The NFL playoffs are drawing closer and closer. Every year countless people try to predict and analyze the playoffs. I️ love the game of football and I️ like to think I️ know a thing or two about football, so why can’t I do the same? I’m going to break down each team that is a playoff lock, in the hunt for a wildcard spot, or just sitting pretty. Let’s get started shall we:
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
With a record of 11-3 the Patriots currently sit atop the AFC. Tom Brady is the likely front-runner for MVP, the diversified backfield looking solid, the defense and receiving core doing enough to make a difference, and Gronk just being Gronk. The Patriots look like the same juggernaut that we see year in and year out. The few times we’ve seen New England struggle were a result of the defense lacking a pass rush, allowing the QB to get comfortable, and the offensive line struggling to protect Brady and establish a running game. The offensive and defensive line seems to be the main factor that leads to Patriots losses. That hasn’t happened much this season, but the playoffs has its fair share of tough pass rushers and strong offensive lines. In most recent years of the Patriots’ domination, this year seems to be one of the most vulnerable teams. A team like Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles(Rams), or Minnesota could present them with a lot of trouble. I️ could see them either bowling through the AFC entirely or getting upset at any moment. However, Belicheck is Belicheck and the Patriots are the Patriots and they will be in the AFC Championship once again. I️ do think their journey stops there against the AFC’s surprise Jaguars.
Standing at 11-3 and the 2 seed in the AFC, the Steelers look very dangerous and very capable of making a run. The killer B’s in Ben, Bell, and Brown are doing the special things everyone assumed them to be capable of. Bell is proving to be a top, if not the top back in the league. Brown has put on another record breaking performance. Big Ben is proving that he has what I️t takes to keep playing and is doing his best to put the retirement rumors on the back burner. The killer B’s have always been the talent that we’ve seen this season so there’s no surprise there. The big surprise for the Steelers this season has been the electrifying rookie Juju Smith-Schuster. He’s been putting up strong numbers for a rookie and a lot of times showing a ton of potential and skill. He’s even proven that in Brown’s absence that he can provide a solid spark for the team. However with Brown battling a tough calf injury and Shazier gone with a spinal injury, we might see them struggle to make I️t past the divisional round. As hot as they’ve been this season their defense has shown a lot of vulnerability without Shazier anchoring that defense. I️ see them losing a close game in the divisional round to the Jaguars.
Sitting atop the AFC South at 10-4 the Jaguars have proven that they are a force to be reckoned with. They have the best passing and scoring defense in the league. This young team is proving all the doubters wrong as they continue to shut down opposing offenses and get their own offense rolling. Bortles has put together a solid season despite Hurns’ struggles and Robinson missing the whole season. The younger receivers have stepped up and Fournette has been a tank in the backfield. The defense is doing great things to set up the offense and the offense is taking advantage. The true question will be if this young team can handle the pressures of the playoffs. This is the team’s first playoff birth in 10 years, making this type of atmosphere very new to this team. It’s a tall task for a young team to take down the Patriots and Steelers in the playoffs, but I️ think they will do just that. They have the pass rush to disrupt Tom Brady, and the speed and coverage to smother the Killer B’s. I️ know it’s a very bold statement, but the Jaguars are my favorite to make I️t out of the AFC.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
As you can see, the Chiefs are my pick to win the AFC West. The Chargers just looked to inconsistent against the Chiefs last week to show any signs of winning out and taking the division and the Raiders are pretty much done for. The Chiefs have shown us a very strong team when they can let Smith go downfield and get creative. When they get Hill and Hunt involved as well, they could beat just about anybody. They were a very strong team to start the season and they showed us that team again last week. Aside from last week and the first 6 games, the Chiefs have been mediocre at best. The defense didn’t play well, Smith was playing his usual conservative self, and the two rookies virtually disappeared. With the 4 seed the. Chiefs will play the first wildcard team and I️ believe that team will be the Baltimore Ravens. I️ also believe the Ravens squeak by the Chiefs in this wildcard matchup, ending their playoff run before I️t can get started.
