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2014 NFL Season Predictions: Playoffs

Credit: Austin Taliaferro

The last of my 2014 NFL Season Predictions series. Playoffs?!

For those of you who have been following these projections for the upcoming NFL season, you are aware that this final edition of the series is where the fun really begins. Based on my forecasts from the NFC and AFC in previous weeks, I will be seeding my six playoff teams from each conference and forming my outlook on the very distant NFL playoffs. This article will go round by round until my new prophesied Super Bowl champion is revealed. Listed below will be the 12 teams that qualified for the playoffs, with the madness following soon after. All tiebreakers have been applied, and winners will be highlighted in bold. Here it is:


SeedNFCAFC
1Seattle (13-3)New England (14-2)
2Chicago (12-4)Denver (13-3)
3New Orleans (12-4)Indianapolis (11-5)
4Philadelphia (9-7)Pittsburgh (10-6)
5San Francisco (11-5)San Diego (11-5)
6Tampa Bay (10-6)Baltimore (9-7)


Wild Card Round

Image title

Credit: newyork.cbslocal.com

NFCAFC
5. San Francisco at 4. Philadelphia5. San Diego at 4. Pittsburgh
6. Tampa Bay at 3. New Orleans6. Baltimore at 3. Indianapolis


First off, if we are lucky enough to have this set of playoff games come Wild Card weekend, we need to give thanks to the football gods. These are four matchups that could easily go either way, depending on the way you look at them. Based on my projections throughout this series, my winners are the 49ers, Saints, Chargers and Colts. The Niners and Chargers are both what I like to label as road warriors: teams that are built to win on the road. San Fran plays great defense and can run the football, perfect ingredients to slow down Chip Kelly’s up-tempo attack in this game. I’ll also take Harbaugh and Kaep in San Fran over Foles and Kelly for the time being, especially when taking into account their recent playoff success. The Niners are just too tough, both mentally and physically, for the Eagles to handle. 

San Diego’s makeup doesn’t really suggest they can win on the road (5-5 record last year including playoffs), but any team that can win in places like Denver, Kansas City and Cincy like they did last year deserves a tip of the cap. San Diego is just one of those teams that can rise to the occasion, thanks to fierce competitors like Philip Rivers at quarterback. The guy just never seems to back down, and I think it’s safe to say he’s one of the league’s top QBs again. Although Pittsburgh would definitely be amped up for it’s first playoff game in a few years, I believe a better San Diego defense and Rivers’ will to win would be enough to put the Chargers back in the divisional round.

For the other two Wild Card games, home-field advantage should play a big factor towards Colts and Saints victories. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome has been an extremely tough place to play in recent years, largely after its resurrection after Hurricane Katrina. While I like Tampa Bay’s chances to be a sleeper this year and reach the playoffs, the Saints are not a team the Bucs would want to see for the third time in one season. I do believe Tampa will split the regular season series with their division foe in New Orleans, but the playoffs are a different scene. A scene the Buccaneers haven’t been a part of since 2007. Their defense should be the real deal this year under Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, but an offense composed of Brees, Graham, Stills and the rookie Cooks with a playcaller like Sean Payton will not be silenced often. This means Josh McCown and the Bucs, both rather foreign to the playoffs, would need to put up more points than they comfortably have all season against a talented Rob Ryan defense. Saints advance. 

The Colts-Ravens affair would be anticipated to be tightly contested, but the weapons on the Colts offense would pose too many issues for the Baltimore secondary. The Colts will be using formations that feature multiple wideouts this year, considering all the talent and depth they have on the outside. If they can have success spreading the field, expect Trent Richardson to be the beneficiary and have a bounce-back season. Despite the fact that the Ravens always find themselves among the NFL’s elite in terms of defense, this is not a unit that can slow down the growth of Andrew Luck and the skilled players on Indy’s offense. The Ravens also have the pieces to put points on the board in Indy, but which Joe Flacco will show up? If it’s the guy from last year after signing his $120 million contract, I’ll take the Colts. I’m still not on the Flacco bandwagon, and an argument can be made the Ravens no longer have a real threat in the backfield anymore. Ray Rice‘s best days are behind him and the verdict is still out on Bernard Pierce. Indy’s defense would struggle in this game as well and it’d be close, but Lucas Oil Stadium is the X factor for the Colts.

Divisional RoundImage title


Credit: footballnation.com

NFCAFC
5. San Francisco at 1. Seattle5. San Diego at 1. New England
3. New Orleans at 2. Chicago3. Indianapolis at 2. Denver


I lied. Weeks ago in our NFL mailbag, I was asked a question on who I liked in both the AFC and NFC. When speaking about the NFC, I made a statement that if Seattle captured home-field throughout the playoffs again, it would reach the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. Well, I changed my mind, and I find myself entitled to do so. My reasoning? The season has not begun. Seems fair to me. And if there is one thing that has been reinforced to me while compiling these predictions, it is that no one knows what’s going to happen and I’ll most likely be wrong anyway. I can live with that.

I like San Fran because I think they’re due to finally figure it out against Seattle at that madhouse known as CenturyLink. Kaepernick should be mature enough to handle the situation at this point, and a rotating backfield of Gore and Carlos Hyde should excite Niners fans. The corners are the only real concern for the defense, but the rest of the unit should find a way to protect it. Seattle just lost too much this offseason, but more importantly, it’s extremely difficult to get back to the promise land known as the Super Bowl. I don’t see enough offensively to compliment Russell Wilson, and the departures of Walter Thurmond, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons will have an impact. Crabtree and the Niners get their revenge.

