2012 NFL Divisional Picks and Predictions From WhatIfSports.com image

2012 NFL Divisional Playoff Picks and Predictions

NFL Divisional Playoff box scores and stats included

By Joel Beall and Ryan Fowler - WhatIfSports.com
UPDATE: January 10, 2013

Each Tuesday, WhatIfSports.com's NFL simulation engine will provide you with predictions, box scores and statistics for every NFL game that week. The NFL simulation engine generates detailed information including the home team's chances of winning (Home Win %), average score and comprehensive box score link. If you want to share your new found NFL knowledge with friends and family, make sure to check out our NFL Widgets on the WhatIf To Go page or click on the social networking share bar located at the top and bottom of the article.

The statistical inputs to the thousands of NFL games simulated are based on rigorous analysis of each team's roster, depth chart and statistically based player ranking. Roster modifications have been made for injuries and suspensions and those players are not part of their team's game simulation.

To account for injuries and roster moves announced late in the week, we will be re-simulating some games on Thursdays throughout the 2012 NFL season.

Check out our 2012 NFL Season-to-Date page to follow our accuracy week-to-week and find Locks and Upsets of the Week.

Gridiron Dynasty - College Football Game

AFC Divisional: Ravens at Broncos

By: Joel Beall

Billie Frechette: They're looking at me because they're not used to having a girl in their restaurant in a $3 dress.
John Dillinger: Listen, doll. That's 'cause they're all about where people come from. The only thing that's important is where someone's going.
- Public Enemies

The above quote could aptly describe Baltimore heading into Mile High this weekend. The Ravens ousted the Colts in the opening round of the playoffs, but a hearty contingent is eying the squad like they don't belong in the postseason. Losing four of their last five regular-season contests could have something to do with the sentiment. Or that the team dismissed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron after Week 14, an almost-unprecedented move for a 9-4 division leader. Even last Sunday's win came with some skepticism, as the Ravens were handed a gift with Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians absent from the sidelines.

While all are genuine reservations for the Ravens, the biggest question mark remains under center. Despite five seasons of evidence, Baltimore fans still aren't sure what to make of quarterback Joe Flacco. Judging by the box sores, the signal caller is a fairly solid performer, evidenced by over 3,800 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2012. (For comparison, Flacco's opposite last weekend, Indianapolis neophyte Andrew Luck, has received nothing but accolades this season, yet threw for 23 scores and 18 picks.) Though he's not considered an upper-echelon arm, plenty of teams would vie for Flacco's services if he hits free agency this offseason.

Nevertheless, if Baltimore fails to reach the Super Bowl, the blame won't go to a deteriorating defense that is more bark than bite. The onus, perhaps unfairly, will fall on Flacco and the offense. Luckily for Flacco, having Ray Rice in the backfield never hurts, and the emergence of backup Bernard Pierce has given Baltimore a nasty one-two punch. Receiver Torrey Smith is one of the best long-ball threats in the game, and as illustrated last weekend, Anquan Boldin has plenty of gas left in the tank. But a subpar performance could indicate the end of Flacco's time in Maryland, putting extra emphasis on an already heightened atmosphere.

Flacco won't be the only field general feeling the heat this weekend. The revival of Peyton Manning has been one of the most followed narratives on the gridiron this season, as the perennial Pro Bowler was able to bounce back from neck surgery to submit one of the finest campaigns of his career. After a so-so start, the ever-improving rapport between Manning and the rest of the offense provided dividends, with the Broncos reeling off 11 consecutive wins, securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Given the somewhat controversial acquisition of Manning last offseason, it appears John Elway's gamble has paid off.

Or should we note, "so far?" For as celebrated as Manning's production has been during the fall, winter has been a different tale. The playoff triumphs have been few and far between for the 36-year-old quarterback, and if it wasn't for the, ahem, "performance" of Rex Grossman, Manning could very well be without a Lombardi Trophy. There's no doubting his place among the greats of the game, but capturing his second title will silence more than a few whispers regarding the venerable Manning.

