The 2011 NFL regular season ended on New Year's Day, leaving 12 teams to vie for the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl on February 5 in Indianapolis. The tournament starts Saturday with the Wild Card round, but first let's take a look at the seedings in each conference.
1. New England
Three teams from the AFC North? Yep. The Jets collapsed down the stretch, losing badly to the Eagles & Giants, then falling short against Miami. Rex Ryan, they can say, wrote a check with his mouth that his team couldn't cash at the finish line. The fickle New York media could've turned on Ryan if not for Santonio Holmes, who was the target of the media's ire in the aftermath on Sunday. I didn't see the game, as I was out most of the afternoon, but the implication was that Holmes, held in check by the Dolphin defense, butted heads with teammates and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and was pulled in the 4th quarter. This may have been Schottenheimer's last game with the Jets, if the media's predictions are true. I digress. Cincinnati and West winner Denver backed in after both teams lost late games (to Baltimore & Kansas City, respectively), and there's always the chance neither team could get through the first round.
Wild Card Schedule:
Cincinnati at Houston
Pittsburgh at Denver
The Steelers-Broncos game won't exactly bring back memories of classic matchups of yore, not with Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger nursing injuries, leaving him unable to be equally matched against Denver's 2nd year phenom, Tim Tebow. This one is really too tough to call already. The Broncos, like the Jets, lost their last three, blown out by the Patriots & Bills, and then failing late vs. the Chiefs. If Denver wins, well, guess who's next? Yep, the hated Patriots, unless Cincinnati upsets Houston, and then the Bengals will travel to Foxborough.
Tebow will have to wait for revenge on the Pats. I see Pittsburgh's veteran experience prevailing here, but they won't be visiting New England, either. With Houston's injury issues, despite their outstanding running game, I can't see them beating Cincinnati and their rookie QB, Andy Dalton. Hence, in the divisional round, it'll be Pats-Bengals, and Ravens-Steelers.
1. Green Bay
2. San Francisco
3. New Orleans
The Lions are in the postseason for the first time since the end of the 20th century. That's the good news. The bad news is that they have an almost instant rematch with a team that recently blew them off the field. They had a chance to upgrade, but couldn't hold off the Pack on Sunday. Atlanta, meanwhile, blew out Tampa Bay, then finalized their travel plans when the Giants completed a season sweep of the Cowboys, as Tony Romo's late-season folding pattern held true.
Wild Card Schedule:
Atlanta at Giants
Detroit at New Orleans
Again, this is too easy. The Saints dusted all three of the others in the last three weeks, and have all the momentum. They will handle Detroit again, but the Falcons-Giants game is another tough call. Can the Falcon defense contain New York's own 2nd year wonder, Victor Cruz? Can they keep Eli Manning from another 4th quarter rally? Remember, the Falcons have had their issues this season. For what it's worth, we'll take the Saints & Giants, as home field advantage will prevail in the NFC, setting up the Giants for a rematch against Green Bay. Some people feel the Giants got screwed last time because of a missed call. Had the refs got it right, the Pack's unbeaten streak would've ended at the Meadowlands instead of against Kansas City. New Orleans would then travel to San Francisco to play the resurgent Niners and likely Coach of the Year Jim Harbaugh.
Looking further ahead, the conference championship games figure to be:
NFC: New Orleans at Green Bay. (sorry, Giants fans, it just isn't your year)
AFC: Baltimore at New England. The Ravens have beaten the Pats at Gillette Stadium before, and there's no reason to think they can't do it again, provided of course the game is called fairly, and it rarely is in Foxborough. The NFL's unofficial Star System gets in the way.
And, so the Super Bowl figures to be...............Ravens vs. Packers. Of course, I could be wrong.......