We live in a world where everyone with a Facebook account has an opinion on what these NFL playoffs will bring, but in most cases those opinions are based on personal stakes. The team they root for is either playing, or affected by the outcomes in some way. I, however, have absolutely zero riding on these games, and I haven't in a long time. My team hasn't made the playoffs in 11, count 'em, 11 years, so I've become somewhat of an expert at having an objective viewpoint.
So read these over and let's talk after the Super Bowl. My commission is 20%.
Week 3 (scroll down for week 1 and 2 predictions):
Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears
Soldier Field, Chicago, Jan. 23, 3pm ET, FOX
Raise your hand if you thought the NFC Championship game would be held at Soldier Field. I even think the Bears fans who raised their hand are lying. Despite having a talented roster and coaching staff, the Bears problem all season — hell, since 1986 — has been their inconsistency. And probably the scariest thing in Chicago sports fans' minds is worrying that they played so well last week, it probably means they're bound to have a crappy game against the Pack. Meanwhile, Green Bay is on fire. Aaron Rodgers is playing like that Favre guy did in his prime (minus the interceptions), with a receiving corps that can torch just about any secondary. Historically though — this season included — the Bears have been able to grind the Packers offense down to a slow trickle, creating a defensive battle that tilts the game in Chicago's favor.
Both teams played each other extremely tough during the regular season, going 1-1 in the head-to-head match-ups with only a four point differential overall. I foresee the game starting out in a tight grudge match, opening up in the second half, forcing the Bears' hand a bit. The common perception is that Jay Cutler will waver and toss a couple picks, but I actually think it will stay close throughout. I said early on that the winner of the Packers, Falcons game would be my pick to win it all, so I can't go back now. The Packers avenge their only playoff loss to the Bears (33-14 in 1941) and make it to their fifth Super Bowl.
Prediction: Green Bay 34 – Chicago 31
New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Jan. 23, 6:30pm ET, CBS
God, I hate the Jets, but I have to give them their due. They not only beat all expectations, they took out the game's two best quarterbacks in the process. And can we talk about the fact the loudest talking team in football somehow has been able to dodge their coach's foot fetish? Seriously, how is this not all anyone is talking about? Anyway…
I can't stop bagging on the Jets just because they won a few games, and I will have to hang my head in shame if the team I've been saying can't win in the playoffs makes it to their first Super Bowl since 1969 (the Joe Namath finger-waver). But I'm not even going to make this prediction about who's better, or if Ben Roethlisberger's sexual assault is funnier than Ryan's foot fetish. This year it's all about two NFL titans on a collision course for history. Who doesn't want to see the classic powerhouses of the Packers vs. the Steelers in the Super Bowl? Besides Jets and Bears fans of course. And furthermore, I want this to happen because it would land a big blow to all those capitalist analysts who think you need a big-market team to push the ratings.
What other sport could have a team from Pittsburgh play a team from Wisconsin and have it be a huge deal? Call this one a prediction for socialism, as the revenue-sharing NFL puts on a classic Super Bowl featuring two of the smallest markets.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27 – New York 17
Week 2 (scroll down for week 1 predictions):
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Jan. 15, 4:30pm ET, CBS
These two teams embody everything playoff teams should be: Physical, pounding defenses, supported by strong, north-south offenses. Both QBs are in the top half of the league in yards per attempt, meaning their grind-it-out mentality leaves the door wide open for big play-action pass strikes. So what will be the deciding factor in this game? That's right, Ben Roethlisberger's rumored fiancee. Considering he could have any high-school educated bar floozy he wants, our guess is he impregnated young Ashley Harlan, and it must be weighing heavily on his conscious. Oh wait, does he have one? Let's just say it's weighing heavily on his mind, and will prove to be a big distraction come Saturday.
Prediction: Baltimore 27 – Pittsburgh 21
Green Bay Packers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Jan. 15, 8pm ET, FOX
Man, this one is tough. These are my two favorites to win it all, so whoever comes out of this game standing I'm riding all the way to the big game (is that a spoiler alert?). Everyone is high on Aaron Rodgers right now, and I would like to point out that RB James Starks played at my alma mater, the University of Buffalo (something I've never been able to say before about a pro athlete), so my gut is saying Packers. But if you asked me who was the best team in the NFL all season, start to finish, I would say without hesitation the Falcons (sorry Patriots fans), so I'm in a quandary between heart and reason. Hearts were made for breaking, I'm sticking with reason.
