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
Well, this weekend did not go as I had expected, nor as I had hoped. The Falcons and Eagles game was pretty close, and came down to the wire, but it wasn’t a great show if you ask me. The Falcons looked pretty gassed and didn’t really have an answer for the Eagle’s defense. The Eagles were unable to run the ball with any authority but the passing game was able to pick up the slack a bit; the Eagles won this game because of their magnificent defense. If I’m being honest, I didn’t even watch/listen to the Patriots/Titans game but the box score shows me all I needed to know from that game. The Titans had the first and final scores of the game, it just so happened that the Patriots outscored them 35-0 between their 2 scores. The Steelers were snubbed by Jacksonville in what may have been an entertaining game for many of you; as a Steelers fan, I was not entertained. Jacksonville’s defense got picked apart by Roethlisberger who threw for almost 500 yards and 6 TDs (one was a lateral which counted as a run for Le’Veon Bell). Blake Bortles on the other hand did not have a great day, but he was capable enough not to let the Steelers back into the game. The final game of the divisional weekend ended with one of the best halves of playoff football I have ever seen. Many analysts I have listed to, or read, about the game have talked about how great of a job it was for Case Keenum to bring the Vikings back to win this game. If I am remembering correctly, the Vikings were up 17-0 at half and were only able to score 6 more points until the final play of the game. Kudos to the Vikings for pulling it together to win the game, but I remain unconvinced that the Vikings are indeed the better team. For all you youngsters out there, this is why you tackle with your head UP!
Championship Sunday –
Sunday, January 21nd:
New England Patriots vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 2:05 pm on CBS
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings, 5:40 pm on FOX
Well, .500 isn’t as bad as I did last week…sigh. The Jags ended up giving the Patriots one heck of a game but in true Tom Brady fashion, he led his team to victory after starting the 4th quarter from behind. My thoughts on Blake Bortles remain the same. Although the stats would lead you to believe he had a good 1st half (which he did statistically) he was not making any big-time throws. The offensive play calling was phenomenal for the Jags; Bortles was able to dump off to his running backs and they were able to make plays with their legs. It did not rely on Bortles to make decisions and throws he has shown he cannot make. In the 2nd half though, when the game was put on his shoulders, he did not help out his receivers any with his erratic throws. The Jags D needed to hold on to win this one but Tom Brady, once again, showed why he is unstoppable. As for the Eagles game, I still stand by my prediction. I am not convinced that the Eagles are truly the better team, but the Vikings came out flat and the Eagles took care of business; I’m not taking anything away from them for that. After giving up a quick touchdown, the Eagles went on to score 38 unanswered points. Foles surprised me though, enough for me to change my thoughts about him. He had one of the best championship performances I have seen in a while from a quarterback, and now he gets to test his mettle in the Super Bowl. The Eagles defense also showed that they are the biggest reason why they have made it this far. My apologies to the Eagles and their fans, I underestimated you guys, good luck on the 4th!
Super Bowl Sunday –
Sunday, February 4th:
New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 5:30 pm on NBC
So the Vikings were snubbed and it still remains true that no NFL team has ever played in a Super Bowl they were hosting. For what feels like the 9th year in a row, the AFC champion is the New England Patriots. On the NFC side however, we have a bit of an interesting tale, one I’m sure you’ve all heard a million times already. We all witnessed Carson Wentz tear his ACL back in week 14 and everyone (including myself) wrote them off as no longer contending for the crown. They have played surprisingly well since, and a lot of the credit goes to Nick Foles. Foles is coming off a huge performance in the NFC Championship game in which he shredded one of the best defensive units in the league (arguably the best all-around defense). His next task: best the greatest player in the history of football, on the biggest stage the game has to offer. Yeah. Now, obviously this game isn’t QB v QB so we have a few other factors to account for. Comparing the defenses of these teams, there isn’t much to look at. The Patriots’ defense isn’t elite by any means, but they are good enough to give their QB a chance to win. The Eagles, on the other hand, do just about everything extremely well. The one drawback is that they were simply league average in passing yards allowed during the season, something Tom will try to exploit. The #1 thing the Eagles do better than any other team in the NFL is the one thing that can get to Tom: pressure up the middle. When the Broncos last won the Super Bowl they beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship game and created a sort of mold, if you will, on how to beat the GOAT: get in Brady’s face with your front 4 while simultaneously covering his receivers in man-to-man coverage. The Eagles were #1 in pressure up the middle this season and they have the type of players that can slow down the quick, speedy guys the Patriots love to use at WR. They may also be able to match up with Gronk better than most, but that’s IF he plays. Now, after all of that, I want to say a couple of things. 1, whatever your immediate thoughts were following championship Sunday on who was going to win, stick with that thought and don’t waiver. There are 2 weeks between the Championship games and the Super Bowl, that is a very long gap the media has to bridge and they do that with stories, statistics, and otherwise fiction that really wont impact this game at all. The 2nd thing I would like to make very clear is this: if you give Tom Brady and Bill Belichick 2 weeks to figure out your system, they will understand it more than anyone in your locker room. I hope you all win your squares, pick the right Gatorade color, the length of the national anthem, and finally, go Eagles!