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Grid Iron Audible—Playoff Push

Posted By Steve Massey On Dec 12 2012 @ 6:40 pm In NFL | 2 Comments

It’s the time of year when the weather begins to turn cold, Christmas shoppers flock to malls, and NFL fans get a sort of psychological Lasik surgery, clearing their vision for better or for worse. They will soon begin to get a clearer picture of their respective teams; are they contenders or pretenders, champs or chumps, winners or wieners? It is either euphoric or hectic, depending on the individual; but there’s no denying the buzz in the atmosphere and the excitement it brings.

Some of us have already opened our Christmas gifts to discover that even though we got the Red Rider BB gun we wanted, it will not even shoot well enough to put our eyes out. Those of us that have experienced this misfortune have already turned our eyes toward next season, hoping to find redemption through free agency and next April’s draft. Others still have presents under the tree, and their hope is that they find something other than socks and shirts under the wrapping paper; their hoping to unwrap the Lombardi Trophy.

There are 16 teams that still have a shot at the post season. The Rams, Chargers, Browns and Jets are also in the hunt, but who’s kidding who, these teams are done, and I won’t consider them for this article. Here is a closer look at each of the teams remaining in the show, and some of my thoughts on their chances.

Vikings 7-6
Adrian Peterson is making a case for himself as not only comeback player of the year, but as league MVP as well. In spite of how well as A.D. is playing, the absence of Percy Harvin has hurt this team, and their remaining schedule (@Rams, @Texans, Packers) may be too difficult an obstacle for them to make the tournament.

Redskins 7-6
Rookies RGIII and Alfred Morris have put this team in a position to make the tourney, but Griffin’s injury may have derailed their hopes. Still, they’ve won 4 straight and have a favorable schedule with games at the Browns and Eagles on deck. Their chances could very well come down to the final game of the season, at home against the Cowboys.

Cowboys 7-6
It’s impossible to gauge what kind of toll the recent tragedy will take on this team. Dez Bryant’s injury is very much in play here, and their schedule (Steelers, Saints, @Redskins) is not as favorable as the Redskins. They’re hot with 4 wins in their last 5 games, but if Jerry Jones wants to see his team’s return to the post season, they’ll probably have to win out.

Bengals 7-6
The Bengals are another team that may have to run the table to stay in the show. They’ve been streaky this year, sandwiching two 3 game win streaks around a 4 game skid. Last week’s loss to the emotional Cowboys looms large. They do control their own destiny; with games @Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, before returning home to face Baltimore. If the Cats win out, they’re in.

Steelers 7-6
If history were a reliable indicator, then I’d pencil the Steel City representatives into the playoffs right now. They do, after all, have that mystique about them, not to mention a QB who has two rings. They currently hold the 6th seed in the AFC, and it’s possible that they could limp in with a 9-7 record, but I see Sunday’s game at Dallas as a must win. They finish with home games against the Bengals and Browns, neither of which is a sure bet.

Colts 9-4
It’s possible the Colts surprise me and go past the wild card round; their record thus far has sure taken me by surprise. They get a respite in Kansas City between two games against Houston, who will be playing hard to retain home field advantage against the Patriots, and 10-6 looks very plausible. I see them as Cinderella this year, but the clock is nearing midnight. Expect an early exit from the playoffs for Andrew Luck and company.

Bears 8-5
After losing 4 out of 5 the Bears find themselves reeling. It doesn’t get any easier this weekend, with the Packers coming to town and Jay Cutler banged up. Cutler was healthy when he faced the Pack in Green Bay in week 2, a 4 interception, 7 sack game. They finish the season with games at Arizona and Detroit, and could still reach the playoffs with a 10-6 record, but that would be cutting it close. They’ll have to right the ship immediately to avoid an epic breakdown.

Seahawks 8-5
One of the best teams in football when playing at home (just ask the Cards), the Hawks take their 2-5 road record and shuffle off to Buffalo this week, before finishing with home games against division rivals San Fran and St. Louis. With this defense, you never know, but I’m guessing the city that is known for the Space Needle and Grunge Rock will have to wait another year for a true contender. Still, 10 or 11 wins and a playoff berth have to be considered a successful campaign for Pete Carroll’s squad.

Ravens 9-4
We saw a changing of polarity in the Baltimore franchise this year; as the offense took the reins from the defense, and Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith became the names that are featured on the marquee, replacing long time staples such as Ray Lewis and T-Sizzle and Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata. The new scheme was working well for most of the season as they got off to a 9-2 start, but 2 consecutive losses have dropped them to the 4th seed in the AFC. This week’s sudden firing of OC Cam Cameron has some people scratching their heads; it’s difficult for me to see the move as anything other than panic. Their remaining games are tough, with home games against the Broncos and Giants, before facing the Bengals on the road. They’ll make the playoffs, but they can’t compete with the elite teams in this conference.

