Late November I wrote my snotty predictions for the playoffs and, to be honest, I was pretty accurate. But so were most sports pundits. It wasn't too hard to predict by then.
Then: the four major players in the NFL were the Eagles, the Patriots, the Steelers and the Vikings with the Saints as the number one wild card team.
Now: The four major players have proven to be: the Patriots, the Saints, the Steelers and the Vikings.
Sorry, Philly fans, as soon as your QB1 went down in week 15 your fate as a one and done playoff team was sealed.
On the other hand I think every football fan was shocked to see the Tennessee Titans snatch a victory away from KC with their 18 unanswered points. KC fans were probably sick about that.
And speaking of the Chiefs - what idiot breaks news that you are open to trading your star quarterback hours before your playoff game? You know, your star QB that led the fucking NFL in passer rating, averaged almost 6 yards per rush and wins your division for you?
Yeah, let’s get rid of that guy. And let’s tell the world about it a few hours before he plays for us in the Wild Card playoff match.
But I digress. We have eight teams left in the playoffs:
NFC (National Football Conference)
Atlanta (11-6) vs. Philadelphia (13-3) and New Orleans (12-5) vs Minnesota (13-3)
AFC (American Football Conference)
Tennessee (10-7) vs. New England (13-3) and Jacksonville (11-6) vs. Pittsburg (13-3)
Tennessee Titans vs. the New England Patriots
Let’s get the easy one out of the way. The Tennessee Titans are worst team in the line up. Through sheer determination, luck and the “Chief’s can’t win a fucking playoff game to save their lives” curse - the Titans barely squeaked into the Divisional round but that’s where their season ends.
Prediction: New England will crush the overwhelmed Titans.
Atlanta Falcons vs. The Philadelphia Eagles
The second easy one. With Carson Wentz injured the Eagles are no longer a Super Bowl contender with QB2 Nick Foles leading the team. Foles has had a long decent, though inconsistent career. He’s a fine QB. He is not the man that will beat the Falcons.
Prediction: Atlanta Falcons -- but the game will be a closer than most suspect.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. The Pittsburgh Steelers
This is little more difficult to predict. “Big Ben” Roethlisberger is on fire and the Steelers put up the number three offense in the league behind only the Patriots and the Saints. But Jacksonville put together the most uncanny defense the league has seen in a while. Seriously. My roommate had Jacksonville for defense on his Fantasy Football team and he told me about it every week for the entire season:
“The Jaguars got me another fifty points on defense! Fifty points! That’s more than Tom Brady!”
By comparison the Steelers have the 5th ranked Defense and Jacksonville has the 6th ranked offense. Though, that #6 rank for Jacksonville has mainly been because of the Jag’s excellent running game. In fact, Jacksonville’s QB1 - Blake Bortles had a rather mediocre year being ranked 17th in passing offense - 3,687 yards, 7 yards per throw, 230 yards per game, 21 TD / 13 INT.
I just don’t see Bortles cutting up the Steelers defense and I expect Pittsburgh’s pass rush to keep Bortles on the ground. A lot.
BUT - if Jacksonville’s crazy, madman defense shows up healthy, I can see Jags eeking out a win over the Steelers.
I think this game could go either way but I’m giving the edge to the Steelers.
Prediction: The Steelers in a moderate to low scoring game.
New Orleans Saints vs. The Minnesota Vikings
Finally. The game of the week. Maybe the most evenly matched game the playoffs will see this year.
Hey, remember up above when I talk about that crazy awesome defense the Jag’s put up? Well, the Jag’s ended up with number two defense of the year. The best defense of the year belongs to the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings are first in per game points allowed (15.8), first in per game yards allowed (275.9), second in per game pass yards allowed (192.4) and second in per game rush yards allowed (83.6). The Vikings are crushing opponents on critical third down plays. Case Keenum is having the season of his career. Adam Thielen is a wide receiving super star. The front line is healthy and the running game is solid.
The Vikings are a solid football team.
Of course, the Saints have Drew Brees. They also have Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara - the duo backs who have crushed defenders this year and became the first ever combo to surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season.
The Saints are also, a solid football team.
On the other hand, the MN Vikings have Harrison Smith. Now, even if you’re a casual fan of the NFL you’ve probably heard of him. And you’ve probably heard he’s good. Or maybe you even think he’s really good.
And so did I. But someone recently convinced me he might be the best current player in the NFL. And that’s not hyperbole either.
Well, I mean - I’ve always thought Smith was an elite player and believe he was a total snub for the Pro Bowl this year. But, I mean - best player in the NFL? Come on!
And then someone went and put together Smith’s numbers for the year and posted, “No matter how good you think Harrison Smith is, he’s better than you think he is.”
From the article:
“Harrison Smith had a passer rating allowed of just 22.0 this season … Just to be clear, that’s not normal. Earl Thomas, arguably the best coverage safety in the NFL, had a passer rating allowed of 80.9 this season. Smith was four-times better than that. Throwing the ball into the dirt on every snap would grant a quarterback a passer rating of 39.6. And yet that would still be nearly twice as good as throwing the ball at Harrison Smith.”
“Smith didn’t give up a touchdown in coverage all season, and he had five interceptions and 17 pass deflections. Smith was targeted 42 times on the season, giving up just 23 receptions for 140 yards. For comparison, Earl Thomas gave up more yards (160) on less than half the amount of targets. Smith’s 0.25 yards allowed per coverage snap is among the lowest of any player at any position in the NFL, and his passer rating allowed is absolutely unprecedented.”
Bloody hell! That can’t be right! Right? Let me Google some more Harrison Smith information and see if that above information is accurate.
Google. Google. Google.
Dear God! It is! A QB could throw the ball into the dirt and have a better passing rating than throwing the ball to a receiver covered by Harrison Smith! Holy, insane!
Here is what the Pro Football Focus (PFF) has to say about Harrison Smith:
“There has been no better player across all positions than Minnesota’s Harrison Smith, who has been the field general for the league’s best defense over the course of the year. Smith’s overall PFF grade of 98.8 was the best mark in the league not only among safeties, but at any position, and is the highest mark we have ever given a safety in over 10 years of grading. His ability to play all over the defense for the Vikings – lining up at both free and strong safety on more than a third of his defensive snaps and even covering the slot against both tight ends and receivers – allows that defense to scheme up virtually anything they want, knowing that they have the moveable chess piece to make it happen and get the right players in the right spots.”
Fair enough. I’m sold. (Read the above ”No matter…” link for even more unreal Harrison Smith statistics).
Which brings us to:
Drew Brees. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Vikings are the more rounded, better team but the Saints have Drew Brees. You know what I’m talking about.
It’s like being a fan of a team that has to go against Joe Montana, or Dan Marino, or Tom Brady, or Brett Favre, or Aaron Rodgers. And sometimes you have to go against those QB’s twice per year!
And that’s what brings us to the game of the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints met in week one with the Vikings taking that game 29-19 but that was seventeen weeks ago. Both teams are radically changed and more mature.
If this were a pure numbers game I would say the Vikings have the edge. But there’s that ol’ “clutch” word that gets thrown around the NFL basically meaning, “when it really, really matters - you come through in the clutch.”
Drew Brees is serious clutch.
But then again, so is Harrison Smith.
Prediction: The Vikings in much too close game for my nerves to handle. But, I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints win. I’ll be disappointed, but not surprised because - Drew Brees.
Second prediction: Whoever wins the Viking / Saints matchup will win the Super Bowl.