Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 NFL Season Review, Postseason Predictions

Week 17 Record: 11-5

Season Record: 179-79

So the 12 team playoffs are set.  How did my preseason playoff picks go?

AFC East
My pick: Patriots
Div champ: Patriots 13-3 (AFC #1 seed)
This pick was easy, but who knew that Belicheat's defense would become this porous?  Had it not been for Drew Brees, we'd be heralding Brady's record-breaking single-season yardage performance.  Thank goodness for Drew.  But most shocking is TE Rob Gronkowksi's historic elite-WR-like numbers: 1,327 yards (6th most in the league, most for TEs ever), 90 catches (5th most in league), and a league-leading 17 TD receptions (all-time TE record).  That said, the Saints' Jimmy Graham finished with 1,310 yards, so do with that what you will.  The Jets, Bills and Dolphins all could not even manage a winning record.  NY was a massive disappointment while the Bills and Dolphins were good only for brief spurts (Buffalo at the beginning, Miami at the end).

AFC North
My pick: Steelers
Div champ: Ravens 12-4 (AFC #2 seed)
Baltimore beat Pittsburgh in both head to head matchups, thereby earning the tie-breaker for the divisional crown.  Riding the 2nd best RB in rushing yards this year (behind Mojo Drew) in Ray Rice, the Ravens certainly earned my respect after a physical smash-mouth victory over my 49ers.  However, had the 12-4 Steelers been a little more healthy, they probably could have stolen the division.  More on the surprising Bengals later.  The Browns started promisingly, but reverted.  3 playoff berths from one division is awesome.

AFC South
My pick: Titans
Div champ: Texans 10-6 (AFC #3 seed)
With Peyton out, Garrard cut, and the Titans essentially starting over, Houston was the reasonable pick.  But I figured they would screw it up again.  Injuries to all their best skills players nearly got 'em but they held on.  Still they will have to prove to everyone that they can overcome missing Schaub when it counts.  The biggest offseason story will of course be whether the 2 win(!) Colts cut Peyton before his $28 million kick in sometime in February.  If you don't want him, the 49ers will take him.

AFC West
My pick: Chargers
Div champ: Broncos 8-8 (AFC #4 seed)
Utterly unpredictable that a Rivers-led team isn't easily the class of the division, especially with the Raiders and Chiefs having to replace their QBs because of injury and the Broncos' initial starter in Orton getting Tebow'ed.  But given a choice between trojan Palmer, trojan Cassel or Tebow, I couldn't be happier about who came out on top.  Headline of the season, Tebow, led his 1-4 team to a 7-4 record, good enough for a playoff berth.  The previously 4-win Broncos are this season's team to go from last place to the first place playoff team.  Never fails.

AFC Wildcards
My picks: Jets, Chiefs
Actual: Steelers 12-4, Bengals 9-7
The Jets' failure was a pleasant surprise.  But I was shocked to look and find that I had picked the Chiefs.  I'm an idiot.  The Bengals, shunned by trojan Palmer, replaced him with a rookie QB and made the playoffs for only the second time since 1991, edging out the trojan Palmer led Raidas on the way.  Awesome.

NFC East
My pick: Eagles
Div champ: Giants 9-7 (NFC #4 seed)
Philly tips San Diego as the major disappointment of the year since they've seemingly been out of the playoff race 10 weeks ago.  The preseason hype surrounded Michael Vick and his dream team, but they turned out to be but a forgotten daydream.  Meanwhile, the Giants emerged from the league's toughest schedule, finishing with 3 tough wins in the last 4 weeks to take it.  Eli Manning's preseason bravado that he belonged in the group of elite passers was validated since he set the mark for 6th most single season passing yards in history this year.  The Giants are no longer a running team with a game managing QB.  They'd rather give you full doses of Nicks and Cruz all day.  Over in Jerrysworld, Jones is again the owner (and GM) of a failing team and only Lakers and Yankees fans feel bad for him.  At least he isn't Snyder, who somehow thinks that Grossman is the answer.

NFC North
My pick: Packers
Div champ: Packers 15-1 (NFC #1 seed)
See previous post as to why Rodgers is clear-cut league MVP.  Their defense may be their achilles heel come playoff time.  We'll get to the Lions later, but the Cutler-less Bears couldn't hold on and the Favre-less Vikings were as bad as they were with him last year.

NFC South
My pick: Saints
Div champ: Saints 13-3 (NFC #3 seed)
I had the Saints as my preseason Superbowl champion, and I can't figure out how they even lost 3 games.  Brees, with the emergence of TE Graham and addition of RB Sproles, now runs the most prolific and balanced offense in history to smoke anybody.  The Falcons were about as good as expected while Cam Newton was waaaay better than anybody expected, even though he only finished with 6 wins.  TB stunk.

NFC West
My pick: Rams
Div champ: 49ers 13-3 (NFC #2 seed)
This is what I wrote before this season: "(Before 2010) I predicted that the Rams would be the worst team in the league.  That's how quickly you can turn it around in the NFL.  With a solid draft, a solid coach and solid personnel moves, you can be relevant within a couple years."  Mmm-hmm, yeah I was wrong.  The Rams were supposed to be terrible last year and wasn't.  They were supposed to be a playoff team this year and almost won the Luck sweepstakes.  The 49ers didn't just become relevant, they blew the doors off the joint and sowed up a 1st round bye.  It didn't take a couple years, it took Harbaugh the month of August.  Alex Smith went from sure bust to a clutch, ball-protecting machine (5 picks).  And the 49ers were 5 bad quarters away from being 16-0.

NFC Wildcards
My picks: Falcons, Cowboys
Actual: Falcons 10-6, Lions 10-6
Detroit's potent offense, led by a healthy Matt Stafford and an unwordly Megatron, clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 1999 even though they have two hot-heads in (dirty) Suh and Jim Schwartz.

Playoff Predictions:

Bengals at Texans - Okay, its true that the Texans have a solid defense and a great running game in Arian Foster, but there's something about Andy Dalton and this tough Cincy D.  A mini-upset.

Steelers at Broncos - I hope for Tebow's sake that he shocks the world with an upset.  But I ain't predicting it, even if Big Ben and company are banged up.

Giants host Falcons - I like the Giants at home, with thei fired up defensive line and more explosive offense.

Saints host Lions - Detroit aims to be what the Saints already are.  Mainly mature and experienced.

AFC Divisional:
Patriots host Bengals - They might not have a D, but they've got quite an O.

Ravens host Steelers - Yes, I'm predicting that the Ravens will beat their rival for a 3rd straight time this year.  Crazy.

NFC Divisional:
Packers host Giants - Comfortable win for Rodgers and company.

Saints at 49ers - I hate predicting this.  But we're just unlucky to face Brees right now.  I hope I am dead wrong.

AFC Conference:
Ravens at Patriots - Baltimore has the running game and deep threat to gash the Patriots.  Their defense will need to get to Brady though.

NFC Conference:
Saints at Packers - Everyone loves New Orleans so much right now that I want to go the other way.  But since I picked the Saints preseason, I'll stick with it now.

Saints over Ravens - Brees deservedly cements his Hall of Fame legacy with a 2nd title.

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