Daily 49er

Daily 49er takes a look at the 2016 NFL Playoffs

Staff members make their Super Bowl picks from each conference and they all agree: it won’t be Houston against Washington.

Daily 49er Staff

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AFC

Will Hernandez: One thing is certain; defense wins championships. New England Patriots cornerback Malcom Butler’s late interception in Super Bowl XLIX proved this. Despite the Pats being the favorites to win the AFC, they are not the same team they were a year ago. Injuries to New England’s roster have gashed its offensive rhythm and led to more pressure being put on Brady. This leaves the door open for the Denver Broncos to slip through and steal the Patriots’ glory.

The Broncos have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and that will pay major dividends for them. Denver might have an aging Peyton Manning, who just had the worst season of his career, but on the other hand, it is the Broncos defense that will keep them in the hunt.

The key for the Broncos success will be if running backs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman can run the ball efficiently. This will take the stress off Manning and create more opportunities for the play-action pass game while giving the league’s No. 1 defense time to rest.

 

Josh Barajas: We can cross off the Houston Texans because, well, they’re the Houston Texans. And the Broncos and Bengals have serious quarterback issues and questionable defensive performances down the stretch. The Chiefs are the hottest team in the league, but they also have Alex Smith at quarterback, Charcandrick West at running back and Andy Reid as head coach. I can’t trust that team one bit. That leaves us with the AFC favorite New England Patriots and the sixth seeded Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yes, the Steelers barely squeezed into the postseason, but what matters is that they’re there and are the best prepared team to challenge the defending AFC champions.

Pittsburgh has a slight edge over New England in its passing game and if DeAngelo Williams was active I’d pick the Steelers every time. However, since he’s out with a foot injury now neither team has a reliable running game. It’ll come down to defense and the Patriots’ secondary is much better than Pittsburgh’s. Still, I believe that Steelers receiving corps is too dynamic to stop. I’m picking the Steelers to win the AFC.

 

Greg Diaz: As much as I have no desire to see them in the Super Bowl again, it’s hard not to think the New England Patriots won’t be in Santa Clara in February. Sure, the Pats stumbled down the stretch, going 2-4 after starting the season 10-0. Sure, they have lost just about every single running back they have thrown into the backfield, to the point that I think they’re calling to see if Corey Dillion really wants to stay retired.

But the truth is that for the past several years there have been two Pats teams. The one where Gronkowski suits up and the one where he doesn’t. And the team they send out with Gronk is nearly impossible to stop on offense. In a league of unmovable objects, Gronk is the unstoppable force, with no human on the planet yet made that’s able to cover him.

So as long as Gronk is healthy and in a uniform, pencil the Pats in for Super Bowl 50.

 

NFC

Will: The NFC is not as clear cut as the AFC and it’s a bit tougher to pick a favorite.

There are the Seattle Seahawks, who have made the big game two years in a row and have a healthy Marshawn Lynch returning to the lineup for the Wildcard game at Minnesota. They’re a team that has been there before. On the other hand, no one has given the Carolina Panthers the respect they deserve. The Panthers steamrolled through the regular season, smashing most of their opponents with Cam Newton playing like an MVP.

But, it’s the Arizona Cardinals that are arguably the most complete team in the playoffs. They’re No. 1 in total offense and have a Top-5 defense that is plus nine in the turnover margin.

Quarterback Carson Palmer is having the best season of his career and the chemistry between head coach Bruce Arians and the players goes a long way. For this reason, the Cardinals are my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and win it.

 

Josh: Now, the NFC is harder to decipher.

We can cross out the very average Washington football team and the Green Bay Packers. Lucky for them they play each other in the Wildcard. Normally I wouldn’t overlook the Minnesota Vikings with Adrian Peterson carrying the football, but I doubt he can carry the entire team with him as well to three straight wins. He has never done it in the playoffs and I doubt he ever will.

I might as well get this out of the way: The Carolina Panthers won’t be in Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50. Sure, they went 15-1, but look at who they played. They played against all three of the disastrous divisions in professional football. They tore through the pitiful AFC South, NFC East and NFC South – it’s actually disappointing that they didn’t go 16-0. They only have two good wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Packers, but it’s also worth noting that both of those teams have been subpar.

This leaves the Arizona Cardinals and the Seahawks. The Cards are probably the most powerful offense in the league and their defense is right up there as well. The Seahawks have been mediocre at times, but they’re looking to participate in their third straight Super Bowl.

It’s difficult, but I pick the Cardinals to show up in Santa Clara and get some revenge in a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers.

 

Greg: I hope you liked last year’s Super Bowl, because get ready for the Super Bowl 50: Electric Boogaloo. The Seattle Seahawks may not have had a season as dominant as the last few, but they are the only team in the NFC that know this road like the back of their hands.

After spending the first half of the season adjusting to the offseason acquisition of All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, the team was seemingly freed to get back to the basics when he was lost for the season.

Combine that with the leap made by quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were able to finish the season with eight wins over their last 10 games. The defense may not be quite as strong as the last two years, but an improved offense should give them the chance to rewrite the ending on last year’s Super Bowl.

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