Why go with just one opinion when you can have a bunch of guys arguing their points? The different television networks picked up on this concept, and we’re running with it as well. This week, we discuss various topics as the NFL enters its first weekend of the playoffs for the 2012 season.

Storylines

Question 1: Of the eight teams competing this weekend, what’s your favorite storyline?

Nathan: With all respect to Ray Lewis possibly playing in his last game, it has to be the Colt’s improbable turnaround from last season. To go from 2 wins to 11 and making the playoffs on top of that is amazing. Andrew Luck has been the focal point, but guys like Vick Ballard and Dwayne Allen have also contributed. Plus there’s them playing their hearts out for Pagano which should add to their drive.

Aitken: Raise your hand if you had the Colts in the postseason this year?  Put your hands down, liars.  Andrew Luck has worked miracles with skill players we never heard of, the defense has kept them within reach of games and head coach Chuck Pagano’s fight with cancer has inspired an entire league. It was odd to think about them in the playoffs without Peyton Manning and if the football gods plan it right, we could see Colts vs Broncos for the first time since Peyton left next weekend. All they have to do first is hand Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh their first winless postseason since coming into the league together five years ago. It would also end the career of Ray Lewis. No pressure, Andy.

Bryan (@BCLienesch): No, I didn’t have the Colts in the postseason. However, if you think about it, it sort of makes sense. What was their downfall? They didn’t have a superb quarterback. What do they have now? Just that. The Redskins seven-game win streak, on the other hand, makes virtually zero sense. Here’s a team that wasn’t just 3-6, but was 3-6 after losing to the PANTHERS. So they win a few games, then the face of the franchise goes down. So a fourth round rookie comes in and leads a rally over one of the toughest teams in the AFC. Then, with RG3 STILL hobbling around, the defense and Alfred Morris step up and carry this squad to the first division crown in 13 years. I mean, are you freakin’ kidding me? The cliche that a team is playing with house money could not possibly apply MORE to another team in the HISTORY of sports.

James (@AnotherIWCJerk): If you don’t respond with the Colts, than perhaps you have no soul.  Going from only 2 wins and having the first pick in the Draft, to making the playoffs only one year later, is a great story.  Chuck Pagano’s fight with leukemia has had to have been a great inspiration to the team.

Jon: Adrian Peterson, without question.  His performance should go down as one of the  greatest by any athlete in any sport.  He completely transcended all accepted norms  regarding his injury and came less than 10 yards short of the single season rushing  record.  There is zero chance the Vikings are in the playoffs without him and they may have been a 6 win team at best.

XIV –  Favorite storyline is a tandem.  Chuck and Luck.  The story of Chuck Pagano’s battle with cancer and how his team and the league rallied around him (super class act last week when Arian Foster scored and tapped the Chuck Strong banner in Indy and did his bow to it). Throw in a rookie of the year candidate, who lived up to expectations this year taking a 2 win team to the playoffs.  The Colts are NOT a good team.  Not yet.  A year ago they were DREADFUL.  Their offensive line is suspect.  They can’t run the ball.  Their defense is mediocre, but?  Here they are.   Luck has 7 4th quarter comebacks.  I think more so than any other rookie, was asked to do more of the heavy lifting for his team.

Rob: The return of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson was a good storyline throughout the season, and I could see them winning co-MVP honors, but I don’t necessarily bring that into the playoffs, per say. The retirement of Ray Lewis is an interesting sidenote to that game, but it’s not necessarily all that intriguing to me, as I’ve thought Ray Lewis was going to retire for a while now, and if he becomes a coach, he’d have a similar impact on games like these as he will this weekend. To me, I like the storyline about the Texans trying to step up and show that they’re an elite team. They looked to be having a breakout year last year… but injuries put that to rest. Now this year they seem adequately healthy to take the next big step and show just how great they are. Winning the division was not enough, especially now with Andrew Luck & The Colts looking to be right on their heels.

Young Quarterbacks

Question 2: Five of the eight Quarterbacks starting this weekend are either first or second year players. How would you rank them in terms of how confident you are in their ability to look like they belong in the playoffs during their respective games?

