The Designed Rush, Week 15: Fearless (and Baseless) Playoff Prognostications

As promised, here's my forecast for the playoffs. This week didn't do much to clarify the bottom seeds of each conference, but I'm willing to take a few guesses on how the opening weekend of the playoffs will shake out. ↵

↵Wild Card Round ↵

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↵NFC: Packers (5) at Cardinals (4) and Giants (6) at Eagles (3) ↵

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↵Yes, I'm predicting that the Cowboys will complete their December collapse for yet another year. Did anyone really think Wade Phillips would survive this season? Be honest. A third Giants-Eagles game will be an exciting and likely nasty affair, with similar results. As we saw last night, there's no predicting which Cardinals team will show up. I'll say the bad one. Winners: Packers and Eagles. ↵

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↵AFC: Broncos (5) at Patriots (4) and Dolphins (6) at Bengals (3) ↵

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↵A little unfortunate that we don't get a rematch of the Week 1 Brandon Stokley game between Denver and Cincinnati, but then there's all that wonderful Josh McDaniels/Bill Belichick history to rehash. The Bengals are a bad match-up for the run-heavy Dolphins. Or it could be the Ravens, who Cincinnati has already handled twice this year. Either way, I see it ending the same. Winners: Patriots and Bengals. ↵

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↵Divisional Round ↵

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↵NFC: Packers (5) at Saints (1) and Eagles (3) at Vikings (2) ↵

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↵Flip those road opponents and it's a much more marketable weekend for the networks, but those should be some quality games nonetheless. The Packers have gotten it together since their humiliating loss in Tampa and could give the Saints some problems, but I don't see Green Bay getting a playoff win in the Superdome. Meanwhile, the Vikings experiment with Favre has an early playoff exit, and they're left to regret the Brad Childress contract extension. Winners: Saints and Eagles. ↵

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↵AFC: Patriots (4) at Colts (1) and Bengals (3) at Chargers (2) ↵

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↵Guess what's going to be the marquee game of this weekend? While I still trust Bill Belichick to make more and better adjustments than Jim Caldwell for a second game, I'm not so sure his team trusts him as much as I do at this point. I don't think another 4th and 2 call will be necessary. Oddly, I'm predicting that San Diego will beat a struggling Cincinnati this weekend, but I think the Chargers' soft defense and inability to run will catch up with them in January. So long, preseason Super Bowl pick. Winners: Colts and Bengals. ↵

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↵Conference Championships ↵

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↵NFC: Eagles (3) at Saints (1) ↵

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↵The only way Philly can stay in this is if they make it a shootout, which they could. Even in that scenario, I see them coming up short to a clearly superior team. ↵

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↵Winner: Saints ↵

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↵AFC: Bengals (3) at Colts (1) ↵

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↵The Bengals can run and play defense. It's a shopworn cliche that you need to do those things in the playoffs (even though both teams in the Super Bowl last year could barely run at all), but you also need the capability to score fast and often when playing against Peyton Manning in a dome, which the Bengals cannot do. This won't be close. ↵

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↵Winner: Colts ↵

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↵Super Bowl XLIV ↵

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↵Remember when I said a few months back that no Super Bowl since 1994 had two No. 1 seeds and that we never get the title game we want? Well, it has to happen again at some point, and I'm foolish guessing that this will finally be the year that it does. This way, when it doesn't happen, you can blame me. As for another cursory pick: Saints 34, Colts 27. ↵

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↵Five Games to Watch Even if You Have No Rooting Interest or Fantasy Players Involved (or if Your Fantasy Team is Already Eliminated) ↵

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↵Cincinnati at San Diego (4:05 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵The Chargers couldn't muster anything close to an effective running attack against Dallas, so there's little reason to think they should be able to against the league's third-best rush defense. Cincinnati corners Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph have within the span of just this season established themselves as one of the best tandems in the league. But defense, for once, hasn't been the problem for the Bengals. While they should find running easier against San Diego than it was against the Williams Wall in Minnesota, the Cincy passing game is nowhere close to living up to its reputation as a major threat to put up big points. (More on this later.) As I said last week, I think playing this game at home -- coupled with the Bengals' recent struggles -- will be enough for the Chargers to salt away the other first-round bye in the AFC. ↵

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↵Indianapolis at Jacksonville (8:20 p.m., Thursday) -- ↵

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↵Now comes the annual tedious debate on whether top-seeded teams should rest starters with three weeks to play in the regular season. The Colts have the luxury of arguing about this one on on a near-yearly basis. However, the only time resting starters for multiple weeks really burned them was in 2005, when they sat players beginning in Week 14. While having the players rest for most of one game is fine, going easy for an entire month is probably a bad idea, which the Colts have already indicated they aren't doing this time. ↵

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↵I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned that the Colts new record of 22 straight regular season victories is incredibly hollow, or even why it's allowed to be phrased as such. Why should a team that wins its final nine regular season games in 2008, LOST ITS ONLY PLAYOFF GAME, then won its first 13 in 2009 get to say they won 22 straight? When the Patriots set the 21-game mark in 2004, it was bridged over a Super Bowl title the previous year. ↵

