With every team having played at least 8 games, lets call this the midway point of the season which is a perfect time for the second edition of ‘If The Season Ended Today’. This segment first appeared in ‘Is It September Yet?’ after week 5 of NFL play, and if you remember correctly I had Houston beating San Francisco for their first Super Bowl title. Keep reading and you’ll see if I think Houston’s still the team to beat, or if there’s another NFL power that has emerged.
Before I move on I must address some confusion that my first attempt at this subject caused. There were some readers who thought I left deserving teams out of the playoffs after five weeks. But the most important thing to remember is I’m not choosing who I think would make the playoffs, I’m telling you who would ‘literally’ qualify for the postseason ‘if the season ended today’. If for some reason Roger Goodell decided he was shutting the regular season down tomorrow, these are the 12 teams that would qualify and the seeds they would qualify as. So while you can question my predictions of the playoff games themselves, the teams in those games aren’t debatable.
‘If the Season Were to End Today’ your playoff teams would be:
In the NFC: 1.ATLANTA (8-0) 2.CHICAGO (7-1) 3.SAN FRANCISCO (6-2) 4.NY GIANTS (6-3) 5.GREEN BAY (6-3) 6.SEATTLE (5-4)
In the AFC: 1.HOUSTON (7-1) 2.BALTIMORE (6-2) 3.NEW ENGLAND (5-3) 4.DENVER (5-3) 5.INDIANAPOLIS (5-3) 6.PITTSBURGH (5-3)
Seattle @ San Francisco: We saw what would happen a couple of week ago if these two teams were to play in San Francisco. The 49ers won 13-6 and I’ve seen nothing to make me think this result would be any different. I’ll take the 49ers.
Green Bay @ NY Giants: We’ve seen this movie before. An under appreciated Giants team playing against a high powered offensive juggernaut in the playoffs. They’ve done it 5 times in the last 5 years against the Packers, Patriots and Falcons. They won each time and they will do it again here, especially with Green Bay missing Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Clay Matthews. Give me the champs.
Pittsburgh @ New England: I don’t know how they’ve done it, but Pittsburgh who I thought was an 8-8 team at best, is rounding out into one of the better teams in the NFL. Unfortunately they draw another NFL superpower here in the Patriots. The Steelers have appeared to regain some of their defensive swagger, but still don’t have the kind of defensive line play you need to make Tom Brady uncomfortable. So while Pittsburgh will have no problem putting up points, they won’t be able to score enough. New England advances to round two.
Indianapolis @ Denver: Wow, if CBS Sports could end of the regular season today, they would, because this a match up the studio heads would love to see. Former Colt great Peyton Manning facing his old team and the next ‘soon to be legend’ in line, #1 draft pick Andrew Luck.
It’s been a magical run for this Indy team that won only 2 games a year ago, but this is where it ends. Forget about the stats and the matchups, Peyton is not losing to the team that essentially let him go when he got injured two years ago. Denver gets the victory.
NY Giants @ Atlanta: Another playoff rematch against a high powered offensive opponent for The Giants. Last year they faced off in New York and Atlanta was held to 2 points in defeat. They are a better team now, but chock this up as more playoff bad luck for the Falcons as they’ve simply drawn the wrong opponent. The Giants will have no fear of the plodding Michael Turner, and will stack the backfield with defenders, while their front four still puts Matty Ice on his keester.
Head Coach Mike Smith and TE Tony Gonzalez remain winless in the playoffs for their illustrious careers. I’ll take New York.
San Francisco @ Chicago: Old time football at it’s best here, as two of the most ferocious defenses in the league face off. The D’s almost cancel out each other, so lets focus on the offenses and who’s more likely to make that one big play that might make all the difference.
Chicago’s Jay Cutler is more likely to win the game than SF’s Alex Smith, but he’s also more likely to lose it as well. I expect the 49ers best offensive weapon, TE Vernon Davis, to see a lot of the Bears shutdown corner ‘Peanut’ Tillman and Chicago’s offensive star Brandon Marshall, to see lots of extra attention as there’s no one else in the passing game San Francisco has to scheme for.
Both have good RBs that might be be able to find holes running up the middle, but I see no discernible difference there.
If we move to special teams, I have equal faith in Robbie Gould (Chi) and David Akers(SF) making big kicks and dynamic returners Devin Hester (Chi) and Ted Ginn (SF) seeing no kicks headed in their direction.
