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Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 NFL Playoff Preview

The most wonderful time of the year may have just passed for many, but for football fans it’s just beginning. It’s playoff time. There are already Super Bowl props posted – fans can bet on anything from the national anthem to the commercials, but the odds on who wins the Most Valuable Player Award are the most popular, according to an e-mail I received on their behalf. It went on to report that only eight defensive players have won the award, while receivers and tailbacks have combined for just 13 MVP trophies. But taking a quarterback seems to be the best bet, as I’m told QBs win the MVP 52% of the time.

I’ll preview my picks against the spread in another post, but right now I’m just looking at the way I think the games are going to play out. I’ll start with the AFC, because I think it’s a little easier to predict and I don’t have to leave my heart out of it like I do on the NFC side.

The Wild Card weekend has potential to live up to its name. I may be underestimating the Kansas City Chiefs, but I think Baltimore will win on the road. Technically it won’t be an upset as Baltimore is favored. In prime time on Saturday, I lean very slightly toward the Indianapolis Colts at home over the Jets. New York has lost something since last season, and I’m not quite sold on Mark Sanchez. Like last year, I think Peyton Manning will eventually figure out the Jets defense, even with their banged up offense.

With that scenario, according to NFL.com, Indianapolis would play at Pittsburgh and Baltimore heads to New England. The Steelers will handle the Colts relatively easily, in my opinion. Pittsburgh’s defense just won’t give up enough points for the Colts to have a chance.

As much as the Patriots defense struggles, I don’t think the Ravens offense will be able to keep up with Tom Brady and his offense. New England will win a tough one.

In the AFC Championship, I’ll give a very slight nod right now to the Patriots. This potential game is a long way off, and, as I suggested, the Pats “D” would scare me to death in making this a pick. But today, January 6, I’ll go with the same logic as above and predict that the Pats score too much for Pittsburgh to keep up and win the game.

Back to the NFC Wildcard Weekend. The Saints are huge favorites for a reason – Seattle doesn’t even have a winning record. New Orleans will beat the Seahawks with little trouble.

As for the Eagles-Packers matchup, I hate this game. I think it’s the hardest game of the week to predict, and it changes my thoughts in the later rounds based on who wins. Everyone has a bad for taste in their mouths about Philadelphia because of the last two games, but the Minnesota game was delayed two days throwing the whole feel of the game off for the players and the Dallas game meant nothing. Green Bay got into the playoffs by beating Chicago in a game that meant nothing to the Bears. The Eagles “D” is deteriorating on a weekly basis, and I said early on when Mike Vick mania was sweeping Philadelphia that it would be all about the playoffs. He is only 2-2 in the playoffs. If I take my fandom out of it, I have to give the Packers the edge.

In the divisional round, I think New Orleans will go back to Atlanta and upset the Falcons like they did in the regular season. Atlanta’s advantage as a dome team will be gone playing against the Saints, who also play in a dome, and New Orleans has been on fire in the second half of the season. I don’t love Chicago, but I just don’t see the Packers going back to the Windy City and winning when they eked out a win just last week in a game that meant nothing to the Bears. (If Philadelphia beats the Packers, I think they also beat Chicago.)

That leaves the Saints and the Bears at Chicago in the NFC Championship. I can’t believe the way my own preview is working out, but I think the Saints would pull off the trifecta in this scenario. Winning three road playoff games is extremely tough in the NFL, but if I’m left with Drew Brees and Jay Cutler, I’m going with Brees and the Saints.

Finally, I would go with the Patriots over the Saints in one of the highest-scoring Super Bowls ever.

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