After 17 grueling weeks of the ‘17-‘18 NFL season, we are officially down to 12 teams, each fighting for a chance to play in Minnesota on Sunday, February 4th: the 52nd Super Bowl. This season has been saturated with stories of surprising contenders, disappointing pretenders, season-ending injuries, scandalous narratives, and fantasy frustration. As we try to distance ourselves from that, we look forward to 3 more weeks (4 including the Pro Bowl, *rolls eyes*) of playoff football; arguably the greatest time of the year. For those of you whose favorite team is no longer in the running, I urge you to pick another team to root for during this time, but more importantly: RELAX. Enjoy not having to stress out over fantasy or your favorite team. Good football is ahead. There will be headlines this entire post-season regarding rematches, first-time playoff QBs, and teams looking to continue their existing post-season dominance. Get caught up in all of it. We stress ourselves out over 4 long months with setting our lineups, scouring the waiver wire, and reading injury reports, that we owe it to ourselves to sit down and actually ENJOY football for once. So sit back, relax, crack open a beer (if you are of age of course), and watch the game that we all love with people we love.
As I did last year, I have each playoff matchup below, including who plays, when, what station will air that game, and most importantly, my prediction for each game. I have my predictions all the way through the Super Bowl. Each week I will post an update with how the games went in the previous round, and adjust my predictions for the next round, if necessary.
*All times are U.S. Central Standard Time, home teams are listed first, predicted winners for each round are in BOLD, projected opponents are in (parentheses), previous losers have been struck through, and each round will be updated after each week, .*
Wildcard Weekend –
Saturday, January 6th:
Kansas City Chiefs (4) vs. Tennessee Titans (5), 3:35 pm on ESPN/ABC
Los Angeles Rams (3) vs. Atlanta Falcons (6), 7:15 pm on NBC
Sunday, January 7th:
Jacksonville Jaguars (3) vs. Buffalo Bills (6), 12:05 pm on CBS
New Orleans Saints (4) vs. Carolina Panthers (5), 3:40 pm on FOX
Starting off 2-2 with my predications is not great, but I wouldn’t say it’s terrible either. I am sure that everyone reading this was equally as surprised as I had been to see Tennessee come back and win when they were down 21-3 at half; the 1st half went more-or-less as I had anticipated. As I mentioned for the Falcons game, the only way I saw them winning was to keep Gurley contained. Even though a 14/101/0 stat line is indicative of a good day, he was limited to only 14 carries; curious play calling, especially when you consider the success he was having. Because of this, Goff was relied upon to win the game but the Falcons’ defense was simply too good; they definitely seem to be peaking at the right time. The Jaguars and Bills game was utterly boring, especially when you consider that 13 whole points were scored in the entire game, between both teams. Lastly, the Saints and Panthers game was everything I had hoped for; it was a close game between two bitter rivals and came down to the wire, ultimately being won by the Saints.
Divisional Weekend –
Saturday, January 13th:
Philadelphia Eagles (1) vs. Atlanta Falcons, 3:35 pm on NBC
New England Patriots (1) vs. Tennessee Titans, 7:15 pm on CBS
Sunday January 14th:
Pittsburgh Steelers (2) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 12:05 pm on CBS
Minnesota Vikings (2) vs. New Orleans Saints, 3:40 pm on FOX
Because of last week’s results, I only had one matchup correctly predicted for this round: the Steelers hosting the Jaguars. Starting with the Eagles and Falcons, I am not writing off the Eagles as a sure-fire loss, but I do not think they will walk away victorious this weekend. The Falcons defense looked really good last week against a viable Rams’ offensive unit; one that I think is much more capable of putting up points than the Eagles with Nick Foles at the helm. The Falcons are also dynamic enough on offense to put up point against the Eagle’s defense, one that was tops in the league at stopping the run, but merely average against the pass this season. Game number two has the Patriots hosting the Titans; the Pats are favored by 2 touchdowns…this won’t be close. Steelers vs. Jags is enticing. These teams played back in week 5 where the Jags were able to handle the Steelers by 21 points, forcing Big Ben to throw 5 interceptions. I expect this upcoming matchup to be quite different than their previous one. The Jags offense is pretty one-dimensional, despite what Blake Bortles tells himself. This was very much put on display last week as Bortles led the team in rushing, having gained 33 more yards than Leonard Fournette on 11 