Giants 8-5
Two tough road games await the defending champs, as both the Falcons and Ravens are fighting for position in the playoffs. The G-men finish at home with the Eagles in what may be Andy Reid’s last game for Philly. Eli plays well under pressure, and they’re facing plenty of it with the Cowboys and Redskins both knocking at the door. Tom Coughlin is a great coach, and though I admit this with some reservations, Eli has become a great quarterback, but if the Giants are to repeat, they’ll need JPP, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora to step up their play and apply some clutch pressure.

49ers 9-3-1
My preseason pick to win the NFC, the Niners have the unenviable task of facing the Patriots and Seahawks in back to back road games before finishing at home with the hapless Cardinals. Although I still believe that San Francisco has the best defense in the league, I see them losing their current 2nd seeding to the surging Packers. The reason I’ve rated them this low is Jim Harbaugh’s decision to hand the team over to Colin Kaepernick, despite Alex Smith playing so well. I know Kaepernick has performed well thus far, but he has yet to face competition like he will see the next two weeks. Perhaps Jim is a genius, and he proves me wrong with the young QB going forward, but more likely he will enter the post season with a QB controversy dividing his locker room. For this to be the year the 49ers return to the Super Bowl, their defense and running game will have to make it happen.

Texans 11-2
On paper, the Texans look like the best team in football. They should at the very least be considered one of the most complete teams. They do, however, seem to struggle against teams with elite offenses. They have faced three this year; the Broncos, Packers and Patriots, losing two by big margins and narrowly escaping Denver (which wasn’t nearly as good then) with a victory. With two games left against the Colts and a home contest with the Vikings, this team has a great chance at holding onto their number 1 seeding in the conference, but I don’t see them beating Tom Brady or Peyton Manning in the playoffs, even at home.

Falcons 11-2
Matt Ryan has plenty of quality receivers to throw to, and there have been times this year when the Falcons offense has looked unstoppable. But of late their running game has gone AWOL, and their middle of the road defense has made them one of the most beatable 11-2 teams that I can recall. They seem to be playing a brand of football better suited to the Patriots or the Packers, and that’s why I won’t give them the top rating in the NFC. They do have a favorable schedule, facing the Giants at home before traveling to Detroit, then returning home to face the Bucs. It is easier for me to see them losing to the Giants or Packers in the divisional round than it is to see them in the Super Bowl and another one and done performance wouldn’t surprise me.

Packers 9-4
Last season’s performance in the regular season has proved to be a tough act to follow for Aaron Rodgers and company, but the team has turned it on in the last two months, winning 7 of 8 and grabbing first place in their division. On paper, they are real close to the Falcons, but games are played on the field. This weekend’s game in Chicago will tell us a lot more about the Pack, who’ll return home to face the Titans before traveling to play the Vikings to finish the year. Taking the second seed from San Francisco could mean all the difference for this team in the post season, so each of their remaining games are vital.

Broncos 10-3
Peyton Manning has elevated this team from the middle of the pack to an elite status. Since losing at New England on October 7th, the Broncos have won 8 straight games, and the team’s confidence seems to grow every week. I can hardly wait for the rematch with New England in the playoffs; Peyton and Tom is a rivalry as great as any in the history of sports, and in my view, destined to occur one more time this season. With a road game at Baltimore, and home games against the Browns and Chiefs, Bronco fans can expect at least 12 wins, and still cling to hope for a bye week.

Patriots 10-3
With the most elite offense in the game, and with Gronkowski expected back soon, the Pats are poised to break the league scoring record of 556 points by the 1998 Vikings. They are on pace to post 581. Their 36.3 scoring average is 7.5 points more than the league’s next best (Broncos 28.8). In their last 6 games, New England has averaged a mind blowing 42.5 points per game, and they’ve turned the ball over less than any team in football. Barring a third upset to the Giants in a Super Bowl, I see Belichick and Brady bringing home their 4th Lombardi Trophy come February.

That’s a wrap on my playoff breakdown. It’s a subjective exercise, sports predictions, much like the weather this time of year. Perhaps I’m right and New England steamrolls through the show onto the biggest stage—or—maybe I’m wrong and the Harbaugh brothers finish one, two in coach of the year voting; stranger things have happened. Whatever the eventual outcome, the coming weeks promise to deliver some meaningful games, some exciting football, and as always when Santa gets involved, some unexpected surprises.
For those of you who disagree with my assessment, I look forward to your comments and objections, as always. For those of you who think I’m in the ballpark, I’d love to hear from you too. Feel free to use the comment box here at PSB, or give me a shout on Twitter @SteveMassey9 or Facebook.
Merry Christmas everyone.

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