2006 Season Previews
Updated July 31

AFC Seedings:
1. New England 12-4
2. Pittsburgh 11-5
3. Denver 10-6
4. Indianapolis 10-6
5. Cincinnati 10-6
6. Miami 10-6

NFC Seedings:
1. Chicago 13-3
2. Carolina 12-4
3. Seattle 12-4
4. Dallas 12-4
5. Washington 10-6
6. Minnesota 10-6

NFC Wild Card

Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

Seattle is the third seed and not the second, because I projected them to win 10 NFC contests to Carolina's 11. But like the Panthers, the Seahawks should be able to advance to the second round. I'm not confident in Minnesota's ability to contain Shaun Alexander, or to get pressure on Matt Hasselbeck. Meanwhile, Seattle should be able to score enough points to keep the Vikings' offense at bay. Minnesota is 4-25 when playing outdoors the past four seasons. I can't envision an indoor team prevailing in the rainy Pacific Northwest.
Seattle Seahawks 34, Minnesota Vikings 17.

Washington Redskins (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (12-4)

In seven postseason contests, Drew Bledsoe has thrown six touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Like the Manning brothers, Bledsoe often comes up short in the playoffs, even though he went to the Super Bowl with Bill Parcells in 1996. While Parcells is probably one of three coaches in this league (Bill Belichick, Joe Gibbs) who could take Bledsoe to the Promised Land again, I don't see it happening if the Cowboys have to play the Redskins. Washington's hectic pass rush will force Bledsoe to throw into a very talented secondary. This will come in long-yardage situations because Julius Jones won't find any running room. Washington will score just enough to win the rubber match.
Washington Redskins 17, Dallas Cowboys 13.

AFC Wild Card

Miami Dolphins (10-6) at Denver Broncos (10-6)

Speaking of quarterbacks who come up short in the playoffs, we have Jake Plummer, who is just 2-4 in the postseason. If Plummer has time to throw, he should be able to find an open Rod Smith or Javon Walker downfield, given Miami's problems at defensive back. However, Plummer will not have the luxury of standing in the pocket for an extended period of time; the Dolphins registered 49 sacks last year. Conversely, the Broncos accumulated only 28 in 2005.

With both rushing attacks nullified, the only unit that will have success moving the chains is Miami's passing game. Daunte Culpepper will abuse Denver's old safeties by throwing long bombs to Chris Chambers, Marty Booker and Randy McMichael. Under Dave Wannstedt, the Dolphins would have froze to death at Mile High. That won't happen with Nick Saban.
Miami Dolphins 24, Denver Broncos 20.

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this game. If you've been reading my Web site, you know how I feel about Peyton Manning's playoff endeavors. If you haven't, Manning is 3-6 in the postseason, and will continue to choke, especially without the services of Edgerrin James.
Cincinnati Bengals 41, Indianapolis Colts 20.

NFC Divisional Round

Washington Redskins (10-6) at Chicago Bears (13-3)

There's no denying that Washington and Chicago have two of the top defenses in the NFL. So, much like the Panthers-Bears playoff contest last year, the winner of this game will obviously be the team that has more success moving the chains. If the Bears would have acquired a solid tight end this offseason, I would give them the nod. However, I still feel Rex Grossman doesn't have enough targets to throw to. Plus, Mark Brunell has much more playoff experience than Grossman does. When these two teams played in 2005, Clinton Portis gained 121 yards on 21 carries against a healthy Chicago defense. If Washington can run effectively, I can't see the Bears winning.
Washington Redskins 19, Chicago Bears 17.

Seattle Seahawks (12-4) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)

The Seahawks beat the Panthers in last year's NFC Championship Game, which was a pretty unfair situation for the latter. Carolina was playing in its fourth-consecutive road contest, and the team didn't have DeShaun Foster's services. I guess it was a good thing the Panthers drafted DeAngelo Williams, who gives them insurance if Foster gets hurt again. With Keyshawn Johnson on the roster, the Seahawks won't be able to triple-team Steve Smith. I have to give the nod to the team that will be seeking revenge.
Carolina Panthers 27, Seattle Seahawks 20.

