What a season, huh? I mean, What. A. Season. We’ve had bounty gate, the referee strike, and the simultaneous catch that wasn’t actually a simultaneous catch. There was a coach whose son fell to addiction and a coach who survived leukemia. There were players who killed themselves and who killed teammates. And a little girl who runs the football like Jim Brown.
And what about those quarterbacks? Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning. Andrew Luck turned out to be Andrew Luck. Robert Griffin III is unlike any quarterback we’ve ever seen. Russell Wilson might be the best quarterback from the 2012 draft–much to 49ers’ fans chagrin. And for the first time in what feels like a millennia, the Alex Smith era is over in San Francisco.
After it was all over, four teams arose from relative obscurity to gain entrance into the playoffs. Half of the sixteen teams competing for Super Bowl XLVII are quarterbacked by either rookies or second-year players. Though not all are favored, all have a legitimate shot at a title. The last two Super Bowl winners proceeded from the wild-card round, overcame the rigors of playing on the road, and eventually won the Super Bowl.
Indeed, there is no telling what will happen over the next month. But we’re going to try to predict it anyway.
Now, as a whole, we haven’t been all that successful in correctly predicting the outcome of games. In fact, only one us–yours truly–finished the season with an above .500 record against the spread. Hold your applause, please.
For the playoffs, we’re not picking against the spread. Instead, we’re experimenting with bracketology, or something like it. Below, you’ll find brackets for each of the “Guys.” Just one bracket each, predicting the playoffs in its entirety. To see how much better or worse our picks are versus random chance, we’ve also supplied the picks of a coin flip. But, not just any coin, we flipped a 1935 Buffalo Nickel. Because, well, why not?
Anyway, you’ll find our brackets below, along with explanations regarding AFC and NFC champions. At the end of the post, you’ll find our Super Bowl picks and are reasoning for them.
The Broncos have the probable League MVP in Peyton Manning and homefield throughout, but who have the Denver Broncos beaten? It’s not their fault they play in the same division as the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers, but their only wins against teams over .500 came in Cincinnati and Baltimore when both of those squads were reeling. With a healthy Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots are the class of the AFC until proven otherwise.
Those who have followed the 49ers for a while immediately get flashbacks to Garrison Hearst breaking his ankle in the Georgia Dome when seeing this potential NFC Championship matchup. Colin Kaepernick had some rough moments dealing with crowd noise in Seattle and St. Louis, but I believe that angle is slightly played out. More important: Atlanta has a great passing offense (4th in yards per attempt) but not much else. They rank in the bottom third in rushing yards per attempt (29th), rushing yards allowed per attempt (29th) and passing yards allowed per attempt (22nd). If Justin Smith is healthy, the 49ers should survive the NFC … thanks in no small part to the New York Giants’ terrible second half that kept them out of the playoffs.
The Ravens haven’t been particularly good as of late, but I think that changes with the addition of Ray Lewis. Lewis is not just the emotional leader for the Ravens’ defense, but he’s also the primary signal caller. Having Lewis’ expertise on the field could pay dividends not quantified by statistics. Plus, given that this will be Lewis’ final season, I think Baltimore has the emotional edge. I know Denver is tough in all phases. But I’m riding a bet I made March that says Peyton Manning’s fortune with the Broncos is the same as Joe Montana’s with the Chiefs. Which is to say, Manning won’t make it past the AFC Championship.
This is a homer pick, I know. But if the Falcons lose–and they’ve never won a playoff game with Matt Ryan–then the 49ers have home-field advantage throughout. Nobody, except for Eli Manning, can beat the 49ers at home. Sure, Colin Kaepernick can lay an egg. But I’m betting on the fact that he’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the league since he took over as a starter. Maybe the playoffs change that. But, then again, maybe they don’t. Maybe they make him better.
One more Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning match-up for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. The networks are crossing their fingers for this match-up and so am I. These are two of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL right now with great supporting casts to back things up. Brady is probably the better quarterback talent wise now with a bit of zip off some of Manning’s throws this season, but Manning is still the master at the pre-snap read and acting as the offensive coordinator on the field. I think this game comes down to the defense and where the game is played. With both of those favoring Denver with the beastly Von Miller and the home field advantage that Mile High Field includes, I will favor Denver in this game.
One of the advantages that the 49ers have over most teams is that they have a very physical style of play. They come right at you and smack you in the mouth. Well, the Seahawks are the same way and have already seen the 49ers twice this season and will not back down from that type of play. These teams have been built in similar ways, but I think that the Seahawks are a bit healthier and hitting their stride at the right moment that they will get past the banged up 49ers who are playing with half a Justin Smith (the heart of the defensive line) and a banged up team. It will probably be another close game brawl, but ultimately I imagine the Seahawks coming out on top.
