The NFL Playoffs are finally here and so it's time to put on the broken down (this season anyway) prognostication cap and make my playoff and Super Bowl predictions before they begin. I'll start with the AFC.

New England: With the Patriots firing on all cylinders to finish the regular season they have to be considered the favorite to make it from the AFC. Tom Brady is the NFL's MVP in my opinion and spreads the ball around to a group of WR's and TE's lacking big star talent. Brady just makes the right throws and with a running game consisting of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, they form a formidable 1-2 punch. The defense has stepped up, especially the last several games, and with home field advantage throughout the playoffs, they will be tough to beat.

Pittsburgh: If there's one team in the AFC that can take on the Patriots it's the Steelers. Their defense is stellar, especially their run defense, and as long as Troy Palomalu is healthy, they can shut down anyone. Offensively, Ben Roethlisberger has found a star in Mike Wallace in the passing game while Rashard Mendenhall brings both power and speed at the RB spot. The offensive line is the main concern and is the only weakness I see.

Indianapolis: While he's thrown more interceptions this season than normal, it's never a good idea to bet against Peyton Manning. Tom Brady has had the better season, but there is no on field general that equals Manning and even though he's lost weapons at both WR and TE, he continues to make plays to whoever is out there. Reggie Wayne has had an up and down season but is still a great WR; Pierre Garcon seems to be finally stepping up at just the right time; Blair White has been capable as the #3 WR, although he makes some really bad mistakes at times; Jacob Tamme lacks Dallas Clark's big play ability but has exceeded every expectation filling in for him. Joseph Addai has gotten healthy at the right time and although it's a committee between him, Donald Brown, and Dominic Rhodes, they are a better running team than is widely believed. The defense has gotten better of late, especially against the run. No one wants to face the Colts, but the fact of the matter is that they play better in their dome and if they win the first round, they'll have to go to Pittsburgh and play in whatever weather conditions Mother Nature throws at them.

Kansas City: The big surprise team to come out from the AFC West sports the best rushing attack in the NFL with explosive Jamaal Charles and steady Thomas Jones. Matt Cassel has been one of the biggest surprises this year and Dwayne Bowe has gotten over early season problems with dropped passes to emerge as one of the most dangerous WR's in the game. Too bad there isn't a quality talent opposite Bowe though. The first round matchup against Baltimore is a tough one with the Ravens having a great defense and an offense that while not as flashy as expected this year, knows how to grind yards out.

Baltimore: The Ravens almost got the second seed and a first round bye. They are a team that is balanced in all phases of the game and while Ray Rice hasn't been as explosive as expected, he is peaking at the right time. Joe Flacco has had some consistency issues though and will need to get the ball to Anquan Boldin; something he has struggled to do the last half of the season. Derrick Mason has enjoyed having Boldin opposite him and Todd Heap has found some of his old form and become a dangerous target at TE again. The Ravens run defense will be tested by the Chiefs in round one and they must find a way of preventing Dwayne Bowe from making plays against a secondary that has had its share of ups and downs.

New York Jets: The preseason darling managed to make the playoffs despite some problems offensively. Mark Sanchez hasn't fully lived up to his hype and has been streaky. When he gets hot though he can compete with anyone and has really bonded with Santonio Holmes. Braylon Edwards has enjoyed modest success opposite Holmes and while Dustin Keller has been a fantasy disappointment, he still is capable of big things. The rushing attack is likely to be led by Shonn Greene as the power running back with LaDainian Tomlinson being the change of pace and pass catching specialist. The game against Indianapolis will be decided by whether Sanchez is on his mark, and whether the aggressive Jets defense can get to Peyton Manning enough to disrupt his rhythm. A win against Indy would mean the Jets would take on New England in round 2.

AFC Predictions

Indianapolis over the Jets
Baltimore over Kansas City

Pittsburgh over Indianapolis
New England over Baltimore

Pittsburgh over New England

AFC Champion: Pittsburgh Steelers

In the NFC, it's a wild race as there are 4 teams who could emerge and be the Champion.

Atlanta: There are no weaknesses on this team. Well balanced offensively with Matt Ryan hitting his stride as a pro, Roddy White emerging into an elite WR, Tony Gonzalez finding some of past glory, Michael Jenkins just being solid and underappreciated for all he does, Michael Turner is a wrecking ball at RB and Jason Snelling a great complement to Turner. The defense is better than the numbers and comes up bigger in big games. Home field helps and the only thing missing from Atlanta is the feel of a champion. They feel more like a solid team that will compete than they do as a Champion style team that is a force to be reckoned with.

