1 | STEELERS
Showing their age at times on D, but talent and savvy will carry them to another division title. Mike Wallace gives Ben Roethlisberger a devastating deep threat.
2 | PATRIOTS
November 7, 2011
It will be up to Bill Belichick (below left) to solve his secondary issues. He will. Tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski (and Tom Brady) will be the difference in the postseason.
3 | TEXANS
A healthy Arian Foster and a feisty defense under Wade Phillips will push Houston into its first playoffs. (Assist to the injured Peyton Manning.)
4 | CHARGERS
Philip Rivers is struggling, but San Diego is still positioned to edge out the Raiders and the Chiefs. Antonio Gates's health is crucial to the Chargers' chances.
5 | RAVENS
Under Joe Flacco, the offense looks seamless at times, sloppy at others. But the playmakers on the other side of the ball make up for it—this could be the Ravens' best D since 2000.
6 | BILLS
Division battles with the Jets will determine the final wild-card spot. Buffalo has a special glint, with fourth-quarter comebacks against Oakland and New England adding confidence to a team of upstarts.
Bills defeat Texans; Ravens defeat Chargers
Steelers defeat Bills; Patriots defeat Ravens
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Patriots defeat Steelers
1 | PACKERS
Aaron Rodgers is playing at a level not seen since Tom Brady in 2007—and like the '07 Patriots, Mike McCarthy (below right) and Green Bay are flirting with perfection.
2 | 49ERS
That $5 million a year for Jim Harbaugh looks like a bargain. He's given QB Alex Smith direction and resurrected a proud franchise, which should host its first playoff game in nine years.
3 | SAINTS
The already prolific attack has gotten more diversified, but the D has been inconsistent and isn't causing turnovers at the rate of New Orleans' Super Bowl team.
4 | EAGLES
The turmoil behind them, the Eagles should overtake the Giants (who have a brutal remaining slate). No margin for error, but Philly finally is playing up to expectations.
5 | FALCONS
Matt Ryan's 79.5 passer rating is the lowest of his four-year career, but better protection for him and better decision-making by him will make for a better second half.
6 | LIONS
Calvin Johnson is a nightmare matchup, and Ndamukong Suh sets a belligerent tone for the defensive front. But Detroit needs Matthew Stafford and Jahvid Best to stay healthy for any shot at a deep run.
Saints defeat Lions; Eagles defeat Falcons
Packers defeat Eagles; Saints defeat 49ers
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Packers defeat Saints
| SUPERBOWL XLVI |
Feb. 5, 2012
LUCAS OIL STADIUM INDIANAPOLIS