Predictions, projections and prognostications—it’s the 2012 NFL playoffs and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
From Wild Card weekend to the Super Bowl, abstinence is not our policy when it comes to predicting each round’s postseason matchups.
The playoffs open on Saturday with two noteworthy rematches fueled by recent history.
The Cincinnati Bengals travel to Houston with vengeance on their minds after last year’s regular season and playoff losses to the Texans. Minnesota and Green Bay, meanwhile, return to the gridiron for the third time this season. The Vikings secured a spot in the postseason following a 37-34 win over the Packers just last week.
Sunday features both conferences’ respective No. 4 and 5 seeds with first-year quarterbacks ruling the day.
First overall draft pick Andrew Luck brings his 11-5 Colts to the Ravens doorstep following Indianapolis’ 14-loss season just one year ago. Baltimore seeks sweet victory for its captain Ray Lewis’s final NFL campaign.
Day 2 of the 2012 playoffs concludes with two phenomenal rookie quarterbacks who delight in throwing touchdowns, running for touchdowns and playing keep-away football.
Russell Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks visit Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in what will certainly prove as the most compelling matchup of the weekend.
Let us tarry no longer—on to the predictions!
Note: This article will first analyze the opening games and predict the Wild Card winners. It will then make predictions for all subsequent rounds until reaching the Super Bowl. Detailed analysis will be limited to this week’s matchups.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans
Fourth quarters were none too kind to Cincinnati when matched up with the Texans in 2011.
Backup quarterback T.J. Yates put the dagger in the hearts of Bengals fans the first time around with a game-winning TD pass with two seconds left. In the second head-to-header, Arian Foster ran wild down the right sideline in the fourth, breaking tackles en route to sealing the game at 31-10.
Yet in 2012, conventional wisdom dictates that Houston is on a freefall and that the Bengals are a thoroughly underrated group.
Opponents outscored Houston 93-36 in its three losses during its final four games, losing just about all credibility in the process. Cincinnati went 7-1 in its final eight, but garnered about as much attention as the local middle school bake sale.
The Texans suffered a three-game losing streak last year and still handed it to the Bengals in January. They accomplished that feat with a backup QB.
Pro-Bowl starter Matt Schaub is now under center.
He’ll produce an efficient performance and game-clinching TD pass to tight end Owen Daniels, exploiting Cincinnati when it stacks the box against Foster. Plus, J.J. Watt and his 20.5 sacks will overwhelm a Bengals’ O-line that has allowed the seventh-most sacks in the league (46).
Houston 20, Cincinnati 13
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
Adrian Peterson made it thoroughly clear that he’ll get his yards against this Packers defense.
He rushed for 210 yards and a touchdown, followed by 199 and another score in the two respective divisional matchups. Throw in an average of 7.4 yards per carry and a 26-yard run that set up a game-winning field goal and, well, Green Bay’s run defense is in for yet another rough assignment.
That said, the Vikings went 1-1 in those games and produced a negative-six scoring differential. They’ve also allowed the fifth-most passing touchdowns in the league (28), including five of Aaron Rodgers’s 39 this season (No. 2 in NFL)
And Minnesota’s top corner Antoine Winfield will be playing with a broken right hand.
There’s no stopping Peterson—he’ll amass big-time yardage in another courageous effort. Unfortunately for the Vikings, second-year QB Christian Ponder will not replicate his three-TD, 94.6-QBR performance in his first NFL playoff game. He just doesn’t have the requisite experience.
Rodgers, on the other hand, will reproduce his four-TD outing from Week 17 by tapping into his Super Bowl-winning pedigree.
As for the clincher, five of Minnesota’s six losses have come on the road. And Green Bay hasn’t lost at home since Week 1. Green Bay wins this game.
Green Bay 31, Minnesota 20
Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens
Note to Indianapolis Colts fans: we’d suggest shielding your eyes while we roll out some disturbing statistics.
The Colts ranked No. 29 against the run, having allowed 137.5 yards per game. Only one team gave up more yards per rush (5.1) and more plays of 40-plus yards (seven). Zero teams surrendered more 20-plus yard rushing gains (21).