Nathan: Here’s how I’d rank them.  1) Andrew Luck. I know everyone is infatuated with RG3, but Luck has quietly (relatively speaking) led the above-mentioned Colts turnaround. He has a number of weapons around him, that he’ll find some way to succeed.
2) RG3 (Redskins). He’s uber talented no doubt, but he’ll be facing a tough defense in the Seahawks, so he may have some trouble getting around, but he may acquit himself quite well.
3) Russell Wilson (Seattle). He’s come up big several times during the season (New England, San Francisco) so there’s no glaring thing that’ll make you say he’ll wilt and totally not belong
4) Andy Dalton (Bengals). He’s done a very good job helping to bring his team into the playoffs. I think he’ll do well, but ranking him this low has more to do with how good the guys above him are.
5) Christian Ponder (Vikings). With AP, he hasn’t needed to be very good, so I wonder if he handle the pressure    since the Packers will be doing their best to shut down Peterson.
Aitken: There’s actually six quarterbacks that fit this description in the playoffs, but Colin Kaepernick is enjoying a bye. It’s hard to believe that he was drafted right after Andy Dalton and 24 picks before Christian Ponder, the two QBs with the least amount of confidence this weekend. There’s no question that Ponder has than “Mark Sanchez: Game Manager” feel to him. Remembering how to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson worked for Ponder against the Packers last week, but they’ll need more for a Wild Card round victory. Dalton goes back to the scene of his playoff loss last year. He lost 31-10 to a Texans club that had T.J. Yates as their quarterback and, despite a decent completion percentage, Dalton turned the ball over as the world met J.J. Watt.

(Aitken continued) The three rookies are actually more trusting in my eyes. There’s something about Andrew Luck, even against a Baltimore defense who will be playing inspired and has probably been coasting into January football. The two most confident QBs are the ones facing one another. Robert Griffin III has helped the Redskins believe again, but it will take a dramatic scamper to win this one. That young Washington club may get spooked from the bright lights of playoff football and a dangerous Seahawks defense. I’m actually picking Russell Wilson to be the most at ease here. He’s had his lucky bounces this year and hasn’t seemed to float off his cloud just yet. Besides, earthquake-inducing Marshawn Lynch is in the backfield with him in case things get exciting.
Bryan (@BCLienesch): I would go RG3, one, Dalton, two, Luck, three, Wilson, four, and Ponder, five. Why? Well, let’s start with five and get it out of the way quickly: Christian Ponder, on his best day, is a mediocre quarterback. He was a stretch when he was drafted and he’s done nothing but validate that notion since. Putting Russell Wilson fourth seems kind of harsh especially when you consider the kind of second half to the season he’s had, but that’s just how good the next three are. Those three, by the way, are neck and neck and neck here, in my book. Why do I put RG3 first? Because here’s a kid playing on a team with 37-year-old veterans anchoring premium positions, and THEY look to him as a leader. The bright lights of prime time just means the more this kid will shine. His leg is a little gimped up, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with his mindset. After him, I put Andy Dalton second simply because he’s been there already. And last year, he looked like anything BUT a rookie quarterback in the playoffs. If experience is the x-factor, this guy has the advantage over the rest of the field. And then there’s Andrew Luck. I think his poise is obviously there and, under any other circumstances, he would be my top choice. But that’s just how talented this field of young gunslingers is.
James (@AnotherIWCJerk): I’ll sit here and admit I don’t follow college football enough to know any of these guys’ backgrounds.  But, I know what I’ve seen this year, and Andrew Luck is going to be a great NFL QB.  Same can be said for fellow rookies Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
Jon: I’d rank them Wilson, Griffin, Dalton, Kaepernick, and Ponder.  There’s not much of  a gap among those top 3 for me.  All 3 have demonstrated the ability to remain cool  under pressure and in big situations.
XIV – Luck, Wilson,  RGIII (could be 2, but his bum knee puts him below Wilson), Dalton, Ponder

Truly Wild Cards

Question 3: It happens somewhat frequently that a Wild Card team makes it to the Super Bowl. Of the teams who didn’t win their division (Colts, Bengals, Seahawks, Vikings), which do you believe has the best chance of reaching “the big game” and why?

