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Parity in the NFL makes prognosticating its fate not the easiest of endeavors. After all, with injuries correlating to a depleted defense last August, who in good conscience could have forecast the New York Giants to reach the Super Bowl? Oh yes, that's right...
(As for the prophecy regarding the G-Men's challenger for the Lombardi Trophy? Don't worry about such trivial tidbits, my friends.)
As the advent of the regular season is upon us, it's time for our annual WhatIfSports.com NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions for the 2012 campaign.
As always, all of our simulated NFL content is based on the statistical DNA of the league's 32 teams. The simulation process takes into account: team depth charts, injuries, passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, turnovers, rush defense, pass defense, offensive philosophy (pass versus rush), and minutia your brain can't handle at this time.
The rosters and depth charts used were up-to-date and accurate as of September 2, 2012.
NFL Wild Card Simulations
|@ Pittsburgh Steelers||52||21|
|@ Denver Broncos||51||23|
|@ Atlanta Falcons||49||23|
|@ Dallas Cowboys||42||23|
Bumps and bruises to Pittsburgh's backfield and offensive line, along with an aging defensive unit, have led to speculation that the Steelers' reign over the AFC North may be overthrown. Though these apprehensions are understandable, the issues failed to submarine the Steel City's season, as Mike Tomlin's crew captured the division title and took care of business in Wild Card Weekend by knocking off rival Baltimore 52 percent of the time by an average margin of 21-20. Also in the AFC, John Elway's gamble to import the venerable Peyton Manning produced dividends, as the Broncos upended upstart Buffalo, winning 51 percent of the time by a marginally-thin 23-22 average score.
Speaking of upended, it might be time for a regime change in Atlanta. Despite accumulating 43 wins in his first four seasons with the Falcons, head coach Mike Smith has yet to lead his team to a victory in the postseason. Unfortunately for Smith and the Dirty Birds, this trend continues in 2012, as the visiting Detroit Lions came out the victors in a battle in the Georgia Dome, pulling out the W in 51 percent of their matchups by an average score of 24-23. In the Windy City, the Cowboys weren't quite as formidable of an opponent, losing to the Bears 58 percent of the time by an average margin of 25-23.
NFL Divisional Playoffs Simulations
|@ New England Patriots||58||25|
|@ Houston Texans||65||24|
|@ Green Bay Packers||62||26|
|@ San Francisco 49ers||60||22|
Falling just short in Indianapolis last February, the Patriots answered with vigor, obtaining the No. 1 conference seed for the third consecutive season. Utilizing offseason acquisition Brandon Lloyd early and often, Tom Brady sent the Steelers packing, overcoming the Black and Yellow 58 percent of the time by an average margin of 25-22 to reach the AFC Championship Game. The Pats will meet the Texans, who also received a first-round bye thanks to a healthy campaign from Matt Schaub and the continued artistry of the Houston running game. The Houston defense ain't too shabby either, evidenced by the Texans holding Manning and the Broncos air attack to under 20 points, as Houston advances by a 25-19 win in 65 percent of the simulated games.
The Black and Blue Division regained some of their fortitude this fall, as the NFC North send three squads into the postseason, with two of those teams, Detroit and Chicago, notching a victory in the opening round. Alas, an all-arctic conference championship game was not to be, as the Bears succumbed out west to the San Francisco 49ers, losing 60 percent of the time by an average score of 22-19. In the other divisional game, Green Bay returns to the NFC Championship for the second time in three years by finishing off rival Detroit, coming out on top 62 percent of the time with an average score of 26-23.
NFL Conference Championships Simulations
|New England Patriots||41||23|
|@ Houston Texans||59||26|
|San Francisco 49ers||51||21|
|@ Green Bay Packers||49||20|
Much like the Cowboys during the '90s, even though the Patriots weren't in every Super Bowl the past decade, it certainly has felt as such. So forgive us if this sounds like we're shortchanging Houston, but the bigger story out of this simulation isn't the Texans reaching their first title game in franchise history; rather, it's New England watching the contest from home, as Bill Belichick and company fall short 59 percent of the time, losing by an average count of 26-23.
Houston's adversary for Super Bowl XLVII? The San Francisco 49ers, who went into one of the league's most hostile environments in Lambeau Field and emerged victorious, winning 51 percent of the time in a barn-burning 21-20 fashion. For the Niners organization, it's sweet revenge, as the Cheeseheads traveled to Candlestick Park during the 1997-98 NFC Conference Championship and laid the smackdown on San Fran, on the Pack's way to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLVII Simulations
|San Francisco 49ers||46||19|
|vs. Houston Texans||54||21|
It doesn't get much better than the Big Game in the Big Easy. Though "San Francisco strikes gold in New Orleans!" makes for a good headline, the simulation engine has a different outlook on the affair. As both rosters flaunt nimble ground games and stout defensive fronts, it's the aerial assault that decided the ballgame, with Schaub coming through in the clutch for Houston, pushing the Texans to a 21-19 triumph in 54 percent of the simulations.
Throughout the 2012 NFL season, WhatIfSports.com will provide FOXSports.com its game predictions and fantasy projections on a weekly basis.
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.