Chicago: Flying under the radar more than other team, the Bears are a bigger threat than many think. Mike Martz has helped Jay Cutler cut down on mistakes and has even learned that sometimes running the football is a good thing. The offensive line has grown u throughout the season and while still shaky, has played much better when not having to pass protect every down. Matt Forte has started to re-emerge as a big play threat and while the WR's haven't made as many big plays as you'd expect from a Martz offense, they have done the job and played their roles. They are stingy on defense and their special teams unit is possibly the best all of the playoff teams.

Philadelphia: This team is loaded with explosive offensive playmakers. Michael Vick has blossomed into a real quarterback in Philadelphia under Andy Reid and he is the most dangerous single individual in the NFL. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are both WR's capable of taking it to the house on any given play. While Brent Celek had a down year, that's more because he's been called on to stay in and block more to mask deficiencies on the offensive line. LeSean McCoy has proven to better than anyone expected as a runner and receiver and is as dangerous an al purpose RB in the playoffs as there is. The defense, especially the secondary has had its struggles though and needs to blitz more to help out their secondary. This team can make it all the way, but only if Vick makes it happen.

Seattle: The Seahawks are by far the most pitiful team to ever make the NFL playoffs and will be one and done. Matt Hasselbeck has made too many mistakes this year to be trusted to take them far and the WR corps, while surprising this season is only mediocre. The rushing attack has been a huge disappointment and the only thing going for them is that they are playing at home in the first round. But that isn't enough to make them a legitimate contender and even if they somehow pull off the upset over New Orleans (which will only happen if Drew Brees has a complete meltdown) they will get whacked in the second round by whoever they have to travel and face.

New Orleans: The defense has gotten better the last half of the season, but is still suspect. Drew Brees has been very good, but he's also made some critical mistakes this season tossing way too many interceptions for a historically accurate QB. The main problem is the rushing attack. With both Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory on injured reserve, Julius Jones and Reggie Bush will be counted on to carry the load. Jones has been better in New Orleans than at any time in his career since his second season in Dallas, but will that be enough? It helps him though that he gets to face the team that cut him loose in Seattle as revenge is always a good motivator. Marques Colston has really stepped up the second half of the season and his minor knee scope is likely to be a non-issue. Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, and Devery Henderson are all capable of big plays, and while it looks like emerging rookie TE Jimmy Graham is likely to miss the game against Seattle, Jeremy Shockey has played well when healthy and will be for this game. But even though the Saints are the defending champs, they just lack the consistency on both sides of the ball to really be able to make it back to big game.

Green Bay: This is the best 6th seed the playoffs have seen in a long time. The only thing the Packers lack is an identity rushing the ball. Aaron Rodgers is one of the elite QB's in the game and has a great WR corps to throw the ball to in playmaking Greg Jennings, steady Donald Driver, explosive James Jones, and underrated Jordy Nelson. And while his TE's aren't great, he finds ways to get them the ball in critical situations when least expected. At RB, Brandon Jackson is good at everything but not special at anything. John Kuhn has proven to have a real nose for getting into the end zone of late. Dmitri Nance and James Starks both have talent, but neither has been able to put that talent to its best use as they can't seem to supplant Jackson's steadiness. On defense the Packers are very good and can shut down anyone against the pass, but against the run they struggle some. This team has a legitimate chance to be able to go on the road and win every game to represent the NFC. But will they?

NFC Predictions:

New Orleans over Seattle
Green Bay over Philadelphia

Chicago over New Orleans
Green Bay over Atlanta

Chicago over Green Bay

NFC Champion: Chicago Bears


This leads us to my surprise matchup in Super Bowl 45. The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Chicago Bears. I know some are wondering how I can seriously take Jay Cutler and the Bears to win the NFC, but every year there is a surprise and I really feel that when a team as good as the Bears gets looked past by everyone, there's a good chance that team rises up and surprises all the prognosticators. This game will feature some great defense and it will be a close game throughout. Somehow though, I think Devin Hester on the return game will be an X-factor that surprises everyone and even though I think the Steelers are likely the better team, I will predict the unexpected. I will say that the Bears will come away as the Super Bowl champions. My prediction:

Chicago 26, Pittsburgh 23.