I decided to go through the playoff tree and "simulate" each of the games by simply awarding a win to whomever won in the teams' last matchup in the home team's stadium. The result might surprise you...actually, it probably won't. More after the jump!
AFC Wild Card Round:
#6 New York Jets vs. #3 Indianapolis Colts
Just about every football fan knows that the last time the Colts played the Jets at the Oil Can was about a year ago for the 2009 AFC Championship. The Jets blew a 17-6 lead just before halftime, allowing the Colts 24 unanswered points en route to a 30-17 win. Thus, the winner of this game (in our simulation, anyway) is the Colts.
#5 Baltimore Ravens vs. #4 Kansas City Chiefs
The last time these two teams met at Arrowhead was all the way back in December 2006. Sure, that's only just over four years ago, but a lot has happened with both of these teams since then, and if you don't believe me, consider that Steve McNair and Trent Green were the QBs in this matchup. The 9-3 Ravens were making a case for best team in the AFC, while the Chiefs, at 7-5, were just trying to stay alive for a Wild Card spot behind the red-hot Chargers. Ravens' WR Mark Clayton had a career day (5 REC, 112 YDS, TD) and the Ravens took a 13-0 lead in the 3rd quarter en route to a rather pedestrian 20-10 win.
NFC Wild Card Round:
#6 Green Bay Packers vs. #3 Philadelphia Eagles
These teams met in Week 1 of this season at Lincoln Financial, with then-presumptive starting QB Kevin Kolb getting mistaken for farm equipment by LB Clay Mathews early in the first quarter. The Eagles then turned to Mike Vick, whose late game heroics brought the Eagles back from being down 20-3, but couldn't finish the job. Packers won 27-20.
#5 New Orleans Saints vs. #4 Seattle Seahawks
The Saints went to Qwest Field in Week 5 of 2007. At 0-4, they were desperate for a win to keep their season alive. The Seahawks were 3-2 and looking to be in good position to once again reign as division champs in the perennially soft NFC West. Drew Brees and New Orleans came out swinging, scoring all 28 of their points in the first half, and the Seahawks limped to a 28-17 loss.
AFC Divisional Round:
#5 Baltimore Ravens vs. #1 New England Patriots
Every Pats fan remembers the last time these two teams met in the playoffs. The result was the first home playoff loss for the Patriots in over 30 years. The rematch, in week 6 of this season, was another must-have game with both teams in white-hot races with their top divisional rivals. The Ravens looked like they were going to roll the Patriots and snap Tom Brady's regular season home wins streak, but the Patriots came back from falling down 20-10 in the fourth quarter. Their maligned defense came up with several key defensive stops to allow the offense the possessions it needed to send the game to OT knotted up at 20. Stephen Gostkowski banged a 35-yarder home to send the Ravens packing, 23-20, a small measure of revenge for the embarrassment suffered in last season's playoffs.
#4 Indianapolis Colts vs. #2 Pittsburgh Steelers
In 2008, before the Steelers were Super Bowl Champions for the 6th time in their history, they were a 5-3 team fighting to keep first place in the division away from the suddenly surging Baltimore Ravens. The Colts were 4-4 with huge question marks about whether or not this year would be the year that Peyton Manning would finally begin an age-related slide. The Steelers fought hard, but Peyton Manning was surgical (21/40, 240 YDS, 3 TD) while Ben Roethlisberger was not (29/41, 280 YDS, 3 INT). The end result was a 24-20 win for Indianapolis.
NFC Divisional Round:
#6 Green Bay Packers vs. #1 Atlanta Falcons
Once again, the Packers are matched up with a team they already played in this year's season. The 7-3 Packers came to Atlanta for a much-hyped matchup against the 8-2 Falcons in Week 12. The Falcons did what they do best, relying on Matt Ryan's unflappable accuracy (86% COMP PCT) and protecting the ball for a 20-17 win that certainly lived up to the hype.
#5 New Orleans Saints vs. #2 Chicago Bears
In December 2008, the 7-5 Saints came to Chicago without much to play for: the Panthers had all but clinched the division. Chicago, however, was very much alive in the playoff chase, and came to defend their house against New Orleans. QB Kyle Orton had an embarrassing day for the Bears with no touchdowns and two picks, while Drew Brees inched closer to Dan Marino's single-season passing yards record with 232 yards, including two touchdowns. The Bears overcame those factors, however, and with a couple of Robbie Gould field goals won the game 27-24 in overtime.
AFC Championship Game:
#4 Indianapolis Colts vs. #1 New England Patriots
The Colts and Patriots. It comes to this. The last time these two teams met, back in November, the Patriots took a 31-14 lead and nearly blew it as just about every aspect of their game collapsed in the fourth quarter. Brady began missing targets, receivers were dropping passes, and the Pats' defense was getting devoured by Reggie Wayne and an undrafted free agent rookie, WR Blair White. However, with mere seconds to go and the Colts driving, a timely pick by S James Sanders sealed a 31-28 win over the Colts, the Pats' first defeat of Manning since 2007.
NFC Championship Game:
#2 Chicago Bears vs. #1 Atlanta Falcons
In Week 4 of 2009, the Falcons hosted the Bears in a matchup of 3-1 teams looking to establish themselves as serious contenders. Both quarterbacks played decently, but a late touchdown by Michael Turner cemented a 21-14 win for Atlanta. The 4-1 start was their best since 2004.
Super Bowl XLV
New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons
Oddly enough (or perhaps uncannily enough...?), our simulation ends with both #1 seeds in the Super Bowl. These two teams' last meeting was Week 3 of 2009, with the Pats hosting the undefeated Falcons. The Patriots racked up nearly 450 yards of offense, but didn't translate it into very many points until the fourth quarter, when Tom Brady threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to TE Chris Baker to put the game out of reach and give the Patriots a 26-10 win.
As for the last time New England was in Atlanta, the Falcons deployed a young backup quarterback that would eventually develop into a Pro Bowler and perennial passing crown contender. I am speaking, of course, of Matt Schaub, who went off on the Patriots in a 2005 matchup at the Georgia Dome to the tune of 298 yards and three TDs. Tom Brady also had an excellent day, with 350 yards, 3 TDs (all three of them 30+ yarders) and an interception. In the end, though, it was Adam Vinatieri who proved to be the difference maker, knocking a 29-yarder through to edge Atlanta 31-28.
So, there you have it. If the past is any indication, the Patriots have a very good chance of emerging as Super Bowl Champions. Maybe.