Since I don’t have as much time as I thought I would to break down this week’s Wild Card games (the first one starts in less than two hours), I’ll have to settle for a playoff version of the NFL Ladder.If you’ve seen any of my UFC Ladders or my NFL Ladder from Week 12, you know how the “ladder” concept works.
For this one, I have three rungs. The first rung is for my Super Bowl-caliber teams. Technically all 12 teams are “Super Bowl-caliber”, since the playoffs are so unpredictable, but the teams on this rung stand above the pack. The second rung is for teams that I feel are built for a postseason run. Their strengths are strong and their weaknesses can be worked around, for the most part. The third rung is for the teams I just can’t see going all the way. Somewhat of a bold statement, since I’m writing off five teams right off the bat, but it is what it is.
First Rung (Super Bowl Favorites): New England, Denver, Green Bay, San Francisco
In many ways, Houston’s loss to Indianapolis last week just felt right. Love them or hate them, Tom Brady’s and Peyton Manning’s teams seem entitled to first-round byes in the AFC playoffs, in the hopes that we’ll see them face off once again in the AFC Championship game.
As far as the NFC goes, San Francisco shouldn’t be a surprise. When Jim Harbaugh made the switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick mid-season, fans wondered why the Niners would jeopardize their stable quarterback situation with a second-year variable out of Nevada. Kaepernick’s performance has been a pleasant surprise and he doesn’t show signs of slowing in January.
Now the Green Bay pick…I should probably explain how high I am on a Green Bay-Denver Super Bowl. Yes, this Packers team has been a shadow of the 15-1 squad from last season, but their 9-7 Super Bowl team of 2010 didn’t look like world-beaters until the postseason.
Second Rung (Built For A Run): Seattle, Baltimore, Houston
Not only has Russell Wilson been the more impressive of the three rookie playoff quarterbacks during the second half of the season, the Seahawks are easily the more talented team of the three. They’ll likely be on the road throughout the playoffs, but they’re a much improved away since their overtime upset of Chicago.
I thought about putting both Baltimore and Houston on the third rung, but the Ravens have turned in some impressive playoff performances in recent years. And if Houston’s secondary can stay within ten yards of a receiver, they’re also good enough to win a game or two.
Third Rung (…I Don’t See It Happening): Cincinnati, Washington, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Atlanta
I’m posting picks after this, but let’s just say that I don’t expect four of these teams to make it past this weekend. As far as the #1 seed in the NFC is concerned, I’m just not convinced that they have what it takes to make a Super Bowl – despite the fact that they only need two wins to do so. They’ve played bad teams way too close at home this season.