The FBS playoffs are great and all, but it’s hard to beat the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl. As we inch closer to Super Bowl XLIX, time to look at who will be winning in each round and end up in Arizona for the biggest game of the year.
Carolina Panthers (-4.5) Arizona Cardinals – Saturday, 3:35 pm CST
The Cardinals might have one of the better records in the NFL, but they aren’t worthy of that record right now. Ryan Lindley hasn’t looked good, and I don’t expect him to look good against Carolina. Luke Kuechly has been a monster his whole career, and I expect him and the Panther’s defense to give Lindley a fit all game. I don’t think the Panthers are Super Bowl worthy or anything, but the Cardinals are definitely the worst team in the playoffs, even at 11-5. Carolina covers and wins big in this one.
Dallas Cowboys (-7) Detroit Lions – Sunday, 3:40 pm CST
The Lions are a much improved team over the last couple of years, but so is Dallas. DeMarco Murray has consistently been one of the better running backs in the league, and has continued to carry the Cowboys this season. Just looking at Murray’s numbers this year of 392 rushes for 1845 yards make me tired, and he’s also added 57 receptions for over 400 yards. Tony Romo has been much better this year than most, and will be looking for that all important playoff win. But both Murray and Romo both will have to contend with Ndamukong Suh and the Lions stout defense. It will be hard for the Cowboys to get going compared to other games, but I think they still have enough to win. Rolando McClain has been solid on the other side of the ball for Dallas to help the defense stop Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Reggie Bush from getting going. I think Dallas wins this one easy enough.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) Baltimore Ravens – Saturday, 7:15 pm CST
This is going to be a tough one for Baltimore to win. They have to go to Heinz Field and take on a team in their own division that they split games with early in the season, but lost by 20 when they played in Pittsburgh before. Flacco is still a plenty capable QB who put up career yardage, but he will have a young offensive line in front of him. James Harrison could have a field day against James Hurst, the rookie from North Carolina, due to Eugene Monroe being ruled out for this game from an ankle injury. On the other side of the ball, the loss of Le’veon Bell will hurt the Steelers. Josh Harris only has 9 rushes for 16 yards, and Ben Tate, while seasoned, hasn’t gotten many reps this year – so CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs and crew should have a field day. But Ben Roethlisberger will be able to take over behind a good offensive line and with Antonio Brown leading a good receiving core to make sure they can push to a victory. This Steelers team will struggle without Bell, but the home field advantage will be enough of an edge to push them over the Ravens.
Indianapolis Colts (-3.5) Cincinnati Bengals – Sunday, Noon CST
Andrew Luck has been lighting the league up this year with 40 TD’s, so I don’t think it will be any different in this game. The Bengals are only the 22nd best overall defense this season, but have only given up 18 passing TD’s all season, which is third best in the league. Still, with Luck playing well, and veteran receiver Reggie Wayne leading a core including TY Hilton, Dwayne Allen, and Hakeem Nicks – it will be hard to stop that offensive production. The Colts are struggling in the run game, ranking 22nd in that category, so they will need some work from Daniel Herron, especially since Trent Richardson hasn’t had a superb season and has been sick this week. On the other side, Andy Dalton hasn’t played great, but it’s always nice to have a receiver like AJ Green on your team. Jeremy Hill from LSU has done well in his rookie season, along with Giovani Bernard, both having more yards than Richardson from the Colts, who is their leading rusher. I’ve always said a team needs a good rushing game in order to win a super bowl, so the Bengals definitely have the edge there. I still like the Colts in this one though, by a field goal.
Moving on to the divisional round, a quick look at those games if my picks move on.
In the NFC, Carolina would be facing Seattle in a 1v4 match-up, and I think it’s actually the better game for the Panthers to have a shot in. However, teams rarely go to Seattle and come away with a victory, so I’d have to go with Seattle in a low scoring affair in that one.
That leaves Green Bay to face Dallas. The Cowboys will struggle up north in the cold weather, and despite Aaron Rodgers’ calf injury, the Packers should still win this one. Having that extra week will be a great thing for the team to have some time off and heal up before Dallas or Detroit come up to Lambeau.
In the AFC, Pittsburgh would face Denver on the road, and despite the Broncos’ recent loss to Cincinnati, I’m not sure the Steelers would be able to pick up a win out in Colorado, especially without Bell.
On the other side, New England would get Indianapolis, and the Patriots should roll in that game. They already beat them by 22 IN Indianapolis, so it shouldn’t be any different when they come to Foxborough.
That leaves the conference championship games between the two top seeds – Green Bay at Seattle and Denver at New England. I picked New England over Seattle at the beginning of the season, so there is no reason to change now. Both teams are looking like the best in the league, and Tom Brady is set to grab another Super Bowl this season.
Once the games are over this weekend, I’ll take a look at the division round more in depth. But these are my winners as of the Wild Card round.