Helping Manning in this journey is one of the AFC's most daunting resistances. Led by second-year stud Von Miller, the Broncos surrendered a paltry 18.1 points per game, best in the conference. As Denver finished with the third-fewest yards surrendered in the air (199.6 yards per contest) AND ground (91.1 yards per outing), it will be hard for Baltimore to find a weakness in this 2012 edition of the Orange Crush.

So who comes out on top in this Rocky Mountain melee? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Broncos get the best of the Ravens 66.9 percent of the time, winning by an average margin of 25-19.

AFC Divisional: Ravens at Broncos
MatchupWin%Avg ScoreWIS Interactive
Baltimore Ravens33.119Boxscore
@ Denver Broncos66.925Simulate Game

AFC Divisional: Texans at Patriots

By: Joel Beall

A month between meetings may not signal a significant passage of time, but in the world of the NFL, such a period feels like a lifetime. For just thirty days ago, the Texans appeared to be on top of the pigskin realm, riding an 11-1 record into Foxborough to take on the Patriots. Though Houston could have all but tied the knot on the AFC's No. 1 seed with a win, a loss would theoretically not make them much worse for the wear either, as Gary Kubiak's crew would still be in control of their own playoff destiny with a one-game advantage over New England and Denver.

Alas, how the tables can turn in the span of thirty days. Houston would come out on the business end of a 42-14 beatdown from New England, sending them into a tailspin that saw the Texans lose three of their final four contests. Combined with strong finishes from the Pats and Broncos, Houston saw their home-field advantage evaporate, relegated to playing in the opening round of the playoffs. Even in victory, Houston has given off the impression of a mediocre company, as many gridiron pundits left Saturday's 19-13 conquest over Cincinnati believing the Bengals would have emerged victorious had an adequate arm been under center. Once believed to be a Super Bowl favorite, the Texans are considered by many to be the weakest remaining playoff team.

Not that Houston is without horsepower. J.J. Watt has turned into every quarterback's nightmare, racking up over 20 sacks on the campaign. Despite fears of deterioration, Andre Johnson posted a career year with 112 grabs for nearly 1,600 yards. And, of course, the Houston run game ain't too shabby.

Arian Foster submitted his third straight scintillating season, rushing for over 1,400 yards and leading the league with 15 terrain touchdowns. The All-Pro back showed slight signs of regression in the second half of the season, and an irregular heartbeat scare in Week 16 did not alleviate this apprehension. However, Foster, who has made a career out of proving skeptics wrong, doused these flames with his performance against the Bengals, running for 140 yards and a touchdown while adding eight receptions for 34 yards in the passing game. Adrian Peterson dominated the headlines at the position this fall, but few are better in the backfield than the 26-year-old Foster.

The Texans will need Foster to be firing on all cylinders against a stingy New England front seven. Led by Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork, the Patriots allowed just 101.9 yards per game this season and were one of only four AFC units to hold the opposition under four yards per carry. Though the New England secondary is somewhat vulnerable, the defense finished the regular season tied for ninth in points allowed, relinquishing a scant 20.7 points per outing.

Yet make no mistake, an explosive offense remains the Patriots' bread and butter. The eminence of Tom Brady continues to grow, with the Michigan product tossing for 34 scores and over 4,800 yards this season. Even more impressive was Brady's mere eight interceptions in over 637 passing attempts. Now in his 12th year as starting signal caller, Brady endures as one of the premier passers in the game.

If Houston didn't already have their hands full with the aerial attack, they will also have to account for a revitalized running game. Second-year man Stevan Ridley has given the Pats their first dangerous backfield presence since the Corey Dillon days, rushing for over 1,260 yards with 12 touchdowns this season. Now armed with viable attacks through the air and on the soil, New England may have the most well-rounded offense in the Brady-Belichick Era. (That sound you heard was every playoff team shuddering.)

