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Welcome To January: Predictions for the 2009 NFL Playoffs (Part Two-AFC)
Posted By Jesse Golomb On January 4, 2010 @ 12:32 am In Colts News, Featured | No Comments
(To see Part One of this article, click here  )
And now, for the AFC.
Heading into Week 15, it appeared as if two NFL teams would finish the 2009 season with an undefeated record. The Saints and the Colts were red-hot and had soft schedules in the final few weeks of the ‘09 campaign.
Neither team managed to accomplish the feat.
But while the Saints fell victim to poor play down the stretch, the Indianapolis Colts were defeated due to a controversial decision in their Week 16 game versus the New York Jets. First year Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell benched MVP quarterback Peyton Manning and a large majority of their starters for the second half, and the Colts dropped their first game of the 2009 season.
But while the Colts have played a curious number of close games this season, Indy has managed to squeak out every single one of them that Manning has been apart of.
The pinpoint accuracy and uncanny instincts of the veteran quarterback strike fear into opposing defenses across the league, and as long as the Colts have Peyton they will always be dangerous. Combine the stellar play of Manning with a seventh ranked scoring defense and an offensive line that allowed just 13 sacks in 2009, and the Colts are the clear AFC Favorites.
New England Patriots
It seems like it was decades ago when a Tom Brady-led team was not the AFC favorite. The former MVP quarterback has come back strong after his 2008 campaign was destroyed by a knee injury, but this is clearly not your older brother’s Patriots.
Even as Tom Brady was torching opposing secondaries, the core of the New England dynasty was an outstanding defense. But most of the names that filled the top of the Patriots’ defensive depth-chart have departed in the past 24 months. Dynasty staples such as Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, and Richard Seymour have either been traded or have since retired. Replacing them is a bevy of young talent.
The influx of youth has filled in very nicely, posting the league’s 11th ranked rushing defense and seventh ranked pass defense. But they are not the dominant force that they were just a few years ago. Combine the depleted defense with a devastating injury to superstar slot receiver Wes Welker, and the Patriots may struggle to make it deep into the postseason—even with Brady at the helm.
Every Cincinnati Bengals game seems like a struggle to the finish. Although the surprising Bengals finished the season 10-6, they failed to win a single game by more than 10 points, even as they played five games against teams that were a combined 19-44.
The fact is that Cincy does not have one “signature” win this entire year. On paper, they have beaten playoff teams like Baltimore and Green Bay. But neither team was playing their best football when they went up against the Bengals. Their only two games against hot teams, Week 14 at Minnesota and Week 15 at San Diego, have resulted in losses.
That’s why, that despite a fifth ranked defense and the salvation of Cedric Benson, it’s difficult to see them advancing far into the postseason. When a team plays the Raiders, Browns, Chiefs, and Lions closely, how can they expect to beat the Patriots, Colts, and Chargers?
San Diego Chargers
Under Norv Turner, the San Diego Chargers have been a notoriously slow-starting team. In both 2007 and 2008, the much-maligned head coach led his team to a 2-3 record in the first five weeks of the season. This year was no different.
In ’09 the Chargers stumbled out of the gate, losing three out of their first five games. But since then, the Bolts have been on a ferocious tear, winning 11 straight games to close out the season.
The turn around can surely be attributed to MVP candidate Philip Rivers and his plethora of offensive weapons, but can also be traced to a revitalized defense that has not allowed more than 25 points in a game since Week 6.
The red-hot Chargers have the ability to make some serious noise in the 2009 postseason, but in the AFC, all roads lead through Indianapolis.
In recent years, it has been thought that the Ravens’ defensive reputation has surpassed them. Supposedly, their aging defense is not the same dominant unit that it was when Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Chris McCallister, and Adalius Thomas were all four years younger and in their primes.
Yet upon closer look, this is not the case. Baltimore posted the leagues third ranked scoring defense in 2009. Even their much-maligned secondary netted 21 interceptions.
So, it probably won’t be the Ravens defense that brings them down in January. It will almost certainly be the streaky play of second-year quarterback Joe Flacco, who has come back down to earth from a stellar rookie campaign.
While the Ravens defense is still great, it is unclear if it is “our-QB-throws-three-picks-and-we-still-win” great. The Ravens are going to need extreme consistency out of their quarterback to make a run at the Super Bowl, something that has been out of reach this season.
New York Jets
The Jets are in the postseason with Mark Sanchez and his nearly 1:2 touchdown-interception ratio.
But when one takes a closer look at the stats, Sanchez is really the only reason the Jets shouldn’t be in the playoffs—besides the fact that they needed four teams to lose and two teams to bench their starters to get there.
But, as I said earlier, an explosive running game and a potent defense are what ultimately wins in January. And the Jets do have the top-ranked scoring defense and top-ranked rushing attack.
The way the Jets have won this year is to take the ball out of Mark Sanchez’s hand and put it in the arms of running backs Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene. But in January, you can’t be one-dimensional. Opposing teams are going to stack the box against the Jets and throw relentless blitzes at the rookie quarterback. The Jets will be forced to throw, and that hasn’t worked in their favor (against a full strength team) since early on in the season.
Cincinnati Bengals defeat New York Jets
Gang Green rushes for 150 yards but Mark Sanchez throws two picks, including one that Leon Hall takes back for six points. Cincy takes it 21-17.
New England Patriots defeat Baltimore Ravens
Even without Wes Welker, Tom Brady passes for 300 yards and three scores, while Joe Flacco throws a key interception early in the game. The Pats beat Baltimore 33-17.
San Diego Chargers defeat New England Patriots
Philip Rivers and company stay red-hot, with the loss of Wes Welker really coming back to hurt the Pats. Bolts win 27-17.
Indianapolis Colts defeat Cincinnati Bengals
Peyton Manning sits in the pocket all day and passes for over 300 yards on the Bengals’ defense. Indy blows out Cincy 38-17.
Indianapolis Colts defeat San Diego Chargers
The prowess of the Colts’ offensive line keeps jumping out at me. In their first loss in over three months, Peyton torches the San Diego secondary. Rivers doesn’t have a bad day either, passing for three touchdowns. Colts win 33-30.
Indianapolis Colts defeat Philadelphia Eagles
If any team has the secondary and blitzing schemes to beat Peyton Manning and his line, it’s the Eagles. In yet another classic Super Bowl, the Colts get a late field goal from Matt Stover. Crown ‘em. Colts receive the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in four seasons with a 30-27 victory.
(To see Part One of this article, click here  )
Read more Indianapolis Colts  news on BleacherReport.com
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