Well, that certainly flew by. It seems like just yesterday that we were picking who would win and what would happen in the 2015 NFL season. Of course, some of our predictions were bold (I thought the NFC East would be much better than they were). Some of those turned out to be right (no one but a few of us believed Cam Newton could carry his team, and he nearly carried them to a perfect season).
The fun of all this is that before the dust even settles on the end of the regular season, we get to predict what comes next. It’s how it goes in nearly every sport and popular media outlet (there’s even bets on who hosts the Oscars). So I’ve already gone ahead in my time machine (so 2015) and decided who I think will come out on top in these, the 2016 NFL playoffs.
Who do I think will be the Super Bowl L winner? Let’s take a look:
Carolina and Arizona
The two first seeds have a promising road ahead of them, given their opponents records for the season. Of course, Arizona’s performance this past Sunday puts their future into a rocky light. A drubbing by Seattle does not mean Arizona is cooked, but they’ll certainly relish the time off in between games. After that, their opponent could be the lucky winner of the NFC East or the battered Packers. Meanwhile Carolina faces one of two teams that haven’t performed terribly well on the road. I’d say the divisional round won’t be the first and last we hear of these two.
Seattle at Minnesota
I’m hesitant to root for my favorite team here, despite their appearance in the two previous Super Bowls. Their year was less than stellar, and hampered by numerous injuries. Minnesota is also on an upswing, with their first NFC North championship since 2009, way back before Brett Favre shilled whatever he’s shilling. This Sunday will see the return of Marshawn Lynch, but that doesn’t guarantee an easy victory. It will be on the road, and while Seattle was 5-3 on the road in 2015/16 (including this past weekend’s blowout in Glendale), they struggled early in almost every game on the road. I’d say a cold weather game in Minnesota would actually help them, but I actually foresee a very difficult game for newly minted superstar Russell Wilson. I’m negative when it comes to my sports teams, so I’m going with Minnesota 27-23. Let’s hope I’m wrong?
Green Bay at Washington
Don’t count the Packers out, certainly, even though they finally lost ground for the first time in half a decade and allowed a different team to claim the NFC North title. They’re certainly one of the best teams in football right now, even in a 5th seed. Washington may be underrated or overrated, depending on who you talk to. The solid fact is that this was Kirk Cousins’ best season, and he will definitely be having the game of his career this Sunday. I don’t believe Aaron Rodgers will let this game go lightly, but Washington has something to prove after years of inadequacy. I’m calling a surprise victory in Virginia – Washington 21-18. Maybe even OT?
Denver and New England
To no one’s surprise, New England managed a first round bye, while Peyton Manning stumbled into the top seed with a ton of help from his defense and stellar weapons on offense. It should be noted that Brock Osweiler performed much, much better than Manning at the head of Denver’s team, and you know the team will be in fine shape for the next year or so if he stays. But for now? Do we give Manning a swan song as a great backup or a failure? I think you get my drift.
Kansas City at Houston
To a lot of people’s surprise, Houston captured the AFC South, though a lot of it has to do with both JJ Watt as well as Indianapolis’ injury-riddled team, particularly at its lead man (Andrew Luck). Suffice it to say Houston is here and boasting one of the better second halves. Of course they’re up against the fiery Chiefs, who since starting 1-4 had a franchise record 10 straight wins. I believe Charcandrick West performed adequately enough in place of Jamaal Charles, while Jeremy Maclin helped prove Alex Smith has some gas in the tank. Sure looks bad choosing Colin Kaepernick over Al, doesn’t it San Fran? I’m going with the endless streak: Kansas City 30-17.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
If this was the middle of the season I would have easily chosen Andy Dalton and the Bengals – he was having a career season. Then injury took hold and the team faltered a step. Meanwhile, like a Friday the 13th reject, Ben Roethlisberger continually came back to life at the last minute. He even took hold of a game he was supposed to be resting and recovering on the bench and threw for over 400 yards. What a beast. Despite this, the Steelers struggled to make it into the postseason, needing a loss from the hapless Jets to slip on by. I think this will be an incredibly close match, and the game of the weekend to watch. I for one want the Bengals to snap that playoff losing streak (four straight one and dones; five of the last six years; only seven playoff appearances at all since 1988 when they lost the Super Bowl for the second time – including a 15 year stretch of futility). I do think Big Ben has one last push in him, however. Pittsburgh 20-14.
I’ll be back next Wednesday with the Divisional Round predictions, and maybe my thoughts on all the teams that didn’t make it this year.