Nathan: It has to be the Seahawks. They have weapons on offense in Wilson, Lynch, Rice and Tate. Their defense will be what will carry them all the way, should that occur. Richard Sherman is dangerous in the secondary and Bobby Wagner tackles everything in sight.

Aitken: The Seattle Seahawks could have been resting this weekend if the 49ers had lost to the Rams instead of tying them. Then again, if you take away the Fail Mary that Seattle pulled off against Green Bay, it wouldn’t have mattered. Any way that you slice it, Seattle easily could have become a team with a first round bye. Instead, they draw a Redskins team that is among the worst teams in pass defense this season. For a team that would need to run through teams on the road, Seattle is battle tested. They also haven’t lost at home, just in case the Vikings want to follow them to the NFC Championship game, the only scenario of a Seattle home game in the postseason.

Bryan (@BCLienesch): No team there particularly wows me, but I’ll go with the Seahawks. The Colts are where they are because they beat the teams they should’ve beat. That’s all going to change now this weekend. The Bengals have some talent, but point to a week this season where they WEREN’T an afterthought, even in their own division. There’s a reason for that. This team is good, granted, but not special. Maybe they knock off Houston, but I don’t see much else. As for Minnesota, the fact that they narrowly controlled their own destiny heading into the final week of the season over a team that ended up firing their coach points to how flawed this squad is. If I power-ranked the twelve postseason teams, the Vikings would be twelfth EASILY. Their success begins and ends with Adrian Peterson. The Packers aren’t about to be embarrassed twice in two weeks, which means this team is already eliminated. It just hasn’t officially happened yet.  The Seahawks, on the other hand, are pretty fascinating. Here’s a team who spent 2012 slowly learning how to win on the road when replacement refs weren’t their to bail them out. That’s good, because they’re probably going to have to go the distance doing just that. The depth of talent on defense combined with the superior play of Marshawn Lynch  has really taken the onus of success off the shoulders of Russell Wilson and allowed him to shine. There’s no team in the NFC right now that screams “team-to-beat”, and if the Seahawks can stay hot, this could be theirs for the taking.

James (@AnotherIWCJerk): Without a doubt, the Seattle Seahawks.  Just the way they’ve decimated certain teams, and they have a great defense and equally great offense.  A trip to the Super Bowl wouldn’t surprise me.

Jon: Seahawks pretty easily here.  They’ve been nearly dominimant in all phases of the game, even on the road.  Wilson can have a terrible game and they’d still have a great chance to beat anyone.  The NFC’s top two seeds also appear more vulnerable  than the AFC’s top two.

XIV – Seahawks.  Hot team coming into the playoffs.  Good defense, and the best secondary in the league.  Strong running game and Russell Wilson has been improving each and every week.  I look at their team and I can  absolutely see them making a deep run into the playoffs.  Especially compared to the other 3 wildcard teams.

Rob: While the defense of the Seattle Seahawks scares me, as does Marshawn Lynch out of the backfield, none of their wide receivers scare me, and I’m just waiting to see Russell Wilson have a few rookie moments on a huge stage. Plus, the fact that Seattle isn’t great on the road is something that decreases their odds.  The Colts defense and young weapons on offense make them someone I can’t necessarily get behind. The Vikings QB and wide receivers have the same effect. Odd as it may seem, the Bengals seem to be a team I could really see making a big move… if for no other reason than I’d like to give an alternate answer to Seattle. Dalton and his receivers are better than people are giving them credit for, and the defense is a Top 10 squad in the league. The fact that no one is talking about them and they’re going up against a Houston team which hasn’t accomplished much in the post season leads me to think they could be a dark horse.

Best Of The Best

Question 4: Which of the four teams with a first round bye do you think is the most likely to end up in the Super Bowl?