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↵Dallas at New Orleans (8:20 p.m., Saturday) -- ↵

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↵Oof. That's far too good a game to be relegated to Saturday night. With Dallas fully ensconced in mid-December freefall, this looks to be a safe one for the Saints, but then you have to think the Cowboys will manage to put together one performance that indicates that they might want to be in the postseason. That and the Saints, while still winning, are letting the margins of victory creed closer and closer. I'd still wager that this will go the Saints' way, but it should be a closely contested game. ↵

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↵Miami at Tennessee (1 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵While Jacksonville still clings to the sixth seed because of byzantine three-way tiebreaker rules, the Dolphins dealt a huge blow to their playoff chances by beating them last week. I think Miami stands the best chance of winning out between them, the Jags (who will probably lose on Thursday) and the Ravens. Baltimore will probably lose in Pittsburgh to a team that, while out of contention, will bring their best game to their chief rivals. Meanwhile, based on what Joshua Cribbs alone was able to do to Pittsburgh last Thursday, the Dolphins should be able to give the Steelers fits with the Wildcat the final week of the season. First, however, Miami must get past the not insignificant challenge of a road win in Nashville. With Vince Young likely hampered by a hamstring injury, the Dolphins should be able to take one from the Titans. ↵

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↵New York Giants at Washington (8:20 p.m., Monday) -- ↵

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↵On paper, it's probably not the most enticing game ever, but the Giants are trying to cling to fading hopes of a final playoff spot while the Redskins have actually played reasonably well the past three weeks. And if all NFC East division divisional games were as entertaining as the Eagles-Giants Sunday night game, they'd be recommended viewing. Which, of course, means this game will end up being 15-10 with the only touchdown coming on a fake punt. ↵

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↵NFL Player/Figure Tweet of the Week ↵

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↵"I just got out the shower walks out naked & didnt know the maid had enter my room, she making the bd I walks in she lk OWWW I'm lk WTF!" - Darnell Docket, yesterday. ↵

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↵ZOMG! That is lk so cray cray! ↵

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↵Darnell actually went to the high school nearest to the one I attended in the suburbs outside Washington, D.C., so it's a safe bet I'm afflicted by the same strain of density. ↵

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↵Truth in Advertising ↵

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↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵ ↵
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↵Does Mastercard realize how much innuendo exists in Peyton Manning giving a woman a mouthguard for Christmas? I bet they do. Minor ballsiness on their part. ↵

↵Dispatch from Madden Nation ↵

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↵Last night, it looked as though the Madden Curse finally caught up with Larry Fitzgerald during the opening drive of the third quarter when 49ers safety Dashon Goldson bent Fitzgerald's lower leg back into his upper leg. Fitzgerald gimped back into the locker room, only to return later in the game. Hey there, lords of the jinx, were there not TWO people on the cover this year? As a Steelers fan, I DEMAND JUSTICE! This hardly seems an even distribution of bag juju. Beshrew you, capricious hex spirits! ↵

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↵A Delicious Bundle of Gripes ↵

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↵- Momma McNabb can push some soup, but James Harrison's mom will just push you. You're lucky if that's all you get. ↵

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↵- It's pretty revealing that people are checking into the status of Carson Palmer's elbow this week. The quarterback who's always been described as belonging among the league's best (yet has somehow always been excused as held back by lingering injuries or a poor supporting cast) has not performed the part this season. After all, his best statistical year following his injury in the 2005 playoffs was the very next season. Everything is in place for Carson to excel this year. He has great support from the running game, a stout defense to back him up and a decent line. Perhaps the drop-off from T.J. Houshmandzadeh to Laveranues Coles is noticeable, but if Tom Brady was able to take his team to the AFC Championship Game in 2006 with Reche Caldwell as his best receiver, "only" having Chad Ochocinco seems a flimsy excuse. Now the blame for Carson's struggles is being passed to the loss of Chris Henry (yes, he was their deep threat, but his overall role in the offense had diminished with the rise of Andre Caldwell) and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski (he's far from good, but he's also been there since 2001 -- attributing recent struggles to him alone seems a little too easy). Anyone who watched the game against Minnesota saw an erratic passer who was forcing throws all game, and that's been the case for much of the year. Simply put, if Carson Palmer was once deserving of his reputation as an elite QB, he isn't anymore. ↵

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↵- There's no more annoying and omnipresent trend right now in movies than every other film being in 3D, so naturally the Cowboys had to appropriate it for their giant screen in Jerryworld. Besides cutting away to fans and cheerleaders wearing the glasses a few dozen times, CBS cameras once tried to demonstrate the look of the glasses on a camera that was pointed at the field, in spite of the glasses obvious intended use of looking at the giant screen. Good to know technology that was faddish in the '50s can still be messed up. ↵

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↵- Basking in the senility of Redskins radio broadcaster and Hall of Famer Sam Huff is one of the few joys of being a football fan in the D.C. area. Here's but a small taste. ↵

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↵- Based on how the first two DeSean Jackson-Andy Reid TD bumps have gone, DeSean should have enough air to clear the coach the next time. If not, there's a bit of cushion for the fall. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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