2012 NFL Regular Season Standings
* - Wildcard berth Atlanta finishes ahead of Carolina because of divisional record.
Chicago finishes ahead of Detroit because of strength of victory.
Pittsburgh gets the No. 3 seed over Kansas City because of a head-to-head victory.
6. Detroit Lions (11-5) at 3. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
The Falcons choke every year. There's no way they beat the Lions. Right?
Well... I like to look at it this way. Matt Ryan has lost in the playoffs three times. The first was against an underrated Cardinals team that had a great homefield advantage. There was too much pressure on Ryan anyway, who was favored on the road. Atlanta has then lost its previous two postseason contests against the teams that would go on to win the whole thing (Packers, Giants). So maybe the Falcons' opponents were just that good.
This game will be a different story. The Lions, owning the better record, will be expected to win at the Georgia Dome even though their franchise has just one playoff victory in its existence. That'll be too much pressure on the younger quarterback, which will allow Ryan to secure his first playoff victory.
Falcons 24, Lions 20
5. Chicago Bears (11-5) at 4. Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
I can already see it: The Bears are -6, maybe -7 over the Cardinals despite being the lower seed and the road team. The public is betting the hell out of Chicago. "How are the Cardinals going to beat the Bears?" clueless ESPN analysts will ask. "Arizona stinks! They're only in the playoffs because the NFC West sucks!" most casual football fans will exclaim.
But not me. Arizona is a ridiculously tough place to play. The Cardinals have a really good defense, while no one on the Bears will be able to stop Larry Fitzgerald.
This will be my January NFL Pick of the Month - and I'll be eight units richer by the time this game is over.
Cardinals 23, Bears 17
6. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) at 3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
Awesome. I love these Ravens-Steelers matchups. It always seems to go down to the wire, so it'll be great to see them battle three times this year.
One of the reasons I have the Ravens finishing at just 9-7 is Terrell Suggs' partial Achilles tear. It seems like he'll be ready to play by Thanksgiving, so Baltimore could be stronger by the end of the season. That's why I'm going to pick Ray Lewis and company to upset the Steelers, though in full disclosure, this was a near toss-up for me. I almost wanted to flip a coin.
Ravens 23, Steelers 20
5. Buffalo Bills (11-5) at 4. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
A Bills-Chiefs playoff matchup? How awesome is that? Both of these teams would be favorites for the Super Bowl if they had strong quarterback play. Alas, it is difficult to trust Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Cassel in the playoffs, though one of them will come out of this contest with a postseason victory.
I'll give the edge to the Chiefs for two reasons. First, they're at home, and Arrowhead can be a huge advantage. Second, Fitzpatrick is often banged up down the stretch, so it's possible that he'll be nursing some sort of injury heading into this matchup.
Chiefs 17, Bills 12
2012 NFL Playoff Predictions - Divisional Round
4. Arizona Cardinals (9-7) at 1. Green Bay Packers (14-2)
The Cardinals will follow the Seahawks and Broncos as surprise No. 4 seeds to knock off a highly favored No. 5 to advance to the divisional round. But like Seattle and Denver, Arizona will get "blowed out" by super competition on the road. This game won't be close.
Packers 34, Cardinals 13
3. Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at 2. New York Giants (11-5)
This matchup sounds familiar. Oh yeah, 24-2. I think scoring two points is worse than zero because it shows that your defense is capable of putting more on the scoreboard than the offense.
I think history will repeat itself. I can't see a dome team like the Falcons winning in the windy Meadowlands. Sorry, Atlanta, you'll have to secure homefield advantage next time.
Giants 20, Falcons 17
6. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) at 1. New England Patriots (13-3)
The theme of the divisional round is revenge. The Cardinals ousted the Packers from the playoffs in January 2010, so Green Bay was able to avenge that defeat. The Falcons, unfortunately, weren't able to accomplish the same achievement versus the Giants.
It's no different in the AFC. The Patriots knocked Baltimore out of a potential Super Bowl appearance, though that wouldn't have been the case if Lee Evans weren't on the team. He's not, so maybe the Ravens will prevail this time.
Actually, it has more to do with New England suffering the lingering effects of a Super Bowl appearance; both XLV contestants were slain in their first playoff game this past January.
Ravens 26, Patriots 24
4. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) at 2. Houston Texans (12-4)
There's no revenge to be had in this contest; just an old-fashioned beatdown. The Chiefs could compete against the Texans, and perhaps even beat them, if they had a stronger quarterback than Matt Cassel. But the Texans will be a powerhouse if Matt Schaub and most of his teammates can stay healthy.
2. New York Giants (11-5) at 1. Green Bay Packers (14-2)
New York's stretch run last year was no fluke. Key players returned to the lineup, particularly on the defensive line, which sparked the Giants' magical Super Bowl journey. If everyone stays healthy, they could easily repeat as Super Bowl champs.
But I don't like picking teams to repeat. I haven't done so since 2005. The Packers will be better defensively in 2012, and I'm sure Aaron Rodgers, who always plays with a giant chip on his shoulder, will want revenge for what happened in January.
Packers 31, Giants 27
6. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) at 2. Houston Texans (12-4)
The Texans didn't have a revenge angle in the divisional round, but they definitely do here. They fought Baltimore tough last January, but fell short, thanks to the inadequacies of T.J. Yates.
Things will be much different with Matt Schaub. Now, some of you may complain that there's no way the Texans will advance this deep into the playoffs because Schaub has choked in the past. While he has, it wouldn't be any different than Peyton and Eli Manning, who were both accused of doing the same thing before winning the Super Bowl.
Schaub's problem has always been that he's had to do everything by himself. He had a horrid defense, so he was asked to score into the 30s every contest. Well, that's not the case anymore. Wade Phillips has done a tremendous job with the stop unit, so the burden is completely off Schaub. If he stays healthy, Houston will have a great shot at winning the Super Bowl.
Texans 20, Ravens 13
2012 NFL Playoff Predictions - Super Bowl XLVII at New Orleans
Green Bay Packers (14-2) vs. Houston Texans (12-4)
I'm pretty confident with my Super Bowl pick. I've surprisingly done quite well with them, predicting three of the six previous Super Bowl participants (Saints in 2009; Packers in 2010; Patriots in 2011). I had New England battling New Orleans last year, though I will admit that I initially slated New England versus Tampa Bay in this spot. I quickly changed that after seeing how dysfunctional the Buccaneers looked in the preseason and hearing things from sources, who told me about some serious internal problems the team was having. So, this selection is not set in stone - check back in very early September - but I think there's a good chance the Packers and Texans will battle it out in New Orleans.
The best unit in this matchup is Green Bay's offense, but the worst also happens to be Green Bay's defense, so both teams should be able to put up at least a moderate point total. The Packers have an edge on special teams too that has to be considered; Randall Cobb is the best returner on the two squads.
The Packers are slightly better overall though, and Aaron Rodgers is the superior quarterback in the matchup. That's why I'm picking Green Bay to beat Houston in a tight Super Bowl XLVII.