Ok I️ know me explain myself here. The first half of the season we saw a very shaky defense, a reserved and inconsistent Joe Flacco, and a still developing running game. They didn’t look anything like a viable playoff team during the first 8 or 9 games. Lately this team has let Flacco get loose and the offensive line has gotten better. They have found a decent passing game, and the emergence of Collins and Allen has helped them become a solid offense that can do enough to capitalize on the defense’s forced turnovers. Weddle has found the fountain of youth as he is now tied for second with 6 interceptions. The front seven have been good, led by the trio of Mosley, Suggs, and Williams. Humphrey has stepped up in Jimmy Smith’s absence and shown he’s one of the best rookie corners in the league. All around, I️ think we’re seeing the typical Ravens team we usually see in December and January when Flacco becomes a formidable QB for the playoffs. This team has a decent to solid offense lately and the defense is stout and game-changing. As inconsistent as they’ve been this season, they’re proving their strength as they will finish 10-6. Tucker is still the best kicker in the league and he and the rest of the team will slide past the Chiefs and then just barely fall short against the top seeded Patriots.
The Bills retain the 6th seed for this year’s playoffs with a record of 9-7. I️ know what you’re thinking; “what about the Titans?”. Well considering the Titans play Jacksonville and the Rams to finish the season and they struggle to be a force on either side of the ball, I️ don’t see them winning either game to finish 8-8. The Bills may lose their next matchup to the Patriots but they won’t lose the final game against the Dolphins. The Bills have a streaky and unexciting passing attack with Taylor and a solid and strong backfield in LeSean McCoy. The defense shows up when they want, but when they show up, they can actually pose trouble for some stronger offenses. As much as I️ like rooting for the underdog, I️ don’t see this underdog doing much in the playoffs. They will be matched up with a very tough Jaguars team that will beat the Bills very convincingly.
The Eagles have been the best team in the league while being led by the apparent QB of the future. Carson Wentz was putting on a season that was leading him to MVP greatness. The offense was absolutely rolling and the defense was playing pretty solid. They were preforming very well on both sides of the ball and were looking like a solid candidate to play in the super bowl. Now that Wentz has gone down for the season, things don’t look quite as bright without their second year stud under center. Foles is a decent quarterback that can play well enough to get wins, but the NFC is full of solid competition. The Eagles are still a good team with a solid committee backfield, a pretty good receiving group, and stout defense. Without Wentz, I️ just can’t see the Eagles getting passed the stronger teams in the conference and I️ think they’ll go down in the divisional round at the hands of the New Orleans Saints.
The Vikings roll in as the number 2 seed. They are another team that is almost unbeatable when they’re rolling. Keemun has surprised everyone by looking like a pretty good QB. He’s played very well this season, and has led this team along with a solid backfield and defense. Keemun has been a strong surprise but has gotten help from his RB group of Murray and McKinnon and his decent receiving group led by Adam Thielen. The defense has been a force, disrupting even the better league defenses. When they are clicking, very few teams stand a chance. So long as the run game stays consistent and opening up the passing game for Keenum, they should do well in the playoffs. I️ think they will lose in the NFC divisional game to the red hot Rams.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Rams have been another one of those surprise teams as they currently sit at 10-4. They have a very tough defense, a top 10 offense, and a favorable final 2 games. The Rams were expected to maybe break .500 and nothing more. Instead this team leads the league in point differential (+166) and is tied for first in points scored (31.3/game). The defense is very solid and makes stops and turnovers. The offense run by Goff and Gurley has indefinitely taken advantage of those chances all season. Goff is proving that he’s a good QB, Gurley is putting up monstrous numbers and is in running for MVP, Kupp and Woods have been dangerous receivers, and the line is giving them time to make plays. This team is functioning like a well oiled machine and has all the looks and talent of a Super Bowl contender. It’s a tough road to the Super Bowl having to get passed the Lions (yes the Lions), Vikings, and Saints, but I️ strongly believe this will be the team to get there.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The Saints have been another team that has done things that we wouldn’t have expected this season. Drew Brees has done typical Drew Brees things irregardless of his age. The real surprise has come from this defense and his backfield. Many would’ve thought they’d rely very heavily on the pass to help create a somewhat decent run game and to keep pace with the defense allowing other teams to roll offensively. That’s just what we’ve seen from them before this year. What we got was a great running game behind the two headed monster of Ingram and Kamara, a top overall offense, and a defense that ranks 11th in total yards. They have played great football this season and with a veteran like Brees at the helm, I️ think we’ll see some solid playoffs performances out of this team. Kamara and Ingram just became the first RB duo to make the Pro Bowl since 1975 and that’s phenomenal. Brees will just be Brees and that’s always great to have for a team. This defense will continue to play at a high level lead by Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore. They will be a strong team and a tough out in the playoffs. They will make I️t to the NFC Championship game and finally get ousted by the Rams.
