Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Justin's Take: NFL Playoff and Off-Seaon Look Ahead

Hello Everyone. Instead of reviewing Week 17 like I would normally do here, I'm going to take a look ahead to the NFL Playoffs and Off-Season in this week's post. Not much to review about Week 17 without talking about both of those topics. Right now everyone is talking about the Playoffs and Coaching Moves, so why not talk about it here?

Ranking the Playoff Teams
12. Indianapolis Colts
-The Colts have been a great story all year. If you picked them to finish 11-5, then you are either a die hard Colts fan or have some psychic ability. They played well despite Coach Chuck Pagano leaving due to leukemia. Pagano is back, and you know the Colts will go all out for him. But the Colts defense scares me, especially their run defense. I think Ray Rice has a big game against them. Indy has been a good story but they are a long shot to win it all.

11. Minnesota Vikings
-For the Green Bay Packers, they can only hope to contain Adrian Peterson. Minnesota will go as far as Peterson can take them. If he gets going, he can carry the Vikings offense by himself. But Christian Ponder is going to have to make some plays as well. He had a couple of bad interceptions the last time Minnesota was in Green Bay. Vikings could also be without CB Antoine Winfield due to a broken hand. Minnesota needs others to step up and help AP.

10. Baltimore Ravens
-Is Joe Flacco elite? That will be the question every Ravens fan will want answered heading into the Playoffs. Flacco wants a new contract and top money this off-season, but he needs to show he is worth it first. Baltimore is an aging team and this may be their last possible run at a Super Bowl with the team built as it is. Will the return of Ray Lewis help an injury plagued defense? I'm skeptical.

9. Washington Redskins
-Washington won seven in a row to get into the Playoffs. Robert Griffin is the new star of the NFL, but he has not looked the same since suffering a knee injury against the Ravens. Griffin didn't have his full burst of speed the last two games. The good thing for RG3 is that RB Alfred Morris can shoulder the load on the ground. But will the Redskins injuries on defense come back to haunt them this week against a red hot Seattle team?

8. Cincinnati Bengals
-I think there is going to be a changing of the guard in the coming years in the AFC North. Gone will be the days of Baltimore and Pittsburgh winning the division, and the Bengals will be the new team to beat in that division. The combination of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton will be a dangerous one to stop for years to come. Cincinnati will be a tough out for the Texans.

7. Houston Texans
-I for one thought this was going to be the Texans year. Everything was lined up for them to take a run at a Title. With one month left to go in the season, Houston was looking at home field advantage and a first round bye. Now there are questions of whether they will even make it out of the first round. The Texans have been struggling to stop opponents. They may be one and done in the post-season.

6. San Francisco 49ers
-Yes they won their division, but the 49ers still have some question marks, at least for me, going into the Playoffs. The biggest one being which Colin Kapernick will show up. Will it be the one that decimated the New England Patriots? Or the one that struggled to get going against the Seahawks? We know the defense will be up for the challenge. But if Kapernick can't get going, where will the offense come from?

5. Seattle Seahawks
-Here is my team to watch in the Playoffs. Seattle is riding a five game winning streak headed into the post-season. The offense has been putting up points in bunches. And the defense is one of the best in the NFL. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks read-option offense is very dangerous and a nightmare for opposing defenses. Seattle has shown they can win on the road recently. If teams want to beat this team, they have to focus on shutting down the option offense, and that is difficult to do.

4. Green Bay Packers
-Last year the Packers were the Super Bowl favorites heading into the Playoffs. Then they were out in the Divisional round after being handled by the Giants. Will the Packers be looking at a repeat of last year? They have to find a way to contain Adrian Peterson. If the Packers can stop him, I can't see them losing this game. But you have to be worried about the defense if you are Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers can't do everything on his own.

3. New England Patriots
-You know Tom Brady will show up for the Playoffs. But will the defense? Sure they shut out the Dolphins to close the season. But the Pats defense can struggle at times stopping teams. The good news for New England is that Rob Gronkowski will be back. He is the most dangerous weapon on the Patriots offense. If the Patriots defense shows up to play, there is no reason they cannot get back to another Super Bowl. Brady and Bellicheck want one more ring.

2. Atlanta Falcons
-Is this finally the year for Matt Ryan? He is not won a Playoff game as starter of the Falcons. The last time Atlanta was the #1 overall seed they were run out of the building by the Green Bay Packers. But this Falcons team has more weapons on offense with Roddy White and Julio Jones on the outside. And the defense is better as well. If Ryan can't win a Playoff game with this set of WRs, then people will start to question whether he can ever win one at all.

