By Justin Maskulinski, email@example.com
The National Football League playoff picture is set. When looking at the top, there are no surprises. New England and Denver up top in the AFC and Seattle and Green Bay are the leaders in the NFC.
The wild card round teams in the AFC are Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, while the NFC teams are Dallas, Detroit, Carolina and Arizona.
Now that the picture is painted, here's who I think will win.
AFC Wild Card Round: Steelers over Ravens & Colts over Bengals
The Steelers and Ravens split their season series, with the home team winning both times. When the two last met in week nine, Miami alumnus Ben Roethlisberger torched the Ravens for 340 yards and six touchdowns. Home field advantage coupled with Baltimore's pass defense (24th in the league) should help the Steelers here.
The Bengals visited the Colts in week seven, and were thumped 27-0. Andy Dalton threw for 126 yards while his counterpart, Andrew Luck, threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns. Cincinnati has the 20th ranked pass defense in the league, and Luck likes to throw it. Andy Dalton is 0-3 in the playoffs in his career, and it will soon be 0-4.
NFC Wild Card Round: Cowboys over Lions & Panthers over Cardinals
'America's Team' is averaging over 40 points a game in their last four tilts. Don't expect that against the Lions, the NFL's second best defense. This will be a matchup between the second-best rush attack in the game (Dallas) and the second best rush defense in the game (Detroit), the Cowboys will win the game in the air. This one will be close, but Tony Romo will get it done.
A team with a losing record should not be able to host a playoff game, but I'm extremely far down the NFL chain of command so who cares what I think? The Panthers will host the Cardinals, and because Carolina has a quarterback, they will win. The Cardinals are limping (pun intended) into the playoffs, going 2-4 and averaging just over 12 points per game in their last six games. The Panthers have won their last four games. Injuries will finally end the Cardinals' hard fought season.
AFC Divisional Round: Broncos over Steelers & Colts over Patriots
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Peyton Manning is a determined man, and everyone knows he would like to avenge the debacle that was last year's Super Bowl. The Broncos have the ninth best pass defense in the league, which should prove helpful against Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and the Steelers' second-best pass offense. In other words, it'll be time for Aqib Talib to earn his money.
Tom Brady is good, but the Patriots' pass defense is less than good. The Pats allowed 239 yards per game in the air this season, 17th best in the NFL (one spot worse than the Raiders), but they still help opponents under 20 points per game. Andrew Luck had himself a great year, and the Colts finished the year with the best passing offense in the league. Winning in Foxboro is not an easy task, but the Colts will pull off the upset.
NFC Divisional Round: Seahawks over Panthers & Packers over Cowboys
The NFC Wild Card round is a competition to see who will lose to Seattle and Green Bay. Assuming Aaron Rodgers isn't seriously hurt, and assuming the Seahawks keep playing like they have been, the NFC Championship is already set.
AFC Championship: Broncos over Colts
Peyton Manning will breathe a little bit easier knowing he won't be playing at New England. Talib and the rest of the Broncos defense will have to earn their paychecks again. If they are able to stop Luck's passing attack, the Colts will have to rely on their rushing attack, which is good for 100 yards a game and 22nd best in the league. Denver has the fourth best passing offense in the league, and a rushing attack led by C.J. Anderson that has proven to be effective. The Broncos will get to the Super Bowl in back-to-back years.
NFC Championship: Seahawks over Packers
A moment of honesty: I tried really hard to pick against the Seahawks so I did not have a somewhat predictable Super Bowl rematch, but I love statistics. Statistically, I cannot pick against the Seahawks. They rank in the top three in rushing yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed per game, points allowed per game, rushing yards per game and they are fourth in turnover ratio. How do I pick against that?
Super Bowl: Seahawks over Broncos
This was a little bit tougher to pick. The Seahawks have one visible weakness; their pass offense. This has not been a problem, because they average 172 yards on the ground per game. The Broncos have the second-best run defense in the league, so the Seahawks might have to pass the ball to win. The old rule wins here: Defense wins championships. Seattle allows 15.9 points per game, which is about eight more than Denver was able to score last year in the Super Bowl. This should not hurt Peyton Manning's legacy though, Seattle is simply a dynasty developing in front of us.