The Panthers have been solid for the most part this season. We’ve seen a lot of Cam playing the way he did when he made I️t to the Super Bowl two years ago. Adding in a dual-threat backfield, a solid receiving group, a healthy Greg Olsen, and a stout defense and I️t sounds like a real Super Bowl contender. However, we’ve seen a handful of games where Cam struggled to produce. We’ve also seen Olsen struggle to stay healthy. The running game has been the most promising part of the offense with Stewart still playing well and McCaffrey bursting into the scene as a solid receiving back. The defense has played well and that has helped overshadow some of Cam’s bad games, and Funchess has helped pull some spotlight away from Olsen’s injury troubles. The playoffs are a different type of scene, and all those imperfections and struggles are thrust into the spotlight and exposed for all to see. Maybe an MVP caliber Cam Newton and a healthy Greg Olsen could’ve have helped this team make a run but without that, they just don’t have what I️t takes this year to make I️t out of a very tough NFC. They won’t make I️t passed the Saints in the wildcard round.
Yes I️ believe the Lions will win out and take the 6 seed in the NFC. The Lions have an exciting offense for sure. A good QB in Matt Stafford, a crowded backfield, Marvin Jones and Golden Tate, and Eric Enron give this team a solid offensive attack. Granted the rushing attack has struggled, but there’s no doubt that the talent is there. This offense generally has to play keep up however, because aside from Darius Slay, this defense tends to lack the ability to lockdown or play stout defense. The offense 27th in overall offense and 25th in points allowed. The best shot they have at making any waves in the playoffs lies directly in the hands of Matthew Stafford and that solid passing game. Will that be enough for them to pull out a win or two? Unfortunately I️ will have to say no as they would be matched up against the red hot Rams. Maybe next year Detroit.
SUPER BOWL PREDICTION
I️ know my Super Bowl prediction here seems too good to be true, but I️t is highly possible. This pick is more than just wishful thinking as I️ believe we’ll see the Jacksonville Jaguars facing off against the Los Angeles Rams in the big game in Minnesota. Both teams are very dangerous and they seem very similar. Both have young QBs who have struggled in past seasons and are proving themselves now. Both have strong young running backs that are anchoring their offenses. Both have young, talented receiving groups that have surprised us all. Both have very strong and deadly defenses as well. They have a solid amount of similarities between them and they both are two of the most dangerous teams in the league. Both teams protect the quarterback well and both teams have solid pass rushing attacks. The two teams are ranking 1st and 2nd in sacks(Jax-51, LAR-47), and they also rank 5th and 8th in sacks allowed (Jax-21, LAR-24). They’ve both also done well with turnover differential ranking 2nd and 8th (Jax-+15, LAR-+6). The defense is stronger for the Jaguars, and the offense has an edge for the Rams. So in a battle of offense vs defense, who gets the edge? I️ might have to give the edge here to the Jaguars. They have that deadly defense with a shutdown defensive backfield and a strong, quick front seven. On the other side of the ball, Bortles isn’t getting pressured a lot and has made the defenses pay for giving him time. Normally we don’t see solid play like this from Bortles, but this is a product of a solid o-line and I️ don’t see that changing in this matchup. Fournette only looks better too behind this line. He’s a physical and talented young back and will pound out the yardage to open up the passing game. The defense will do just what it’s done all season. They’ll pressure Goff and slow down Gurley as they bottle up this offense. These corners will bottle up these young receivers and will have Goff frustrated and uncomfortable all day. I’m picking the Jaguars to best the Rams in the Super Bowl this year! I️ know that’s bold and crazy to say but the numbers and matchups speak for themselves.
PREDICTION : JAGUARS 23 RAMS 17