Today's absurd prediction:
Baltimore will win the AFC.
Last year, Don Banks predicted the Colts to win the Super Bowl, based on a theory evidenced by many recent championship runs. A team who suffered a huge playoff upset the previous year comes back hungry and wins the Super Bowl. Earlier this offseason, he picked the Chargers based on the same theory. I agree with the theory, but the Ravens were also upset last year, and they have a better coach, better veteran players, and more to lose if they don't win it right now.
First, to review my season predictions for the AFC. If you want to know why these records are what they are, read my other blog entries. (For the NFC recap and playoff predictions, go to http://fannation.com/blogs/post/32850.) Here we go:
New England 13-3 (amended from my original post)
New York Jets 11-5
Buffalo Bills 7-9
Miami Dolphins 5-11
Indianapolis 11-5 (amended from my original post)
San Diego 10-6
Kansas City 6-10
Tiebreakers - Indianapolis over Baltimore w/ head-to-head win, Cincinnati over San Diego w/ better conf. record.
Therefore, here is the playoff seeding:
1) New England
5) New York
The Playoff Predictions - NFC:
Wild Card Round:
Cincinnati at Indianapolis - I'm going to get a lot of grief here, but I'm used to it. Obviously this will be a shootout, and Indy will likely have the early lead. But it will have been a long season, and the Colts' defense will be worn out from not having the depth to get spelled as much as they should. The rookie matchup of Leon Hall vs. Anthony Gonzalez will be fun to watch, and Hall will win out on a late interception. Rudi Johnson pounds the ball for 60+ yards on the ensuing drive, sealing the victory. Bengals 45, Colts 38.
New York at Baltimore - This game will be a lesson in the value of veteran experience, and the ugliest of the Wild Card round. The Ravens come out with a vengeance, and Chad Pennington is never able to get anything going. Defensively, the Jets do all right, but Willis McGahee attacks the line relentlessly and the Ravens run away with it in the second half. Ravens 30, Jets 7.
Cincinnati at New England - The Bengals do a good job at first picking apart the Pats' secondary, but the Drab Genius, Bill Belichick, makes the right halftime adjustments and stops them cold. Meanwhile, Tom Brady and Laurence Maroney get firing, and this game is over halfway through the fourth quarter. Patriots 37, Bengals 24.
Baltimore at Denver - I really kind of want to give Denver the storybook finish due to the tragedy of Darrent Williams and Damien Nash's deaths, but I just don't think Jay Cutler is ready for playoff success yet. In the battle of the two Buffalo castoff running backs, McGahee outperforms Travis Henry, but the real difference is Cutler's two interceptions versus McNair's none. Ravens 23, Broncos 17.
Baltimore at New England - Ray Lewis, Samari Rolle, and Trevor Pryce look across the field at Junior Seau, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Larry Izzo and feel young for the first time in a while. This is going to be a phenomenal game. Possibly the league's most ingenious offensive head coach doing battle against arguably the league's most ingenious defensive head coach. The battle of the double B's. Ironically, both teams have more talent on the side of the ball that isn't their head coach's specialty; a sensible model if you ask me - rely on coaching on one side, talent on the other. Of course, the Ravens also have great coaching from their defensive coordinator, and he draws up a beauty of a game plan against Brady, a masterful bit of work that earns Rex Ryan a head coaching job next year. Ravens 22, Patriots 21.
Super Bowl XLII:
Baltimore vs. Philadelphia in Glendale, Arizona
A year after a matchup of the first two black head coaches to make the Super Bowl, we have the first-ever matchup of two black quarterbacks to play for a championship. This will also be the first matchup of teams who play within 100 miles of each other. Basically, you can camp out in Wilmington, DE and know that you'll find Super Bowl victory parties 50 miles away no matter what happens. Here's what I think will happen:
The Ravens start the game with a sense of "The hard part's over, we beat the Patriots, it's coasting time now." Obviously no football player would admit thinking that, but it's the general vibe around the locker room. A couple of quick Eagle scores solves that problem, and the Ravens get themselves back into the game in a hurry. McGahee churns out yardage leading to one score, and Ed Reed returns an interception for a touchdown late in the first half. The halftime show sucks. The score stays locked at 14-14 throughout the third quarter, with an intense streak of defensive stands and punts. In the fourth, Reed nails Hank Baskett after a reception, causing a fumble. Andy Reid challenges the play, but the call stands. Chris McAllister scoops it up and runs 20 yards with it, setting up a field goal to give Baltimore the lead. The Eagles answer on the next drive with a touchdown on a 55-yard strike to Reggie Brown. With three minutes to go, Steve McNair patiently and methodically moves the Ravens down the field, and hits Todd Heap for a touchdown. The Eagles have 30 seconds left to score, and they fail. Final score: Baltimore 24, Philadelphia 21.
My heart's pounding already thinking about it. Has the season started yet?