fewer carries. Bortles also had fewer passing yards than he did rushing yards in the game (88 rush yards, compared to 87 passing yards on 12 completions and 23 attempts). The Buffalo Bills managed to do this while finishing the season 29th in rushing defense. If the Jags can’t establish the run, they are going to have a tough time keeping the 3rd best offense in the NFL off of the field. Don’t be surprised if this turns ugly. Last but not least, we have the Vikings hosting the Saints. I had projected this game to take place in the NFC Championship, but it appears we will be able to enjoy it one week sooner than I had anticipated. Just as predicted last week, I am still going with the Saints in this one (I just have actual reasoning behind it now). The week 1 matchup between these two teams was close, but ultimately won by the Vikings. Bradford had himself a field day while Dalvin Cook also enjoyed his own success. The Saints, conversely, had no success running the ball and only moderate success with Brees throwing the rock. The Vikings finished the season 2nd in rushing yards allowed per game and 5th per attempt. The Vikings won’t be easy to run on, but considering the success the Saints have had running the ball since this game and that their defense has also matured greatly since week 1, I see no real advantage here. This game just may come down to which team has more success throwing the ball. When the two options here are journeyman Case Keenum and future HOFer Drew Brees, you know my choice.
Championship Sunday –
Sunday, January 21nd:
Highest Remaining NFC Seed (New Orleans Saints) vs. Lowest Remaining NFC Seed (Atlanta Falcons), 2:05 pm on TBD
Highest Remaining AFC Seed (New England Patriots) vs. Lowest Remaining AFC Seed (Pittsburgh Steelers), 5:40 pm on TBD
If the predictions I have for this round come to fruition, the NFL would have an absolute field day. Playoff matchups that have the media buzzing make the league, and Vegas, a ton of money. An NFC Championship game between two divisional opponents would start this weekend off right. As with many divisional games, I can see this game going either way. In the 2 meetings between these teams during the season, the Falcons won the 1st meeting by 3, and the Saints won the 2nd by 10. Neither team ran the ball very effectively in either game. Both teams were similarly ranked in passing yards per game and passing yards per attempt, both offensively and defensively. Both teams also have a great QB that they can rely on to win them games. That being said, I have the Saints as my winner in this potential matchup simply because, again, between the two QBs, I’d rather have Brees on my team than Matt Ryan (no disrespect to Matty Ice). For the AFC Championship, I have a rematch of what was likely the most anticipated game of the regular season, the Steelers/Patriots game in week 14. These two teams were projected to be playing each other in this conference championship before the season started; they seem to be the most likely participants now as well. I picked the Steelers not because I am a Steelers fan (I am, but if you look back to last year’s article I picked the Patriots to win the AFC Championship over the Steelers), but because I think if the Steelers have Ben, Brown, and Bell all at full strength, they can finally take down the evil Empire, err, I mean Patriots.
Super Bowl Sunday –
Sunday, February 4th:
AFC Champion (Pittsburgh Steelers) vs. NFC Champion (New Orleans Saints), 5:30 pm on NBC
In a Super Bowl between the Steelers and Saints, we would be treated to a great show on Sunday, February 4th. Both teams are very similar to each other in many ways. Both have a future HOF quarterback, a dynamic running game, lethal targets in the passing game, and a young defense that is filled with high-round draft picks. This could be a very high-scoring affair that comes down to the wire. Seeing the Vikings in the Super Bowl instead of the Saints would be less appealing to me personally, since they have a stronger defense and rely more on the running game than the Saints (this combination tends to lead to less-exciting games in my experience). That may sound idiotic at the surface, considering the Saints have arguably the best run game in football, but the Saints are better equipped to pass the ball with Drew Brees than the Vikings are with career-journeyman Case Keenum. As for the Steelers and the Patriots, both are perennial Super Bowl-contenders and have dominated the role as AFC Champion for years. The Patriots entertained the world with what was the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history last season, so how would they top that? The answer, of course: they can’t. The Steelers and Saints setting of a firework display bigger than the halftime show is sure to be much more entertaining.
Image Credit: CBSSports.com