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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sportaholic NFL Power Rankings: Playoff Edition and Playoff Predictions

Playoff time in the NFL is such a bittersweet moment for me. On one hand you have the best of the best lining up and going at it and on the other hand it the beginning of the end of the season. Non-playoff teams can be so interesting, just look at the train wrecks in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Oakland, and Carolina just to name a few. I don’t understand how a coach can survive a dismal 4-12 season when his team clearly stopped playing for him (Cincinnati). The two coaches who have surprisingly good years by squeezing every ounce of talent they have out their roster and still get canned (Cleveland and Oakland), and a coach in John Fox who should have been shown the door this time last year. These teams didn’t make the playoffs for a reason rather it be a bad product on the field (Arizona and Denver), front office ineptitude (San Francisco, Buffalo, and San Diego), too lofty expectations (Dallas and Minnesota), not enough talent (Detroit, and Washington), team meltdowns (Houston, Miami and Tennessee) or too young and some form bad luck this year (Tampa Bay and Oakland)




The playoffs are sacred to us die-heart NFL fans, casual fans need not apply. The intensity is turned up and all bets are off. Throw the records out the window as anything can happen. The only thing you have to do is get in and let the rest handle itself. A lot of people will gripe about Seattle’s losing record but if it was their team they would defend them to the end. What if the Seahawks made a magical run (highly unlikely but possible) to the Super Bowl? That is the beauty of the NFL playoffs. Unlike the MLB, NBA or NHL playoffs it just one game instead of a series in the league. The team that plays the best that day wins the game. Its makes every game edge of your seat exciting. There is no room for error. Each pick or fumble can end your team’s season. That is what makes the NFL playoffs so unique.



Now its time to rank the playoff teams from top to bottom:



1. New England Patriots: The prohibitive favorites and deservedly so. When you have beaten half of the teams in the playoffs, you belong at the top. The offensive transformation has been the key to their success. Not to mention Tom Terrific playing the best football of his career. Major concern: Defense. The defense has been solid but it still worries me a bit. When the stage is the biggest will they be able to stand the pressure of being the favorites?

2. Pittsburgh Steelers – Big Ben and the steel city crew have it all working for the Steelers. They can be dominating on defense which has always been the key. As long as Troy Polamalu and James Harrison come ready to play they can beat anyone. Major Concern: Offensive Line. The offensive line on passing plays comes to mind for Pittsburgh. New England made the blueprint for beating them. Fluster Ben and don’t let him out of the pocket and make short accurate throws that won’t allow the pass rush to get settled in.

3. Atlanta Falcons – The road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through the Georgia Dome, where Matt Ryan’s sparkling record of 20-2 comes into play. This team isn’t the sexiest but they find a way to get it done. Major Concern: Run Defense. Even though the Falcons finished 10th in the league in rushing, they have a penchant for giving up the big run as they have given up 10 runs of 20 or more yards this season. You have to shore that up in the playoffs as teams look to rely on their running attacks.

4. Chicago Bears – This seems a bit high for Chicago but they deserve it upon looking at the stats. The Bears have just bum rushed offenses this year as the they are 9th in total defense, 2nd in run defense and 4th in points allowed at 286 for the entire season. Julius Peppers has solidified this unit by giving them a lethal edge rusher to pair with LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Their defense is as mean as it gets in the NFL. Major Concern: Jay Cutler and Offensive line. It has to be said that Cutler is enjoying a resurgent year after his debacle last season. Cutler has “rebounded” to throw 23 touchdowns to 16 interceptions this year. His 86.3 QB rating is actually the 3rd highest rating of his career. The rub with me on Cutler is his decision making. He will make a silky smooth throw on one play and a bonehead throw into triple coverage the next. He has always been that way and you never want that in your QB in the playoffs. And that offensive line is god-awful. They gave up a league leading 52 sacks this year. It is truly amazing that they were able to still make the playoffs with kind of line play.

5. New Orleans Saints – The Saints had a tough year but seemed to finally have put it together going into the playoffs. Their vaunted offense had a down year compared to last year’s standards but still finished ranked 6th overall in total offense. This team is battle tested from last year’s Super Bowl run and will definitely have something to say on the NFC side of the draw. Major Concern: Turnovers. Drew Brees did such a marvelous job last year limiting his turnovers but not so much this year. His interceptions doubled from last year at 11 to 22 this year while his touchdown passes stayed basically the same from 34 last year to 33 this year. Brees has to take care of the rock in the playoffs for the Saints to have a chance to defend their Super Bowl title.

6. Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens like always are flying under the radar and loving every bit of it. They have recently found their spark on offense by utilizing Ray Rice to the best of his abilities. I have been clamoring for them to use Rice more this year because that guy is a big play waiting to happen. Rice’s numbers were down across the board from his career year last year as the Ravens have focused more on getting the ball to their receivers but Rice should get ample opportunities in the playoffs. It is amazing as well to note that Ed Reed led the league in interceptions at 8 even though he only played half the season this year. He is an all-time great at the safety position. Major Concern: Pass Rush. I remember when it was a given that the Ravens D was going to get after your quarterback. Not so much nowdays as they tied for 27th in the league with Buffalo. Haloti Ngata (6) and Terrell Suggs (11) are the only Ravens to have over 3 total sacks. That has to be addressed as teams will look to just throw on Baltimore. Just not to Ed Reed’s side.