Baltimore did not have any such difficulty with the big play. It surrendered less than half as many 20-yard runs (eight) and seven fewer gains of 40 or more yards (i.e. zero).
The Colts ended the season with a negative-12 turnover differential. Only three AFC teams found themselves further in the red. They forced the second-fewest takeaways and totaled the fifth-most giveaways.
Baltimore, on the contrary, coughed up the fewest turnovers (16) and boasted the third-highest differential (plus-9) in the AFC.
Rounding it out, the Ravens also surrendered fewer passing yards and points per game, while boasting higher averages in rushing yards and points on offense. Throw in more sacks on defense and fewer sacks allowed as well.
Remember all that stuff we said earlier? Please go ahead and throw it out the window.
Indianapolis returned four interceptions for touchdowns in 2012. Joe Flacco threw three pick-sixes himself. The former is the type of statistic that wins playoff games; not so much for the latter.
But what really brings home the “W” for Indy is the beginning of one era and relative end of another.
The Colts will ride the inspirational story of head coach Chuck Pagano and Luck’s seven game-winning drives (No. 1 in NFL).
Pagano will orchestrate another underdog win—tapping into his four years of defensive coaching with the Ravens in the process. Luck’s late-game magic will supersede his 23 turnovers and the power of Lewis’s final playoff run with Baltimore when it’s all said and done.
John Harbaugh and Flacco will fail to win a playoff game for the first time in their five-year career. The combination of Pagano and Luck, meanwhile, will win their first as a first-time HC-QB tandem.
Indianapolis 24, Baltimore 23
Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins
Welcome to the veritable pick’em game of this weekend’s Wild Card action. These teams feature similar strengths nearly across the board.
The Redskins and Seahawks are both equipped with intimidating ground attacks and fundamentally sound run defenses.
Alfred Morris powers Washington’s league-best rush offense with 1,613 yards, 13 touchdowns and 4.8 yards per rush. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch leads the NFL’s No. 3-ranked unit with 1,590 yards, 11 TDs and 5.0 yards per rush.
The Redskins and Seahawks also wrap up opponents’ ball-carriers and prevent lengthy gains. These top-10 defensive contingents have both limited opponents to a scant 11 runs of 20 or more yards on the season.
Moreover, both squads have ball-hawking defenses with 31 takeaways and offensive lines that protect their quarterbacks to the tune of just 33 sacks allowed. Only 1.4 points per game separates their high-scoring offenses as well (Washington 27.2, Seattle 25.8).
Even head coaches Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll deserve equal praise. They both employed effective motivational tactics and pushed their teams to extensive winning streaks down the stretch.
Did you really think we’d neglect mentioning the Griffin III vs. Wilson battle?
The play of these two fabulous first-year gunslingers will ultimately decide the outcome of this game.
Wilson earned a top-10 grade and top-rookie honors this year with 26 touchdown passes. He also ran for 489 yards and four scores, ranking No. 3 and 4, respectively, among quarterbacks. His 10 interceptions were the fourth-fewest among those who qualified.
Aside from TD throws, RGE surpassed Wilson in all the aforementioned categories. He had more passing yards (3,200 to 3,118), rushing yards (815) and TD runs (seven). He threw the fewest interceptions (five) and coughed up the fewest total turnovers (seven) by NFL quarterbacks.
Superior numbers notwithstanding, Wilson still owns the upper hand when it comes to the defense he’ll face.
Washington’s unit, while extremely well coached by Jim Haslett, is mightily deficient in coverage and in pass rush. It has allowed the second-most TD passes (31) and fourth-most passing gains of 40 or more yards (11). A meager total of 30 sacks qualifies as the sixth-fewest in the NFL.
RGIII will not falter, but Seattle boasts a tougher, nastier defense that has given up league’s fewest points at 15.3 per game. Wilson simply has an easier challenge.
Seattle 21, Washington 17
No. 1 Denver over No. 5 Indianapolis
No. 2 New England over No. 3 Houston
No. 5 Seattle over No. 1 Atlanta
No. 2 San Francisco over No. 4 Green Bay
No. 1 Denver over No. 2 New England
No. 2 San Francisco over No. 5 Seattle
Super Bowl XLVII
Denver over San Francisco
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