It’s no surprise that Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are perched atop this year’s AFC playoff picture, but it is a major surprise that the Kansas City Chiefs – led by a high-octane rushing attack – are playoff bound.
Kansas City outlasted heavy AFC favorite San Diego to take the AFC West division, and heading into the weekend, the Chiefs are one of four AFC teams that will face off during Wild Card Weekend.
It’s once again time to “Pick Your Knows” – the only time it’s not a disgusting habit – and here are KP’s predictions for the AFC playoff picture.
AFC Wild-Card Round
#6 New York Jets (11-5) at #3 Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
Rex Ryan has been running his mouth all week, first stating that this matchup with Peyton Manning is “personal”. Second, when discussing Manning, Ryan stated that “nobody studies like him”, later adding that Brady thinks he studies like the Colts QB. No big surprise that Ryan is calling out the opponents that the Jets would face (if they advance).
Indianapolis allowed the lowest sack total on the season (16 – tied with the Giants) and the Jets have had trouble getting pressure on the quarterback. That should give Peyton Manning plenty of time to torch a Jets pass defense that has been vulnerable throughout most of the season.
The Jets have the 4th best rush offense in the NFL, but the Colts have played much better against the run over the last month. With Manning likely putting up points in bunches at home, New York may need to instead rely on Mark Sanchez to keep the Jets in the game – and on this day, that won’t happen.
New York will be motivated under Ryan, but the key injuries to the Jets outweigh the injuries that the Colts have sustained on the year. Indy sends Rex packing.
KP’s Pick: Indianapolis Colts
#5 Baltimore Ravens (12-4) at #4 Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
The Kansas City Chiefs are the surprise story, winning the AFC West and holding off a Chargers team that many felt had a great chance to make the Super Bowl. But the Chiefs are instead hosting a playoff game, and until last week’s blowout loss to the Raiders, Kansas City was undefeated at home.
The Chiefs have the NFL’s top rushing attack, and Kansas City will continue to try and establish the run, therefore setting up the passing game with QB Matt Cassel. But the Ravens have the 5th best rush defense, and Baltimore has only allowed 5 rushing TD’s, which is tied for the lowest in the NFL on the season.
The Ravens have had a hard time holding leads, but overall, Baltimore has a balanced attack, both on offense and on defense. Baltimore is also 5-3 on the road, further proving that the Ravens are capable of winning games in a hostile environment.
The Chiefs were a nice story this year, but Baltimore has too much talent, and the Ravens shut down the KC run game, and advance.
KP’s Pick: Baltimore Ravens
AFC Divisional Round
#5 Baltimore Ravens at #1 New England Patriots
This Baltimore-New England matchup would be a rematch from Week 6, where the Patriots defeated the Ravens 23-20 in comeback fashion – one of many blown leads by Baltimore during the regular season.
The Patriots and Tom Brady are dominant at home, and New England’s offense has gotten better as the season has progressed. The Patriots passer rating (mostly Brady) is 109.8, and only the Chargers have a rating that also eclipses 100. New England also sports a balanced offensive attack, ranking 9th in the run game and 11th in the pass game. Overall, the Pats have thrown 37 TD’s, with just 5 INT’s.
Baltimore’s pass defense has dropped to 21st in the NFL, allowing a lot of its yards late in games. Ray Rice and the Baltimore run game has not been nearly as explosive as in 2009, when the Ravens dominated the Patriots in the playoffs.
This is a perfect playoff revenge game situation. Expect the Patriots to come out with a chip on its shoulder. New England wins by two scores and advances to the AFC Championship.
KP’s Pick: New England Patriots
#3 Indianapolis Colts at #2 Pittsburgh Steelers
This game would have a great chance to be one of the more entertaining games of the year. Each team has a number of weapons on both sides of the ball, and on both aspects of its offense. The Colts have sustained more injuries during the year, especially on offense.
The key here is the offensive attack. Indianapolis has played better against the run as of late, but the Colts will have its hands full with Rashard Mendenhall. The bigger issue is that Pittsburgh has a more talented pass attack, and the ability to stretch out the Indy defense with players like Mike Wallace.
As previously mentioned, the Colts have allowed the lowest total sacks on the season. However, the Steelers also have the most sacks in the NFL, with 48. Expect Pittsburgh to be able to get more pressure on Peyton Manning than other teams have during the regular season.
This game could become a shootout, and if that’s the case, Pittsburgh – with homefield advantage – has the edge, especially considering that Indianapolis is missing a number of its offensive weapons due to injury.
Pittsburgh escapes with a close win, eliminates Manning, and advances to the AFC Championship game.
KP’s Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC Championship Game
#2 Pittsburgh Steelers at #1 New England Patriots
On the AFC side, I believe that both top seeds will advance to the championship game, which would be a rematch from the Week 10 game in Pittsburgh, where the Patriots knocked off the Steelers 39-26. In fact, the game wasn’t even that close, as Pittsburgh scored two garbage time TD’s in the fourth quarter.
Again, the Patriots have a huge advantage when playing at home, a place where Tom Brady rarely loses. New England dominated Pittsburgh earlier in the year and while Pittsburgh will be seeking revenge, the Pats are playing even better then they were over a month ago.
Devin McCourty is posting defensive rookie of the year numbers, and the offensive line has been giving Brady plenty of time to find open receivers. The young receiving core is beginning to click more and more in the offense, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is posting good enough rushing stats that defenses will need to keep an eye on him.
With all this in mind – and the Super Bowl on the line – the Pittsburgh defensive attack will make this one a closer game, but it won’t be enough. New England heads to yet another Super Bowl.
KP’s Pick for Super Bowl XLV: New England Patriots
Who do you have heading to the Super Bowl? Let us know…
Next Up: KP’s NFC Picks…
FINAL STATS: KP vs. the Spread
Week 17: 10-6