1. Denver Broncos
-The hottest team going into the Playoffs. Denver has won 11 in a row headed into the post-season, and the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC now goes through Denver. With Peyton Manning calling the shots, Denver has a great chance to get there. The defense struggled early on but has been playing much better. You do have to worry about Peyton trying to do too much in the post-season. But I like Denver's chances against New England better with the game being in Denver. Nothing looks to be slowing down or stopping Denver. If they lose, it will be because they stopped themselves.

Playoff Predictions: AFC
Houston over Cincinnati
Baltimore over Indianapolis

Denver over Baltimore
New England over Houston

Denver over New England

Playoff Predictions: AFC
Green Bay over Minnesota
Seattle over Washington

Seattle over Atlanta
Green Bay over San Francisco

Green Bay over Seattle

Super Bowl: Denver over Green Bay

Open Head Coaching Vacancies
Philadelphia Eagles: Andy Reid is out after a long tenure with the team. The Eagles #1 target is apparently Chip Kelly, but Kelly also had other suitors in Cleveland and Buffalo. The Eagles have a lot of good pieces on offense, but the coach coming in has to determine if Nick Foles is their solution at QB. I don't see Mike Vick staying in Philly with the money he is due. If I'm the Eagles, I may take a run at Lovie Smith. Philadelphia needs someone to help fix their defense and Lovie has had very good one's in Chicago.

Chicago Bears: Lovie Smith was fired despite a 10-6 season. Smith missed the post-season more often than not and also had a tough time beating the Green Bay Packers. Smith also could never find the right offensive coordinator to work his offense. I think the Bears make a run at Broncos Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy. He fixed his offense to work for Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning.

Buffalo Bills: Russ Brandon is now acting owner of the team, as 94 year old Ralph Wilson has stepped aside and no longer has a say in day to day operations. Brandon sounds like he is ready to make a splash. Their #1 target is Chip Kelly. Expect the Bills to try their best to land him. If they can't, it looks like former Cardinals Coach Ken Wisenhunt will be their next choice. Certainly not the splash Brandon promised.

Cleveland Browns: I still believe that the new Browns owner made a mistake firing Pat Shurmur. The Browns were starting to come around at the end of the year and may have gotten even better with another year under Shurmur. The Browns will throw money at any coach. They like Chip Kelly and will also interview Syracuse coach Doug Marrone.

San Diego Chargers: The Chargers have a good offense in place. Any coach would love to come into the situation the Chargers have. Their reported top target is Indianapolis OC Bruce Arinas. I think they should take a look at Mike McCoy as well as Bengals OC Jay Gruden. Get as much out of Philip Rivers and Ryan Matthews as you can, something Norv Turner failed to do.

Arizona Cardinals: Ken Wisenhunt was let go after a season that saw him start 4-0 and finish 5-11. Andy Reid is the big name rumored to be coming to Arizona, but I wouldn't rule out DC Ray Horton. Horton is well liked by the players and did a great job with the Cardinals defense this year.

Kansas City Chiefs: Romeo Crennel was let go after a terrible season. Andy Reid will be interviewed this week. As bad as the Chiefs roster is, most coaches would like walking into a team that has the #1 overall pick. If Ray Horton doesn't get the job in Arizona, he could be a good fit here.

MVP/Offensive Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson
-There is a big QB bias in the NFL. Peyton Manning is my favorite NFL player, but it would be an absolute travesty if AP doesn't win this award. The Vikings would be a 4 win team without him. The offense would be nothing. Denver has talent and could win games with another QB, and probably still the division. Peterson has played great this year and deserves the recognition.

Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt
-This one is a toss up between Watt and Aldon Smith. I'm giving the edge to Watt simply because I think he means more to the Texans defense than Aldon Smith does to the 49ers. Watt held the Texans defense together after Brian Cushing went down with an injury. Watt gets to the QB and when he doesn't he is great at knocking down passes.

Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning
-Now here I give credit to Manning over AP. To me, comeback player means coming back and performing at a high level after missing more than half of last season. AP was hurt at the end of last season. Peyton missed an entire year of football only to comeback and play at the level he was at before missing an entire season.

Coach of the Year: Mike Shanahan
-This one was a toss up for me between Shanahan and Pete Carroll. In the end, I went with Shanahan because of how he managed to take his team from 3-6 to 10-6 and NFC East Champs. He also did it with a rookie QB and RB. Washington also lost its two best players on defense (Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan) and still managed to get where they are without them. Shanahan has done a good job with a young but talented offense and a veteran lead defense.

Until Next Time,
Justin C
Follow Me On Twitter @JCWonka

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