AFC Divisional Round

Miami Dolphins (10-6) at New England Patriots (12-4)

Miami's hectic pass rush may have been able to rattle Jake Plummer, but that won't work with Tom Brady. And speaking of Brady, who has a 10-1 career playoff record, I think New England has the edge at the signal-caller position. That's just a hunch. Daunte Culpepper won't have much success against the Patriots' defense, assuming the unit is actually healthy for a change.
New England Patriots 28, Miami Dolphins 13.

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

It's a shame Carson Palmer got hurt against the Steelers in last year's opening-round playoff game. Not that I favored either side; I think Ben Roethlisberger and a healthy Palmer would have put on one of the greatest postseason performances in recent memory. Prior to Palmer's devastating knee injury, the third-year quarterback threw a 66-yard pass to Chris Henry, and looked like he was going to have Cincinnati's offense scoring at will.

Originally, I had Cincinnati beating Pittsburgh in this matchup. However, I'm discouraged about some of the comments Palmer made regarding his knee. There's a huge chance the Bengals will not even qualify for the postseason, so I can't have them advance past the second round.
Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Cincinnati Bengals 24.

NFC Championship Game

Washington Redskins (10-6) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)

Although Joe Gibbs has won Super Bowls with Doug Williams and Mark Rypien, a 36-year-old Mark Brunell can only take the Redskins so far. That distance will be the NFC Championship Game, where the immobile signal caller will be subjected to Carolina's hectic pass rush. Unlike the Chicago-Washington contest, the Redskins will not have the more effective scoring unit. The Panthers will run with the duo of DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams, setting up a few Jake Delhomme (5-2 in the playoffs) bombs to Steve Smith. As great as Washington's defense is, it does not have anyone who can stay with Smith. Not that anyone else does.
Carolina Panthers 24, Washington Redskins 16.

AFC Championship Game

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at New England Patriots (12-4)

Two years ago, New England knocked Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. A year ago, the Patriots beat the Steelers at Heinz Field, despite the fact that the latter had revenge on its side. If the Steelers still had Jerome Bettis' inspiration, I'd award them a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance. But I just can't do that; New England, looking to prove its doubters wrong, will be the hungrier squad in this matchup.
New England Patriots 33, Pittsburgh Steelers 31.

Super Bowl XLI

Carolina Panthers (12-4) vs. New England Patriots (12-4)

Three years ago, these two teams played in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls in recent memory. Though they were huge underdogs, the Panthers stuck with the heavily favored Patriots, as Jake Delhomme threw long, touchdown bombs to Steve Smith all night. However, Tom Brady commanded New England to a game-winning drive with less than a minute left on the clock.

Will that happen again? Imagine this scenario: Down two, Brady has less than a minute to get into field-goal range. After four consecutive passes, Brady manages to reach Carolina's 28-yard line. He spikes the ball with four seconds left, setting up a 45-yard field goal for Adam Vinati... I mean Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski kicks it... and it's... wide left! Why didn't the Patriots re-sign Vinatieri?
Carolina Panthers 29, New England Patriots 27.

2000 Season Preview
2001 Season Preview
2002 Season Preview
2003 Season Preview:
AFC East / AFC North / AFC South / AFC West
NFC East / NFC North / NFC South / NFC West
Playoffs / Awards

2004 Season Preview:
AFC East / AFC North / AFC South / AFC West
NFC East / NFC North / NFC South / NFC West
Playoffs / Awards / Simulation

2005 Season Preview:
AFC East / AFC North / AFC South / AFC West
NFC East / NFC North / NFC South / NFC West
Playoffs / Awards / Simulation

2006 Season Preview:
AFC East / AFC North / AFC South / AFC West
NFC East / NFC North / NFC South / NFC West
Playoffs / Awards / Simulation

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