It’s really hard to pick against the Patriots, but the Broncos have been rolling all season and I expect them to carry that momentum all the way into the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning is officially the one that got away, because if we’re honest with ourselves, Denver’s offense would be nothing without him. Knowshon Moreno’s revelation, much like Willis McGahee’s, wouldn’t be possible without Manning surgically destroying every defense he comes across and leaving them susceptible to the run in the process. The 49ers showed that the Patriots defense can be gotten to (come to think of it, so did the Jaguars), and while Denver’s defense is considerably tougher with an offense that can match blows with Tom Brady, I like Denver to take the AFC crown in convincing fashion.
This may be a total homer pick, but if Justin Smith is comes back and remains healthy (which I believe he will), the 49ers’ defense is well equipped to handle Atlanta’s offense. Michael Turner isn’t the kind of running back that gives San Francisco’s defense fits, and while Matt Ryan has been good this year, he still hasn’t shown that he can handle the pressure of the playoffs. Washington may be young and inexperienced enough to get bucked by the Falcons, but the 49ers have shown that they can go on the road and handle adversity, Seattle aside. This matchup will be a fun one to watch if it unfolds as I believe it will, and I’m giving the edge to the 49ers, who have taken down a couple high powered offenses this year.
The Broncos may have lost to a bunch of playoff teams early in the year, but that was before Peyton Manning got settled in Denver and got the chemistry going with his receivers. But it’s not the offense that is in question, it’s the Denver defense. Although the schedule wasn’t as tough for the Broncos later in the year, the defense, particularly the secondary, played much better. That’s why I’m betting on Peyton Manning’s Broncos to take down Tom Brady and the Patriots in a tough, tough AFC title game.
Yes, the Falcons have won seemingly all of their games by less than a touchdown. Yes, the Falcons have struggled severely in the playoffs the last few seasons. Yes, the Falcons got a little banged up in the last game of the year. But when all is said and done, Atlanta finds ways to win, especially at home. They’ve got the home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and I bet Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones score just enough points in each playoff game to win the NFC. Particularly, against the 49ers, Ryan and the offense will pick apart a 49ers defense that has looked much worse the last month or so.
Last week, the coin flip that filled in for Bay Area Sports Guy went 8-for-8. That .500 record is better than The Guy, Ruthless Sports Guy, Stats Guy and Duck Guy. And so, we’re giving the coin flip a shot at the big show. If it landed “heads” side up, it picked the home team. If it landed “tails” side up, it picked the visiting team.
Bay Area Sports Guy (BASpG): The 49ers outplayed New England the first time around in the first half, then barely held on in the second half of what was probably the best game of the regular season. Would the addition of Gronkowski be enough to change the Patriots’ fortunes in this potential rematch? Not at a neutral field. A lot will ride on Justin Smith’s health (of course) and San Francisco avoiding special teams errors like fumbled punts and missed field goals (or ill-advised field goal tries). Also, Kaepernick must maintain his poise in the biggest (hypothetical) game of his life. However, it isn’t an impossible task to beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. Eli Manning has done it twice.
Bay Area Stats Guy (BAStG): In the Super Bowl, I see the Broncos and Seahawks squaring off. The Broncos under the leadership of Peyton Manning will slowly carve up the Seahawks. Russel Wilson will be running for his life and acting like a true rookie under the pressure. In the end, the Broncos prevail in a fairly boring Super Bowl with underwhelming commercials that fail to live up to the hype. Manning says he is going to Disney World and cements his case as one of the best quarterbacks of all time and we all forget how bad a game we just watched when he is named MVP.
Bay Area Duck Guy (BADG): Yep, I’m picking the two number one seeds to meet in New Orleans. That rarely ever happens, but I think that Denver and Atlanta are the two best teams in the NFL right now. The Falcons will get past their playoff woes, until they meet Peyton Manning on the world’s biggest state. Matt Ryan is a good quarterback, but he’s not Peyton Manning. The game will be close, but Manning will show why he’s the best quarterback to ever play the game of football.
Ruthless Sports Guy (RSG): Despite the recent panic over the 49ers’ defense, I still believe they have the best of the teams whose Lombardi dreams are still intact. Of the 11 teams that fell to Denver on their win streak, only Cincinnati ended up in the top ten for points allowed this season. Four of their last 11 opponents ended up in the bottom ten. What’s my point? Even with the debacle in Seattle, San Francisco is still the #2 defense in the league at keeping their opponents out of the endzone. Denver hasn’t faced competition like the 49ers all season, and in the biggest game of their careers, the 49ers will bring a sixth Super Bowl Championship to the city of San Francisco.
East Bay Sports Guy (EBSG): Is there any chance that Jim Harbaugh loses to this brother again? I don’t think so. The 49ers will win this game by a field goal that’ll come off the foot of Billy Cundiff. It’s poetic. As they all are, right?
Coin Flip: Since this game is on neutral ground, I assigned the Texans to “heads” and 49ers to “tails.” As you can see, it came up tails. What are the odds?
Brackets provided by Lisa Shaffer