NFL Playoff Predictions – Surviving the Dark Days of January Football

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..”-Charles Dickens

My freshman year of high school in English class, we had to read A Tale of Two Cities. Although I didn’t retain much from the literary classic, it has arguably the most memorable first line of any novel in any era. Dickens’s famous opening line was setting the stage of radical opposition to the ruling class in Paris and London, along with the themes of his novel. I’m going to borrow this phrase as a way to express my feelings about January football, post the college national championship game. During this season I have mentioned many times my feelings of dread as we get closer to the end. After toughing out the summer mini camps and preseason, the first college games of the year/NFL week one really is a religious experience for those who have a similar football obsession. Although the later it gets, the more exciting it gets, I can’t help but look at the calendar and realize that our football days are drawing to a close. Each week brings fewer games, less opportunity to cash in on favorable lines, and less options to hit that big parlay that many chase all year. The good news is January football means high stakes and good matchups for the teams that have survived the regular season. We already got a taste of that January magic, with one of the best college National Championship games of the last 20 years. Clemson took down Alabama on the last play of the game, to the delight of those who had Clemson +6.5 or the money line around +200. If you are a loyal reader of VSP and my columns, you remember that back before the college season started I made predictions on the four team playoff and national champion. Of course I chose Clemson to win it all; with my actual prediction was Clemson over Michigan, along with Alabama and Oklahoma as the other 2 playoff teams. I feel like Nostradamus would feel like if he were alive to revel in his correct predictions hundreds of years into the future. I’m just starting with predicting events 4 months ahead of time, baby steps!

With that in mind, I decided to dust of my predicting skills now that we have narrowed down the field to eight NFL teams left in the divisional playoff round. At this point, these matchups have been broken down and discussed to death on ESPN, FS1, sports talk radio, and the local experts near you. Dave and I did a more detailed breakdown of the games on this week’s VSP podcast (available on iTunes, Soundcloud, etc) and I will also make my picks against the spread at the end of this column. I have devised a rather simple 3 category ranking system which will not only be a guide to this week’s games, but also a guide to the matchup in Super Bowl 51. A large part of the category ranking will be based upon where teams and players are at right now, living in the moment. I really don’t care what you did in week three or week ten. I will factor in historical performance and experience in the playoffs, as that can be a major factor in deciding who moves on.

I will add up the total score of the 3 categories to set a playoff power ranking. Like golf, low score wins. The three categories I used to rank teams from 1-8 is as follows:

QB Rankings- There is no question that you need a stud quarterback to win the Super Bowl (apologies to Dilfer, Brad Johnson, and Broken Neck Peyton Manning). The idea is pretty simple, the top QB will be ranked #1, while the worst (Spoiler alert: It’s Brockweiler!) will be ranked #8.

1. Aaron Rodgers- Packers
2. Tom Brady- Patriots
3. Matt Ryan- Falcons
4. Ben Roethlisberger- Steelers
5. Russell Wilson- Seahawks
6. Dak Prescott- Cowboys
7. Alex Smith- Chiefs
8. Brockweiler- Texans

If I were to do a mock draft of the playoff QB’s, I would take them in this order. 1-5 include four Super Bowl winners, and this year’s probable MVP in Matt Ryan. Dak has the unknown factor going for him, which could be a positive or big negative. Unfortunately for Smith and Brockweiler, we HAVE seen them play before, and it isn’t pretty!

Coaching- Same as for QB’s, I rank the coaches based upon their in game tendencies, and also factor in experience. In my opinion, strong coaching and strategy is almost as important as having a stud QB. A great head coach can overcome a better team with better QB, where as a Mike McCarthy can ruin a great QB and solid team by mismanagement and incompetence. Just get the fuck out of the way and let #12 do work!

1. Bill Belichick- Patriots
2. Pete Carroll- Seattle
3. Andy Reid- Chiefs
4. Jason Garrett- Cowboys
5. Mike McCarthy- Packers
6. Dan Quinn- Falcons
7. Mike Tomlin- Steelers
8. Bill O’Brien- Texans

HOT Factor- This category covers how teams are playing right now, along with injuries, and overall competence in pressure situations. A team doesn’t want to peak in week 10, they want to be healthy and rolling come December and January.

1. Green Bay Packers
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. New England Patriots
4. Dallas Cowboys
5. Atlanta Falcons
6. Kansas City Chiefs
7. Seattle Seahawks
8. Houston Texans

No one is looking better right now than the Packers, winners of seven in a row. Rodgers has found his groove, and even with Jordy Nelson out, their offense will be tough to beat. The Steelers have actually won eight in a row, but have some questions marks, and lacked competition late in their winning streak. Big Ben was in a walking boot following the win over Miami, but he has delivered in the playoffs banged up many times. The Pats and Cowboys did nothing negative, but by having a bye they might have lost momentum they gained during the regular season. The Seahawks are the most injured team on the list, and even factoring in their usual playoff magic/bullshit, they might struggle on the road. The Texans and Bill O’Brien? They are just happy to be here at this point.

Final Rankings
1. New England Patriots (6 points)
2. Green Bay Packers (7 points)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (13 points)
4. Dallas Cowboys (14 points)
4. Atlanta Falcons (14 points)
4. Seattle Seahawks (14 points)
7. Kansas City Chiefs (16 points)
8. Houston Texans (24 points)

According to my calculations, we are headed toward a Pittsburgh at New England AFC Championship, along with a Green Bay at Atlanta matchup. Trusting the rankings, that gives us Patriots vs. Packers in Super Bowl 51, rematch of Super Bowl 31!…..a good old fashion Ashley Schafer-style showdown between the #12’s. The rankings say that the Pats will reign supreme this year in a matchup that everyone would want to see.
Divisional Round Predictions (ATS-Home team in CAPS)

FALCONS (-5) over Seahawks
PATRIOTS (-16) over Texans
Steelers (+1.5) over CHIEFS
Packers (+4.5) over COWBOYS

Make sure you download and subscribe to the VSP podcast, with new episodes every week. Follow us on Twitter @LvSportsPress, and like us on Facebook and Instagram. Savor these last few weekends, and enjoy the madness of January football!

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