Nathan: You can never discount Peyton Manning in the playoffs and given that he’s leading a team that’s won their last 11, they have massive momentum and things just seem to be going their way.

Aitken: Denver kept most of their team in tact, but ended Tebow Time to bring in veteran Peyton Manning. That team got slaughtered by New England, but that was a young Broncos team without an All-World quarterback. Manning has proven that he is healthy again and Denver fans are having flashbacks to those funny feelings John Elway used to give them. Giving Manning plenty of time to study his opponents, along with keeping out of Gillette Stadium, makes Denver a favorite for New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII.

Bryan (@BCLienesch): It’s a toss-up between Denver and New England to me. Peyton is obviously back but Tom Brady — love him or hate him — OWNS the month January. The Patriots’ success makes perfect sense to me while something about the Broncos is still just sort of puzzling. I’ll go with New England if, for no other reason, because this is a better team than the one that got there last year.

James (@AnotherIWCJerk): Without question, the Denver Broncos.  Peyton Manning was definitely the missing piece they needed last year to go all the way (sorry, Tebowmaniacs).

Jon: It’s a close race between Denver and New England here.  I’ll have to give the nod to New England because of their experience and offensive balance, but it’s extremely close.

XIV – Denver.  Great offense.  Great Defense.  Home field throughout. Meaning, every one is gonna have to play a mile high!  Could be Peyton Manning’s last great chance.  Runner up is New England, and if we don’t get New England/Denver AFC Championship game? I’ll be a sad, sad panda.

Rob: I have to agree with most everyone else and say Denver. The fact that they did soo well last year with Tim Tebow as their QB makes me think that the addition of Peyton Manning could be the missing piece to a championship.

Paper Dragons

Question 5: Which of the four teams with a first round bye do you think is the LEAST likely to end up in the Super Bowl?

Nathan: Atlanta has looked merely mortal after their hot start cooled off. Ryan came back down to earth a bit, while they’ve struggled to run the ball effectively these last few games. Their pass defense is in the bottom third of the league, which isn’t good since they could face a few good passing teams in the divisional round.

Aitken: I dare you, Atlanta Falcons. Prove to me that you are a legitimate contender. If Jamal Anderson and Chris Chandler could lead this team to a Super Bowl, this year’s team should have no problem. This is the new version of the Rams and their Greatest Show on Turf? Prove it by winning it all. More importantly, do you want to prove that Matt Ryan is an elite quarterback? Win anything in the second season.

James (@AnotherIWCJerk): As a Jets fan, I want to be a jerk and just say New England, but realistically, I’m going with Atlanta.  I just don’t think they have what it takes to go all the way.

Bryan (@BCLienesch): I would have to say San Francisco. Of the four teams with a bye, this team is easily the most inconsistent. How in the hell do you go 0-1-1 against the Rams? They can win just as easily as they can lose on any given weekend which is why I see them as the least likely to string back-to-back victories together and get to New Orleans.

Jon: I have to say San Francisco.  The defense is not as dominant as last year and I think Kaepernick is a little too wild to trust.

XIV – San Francisco.    Just don’t have a lot of faith in them.  1 – they’re gonna get Green Bay, if Green Bay wins (spoiler, Green Bay is winning).  Now you have Kaepernick trying to lead this team into the playoffs.  Never played a game under this kind of pressure.  Throw in the absolute cluster..eff the kicking game is, there are a lot of question marks for this squad.

Rob: Atlanta’s defense is questionable, Matt Ryan hasn’t accomplished much in the post season, Tony Gonzalez is old and I don’t have faith in either of their running backs, Turner or Rodgers.

Pick ‘Em Time!

Bengals @ Texans

Texans – Nathan, Bryan, XIV, Rob

Bengals – Aitken, James

Vikings @ Packers

Packers – Nathan, Aitken, James, Bryan, XIV

Rob – Vikings

Colts @ Ravens

Colts – Nathan, James, Rob

Ravens – Aitken, Bryan, XIV

Seahawks @ Redskins

Seahawks – Nathan, Aitken, James, XIV

Redskins – Bryan, Rob