So who earns a spot in the conference championship? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Patriots come out on top 59.9 percent of the time by an average margin of 27-23.

AFC Divisional: Texans at Patriots
MatchupWin%Avg ScoreWIS Interactive
Houston Texans40.123Boxscore
@ New England Patriots59.927Simulate Game

Gridiron Dynasty - College Football Game

NFC Divisional: Packers at 49ers

By: Ryan Fowler

The Packers vs. Niners matchup on September 9, 2012 might as well have been played five years ago. Both teams' identities on offense have evolved drastically since Week 1.

Alex Smith experienced his own Wally Pipp moment, Cedric Benson went down with a season-ending injury, Greg Jennings missed a good chunk of the season with an abdomen injury, Vernon Davis faded to the background, Randall Cobb soared, and so on.

The Packers also endured some great challenges/injuries on the defensive side of the ball throughout the season. Those wounds appeared fully healed by the way the Packers attacked a Joe Webb-led Vikings' offense last weekend and forced three turnovers.

Since Colin Kaepernick (229.7 pass yards per game) was named the starting quarterback, the 49ers are 5-2. In the two games San Francisco lost, to the Rams and Seahawks, Kaepernick, and not Frank Gore, led the team in rushing. Michael Crabtree muted Vernon Davis' role within the passing game over the last month-plus. He's averaged 107.6 receiving yards per game with four touchdowns over the last five games.

The Niners' defense remains one of the league's best. Green Bay's newly named first-string running back, DuJuan Harris (93.5 total yards per game over the last two contests), faces a rush defense that finished fourth in yards allowed (94.2 yards per game), surrendering seven rushing touchdowns during the regular season. Despite the loss in Week 1, Rodgers did pass for over 300 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against what ended up being the fourth-best pass defense in the league (200.2 yards/game).

Using our NFL simulation engine, we "played" the Niners and Packers divisional matchup 501 times and it's the 49ers winning 54.2 percent of the time by an average score of 21-20.

NFC Divisional: Packers at 49ers
MatchupWin%Avg ScoreWIS Interactive
Green Bay Packers45.820Boxscore
@ San Francisco 49ers54.221Simulate Game

NFC Divisional: Seahawks at Falcons

By: Ryan Fowler

Take nothing away from Russell Wilson and what he's accomplished in his rookie season, but Marshawn Lynch is the offensive key to success against the Atlanta Falcons in Sunday's divisional showdown.

The breakdown is quite simple: over the last six games, Lynch averaged 111.8 rush yards per game with seven touchdowns (eight total). The Falcons' defensive weakness remains against the rush (123.2 yards per game and 16 touchdowns allowed). In their first two losses of the season, the Falcons allowed the Saints and Panthers rushing attack to average 171.5 rush yards with two touchdowns. Tampa Bay rushed for 144 yards against the Falcons in Week 17 after Atlanta had secured a first-round bye and home-field throughout the NFC playoffs.

Atlanta's pass defense may have finished 23rd against the pass (242 pass yards allowed per game), but they allowed a league-low 14 passing touchdowns and finished fourth in turnover margin plus-13, tied with the Seahawks.

Seattle allows a league-low 15.3 points per game, but Matt Ryan's high-flying Falcons' pass attack averaged 26.2 points per game and did not score fewer than 17 points in a game during the regular season (Week 17 vs. TB).

Using our NFL simulation engine, we "played" the Seahawks and Falcons 501 times and it likes Atlanta 52.6 percent of the time by an average score of 20-19.

Please note: The Seahawks-Falcons game was re-simulated on 1/10 to account for injuries and roster updates.

NFC Divisional: Seahawks at Falcons
MatchupWin%Avg ScoreWIS Interactive
Seattle Seahawks46.919Boxscore
@ Atlanta Falcons53.120Simulate Game

Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jbeall@whatifsports.com.

Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at rfowler@whatifsports.com.

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