Friday, 4 January 2013

NFL Play-off Rankings

Another very solid week is a great way to end the season, taking my overall record for the year up to a decent point. 

65% may not look very impressive, but it's been an unpredictable year in the league. Don't believe me? Only 3/25 of the NFL.com analysts participating in their 'weekly pick-em' game scored higher (Mark Sessler 69%, Nicole Zaloumis 68% and Kareem Copeland 66%). Whilst NFL.com may not be the cornerstone of accurate football opinion, it still forms a decent benchmark.

All in all a very decent year, and the fun is only just beginning with the play-offs looming...

Week 16 = 12-4

Overall = 165-92 (65%)


Instead of doing end of season power rankings (which let’s be honest are a bit redundant unless you’re in the playoffs), I’ve instead opted to do dedicated play-off rankings and predictions here, then full season grades for every team separately. If you disagree with my choices feel free to sound off!

1. Denver Broncos
The Broncos are currently the most likely team to win the Super Bowl, but with so many strong teams competing they are by no means a shoe-in. With Manning playing at such a high level, a running game coming into its own (Moreno is finally proving his worth) and a powerful defence, they really are the complete package. Their biggest road block will be a potential AFC Championship rematch with Brady and the Pats.

2. New England Patriots
Speaking of which... they may have struggled at times this year, producing some atypical poor performances in key situations, but no team here has more winning play-off experience than the Pats. Yes their secondary is still suspect, but in the top heavy AFC the Pats will be disappointed not to reach the Championship game. They’ve already proved they can beat both the Broncos and the Texans comfortably, so despite their clear weaknesses they will still be a very real contender.

3. San Francisco 49ers
It may be harsh to rank the 49ers lowing than New England who they saw off in the closing stages of the season, but in the far tougher NFC even starting with a bye their trip will be far rockier. Their QB situation may prove a double edged sword, as unless Kaepernick performs exceptionally there will continue to be calls to return to Smith. Despite all this they are still the consummate complete team, and with their New York nemesis not there to stop them they will feel confident they match up well with anyone.

4. Atlanta Falcons
Sure, the Falcons haven’t had great play-off success in the Matt Ryan era - but that isn’t down to some mysterious fundamental weakness in Atlanta’s squad or coaching style. 2 of their 3 post-season losses were to the eventual Super Bowl winners in those years, and it is worth considering that if you played Brady’s career in reverse everyone would be labelling him a play-off choker (with 2 losses to the Giants before he finally gets his first ring). The Falcons have to feel confident that with the season they’ve had, not to mention the squad at their disposal, they can finally put their post-season daemons to rest.

5. Green Bay Packers
The Packers may appear to be stumbling with that loss to the Vikings, but I feel fairly sure they will recover in time to enact revenge on Minnesota this weekend. Rodgers is still a top 3 QB, and you can never count the Packers out when he is at the helm. I like them to start turning up the heat and make a concerted push for another ring.

6. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle probably don’t deserve to be this low – but they could have really done with the Niners losing to either NE or the Cards so they could grab the divison. A tough away trip to Washington is probably the last thing this team wanted, but with Wilson playing at such a high level I don’t feel comfortable counting them out. At home they should be favourites to beat anyone in the league, so it’s unfortunate they look like being forced into repeat away games if they want to make a push for glory. 

7. Houston Texans
Two upset losses in as many weeks to close the season is not the way Houston planned on entering the playoffs. As it is they’ve lost out on a bye week and will have to beat the Bengals (by no means a gimme) if they want to progress. Despite that their form throughout the season means they can’t be discounted, and with the talent at their disposal they shouldn’t be overlooked.

8. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore aren’t in the rough position they were a couple of weeks ago - their confident victory over the Giants has given them a huge boost (Sunday’s loss to Cincy doesn't count due to starters being benched). Add to that Lewis letting the team know this will be ‘his last ride’ and you have a potent combination that could cause some upsets, but only if they first see off the feisty Colts this weekend.

9. Washington Redskins
Let’s not forget this is a team on a 7 game winning streak, with one of the most impressive young players to ever grace the NFL (and I could be talking about either their QB or RB here), not to mention a defence that’s finally starting to pull its weight. However, as much as I love what the Redskins have become this season they have a brutal test in store at the hands of the visiting Seahawks. Should they make it past them then the sky is the limit, but there are no easy games in the play-offs.  

10. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals boast an impressive defence, plus the offensive weapons to gouge any defence. However I can’t see them being able to pull off repeat upsets, which is what they’ll need to do if they hope to make it to the big dance. Beating Houston this weekend might change my mind.

11. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings scrape into the play-offs and AP narrowly misses out on the records books. I’m not convinced they can repeat that kind of performance when GB know their fate is on the line, but if Ponder keeps playing at the level he did and AP doesn’t tire (I’m not sure he knows the meaning of the word), then there’s every chance they could go on a run.

12. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts being the ‘worst’ team in the post-season shows you how high the calibre is this year (please don’t do anything stupid and expand the play-offs, Roger). Luck has been impressive, if risky, this season – but for a team that has made it’s living on dramatic comebacks and last drive heroics the post-season is a daunting prospect. I can’t see the Colts being able to progress far facing up against teams who will be far more unforgiving of slip ups than some that they’ve faced this season. However, if they can beat the likes of Houston and Green Bay in the regular season they always have an outside shot at winning it all.


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