Monday, January 2, 2012

A Childish Approach to the NFL Playoffs

By Joe Parello
There was a time when I was an absolute NFL prophet. I don't mean to toot my own horn, but you could just go ahead and call me Joe-stradamus for my uncanny ability to pick the Super Bowl winner and loser before the season even began.
Unfortunately, that came between the years of 1993 and 1995, when I had yet to reach 10 years of age. During those years, I successfully picked the three Super Bowl winners, and I also tabbed two out of the three big game losers as well. In 1993, I picked a rematch between the Cowboys and Bills, with Dallas again winning the title. 1994 saw my only incorrect pick over this span, as I picked the 49ers to beat Pittsburgh instead of the Chargers. I was only three yards off, to be fair. I got it right in the AFC the next year when I picked Pittsburgh to lose to Dallas, a pick that killed my heart as a young Steelers fan.
My father and his office friends were amazed by my brilliance, and labeled me a gambling prodigy to be. I am not writing this to brag about a few lucky picks I made as a child, because I quickly came back down to Earth the following year when I failed to pick either Super Bowl participant correctly for the next three seasons. I am writing this to point out that
1. It was a different and slightly more predicable league back then.
2. My picks fell off the more I over thought my prognostications.
In 1993, why should I have picked anything other than a Cowboys-Bills rematch? Buffalo had dominated the AFC, winning the last three conference titles, but failed to win the big game. The Cowboys were a budding dynasty that featured the games most balanced offense and overwhelming defense. To pick any other game would have been looking too much into it, which is exactly what I probably would have done this year. If I were making my 1993 picks now, I probably would have pointed out that the Dan Marino led Dolphins were coming off a division title and had more fire power than Buffalo. I still would have gone with the Cowboys, but I probably would have taken the Phins in the AFC.
In 1994, I simply picked the 49ers to overtake the Cowboys because of the addition of Deion Sanders, the most dominant defensive back, and possibly defensive player, in the league. The next year, Prime Time moved to Dallas, so I picked the Cowboys. Picking the Steelers twice was a mini-homer pick, but I saw the Bills' stars aging and didn't know who else would fill that AFC power vacuum. The Dolphins were my second choice, if you're curious.
So, applying that same logic to this season, I should have picked the Packers over the Patriots. Let's not over think things here, the Packers have to be the favorite, and the Patriots were the best team in football in 2010. But, we now have the luxury of seeing how the 2011 season played out and what the playoff seeds will be. With that in mind, here is my totally elementary playoff preview.
Before the year, I would have gone with New England with pretty good confidence. However, after watching the season unfold, I still think the Steelers are the best team in the conference. With the quarterback issues in Houston, there are now only three legitimate contenders in the AFC, the No. 1 seed New England, the No. 2 seed Baltimore and the No. 5 seed Pittsburgh. The Patriots have the best quarterback, but also feature, perhaps, the league's worst defense. Baltimore has a defense capable of dominating, but also has a streaky offense that occasionally forgets to give their best player, running back Ray Rice, enough touches.
That leaves the Steelers. Again, call it a mini-homer pick, but Pittsburgh is the only team with a good defense(best in points allowed) and an elite quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. They also have a roster loaded with championship experience. I know you want to talk me out of it, but don't. I'm aware the Steelers will most likely have to play three road games and that Roethlisberger is gimpy with a high ankle sprain. I am also aware they will most likely be without running back Rashard Mendenhall. Don't care. I'm not over thinking this one, they're the best team in the conference.
I don't think I have to go into too much detail for this one. It's Green Bay. It had to be the Packers before the year started, and a 15-1 season has only confirmed my suspicions that this is a budding dynasty in Title Town. I know their defense is down a bit and I know top receiver Greg Jennings has missed the past couple games with a knee injury, don't care. I like the Saints, but I can't pick a team that lost to St. Louis, and the 49ers lack the explosiveness to keep up with the Packers or Saints. The Giants are actually an intriguing pick, but I think they're too inconsistent, and the Falcons and Lions have given me little reason to think they're ready to play for a championship.
Super Bowl
Just like in 1993, I look for history to repeat itself this year. I like the Pack to win their second in a row against Pittsburgh and establish themselves as the team to beat for the next half decade in the process. Now, don't go hit Vegas with my picks just yet. This is, after all, incredibly shallow and childish analysis. My point is, in some years, that is all you need.

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