time machine and zap me back to the 90s! I love this match-up: Favre vs Aikman - I mean Rogers vs Prescott. These two teams faced a few of the same opponents this year but without providing a definitive conclusion as to which team is clearly better. The Cowboys lost to teams that the Packers defeated and vice versa. As long as the Cowboys can keep Rogers in the pocket they will win easily. If they are unable to contain Rogers, the 'Boys will still walk out with the win but it will be much closer.
Chiefs at Patriots
Out of all of the AFC teams, the Chiefs are the team I didn't want to face (after Carr's injury. Prior it was the Raiders). They have a decent defense and an adequate offense. They match-up well against the Patriots. The Chiefs, however, have the misfortune of facing the team ranked #1 in points allowed and #3 in points scored (and remember, for the majority of the year they've been without either Brady or Gronk - and for some games - without both!) The Chiefs will put up a fight early, but the game will not be in doubt late.
Falcons at Cowboys
Picking the home team for every game is like choosing all chalk in the NCAA March Madness Tournament - and, for as much as I want to choose the Falcons, I simply can't. While the top four contenders for NFL MVP are still paying at this point (Brady, Prescott, Elliot, & Ryan) it is the likely front runner for MVP (Ryan) who will walk out of Dallas with the L. My gut tells me that Dallas will lose this game. The 'Boys have had to score 24 points in order to walk away with a win for the majority of the season. That doesn't bode well for a team playing this late in the post-season. However, when I looked at the Falcon's defense they ranked 27th in the league for points against. Dallas is 5th. I'm not ignoring the fact that the Seahawks (whom I've picked to lose to the Falcons) are 3rd in defense The major difference is that the Falcons are 1st in offensive scoring, the Cowboys are 5th (the Seahawks wallow in 18th). I'm forced to predict the Cowboys as the victors.
Cowboys vs Patriots
I feel like I've predicted Cowboys v Patriots a number of times prior to this. And I have: Once before. I've also predicted Falcons v Patriots once in the past as well. Nearly every time the Patriots are in the playoffs I've chosen them to make it to the Super Bowl. I'm fairly confident this year that they will advance, once again, to the Big Dance but I'm not excited about facing either the Falcons or the Cowboys. All in all, I'd rather see the Cowboys who have zero experience against a Belichickian defense. I believe that Brady will prove himself once and for all the GOAT in earning his 5th (and, astonishingly, not necessarily last) Super Bowl victory.
So I've probably cursed the Patriots to a heart-breaking, last minute loss at the hands of the Seahawks! I still very much enjoy the process of evaluating the post-season teams and predicting the outcome of all of the games. I selected no upsets this year which doesn't sit well with me but we shall see how it all turns out. Go Patriots!