In the AFC, Denver and New England have to be the favorites, and it’s not hard to figure out why. The quarterbacks, of course. Brady and Manning are two of the greatest to play the position, and in 2014, they’ll have stacked rosters to accommodate them. New England’s defense will be scary good with a reloaded secondary that possesses great depth. Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, which make up the youth of the defense, should continue to develop and reach toward their potential. With Gronk back and having some time to get acclimated to his young weapons, Brady will return to form. No. 12 would have a field day on that Chargers defense. And you just don’t walk into Foxboro in January and win. 

The same goes at Mile High for the Broncos as well. Denver’s offense should be among the most productive again this year, and we know the defense will be better with the additions of Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and DeMarcus Ware. While Luck sits on the cusp of being among the NFL’s top quarterbacks (if you don’t consider him to be one already), he is not ready to defeat his predecessor on the road in the playoffs.  A shootout into the 30s for this Divisional Round game seems very appropriate, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Colts find a way to pull this one out. Andrew Luck and the Colts are not ready to take that next step.

In a rematch of a Chicago-New Orleans regular season game, I’m going with the Bears for a second time. Again, it sounds repetitive, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of home-field advantage in the NFL today. Once the playoffs start, it becomes even more significant. Soldier Field in January, where the wind chill is unbelievably cold and there is snow coming from the sky, are not welcoming conditions for a dome team like the Saints. That already gives Chicago an edge from the start, but Mother Nature won’t be the only reason the Bears return to the NFC title game. The Bears at this point will have rebuilt their roots as a defensive team, thanks to the new faces of Jared Allen, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and rookie Kyle Fuller. Throw in Stephen Paea, Shea McClellin and Jay Ratliff on the front seven too, and you know you got something cooking. But please don’t misunderstand me. Chicago will be just as good on offense with multifarious weapons, most notably the duo of Jeffrey and Marshall. A healthy Cutler in year two of Marc Trestman’s system will get his playmakers the ball and reap the rewards. No matter how improved New Orleans defense looks in 2014, picture Champ Bailey matched up on either Marshall or Jeffrey at this point in his career. I know, feel free to laugh.

Conference ChampionshipsImage title


Credit: sfgate.com

NFCAFC
5. San Francisco at 2. Chicago2. Denver at 1. New England


Among the four teams listed above that I have reaching the conference championship games, three were in the same position a year ago. In the AFC, I have a rematch between Brady and Manning for the second year in a row. Chicago, taking the place of the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, is the only new face I predict we’ll see in the final four when it’s all said and done. That Niners over Hawks pick was pretty bold, huh? If San Fran can truly get past Seattle like I think they can, they should find their way to Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX

While Chicago should have a phenomenal year and last much longer than most believe they will, the Niners are just the more experienced and reliable team in crunch time. Home-field advantage would prove valuable for the Bears again, but if there’s anybody that can handle it, it’s San Francisco. The 49ers almost found their way into the Super bowl this year as a Wild Card team, a Richard Sherman deflection and postgame rant away from getting back to where they had failed a year prior. On paper, both defenses would have a hard time stopping the opposing offense, but the coaching and pace of the Niners would prove to be the difference. Slowing down the Marshall and Jeffrey duo on the outside would be a dubious task, one that Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could handle. The tandem have put together a top-five defensive since joining forces in 2011. Run game wears down Chicago’s defense, and Cutler makes a bad mistake late.

In Foxboro, New England is the pick to advance to the Super Bowl, but not without another classic Brady-Manning dual. Despite the fact that the Pats and Broncos will have vastly improved defenses, don’t expect a defensive battle with these quarterbacks on the field. Both will take advantage of each other’s defense and locate weaknesses that others couldn’t exploit throughout the season. It’ll be the ultimate chess match. And if we are playing chess in Foxboro when the calendar reads January, you can’t go wrong with Brady and Belichick. No quarterback has won more playoff games than Brady, and Belichick ranks second among coaches. Winning has become rather boring for them. Foxboro has been quite the nightmare for Manning over the years, and I wouldn’t expect anything to change in this game. New England’s defense is stronger than Denver’s and Brady is more clutch than Manning. Not to mention Tom Terrific has always done it with lesser players around him. A lack of a running game will hurt Denver too. John Elway‘s spending spree this offseason turns out to be for naught. 

Super Bowl XLIXImage title


Credit: boards.sportslogos.net


NFCScoreAFCScore
San Francisco 49ers17New England Patriots24


Like I said, I just think the Pats are due. If it wasn’t for a couple of miraculous grabs by both Mario Manningham and David Tyree, the whispers of Brady and Belichick’s dying reign of dominance would not exist. In my eyes, there is no better quarterback in this league than Tom Brady. Some may not see it that way, and I respect that. But for those of you that no longer consider Brady a top-five quarterback, I suggest you see a doctor. So many times in his career, he has found ways to win big games for his team. This would be another he could add to his resume, and I don’t see this organization losing a third straight Super Bowl.

Kaepernick causes some headaches for the Pats defense early on, but Revis, Browner and Kyle Arrington match up well with the Niners’ receivers. Brady and the offense have success through the air late by spreading the field. This creates several mismatches in favor of the New England offense. Brady and the Pats score the final touchdown instead of watching from the sidelines this time, winning their first world championship in the last decade. The end. I’ll be expecting heckling on these predictions as the season goes on. Till then.

Edited by Emily Berman.

SQuiz
Who was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles?
Created 8/13/14
  1. Tom Brady
  2. Donovan McNabb
  3. Corey Dillon
  4. Deion Branch

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