Sunday Scramble: Questions for Niners, Patriots

  • By Gregg Rosenthal
  • Updated: Dec. 24, 2012 at 01:08 a.m.

One week after the San Francisco 49ers' biggest win of the season, they ate their biggest slice of humble pie. The 42-13 beatdown at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks will probably make analysts views the 49ers differently this week, but it shouldn't.

This is what the 49ers have been all season. This is the NFL.

San Francisco has been dominated a handful of times this year -- by Minnesota, New York, and now Seattle. The 49ers haven't won three games in a row all season. They are capable of complete performances and capable of no-shows. Like a lot of teams.

The Green Bay Packers, now in line for the No. 2 seed in the NFC, aren't that far removed from a 38-10 loss to the New York Giants. That same Giants team that destroyed San Francisco and Green Bay probably won't make the playoffs.

The 49ers will enter the playoffs going sideways. The Seahawks will enter the playoffs on a huge roll. Teams have made runs to the Super Bowl with both approaches.

After breaking down the playoff picture in the AFC and NFC, let's talk about the 10 NFL teams we know are in. Here's how each playoff team is looking heading into January:
Peaking at the right time

Seattle Seahawks: Dropping a 50-burger on the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills is one thing. Railroading the 49ers is quite another. I picked the Seahawks to win the NFC West before the season and they will probably fall half a game short. But no team in the NFL is playing better entering the playoffs. Winning three road games in a row is tough, but Seattle's style of play should travel just fine.

Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews makes all the difference for their defense. The team finally has a running game. A potential playoff bye awaits if they can beat Minnesota, which will allow Charles Woodson and Jordy Nelson more time to get healthy. The Packers are in perfect position.

Atlanta Falcons: I've had my doubts about the Falcons all season, but they are playing their best at the right time. Matt Ryan played two near-flawless games against the Giants and Lions. Their defense should be the healthiest it's been all season for the playoffs.

Denver Broncos: They have barely

been challenged during a 10-game winning streak. Whether they get the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, Denver should be seen as the slight AFC Super Bowl favorite over New England. (The Broncos could technically still drop to No. 3, but that would take a home loss to the Chiefs. That's not happening.)
Mixed signals

New England Patriots: I'm used to seeing the Patriots play their very best in December, no matter the opponent. The Patriots have struggled in successive weeks against one of the league's best teams (San Francisco) and one of the worst (Jacksonville). The Patriots might have to win two road games to make the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati Bengals: Yes, the franchise took a major step forward on Sunday in Pittsburgh. This season should be viewed as a success for that victory alone. They are no longer lesser citizens of the AFC North and the defense is playing outstanding. With all that said, Andy Dalton is not playing particularly well. The Bengals rushed for 14 yards in Pittsburgh. This team has one-and-done written all over it, like last year.

San Francisco 49ers: I'm tempted to give the 49ers a pass for losing in Seattle just a week after being on the field for 92 defensive plays in New England. Then again, the 49ers now look unlikely to get a bye. The pattern of "win, win, loss" has plagued them all season. It looks like they'll need three straight wins to reach New Orleans.

Baltimore Ravens: The three-game
losing streak was ugly. The blowout win over the New York Giants could not have been more impressive. This team has enough talent to put together a Giants-like playoff run, but it was only one game.
Heading in wrong direction

Houston Texans: The Texans need to win in Indianapolis or risk falling all the way to the No. 3 seed. Houston has been steamrolled twice in the last three weeks. The team is struggling to pick up yards in short yardage situations, and the Vikings blitzed Matt Schaub into submission. The defense hasn't been as dominant. No matter what seed Houston gets, it would be a surprise to see them in New Orleans.

Indianapolis Colts: The defense is falling apart. Andrew Luck is battered and not throwing the ball accurately. I sound like a party pooper and it is absolutely incredible this Colts team is in the playoffs, but they aren't playing particularly good football despite all the magic.