7. New York Jets – Sexy Rexy and the gang green bunch are a lot of smoke and mirrors these days. Their last two meaningful games they have given up 66 points and 771 yards of total offense against the Bears and Steelers. Those are not the numbers that we have been accustomed to under Ryan’s reign. When you combine that with a offense that couldn’t scare a pee wee football team then you have problems going into the postseason. Major Concern: Mark Sanchez. Another thing I have been saying to all my Jets fans this year is watch the growth of Mark Sanchez as he is the key to you guys team. Sanchez numbers have improved from last year as expected and if you think back to last year this is when he got hot and led the Jets to the AFC Championship game. They will absolutely have to have that type of performance out of him if they expect to get back there or even further.

8. Green Bay Packers – The cheese heads are the dark horses in the NFC and a team no one will want to face. The fact that they have been basically been in playoff mode since week 16 stokes that notion. Teams that usually have to fight all the way to then end just to make it in the playoffs are good bets to make runs. This team has talent on both sides of the ball in Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and Charles Woodson. Can this team finally live up to the lofty projections they were predicted for the last couple of years? Major Concern: Injuries. The Pack lost starters Atari Bigby at safety, running back Ryan Grant, and tight end Jermichael Finley for the entire season. All of these players were major contributors to their team. Aaron Rodgers has just gotten over his concussion symptoms as well, so they have to protect him at all cost. When you add S Nick Barnett and DE Cullen Jenkins to the list as out for their game against Philly that makes it that much worse for Green Bay.

9. Indianapolis Colts – The Sheriff does it again as he led his team to playoffs for the 9th consecutive time, albeit not the way they we are accustomed to. Manning struggles this year have been chronicled so I won’t go into detail about that but he showed a true grit and determination this year not to let his team fail. The Colts are dangerous because you know every time you face them, Manning can get hot and take you down. The change in the way they are going in this year could benefit them. As a matter of fact the only time Manning won the Super Bowl, his team was a wild card back in 2006. Watch out AFC. Major Concern: Injuries. If the Packers are considered walking wounded into the playoffs, then the Colts should be the walking dead. This team has just been decimated by injuries this year. The Colts injury report lists 25 players and 15 on that list are on the IR. You could field a decent team with the likes of Dallas Clarke, Jerraud Powers, Austin Collie, Melvin Bullitt, Anthony Gonzalez, and the IR specialist Bob Sanders. If the Colts can overcome all of their injuries, it would be one of the greatest NFL stories in history.

10. Philadelphia Eagles – The most exciting team in the league resides in Philly. Excitement doesn’t always lead to championships though just ask Cleveland Cavalier fans of the past few seasons. The improbable season just keeps going for Philly and they were able to rest Michael Vick and De’sean Jackson an extra week after clinching the 3rd seed in the NFC. Vick and Jackson are as deadly of a combo as it comes in the NFL. When you add the underrated Lesean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin you have a team that can put up points in a hurry. I think they could field a track team if they wanted to. Major Concern: Pass Protection. The Vikings exposed the Eagles weak offensive line play in the Sunday night turned Tuesday nigh game. The Eagles continually let corner Antoine Winfield in the backfield on a simple Cornerback blitz. Vick has been hit a number of times this year and it will only get worse in the playoffs as teams emulate what the Vikes did to them. If they want to have any shot at advancing, they have to protect Vick starting this weekend against Clay Matthews and the Packers

11. Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs or New England west as some call them are the surprise team in the league this year as they finally took down San Diego’s reign on the AFC West. Scott Pioli and Todd Haley have changed the culture in that locker room and should be commended. The additions of Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis gave them a schematic advantage in most of their games as both of these guys have won Super Bowls in New England. Matt Cassel also has played a big part in their resurgence as he has put up MVP numbers in the second half of the season. Jamal Charles is a threat every time he touches the ball. Major Concern: Big Stage Jitters. This is the Chiefs first time in playoffs since 2006. Most of those guys on that team are gone. How will the new look Chiefs fare on the big stage?

12. Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll found a way to sneak his team into the postseason. The Seahawks are the historic first team with a losing record to make it in. Don’t blame Seattle for being in the worst conference in football, hell somebody had to win the division. Surprisingly as well is that Seattle ranks 19th in passing offense ahead of other playoff teams such as Baltimore, New York Jets, Chicago, and Kansas City. As for their chances that another thing. Charlie Whitehurst seems to be good at evading the rush and making things happen with his legs. I also like the fact that he didn’t have a turnover in his lone start. Other than that this should be a one and done showing for Seattle’s best. Major Concern: Talent. The Seahawks have virtually no run game as they ranked 31st in the league averaging a paltry 89 yards a game. They ranked 27th in the league in total defense and yet with all their deficiencies found a make it in but it won’t be for long.



My Humble Playoff Predictions:



Wild Card Round:



AFC

NY Jets over Indianapolis

Baltimore over Kansas City

NFC

New Orleans over Seattle


Philadelphia over Green Bay



Divisional Round:

AFC

New England over NY Jets 

Baltimore over Pittsburgh



NFC
 
Philadelphia over Chicago

New Orleans over Atlanta



Conference Championship:

AFC

New England over Baltimore

NFC

Philadelphia over New Orleans


Super Bowl

New England over Philadelphia.

3 comments:

  1. Nice blog you have as well. Thanks for the comments ...

    Patriots over Eagles? Solid choice. I'm leaning more toward Pittsburgh over Atlanta, but this 2010 NFL season has been a strange one.
    Nobody here in Chicago (except maybe Lovie Smith) thought the Bears would be where they currently are.

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  2. Yeah the Bears were a hell of a surprise. If you would have told me they would win the division at the beginning of the year I would have told you your crazy. I like the Steelers but I dnt think they match up well against the Pats. The Falcons have as good a chance as anybody in the NFC so we'll see. Thanks for dropping by.

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  3. I'm all for the Ravens the rest of the way! Great D and eough O to do it.

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