In the end maybe I will go back to the defenses. Of the two, Chicago has proved more capable of turning their turnovers directly into touchdowns. Just one might be all they need to win. I’ll take Chicago.
Denver @ Houston: I can’t be more impressed with the job Peyton Manning has done in Denver and while his team as a whole keeps improving I still think they’re a bit of a paper tiger. Manning’s late game heroics make them appear a little better than they actually are.
Houston already won in Colorado earlier this year, and it would have been by double digits had they not appeared to take their foot of the gas in the 4th quarter. Kubiak was maybe showing too much respect to the team that made him who he is today? With a spot in the Conference finals on the line, Houston won’t do that again. The Texans move on to the final four.
New England @ Baltimore: Don’t let the record fool you, the Ravens are garbage. Joe Flacco is terrible, he has no one to throw too and the defense is an absolute shell of itself. It’s Ray Rice or bust and that simply won’t cut it against New England.
Yes, the Ravens get up for the Pats, and did beat them earlier on this season, but it took a field goal as time expired to get that win and Baltimore will be without the services of pro bowl corner Lardarius Webb for the rematch.
It would take an otherworldly effort from Terrell Suggs to win this one, but as the star LB is still not 100 percent, I don’t see that happening. Give me New England.
NY Giants @ Chicago: Finally NY doesn’t get a matchup that suits their skill set. This isn’t a high octane offensive team that the Giants can frustrate by putting the opposing QB on his back. Don’t get me wrong New York will get in Jay Cutler’s face and disrupt his game, but Chicago doesn’t need a free flowing offense to win. They are just fine winning ugly.
I see this contest playing much like 2012’s NFC Conference Final between NY and SF (another defensive minded team) and if I remember correctly the Giant’s would have lost that game had it not been for two special teams fumbles by 49ers rookie Kyle Williams. Chicago’s Devin Hester, won’t have a chance to fumble away the game because New York won’t kick it to him.
This contest is a coin flip, and in cases like that I’ll side with the home team. Chicago advances to the Super Bowl.
New England @ Houston: After seeing a cupcake defense like the Ravens’ (who would have ever thought that word would be used to describe a once proud defense) the Pats face a real test in the Houston Texans. I don’t see this d-line allowing Tom Brady the type of freedom he had in earlier playoff games, and when you get a player in his face the wheels quickly come off the tracks.
Houston’s JJ Watt seems to be one of those special players, who plays better as the stakes improve. I see a monster game from him here complementing what should be a good performance from running back Arian Foster on the other side of the ball.
New England has a strong run defense, but will still require extra help to contain Foster. That will leave an already suspect defensive backfield even more vulnerable. Andre Johnson, who stepped up in last years playoffs, should be able to take advantage of it.
Houston wins the AFC crown.
Chicago Bears vs Houston Texans: These two teams actually play this Sunday in Chicago, so it’s unfortunate I can’t wait a week to see how this hypothetical Super Bowl matchup would pan out. If I was to wait for every matchup that was ‘about’ to happen, you wouldn’t have this article until the end of the year.
Houston struggled against the only NFC opponent they’ve played thus far, the Packers, but when Green Bay’s clicking on all cylinders there isn’t a defense in the world that can stop them.
The Bears on the other hand will need an otherworldly performance from QB Jay Cutler to put points up on Houston, but his success is tied to that of WR Brandon Marshall. The Texans have one of the few corners in the league, Jarrod Joseph, that can at least contain the big guy.
On the flipside, the Bears defense is not impenetrable, there’s no defense in the league that is, and lot of their success relies on point producing turnovers. I expect a very conservative run heavy attack from the Texans that keeps the ball in the secure hands of Arian Foster. He has yet to fumble the ball once in over 200 carries or catches this season. Oh yeah, he can run a little too. I know Chicago has an outstanding run defense, but so far in his career Foster has proven to be pretty much run defense proof.
I don’t expect him to go off, but what he does give the AFC champs will be just enough to get them the win. Once again, I’ll take Houston to win the Super Bowl.
Back to the present, before making this weeks predictions I’d like to give a shout out to two special performances from Week 9. If you haven’t seen it already, watch cancer survivor Chuck Pagano’s post game speech following Indy’s win over Miami. It will bring tears to your eyes and fire you up all at the same time.
