2011 NFL Playoffs Power Rankings: Wildcard Round

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady lines up in the inflatable tunnel with teammates before the start of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on November 21, 2010. The Patriots defeated the Colts 31-28. UPI/Matthew Healey

Here’s how I would rank the 12 playoff teams heading into the Wildcard Round. If you disagree, then f*#k you.

No wait, that wasn’t very nice. I’m sorry. Merry NFL Postseason to all of you. It’s the best time of year…

1. New England Patriots
Thanks to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the Pats look indestructible and bound for Dallas. But the one concern I have is whether or not this team will start reading its own press clippings again. It happened earlier in the year when they lost to the Browns and then again late in the season when they took on the Matt Flynn-led Packers and were almost beaten at home. It’s the playoffs, so I don’t think Belichick has to worry about his team getting a big head but you never know. Other than that, yeah…Patriots for world domination.

2. Atlanta Falcons
I don’t fault anyone who thinks the Falcons will go down in flames over the next two weeks. Their defense is still a question mark, their offense looked putrid against the Saints last Monday night and they rarely blow anybody out. But one thing this team has going for itself is that it’s been in a ton of close games this year and is battle tested. They also have home field advantage (Matt Ryan is 20-2 as a starter in the Georgia Dome) and will be well rested. They also kept things vanilla offensively last week against the Saints, which I think was smart given how New Orleans may very well wind up being their first postseason opponent.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers
With Troy Polamalu in the lineup, the Steelers own the best defense in the playoffs (with Green Bay and Chicago being right behind them). The offensive line is still a concern, but this team scored 68 points the past two weeks (albeit against Carolina and Cleveland) so things can’t be that bad. The Steelers aren’t flawless by any means, but teams shouldn’t fall asleep on them either.

4. Baltimore Ravens
There are some pretty damn good wildcard teams in this year’s playoffs, headlined by the Ravens. They’re currently on a four-game winning streak and thanks to the outcomes last week, they’ll be making a trip to Kansas City this weekend instead of Indianapolis (where they’ve struggled mightily). Baltimore proved last year in Foxboro that it doesn’t mind playing on the road and as long as their secondary holds up, don’t count the Ravens out for making a Super Bowl run.

5. New Orleans Saints
Even with their Week 17 loss to the Bucs at home, this is still a dangerous team. They know what it takes to win a Super Bowl and they employ one of the best offensive minds in football in head coach Sean Payton. Injuries and Drew Brees’ interceptions are two major concerns, but playing on the road throughout the postseason should keep the Saints sharp and focused.

6. Green Bay Packers
I thought the Packers were legit Super Bowl contenders at the start of the year and I still believe that even though they’re the No. 6 seed. Aaron Rodgers leads one of the best passing games in the NFL and Dom Capers’ defense is playing extremely well. The main problem, of course, is the Packers’ inability to run the ball. If they have a lead in the fourth quarter, can they protect it? I love this team in a shootout, but what happens if Rodgers and Co. can’t run the clock out?

7. Chicago Bears
This ranking has nothing to do with the Bears’ Week 17 loss to the Packers. If you noticed, Mike Martz kept things rather baseline offensively and didn’t try to do too much. I don’t believe that in a playoff game the Packers would hold the Bears to only a field goal, especially at Solider Field. But I’m nervous about Jay Cutler. This will be his first experience in the playoffs and as we’ve seen with the Bears, their hopes rest on his shoulders. The defense is sound, Devin Hester is a major weapon in the return game and Martz is keeping the offense somewhat balanced (at least for him). But we’d be foolish to think Cutler doesn’t still have a four-interception game in him.

8. Philadelphia Eagles
Three weeks ago I would have had the Eagles in the top 5, but things have changed. Michael Vick is taking way too many hits and he’ll be playing on a bad quad this Sunday. If he can’t run around and make things happen with his feet, I think the Packers beat Philadelphia this weekend. The Eagles’ defense has been inconsistent at times too, especially in the red zone where they’re allowing teams to score a whopping 76% of the time (which is worst in the league). While the Packers are heading into the playoffs with a full head of steam, the Eagles are limping in. I think they’re in trouble.

9. New York Jets
I’m going to catch flack for this one but I’m basing this ranking off my belief that the Jets will upset the Colts on Saturday. Look, not all of the favorites (Saints, Colts, Ravens and Eagles) will win this weekend and I think New York stands to pull off the biggest upset. I’m well aware of Peyton Manning’s domination of Rex Ryan over the years but remember when Tom Brady used to beat Manning every postseason? One year, Manning finally answered back. If the Jets can figure out where their pass rush went to, I think Rex answers back this weekend.

10. Indianapolis Colts
See above. I’m all for the never-bet-against-Peyton-Manning line of thinking but I’m following a hunch. If I’m wrong, I’ll eat as much crow as Indy fans can dish out. I won’t even eat that day so I’ll have an empty stomach.

11. Kansas City Chiefs
I felt better about this team before it laid an egg last Sunday against the Raiders. Even though I’m picking the Jets over the Colts this weekend, I could have seen Kansas City beating New York had the Chiefs held onto the No. 3 seed. (Strange how opinions change based on the matchup.) But with Baltimore coming to town, I think the Chiefs’ magical season comes to a screeching halt this Sunday.

12. Seattle Seahawks
I was going to write something snide about the Seahawks but since they’ve become football fan’s postseason Lucifer, I refrain. I will say this though: if Pete Carroll and his coaching staff doesn’t play it fast and loose like it did last Sunday night against the Rams (or at least as fast and loose as the Seahawks can play), the Saints are going to win by six touchdowns. If Carroll plays it close to the vest and tries to match wits with Sean Payton, the game will be over by halftime. I want to see onsides kicks, flea-flickers and the “statue of liberty” out of Seattle this weekend. Let it all hang out, Petey. Let it all hang out.

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