2011 NFL Regular Season Standings
* - Wildcard berth Green Bay is the No. 1 seed because of a head-to-head win.
Atlanta finishes ahead of Tampa Bay because of conference schedule.
Pittsburgh over Baltimore because of head-to-head meetings.
Indianapolis finishes ahead of San Diego because of strength of victory.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at 3. Philadelphia Eagles (12-4)
The Eagles went to the Super Bowl in January 2003. Oh wait, no they didn't. Everyone in Philadelphia just assumed they would when they were matched up against the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship. Tampa had never won in freezing weather, yet they managed to pull the upset thanks to a Ronde Barber pick-six, 27-10.
Now, nine years later, there's no doubt that Philly would once again be a massive favorite in this matchup. I mean, come on, it's the Buccaneers for crying out loud. Maybe the Packers or the Saints could defeat the "Dream Team," but how can Tampa possibly pull it off?
Well, I think the Bucs will. They're a team. Teams win in football; not individuals.
Buccaneers 21, Eagles 19
5. Atlanta Falcons (11-5) at 4. St. Louis Rams (9-7)
I can already see it: The Falcons are -3 over the Rams despite being the lower seed and the road team. The public is betting the hell out of Atlanta. "How are the Rams going to beat the Falcons?" clueless ESPN analysts will ask. "St. Louis stinks! They're only in the playoffs because the NFC West sucks!" most casual football fans will exclaim.
But not me. St. Louis has been waiting for a playoff game since 2004. The rabid fans will be going nuts. Plus, the Rams might just have the better defense, and Matt Ryan hasn't exactly been stellar in his two postseason contests.
This will be my January NFL Pick of the Month - and I'll be eight units richer by the time this game is over.
Rams 20, Falcons 13
6. New York Jets (10-6) at 3. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
Wait a second, why is this familiar? The Jets have already slain this dragon. I'm not sure how effective Peyton Manning will be this year coming off neck surgery. No one does. That's why I'm going to have Indianapolis bowing out early again.
Jets 17, Colts 16
5. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at 4. San Diego Chargers (10-6)
The Ravens win playoff road games. The Chargers lose playoff home games. I really don't need to delve into this any further, do I?
Ravens 31, Chargers 26
2011 NFL Playoff Predictions - Divisional Round
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at 1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
OK, would I bet even money - essentially what I'm doing here - on the Buccaneers winning a January game in Lambeau? No, I wouldn't. But I don't want to have Green Bay advance deep into the playoffs because the team is coming off a Super Bowl victory. Packer fans may shake their heads, slam their fists and proclaim that Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy would never have a post-championship hangover, but let me mention two things:
First, I received the EXACT same e-mails from Saints fans last year. "No way Drew Breeze and Shawn Payton half a let-done. your an idioot!"
Second, I picked Green Bay to win the Super Bowl in my 2010 NFL Season Previews, so please be gentle, Cheesehead fans.
Buccaneers 27, Packers 26
5. St. Louis Rams (9-7) at 2. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
I'm a big Sam Bradford fan, but there's a huge difference between winning a home playoff game and having to pull off an upset in the madhouse formally known as the Superdome. Perhaps I'll have the Rams winning the Super Bowl next year, but this will be a learning experience like no other.
Saints 31, Rams 20
6. New York Jets (10-6) at 1. New England Patriots (15-1)
Wait a second, why is this familiar? The Jets have already slain this dragon.
But this dragon just grew three more heads named Albert, Andre and Chad, and they are burning Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan to a crisp!
Patriots 28, Jets 21
5. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at 2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
If Ben Roethlisberger keeps on beating Joe Flacco, I think Flacco is going to have a mental breakdown. That, or he'll have to offer his hot girlfriends to Roethlisberger so Big Ben can do naughty things with them. OK, I'm typing this at 2:15 a.m., so I don't know if that made any sense or not. Let's move on before I have a mental breakdown of my own.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at 2. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
A round earlier, I said that traveling to the insane Superdome is incredibly difficult for any young quarterback. But not Josh Freeman. Freeman has already won twice in the Superdome, so he won't be intimidated by the raucous crowd.
I think this is a pretty even matchup, and I had a tough time deciding the winner. But to make things interesting...
Buccaneers 23, Saints 20
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at 1. New England Patriots (15-1)
This will obviously be billed as the more entertaining of the two matchups, but I wouldn't agree with that. The Patriots own the Steelers. I made an eight-unit bet on New England when it traveled to Pittsburgh in November, and one of the reasons was:
Tom Brady owns the Steelers. He's 5-1 against Pittsburgh in his career.
Well, he's now 6-1, and because he plays them in the regular season this year, he'll be 8-1 versus the Steelers after this matchup.
Patriots 39, Steelers 26
2011 NFL Playoff Predictions - Super Bowl XLVI at Indianapolis
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) vs. New England Patriots (15-1)
Note that this Super Bowl prediction was changed to Saints-Patriots in my final preseason power rankings.
I know I'm going to receive 50,000 e-mails and comment posts all going like, "I know you said you're going to get e-mails about this, but come on man, I can see the Pats in the Super Bowl, but the Bucs have no chance."
1. I've correctly predicted two of the previous four Super Bowl participants (Saints in 2009; Packers in 2010). That doesn't mean I'll guess this matchup correctly, but it's not like I have no track record in this department.
2. I LOVE picking one favorite and one sleeper team to advance to the Super Bowl. My favorite (Packers) pulled through last year, while my sleeper (Saints) hit in 2009. Maybe I'll go 2-for-2 this time. Or 0-of-2. Meh.
3. The Buccaneers certainly have a chance to win the Super Bowl this year. The ignorant will point out Tampa's easy schedule as a reason for its 10-6 record in 2010. Well, I'd like to counter with a few items:
First, while the Buccaneers did benefit from an easy slate early on, they really improved at the end of the year, thanks in part to the emergence of LeGarrette Blount. They won in New Orleans, and lost two games to 13-3 Atlanta by a combined nine points.
Second, Tampa had major injuries issues last year. They also get stud safety Tanard Jackson back from suspension.
Third, Josh Freeman and his young wideouts will be even better with more experience.
Now that I've defended the Buccaneers, I can say that they're going to lose to the Patriots, who just have an unbelievable team this season. Their offense is already great, but now, thanks to the additions of Albert Haynesworth and Andre Carter (and not to mention Mark Anderson, who has looked surprisingly good thus far in training camp and preseason), New England has an elite defense.
The Patriots are the best team in the NFL, and it's not even close if you exclude Green Bay. That's why I'm predicting them to raise the Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis, to the chagrin of all the native Colts fans.