Prediction: Falcons 34 – Green Bay 31
Seattle Seahawks vs. Chicago Bears
Soldier Field, Chicago, Jan. 16, 1pm ET, FOX
The Bears and Seahawks play for the right to get crushed by the winner of the Packers, Falcons game, so let's make this fun, ok boys? Last week featured the breakout of the beast Marshawn Lynch, in what was easily the most fun playoff game this year. It's going to be near impossible to best that one, and I will go on record as saying I will not be burned by the Seahawks twice! In fact, if they beat the Bears I will pick them to win the Super Bowl (is that a spoiler alert?). The Bears defense brings an end to Seattle's Cinderella season.
Prediction: Chicago 37 – Seattle 17
New York Jets vs. New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Jan. 16, 4:30pm ET, CBS
I hate both of these teams so much I wish a bomb would be dropped on the field. I don't want anyone to die (c'mon, I'm not evil), but if all of the players could be injured just enough to render both teams unable to finish the playoffs, then I would be happy. Since the chances of that happening are pretty small, I've got to stay consistent and reiterate my assertion that the Jets are the luckiest team left in the playoffs. They were lucky all year, feasting on teams with losing records while enjoying one of the NFL's easiest schedules. They were lucky to back into the playoffs on a loss. And they were lucky to beat the Colts last week. So I'm not going to stop my Jet bashing, even if it's at the expense of pulling for the Patriots. God I hate the Patriots.
Prediction: New England 41 – New York 13
New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks
Qwest Field, Seattle, Jan. 8, 4:30pm ET, NBC
The 2011 NFL playoffs kick off with what looks like a total mismatch on paper. The Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions, while the Seahawks are the first team to ever make the playoffs with a losing record. But as the NFC West champs, the Seahawks will host the Saints in the cold and wet northwest, who will be playing their third game in the last 12-days, and now without their top two running backs. Seriously, what a shitty way to have to start the playoffs. Now all you have to do is forget I just told you all of that. Before winning the last game of the season to get into the playoffs, the Seahawks lost the previous five games by an average of 18.2 points per game. There is no way they can stop the Saints offense, who will prove their might by pounding Reggie Bush more than Kim Kardashian.
Prediction: New Orleans 41 – Seattle 10
New York Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Jan. 8, 8pm EST, NBC
Once again the team with more wins has to travel and play on the road. But unlike the day game, this one seems appropriate, which bodes well for the Colts. The Jets shitty offense and good defense against the Colts shitty defense and good offense makes it the toughest game to predict this weekend. Much has been made about Peyton Manning's struggles this year with so many injuries to his receiving corps, but not enough has been made of the Jets record against winning teams this season: 2-4. I would add the Jets have been lucky against inferior teams as well, but they're playing the Colts, who, over the years, have enjoyed a horseshoe-up-the-ass amount of good luck as well, so it kind of evens out. Still, Rex Ryan will get an extra week of foot play with his wife in 2011.
Prediction: Indianapolis 27 – Jets 24
Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Jan. 9, 1pm EST CBS
Notice a trend here? The 12-4 Ravens travel to Kansas City to play the 10-win AFC West champs to kick off the Sunday games. The Chiefs were the Cinderella darlings of the NFL this season, but it still doesn't make the game any more interesting to watch. The Chiefs were the top running offense in the NFL, and all of these padded passing stats have defenses playing softer on the run, so expect a couple of early scores from KC. This normally would be the key to success, especially against a Baltimore offense which struggled down the stretch, but the Chiefs D gives up a lot of points and you can always expect some late game turnovers to go the Ravens way. Close, but the Ravens pull it out on experience alone.
Prediction: Baltimore 24 – Kansas City 21
Green Bay Packers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Jan. 9, 4:30pm EST FOX
The game of the week. Isn't it a shame one of the league's most exciting teams has to go home after this one? It's such a good matchup, even Big Boi is rapping about it.
I'm just curious how the fans in Philly will react to their dog killer QB when his season comes to an end this week. Michael Vick's magical season is worthy of MVP discussion, but his feel good story needs some drama, and a poor showing in the playoffs will at least make his contract negotiations a bit more exciting. Everyone knows Vick's name, but this marquee game being played at prime-NFL-time will be Aaron Rodgers' coming out party. It's time the whole world learns he's dating Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott. Now if we can only figure out who Lady Antebellum is.
Prediction: Green Bay 38 – Philadelphia 17