Besides a couple teams, the playoffs are pretty stacked. Let’s take a look at each conference and break it down.
First-round byes: NE (1), PITT (2)
- The Patriots locked down home-field advantage, and the AFC playoffs will once again run through New England.
- If Antonio Brown is healthy enough, which it sounds like he should be, this is Pitt’s year to finally get over the hump and beat New England. I know they struggle mightily in Foxboro, but I’m not so sure they will have a healthy Big Ben, AB, Bell and Martavis Bryant on the same field heading into the playoffs again. The time is now.
Wild Card Round:
TENN (5) @ KC (4), Saturday 4 p.m.
- Tennessee was severely underwhelming this season and I fully expected them to blow their chance at the postseason. The Chiefs started 5-0, had a disappointing mid-season, but bounced back and finished strong. I think they’re the more dangerous team by far and would be pretty surprised to see Tennessee miraculously show up in Arrowhead for a big upset.
BUF (6) @ JAX (3), Sunday 1:05 p.m.
- The Bills have ended one of the craziest playoff droughts in sports history, and it’s remarkable they did so — I truly thought this was a team destined for 6-10 at best. The Jags were truly outstanding this season; they are built for the playoffs. They run the ball well, play tough defense, and win the turnover battle. But I’m a little concerned about the health of Fournette and the rest of the offense’s ability to move the football without him at full strength. More concerning, though, is the availability of Shady McCoy for Buffalo. He is by far their best weapon, and I don’t think the Bills stand a chance without him.
First-round byes: PHI (1), MINN (2)
- Philly had one of their best seasons in franchise history. Carson Wentz solidified himself as their franchise quarterback on his way to an MVP-type season, their free-agent signings came to fruition, and their defense is January-ready. The tough break was Wentz’ ACL, which probably eliminates them from serious contention. Minnesota had a remarkable season and the NFC playoffs will likely go through them, assuming Philly struggles with Nick Foles. They have a bit of a quarterback ‘controversy’ that Philly would quite frankly welcome right now; Sam Bradford is healthy to play, as is Teddy Bridgewater, but Case Keenum is the guy who led them to their 13-3 record. I don’t expect Keenum to leave the field, but it’s interesting that Bradford will be lurking from the sidelines if things go south quick and they need a spark.
Wild Card Round:
ATL (6) @ LAR (3), Saturday 8:15 p.m.
- The Rams are one of the best stories in football this year, if not the best. They completely changed their franchise around with the hiring of the youngest coach in the league, Sean McVay. The Falcons snuck in the playoffs and went 10-6 despite a “letdown” season, in my opinion. Everyone is 0-0 in the playoffs, so it’s really tough to break this game down. I think the Falcons are dangerous and experienced, and probably have a chip on their shoulder after last year’s Super Bowl meltdown. The Rams, on the other hand, are really young and inexperienced. Will we see the regular season powerhouse, or will they flop on the big stage? This is the better game on Saturday.
CAR (5) @ NO (4), Sunday 4:40 p.m.
- This is the better game of Sunday. The Saints have beaten the Panthers twice already this season, and doing so a third time in the same year is something that rarely happens in the NFL. But I really think this is the Saints year; they have the best 1-2 running back duo in football, and finally have a formidable defense that they’ve been missing for years. Plus, they have that guy Drew Brees. The Panthers are a bit decimated and too much falls on the shoulders of Cam Newton. He’s going to have to play better than he did in the regular season, protect the football, and capitalize on every opportunity his defense gives him.
Wild Card Predictions:
Chiefs -8.5 vs. Titans
- I’ll take the Chiefs. They are the better team, better coached, and have a good home-field advantage.
Rams -6.5 vs. Falcons
- Again, this one is tricky. I’m not sure which version of both teams we’re going to get. I expect it to be a good game and I think the Falcons find a way to keep it close, despite the regular-season results telling me no.
Jags -8.5 vs. Bills
- I’m not comfortable at all with laying 8.5 points with the Jags, but I just think they are the far superior team if LeSean McCoy isn’t playing.
Saints -7 vs. Panthers
- I’m taking the Saints to roll. I think they are the best team in the NFC right now and are headed for a matchup with the Vikings in the NFC Championship game.