The season is over for 20 NFL teams. Only 12 of the league's best from the regular season get to play for the coveted Super Bowl ring. As Wild Card weekend begins the playoffs this Saturday, here is who this writer predicts to win every game up to and including Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona.
AFC Wild Card Round
#6 Baltimore Ravens (10-6) at #3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
This will be the third time these two AFC North rivals play against each other this season. The Ravens won early in the year but the Steelers dominated in the most recent matchup. Steelers team MVP and star running back Le'Veon Bell is not going to play on Saturday night due to a bone bruise in his right knee which can only be treated with time. The Steelers recently signed costless agent RB Ben Tate to replace Bell for however long he is out. Although Bell is a huge loss to the Steelers offense, the passing game which is one of the best in the NFL will rip apart Baltimore's awful secondary. Expect Roethlisberger to put up huge numbers like he did in the most recent matchup, throwing for 6 touchdown passes. The improving Steelers defense will do just enough to win the game for the Steelers and advance to the Divisional Round.
Prediction: Steelers win by at least 7 points
#5 Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) at #4 Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The Colts shut out the Bengals earlier in the season, winning 27-0. However, Indianapolis has steadily declined since then. The Colts defense has been gashed lately and star quarterback Andrew Luck has turned the ball over at an alarming rate. The Bengals have the secondary to slow Luck and his favorite wide receiver T.Y Hilton. I think Dalton and the offense will bounce back from that awful showing against Pittsburgh and win. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill will be a star against the mediocre Colts run defense. Dalton will earn his first career playoff victory.
Prediction: Bengals win by at least 3 points.
NFC Wild Card Round
#6 Detroit Lions (11-5) at #3 Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
The big news in this game is Lions star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for getting his one game suspension for his stomp on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reduced to a $70,000 fine, which allows him to play on Sunday. He will be key in trying to slow down the NFL's best offensive line and the league's leading rusher in DeMarco Murray. This game is a matchup between the NFL's best offensive line - the best defensive line. The writer believes the Cowboys offense to put up some points through the air and their defense to slow Detroit down enough to win.
Prediction: Cowboys win by at least 3 points.
#5 Arizona Cardinals (11-5) at #4 Carolina Panthers (7-8-1)
The Cardinals have had a storybook season, consistently winning although both their starting and backup quarterback went down with injuries. They are now onto their third quarterback, Ryan Lindley, who has disappointed lately. The Panthers won a dumpster-fire division in the NFC South finishing with a sub .500 record. However, usually its the hottest teams who win in the postseason, not necessarily the best. That is why the Panthers will win on Saturday.
Prediction: Panthers win by at least 3 points.
AFC Divisional Round
#5 Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) at #1 New England Patriots (12-4)
The Bengals do not match up well with the Patriots. The Patriots secondary led by star cornerback Darrelle Revis can and will shut down Andy Dalton and A.J. Green and force Dalton to make critical mistakes. The Patriots offense led by Tom Brady will figure out the Bengals secondary and will put up some points. Brady and the Patriots will advance to and host the AFC Championship.
Prediction: Patriots win by at least 10 points.
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at #2 Denver Broncos (12-4)
This game is going to be a shootout. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell will most likely be healthy enough to play in this game which will be huge for the Steelers offense. The Broncos do have a decent defense, but the Steelers can still put up a nice amount of points. However, Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, and former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will pick apart the Steelers below average secondary.
Prediction: Broncos win by at least 6 points
NFC Divisional Round
#4 Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) at #1 Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
This is a mismatch all the way for the Panthers. The Seahawks will shut down Cam Newton and the Panthers offense and Russell Wilson will expose the Panthers defense led by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Expect a blowout in this game. The Seahawks will host their second consecutive NFC Championship.
Prediction: Seahawks win by at least 14 points.
#3 Dallas Cowboys (12-4) at #2 Green Bay Packers (12-4)
This game will also be a shootout. The Cowboys will have trouble defending the Packers offense led by MVP favorite quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Eddie Lacy, and wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The Packers will have trouble getting to quarterback Tony Romo as their pass rush is subpar and the Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL. Also, expect Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray to have big games. This game was the hardest to predict but the Cowboys will continue their perfect season on the road and beat the Packers.
Prediction: Cowboys win by at least 3 points.
AFC Championship Game
#2 Denver Broncos (12-4) at #1 New England Patriots (12-4)
This game is a rematch of last year's AFC Championship and the only difference is New England will host this game and not Denver. Home field advantage may be the difference in this game. The Broncos have a plethora of wide receivers to throw to, but the Patriots have the secondary to stop them. Tom Brady will lead his offense by throwing to his favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski many times. Expect a close game, but Tom Terrific to win once again.
Prediction: Patriots win by at least 10 points
NFC Championship Game
#3 Dallas Cowboys (12-4) at #1 Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
The Cowboys beat the Seahawks in Seattle earlier in the season, so why can't they do it again? Dez Bryant is playing at an almost unstoppable level and not even Richard Sherman and that stingy Seahawks secondary can slow Dallas' passing game. Expect the Cowboys offensive line to create may holes for DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys defense to make key plays against Russell Wilson and Seattle's offense. Who says Tony Romo is not clutch?
Prediction: Cowboys win by at last 1 point
Super Bowl XLIX
#1 New England Patriots (12-4) vs. #3 Dallas Cowboys (12-4) (Glendale, Arizona)
Tony Romo vs. Tom Brady for the Super Bowl. Who saw this one coming? The Cowboys have had a magical season thus far, proving the doubters wrong when they suggested Dallas would only win 5 or 6 games due to an "awful" defense. The Cowboys defense will struggle against New England but so will the Patriots defense. Expect the Cowboys to run early and often against the Patriots and have success doing so. This will be a high scoring game and this writer sees the Patriots finally winning a Super Bowl after losing their last two.
Prediction: Patriots win by at least 6 points
Comment thoughts and predictions!