Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5, AFC Wild Card #5 Seed (last year: 12-4, AFC Playoff #2 Seed)
I understand that when the Ravens and the Steelers play the Browns and Bengals (McCoy 8 career starts, Dalton none; both teams’ best receivers are rookies), that those lesser teams will look at each of these four games as their playoff games, their Super Bowls. That said, the Ravens and Steelers are so far ahead of their 2011 combatants in both the AFC North and the NFC West that I literally can’t visualize a way for them to lose some of these games.
With Big Red and San Francisco, if they spread out the Steelers secondary, they will create mismatches. No matter how improved the Arizona offensive line is, I don’t see either Kolb nor Kaepernick nor Alex Smith having time to throw. The Steelers also will run roughshod over the AFC South. Those teams simply aren’t on the same level of physicality or explosiveness. I think Houston wins a close one with its improved defense (likely a mere week before everyone figures out what Wade Phillips is doing) and newly healthy Owen Daniels. If Blaine Gabbert gets in, Jacksonville has a good chance with the diverse weapons and strong play-calling.
The Steelers are sadly facing St. Louis around the time that I think Bradford will be very comfortable in the offense. I was leaning toward a 12-4 Wild Card team with either them or Baltimore, but I ultimately gave Pittsburgh a post-bye loss to Kansas City. Kansas City has great playmakers with a new play-caller with lots of coaching experience – but no play-calling experience – in Bill Muir but I think guys like Bowe, Baldwin, and Urban with jump ball ability can offset the pass rush of the Steelers.
While I predict New England to face Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game, it wouldn’t surprise me if Pittsburgh were to be in the Super Bowl again, thanks to the dangerous connection between Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace (my #9 receiver). The yardage and TDs of Mike Wallace’s first two seasons bests that for Reggie Wayne’s first three seasons (2013 yds and 16 TDs vs. 1899 yds and 11 TDs). This is both due to the increase in passing and to Mike’s playmaking ability. Last season’s 1257 yards for Wallace is better than any of Wayne’s first five seasons and better than all but one of Hines Wards’ 13 seasons, 2002.
Schedule/Predictions (toughest stretch): @ BAL L, vs. SEA W, @ IND W, @ HOU L, vs. TEN W, vs. JAX W, @ ARI W, vs. NWE L, vs. BAL W, @ CIN W, BYE, @ KC L, vs. CIN W, vs. CLE W, @ SF W, vs. STL L, @ CLE W.
Washington Redskins 10-6, NFC Wild Card #5 Seed (last year: 6-10, no playoffs)
I’m riding with Rex and Hightower. The way the offense and defense have been designed have been for the big play but the offense is also designed for some one-cut and run that is going to devastate and tire defenses early and often.
What makes a team like the Redskins sneaky is not that no one underestimates them, but that their schedule is advantageous from being in last place last year, and what also makes them sneaky is not being having too many of the best units in the NFC East. The Eagles, Cowboys and even the Giants get all the attention while the Red and Gold sneak into the playoffs. I will now rank all the units.
RB: NYG, PHI, WAS, DAL (close 4th)
WR: DAL, WAS, PHI (I’m big on size-speed guys), NYG (close 4th)
TE: WAS, DAL, PHI, NYG
OL: NYG, WAS, DAL, PHI
DL: NYG, WAS, DAL, PHI
LB: WAS, NYG, DAL, PHI
DB: PHI, WAS, DAL, NYG
Coaching staff: WAS, DAL, PHI, NYG
Ultimately, even if Mike Shanahan was cheating against the salary cap to win those two Super Bowls, he’s won two. Coughlin’s won one. Andy Reid is good at dominating defenses until he gets into the playoffs. Rex Ryan and Jason Garrett bring disciplined, aggressive play-calling styles.
Obviously, Vick is the best QB but I expect him to miss some games for the worst 2nd-string QB in the NFL, Vince Young.
Schedule/Predictions (toughest stretch): vs. NYG W, vs. ARI W, @ DAL L, @ STL L, BYE, vs. PHI L, @ CAR W, @ BUF W, vs. SF W, @ MIA L, vs. DAL W, @ SEA W, vs. NYJ L, vs. NE L, @ NYG W, vs. MIN W, @ PHI W.
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