And how about Buccaneers’ rookie Doug Martin? 272 total yards and 4 TDs, including scoring runs of 45, 67 and 70 yards. Tampa Bay need everyone of them too, in a 42-32 win over the Raiders. It’s rumoured he single handedly helped a certain ‘Is It September Yet’ writer win his week 9 fantasy football matchup. Just saying.
On to week 10:
I don't like a young team like the Colts (5-3) in this situation. On the road, on a short week, playing a team they should beat and off an emotional victory.
While for 1-6 Jacksonville, playing in this nationally televised Thursday night game with the entire sports world watching, might bring out their best performance of the season.
Having said that, there's no way I can back one of the worst teams in football. I'll take the Colts.
SAN DIEGO@TAMPA BAY
The two bet against situations I most frequently mention in my predictions are: road teams on short rest; and west coast teams playing early games on the east coast. The latter applies here.
Tampa Bays horrendous pass defense does give me pause, but the Chargers (4-4) aren't the team to buck that west to east trend.
Doug Martin won't have another 250 yards and 4 TDs, but he should continue produce at a pro bowl pace. Give me the Bucs (4-4)
By the way, you can add Martin to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as the top rookie of the year candidates.
They may have 3 wins, but I don't think the Titans (3-4) have played well once this season. Their offense is inconsistent and their defense horrendous. Their only saving grace is special teams, which have been directly responsible for two of their victories.
The Dolphins (4-4) have been highly competitive in every game since week 2 , and as they proved against the Jets, can overwhelm a bad opponent.
If the Titans don't qualify as a bad opponent, I don't know what does. The Dolphins win easily.
This is another easy decision. The Bills (3-5) used whatever adjustments they made during their bye week, just to stay competitive in a 12 point 'loss' at Houston. So what chance do they have against a Pats (5-3) team coming off their bye?
Once in a blue moon Buffalo produces a surprisingly competitive effort in New England. This won't be one of those times. New England wins by more than 20 for the second game in a row.
I may have misjudged this Panthers team (2-6). I thought their last second loss two weeks ago in Chicago was the best they had to offer. But then last week they hold the high powered Washington offense to 13 points in an eight point victory. If you exclude their week 3 performance versus the Giants, 5 of their losses have come by a combined 18 points.
On the other hand the Broncos (5-3) have had to rally in the 4th quarter to win three of their games.
I'm not suggesting Carolina is better, but it's a lot closer than people think. Denver benefits from head coach John Fox's familiarity with his former team, but is burdened by their 4th road game in 5 weeks. Call me crazy, but I'm rolling with the Panthers.
Another situation I don't like to bet against are teams about to go on their bye week. Maybe it's because players are already daydreaming about vacation plans, but teams are 9-19 in games directly before their week off.
The Giants (6-3) are one of those teams heading into Cincinnati (3-5). Had N.Y. not given away a game last week versus Pittsburgh I might be thinking upset here, but I think that loss will give them focus and motivation needed to go into the break strong.
The Giants buck the bye week trend and get the win.
All season the Vikings (5-4) have employed one of the most conservative offensive game plans in the league, rarely asking second year starter Christian Ponder to throw more than 8 yards downfield. It’s been successful in large part due to the suffocating performances of their defense.
Well in the last two week that defense has conceded more than 30 points a game, and so that low risk offense has become an anchor, dragging this team down the NFC north Standings. When they fall behind they simply don't have the guns to come back.
I suspect they'll fall behind here versus Detroit (4-4). Buoyed by an emerging running game this Detroit offense has finally started to click. If Minnesota has to respect that and can't put extra defenders in the backfield to assist a suspect pass defense, then Stafford will pick them apart.
Unless the Vikings gets a big special team play like they did in their first meeting, I can't see them winning this one. I don't like to take road teams in divisional games, but I'll do it here. Give me Detroit.
Atlanta (8-0) is another team playing a divisional road game that I'm leaning towards. The Falcons offense isn't as good as New Orleans' but should outproduce them since their facing that horrendous Saints defense. On the flipside Atlanta has the defensive pieces to at least slow Drew Bree's down.
The Saints (3-5) are coming off an impressive win on paper vs Philadelphia (28-13), but if you look a little closer you can see that the Eagles shot themselves in the foot. Poor execution in the red zone left at least 14 points off the board.
