After the monstrosity that was out NFL previews, I've been a little wary about prognosticating. But this is the best time of year. It's the NFL playoffs; sans Don Cheadle, no less. I finally have something to care about in January -- the Saints are in the dance, and they're flirting with the prettiest girl in the room. Unlike me, however, they actually have a chance to take her home this year.
Not only that, but it's 70 degrees outside in New Jersey today. In January! Almost makes me want to skip the whole sit-inside-and-watch-7-hours-of-football thing and get a breath of fresh air. But on second thought....nah. From February to September I wish I had playoff football to watch, so I'll enjoy it while it's here.
Onto my picks.
AFC Wild Card Round
Kansas City vs. Indianapolis: Indianapolis
People are making too big of a deal about the LJ vs. Indy run defense matchup. Yes, Johnson will get his fair share of yards, but the Chiefs cannot run it on every single down. The Colts are clearly a step behind last year's team, but they're not going down -- at home -- to the Chiefs, whose defense isn't so good either. Manning will assuage doubts with an early strike to Reggie Wayne, and the Colts will be off and running.
Jets vs. New England: New England
Though Mangini has done a wonderful job with his young team, they're just that -- young. Never underestimate playoff experience in a seemingly close match like this. Belichick and company have been taking it easy with the knowledge that a playoff spot was all but guaranteed, and I'm sure the vengeful Belichick has some special things in store to bewilder a Jets offensive line that is wet behind the ears. The Jets have no real threats at the offensive skill positions. Tom Brady will not lose this one.
AFC Divisional Round
Indianapolis vs. Baltimore: Baltimore
I can't believe I'm going to back a Steve McNair who has been under the knife more times than the guy in the Operation game. But the Ravens will win in spite of their offense. Peyton Manning has always had trouble with aggressive 3-4 defenses, and this Ravens defense is going to wreak havoc on him.
New England vs. San Diego: New England
I love this Chargers' team, but Philip Rivers is dealing with his first taste of the playoffs and the Chargers have looked decidedly human in the stretch run. Rodney Harrison will return to provide an aggressive backstop in the middle to battle LT, and Tom Brady will find room in the pocket to avoid the rush, dinking-and-dunking the Patriots to victory.
AFC Championship Game
Baltimore vs. New England: Baltimore
But the Chargers will give the Patriots a battle in their divisional round battle, and the lack of depth at receiver will haunt the Patriots in this game. They'll come into the game more drained than the Ravens and Steve McNair will find a stride, visions of Kevin Dyson beginning to take form.
NFC Wild Card Round
Dallas vs. Seattle: Dallas
Seattle is just too beat up. Their secondary is hurting in a serious way, and Tony Romo will pick them apart with Jason Witten. Though Dallas has looked embarassing in recent weeks, they right the ship and move on.
Giants vs. Philadelphia: Philadelphia
I'm actually really tempted to pick the Giants in this one, just because there has to be a serious upset somewhere in the first round, right? But the Eagles have just embodied everything the Giants haven't this year, and that's not a good thing for the G-Men. Plus, I don't really want to take a Giants team after seeing the way their fans treated the Saints fans on Christmas Eve. Call it petty, whatever. The Eagles will get lots of pressure on Eli Manning. Brian Dawkins picks off two passes, one for a touchdown, and Brian Westbrook creates havoc in the secondary. Jeff Garcia does just enough.
NFC Division Round
Philadelphia vs. New Orleans: New Orleans
Just too many weapons on the Saints for the Eagles to handle. They beat the Birds when McNabb was still healthy and the New Orleans defense was underachieving. The Saints defense has improved remarkably since then and the energy from a rabid Superdome crowd can't be underrated. Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and Reggie Bush will look to make a statement after their MVP/Rookie of the Year snubs, and the Saints move on.
Dallas vs. Chicago: Chicago
Rex Grossman may not be the best. OK, he's pretty awful, but he's a gambler on the deep ball. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Luckily, the Dallas safeties can't even cover me (but Roy Williams is good at blowing out knees), so Rex will hit his fair share of deep balls. The aggressive Chicago defense will frustrate Terrell Owens, who will blow up at some point in the game as the wheels begin to fall off of Dallas' season.
NFC Championship Game
Chicago vs. New Orleans: New Orleans
New Orleans is a more complete team than Chicago, branching all the way to coaching. Sean Payton will find a way to keep the ball out of Brees' hand and mix McAllister and Bush enough to confuse the Bears defense. New Orleans, by the time this game rolls around, will have a world of momentum. Memories of the 2001 Patriots will start becoming obvious.
New Orleans vs. Baltimore: New Orleans
Ha! You didn't expect me to pick against the Saints, did you? The Ravens will be the heavy favorite, and New Orleans will punch them in the mouth in front of the world as conspiracy theorists dream up ridiculous scenarios in which the league has rigged the season for the Saints to win.
Like with Chicago, the Saints are the more well-rounded team. Though the Ravens beat the Saints earlier in the season, New Orleans began to figure out the Ravens' defense in the second half and, with a game of tape on them to study, will be better prepared. The Ravens will underestimate the Saints, and they'll pay for it.