Last year, in this column, I correctly had Green Bay in the Super Bowl as the #6 seed, but had them losing to New England. I thought Green Bay was going to be the risky pick, needing to go to Philadelphia, then to Atlanta, just to get to the title game. As it turned out, it was much harder to pick the AFC and my pick of New England over Pittsburgh and then the Packers did not work out, as the Jets had a little something to say.
The Jets are not around to muck up the picks this year, so I guess it falls to Tebow and some rookie quarterbacks.
Let’s start by working backward in the NFC. I think there are two viable picks for the Super Bowl, and one decent gamble as a dark horse. The dark horse is the #4 seed Giants. They can’t run the ball. They aren’t very good at stopping the run. What they can do is create big plays in the passing game, and are improving versus the pass with a line that is finally getting healthy. I’ve run some “similarity” scores to other playoff teams for all of this year’s participants (and I’ll post those separately before each set of games this weekend), but the Giants have a decent amount of surprise teams on their list.
But I’m not picking them, and the Saints and Packers are both very good at one thing — passing the ball. The Saints are a little better at preventing yards passing, while the Packers create more turnovers. The Saints run it better, and neither is particularly good at all at stopping the run. What separates them? The Packers got home field, and the Saints are a dome team that will have to travel to Lambeau to knock off the Packers. It’s close enough that I give the dramatic weather advantage to the Packers to be ready for those elements and play better in January.
Wildcard Round: Saints over Lions, Giants over Falcons
Divisional Round: Saints over 49ers, Packers over Giants
Championship Game: Packers over Saints
Now, as for the AFC, I see issues at the top. Well, quite frankly, I see question marks all over. The Patriots defense is a major concern, but the passing offense certainly gives them a chance against anyone. Baltimore may have earned the #2 seed with the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh by beating them twice, but they were wildly inconsistent. My similar teams that I whipped up? None of the top 25 like Baltimore even made the Super Bowl. Teams with great run defenses and so-so passing offenses have not fared well.
I may have liked Houston to be the AFC representative before the Schaub injury, but don’t think they have enough without him, and having to go on the road twice. Cincinnati is too young and the definition of a borderline playoff team. We’ve seen a few like that make a run to a couple of wins, but rarely. Denver is quite frankly not very good, and is being out passed by a ton, outscored by a decent amount, and must rely on the other team not scoring. We saw what happened when they played a good passing offense in New England.
Which leaves me with Pittsburgh. There are plenty of warning signs with injuries and the like. The Clark absence would be most concerning, but I think they overcome that for one game. They will need Pouncey to be healthy, and I think they get by without Mendenhall. What Pittsburgh has is the best pass differential. They can pass it on offense and keep up with the high octane teams, with their deep receiving group headed by Mike Wallace. They have a better pass defense than the other teams that can pass it. Risky? Sure, but that’s what life is about. The Packers turned out not to be the risky pick last year, in retrospect. The numbers say the Steelers are dangerous, and can win multiple ways. They are also used to playing and winning in the elements, and have experience in the postseason. The first game draw is favorable, if fraught with danger of going on the road.
Wildcard Round: Texans over Bengals, Steelers over Broncos
Divisional Round: Steelers over Patriots, Ravens over Texans
Championship Game: Steelers over Ravens
As for the Super Bowl, I could play it safe. Green Bay at 15-1 was my pick before the season (to beat New England). Certainly no shame in going there–but this is called diversifying your portfolio, people. No, in all honesty, I’m going big, having learned my lesson from last year. The Packers’ underlying numbers, besides wins, were as good as the Steelers and Patriots last year, they just lost some key games in the season that cost them a higher seed. I see the same with Pittsburgh here. The receiving group is better than 2010. They limped in to the Super Bowl last year with injuries. The Packers’ defense is not as good.
I see a shootout, and another shocker in the Super Bowl as we have seen often this decade.
Super Bowl Pick: Pittsburgh over Green Bay.
[Photo via Getty]