Atlanta scored on 6 straight possessions in easily beating that same team 30-17 in Philadelphia in week 8.
The Falcons have been a little lucky in at least half their wins, and the Saints always get up to play this their fiercest division rivals, so picking Atlanta isn't easy. But much like I won't keep picking the Jags until they start winning, I'm not going against Atlanta anymore until they start losing. Give me the road team.
The Jets (3-5) are coming off a much need break following a 30-9 humiliation at the hands of Miami. But what possible tweaks could they have made in just a week, that would allow them to win in arguably the toughest place to play in the league.
Seattle (5-4) normally isn't the most difficult offense to contain, but that's fine by the Seahawks. All they need to do is stay on the field with Marshawn Lynch led, clock eating drives and they're ferocious defense will do the rest.
The Jets Shonn Greene might be able to run up the gut against a ‘Hawks d-line that's been exposed a little that past two weeks, but the timid jets receivers will get eaten up by the secondary.
The Seahawks remain unbeaten at home, but I wouldn't put any money on it. Not only are the Jets coming off that bye, but Seattle’s about to go on one. Not the friendliest combination for a winning wager. If you’re into that sort of thing.
Realistic playoff hopes are on the line here, as these two 3-5 underachievers face off in Philly. It wouldn't be a tremendous stretch to think that the loser will have a new head coach heading into week 11, though it’s doubtful either is back in 2013 anyway.
Dallas could easily be 6-2, but continue to find new ways to lose games. That might be hard to do here, as Philly is equally efficient at beating themselves.
In the end while both offenses have been a comedy of errors, the Cowboys’ D continues to compete, while the Eagles unit appears to have lost all direction.
Believe it or not I'm taking the road team in a divisional game for the third time this week. Give me Dallas.
San Francisco (6-2) might be the clear favourite, but i don't think they're the 12.5 points better that Vegas has valued them at. The St.Louis defense was ravaged in a 45-7 loss to the Patriots two weeks ago, but a lot of that had to do with the opponent. The 49ers don't have the weapons that will force the Rams out of their comfort zone on defense like New England did.
What is far more troubling for St.Louis (3-4), is that they were shut out after scoring the first 7 points of that game in London and the Pats don't have half the defense that San Francisco has.
What should really make this a highly contested battle, is that Rams coach Jeff Fisher has had two weeks to pick apart what went wrong in that 38 point loss and right the ship. I'm expecting the St.Louis’ best performance of the season on Sunday.
Meanwhile the 49ers also had a week of rest, but their last game before the bye was a convincing 24-3 win at Arizona. Its much harder to inspire improvement in teams during a break when they've had that extra week to bask in their own success.
I like San Francisco to win, but it will be a lot closer than most people think.
If you read my introduction to this weeks picks, you'll see I had Houston beating Chicago in the SuperBowl if the season ended today. Of course that would take place on a neutral site and this one’s in Chicago, but I don't think it changes my opinion.
While the Bears (7-1) do practice forcing and scoring on turnovers, the rate with which they are doing it this season can't be maintained. There stands to be some regression to the mean. If it happens here, I question where their points will come from against this stout Texans defense. Especially if Jarrod Joseph locks down Brandon Marshall as he's capable of doing.
The NFC has been the clearly better conference this season, and that was no more evident than in the Packers humbling of the unbeaten Texans in Week 6. As odd as it sounds, I believe Houston (7-1) will view this game as payback for that beating. I think they'll be motivated to prove that the best teams in the AFC aren't just doormats for the powers that be in the NFC. Give me Houston.
Do we really have to discuss this one? Kansas City is 1-7; The Steelers are 5-3. My only question is what motivated the studio heads at ESPN to request this stinker as their game of the week?
Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh.
Lets go back to the well people. West coast teams travelling east for early Sunday action can't be trusted. Problem is I don't trust the Ravens (6-2) either, as they won yet another game last week that they should have lost.
The Browns bailed them out by not converting one of their five scoring drives in to touchdowns, as they once again showed how fallible this Raven's defence is.
The Raiders (3-5) should be able to expose them, but it still would have helped more if they had the injured Darren McFadden. His absence might make the difference here as the Baltimore's offence should have no problem putting up 30 points themselves, which might be three more than Oakland's capable off.
I'll reluctantly take the Ravens.