The Road to Super Bowl LII

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 so much 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).*

 

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

 

As you can see, I went out on a limb here (sarcasm) and went with all home teams, all of which are currently favored by Sport Books by six or more points.  I did the same thing last year and went 4 for 4, most because the matchups in the Wild Card were pretty pathetic; I think this year’s is different.  KC may have stumbled a bit near the middle-to-end of the season but Tennessee just doesn’t have it together.  How a team that is this dysfunctional even made it to the playoffs is nothing short of astounding (everyone in the organization is calling for the HC and OC to be fired, in case you weren’t aware).  Rams hosting the Falcons should be a good one: the Rams’ weakness defensively is their ability to stop the run which is exactly what the Falcons look to do on offense.  However, in order to win, the Falcons must find a way to humanize Gurley for 4 quarters, force Goff to make mistakes, and limit their own mistakes; I just don’t think all of that will happen.  Jags/Bills should remain a competitive game as neither starting QB has a playoff start to their resume.  I see the Jags walking away from this one victorious because of their fantastic defense.  I could very much see this game coming down to the wire though.  Two stout defenses and two robust run games may not make for a very interesting game, but the end result will prove who the better team is.  Finally, we have the best game of the 1st round: the Saints and Panthers.  Two divisional opponents facing off for the 3rd time this season means we are going to see some creative play calling from both teams.  Ultimately, I think the Saints are just too dynamic on offense for the Panthers to stop them from scoring.  Conversely, it’s not that difficult for opposing teams to force the Panthers’ offense to be one-dimensional.  It may not be easy to beat the same team three times in a season, but the Saints are primed to do just that.

 

Divisional Weekend

Saturday, January 13th:

Philadelphia Eagles (1) vs. Lowest Remaining NFC Seed (New Orleans Saints), 3:35 pm on NBC

New England Patriots (1) vs. Lowest Remaining AFC Seed (Kansas City Chiefs), 7:15 pm on CBS

 

Sunday January 14th:

Pittsburgh Steelers (2) vs. Highest Remaining AFC Seed (Jacksonville Jaguars), 12:05 pm on CBS

Minnesota Vikings (2) vs. Highest Remaining NFC Seed (Los Angeles Rams), 3:40 pm on FOX

 

The Divisional round looks much the same here as the Wild Card round: 3 of the 4 teams I have winning are home teams, and it is likely that all 4 of my chosen teams will be favored as well.  The Eagles have just not looked the same since Wentz went down with his ACL injury; I highly doubt the Eagles make it out of the playoffs with a single victory.  The only thing I really see going in their favor is that they will be hosting a dome-dwelling team in the cold Philadelphia weather.  The Patriots aren’t going to lose at home in the divisional round.  I don’t care if they have to rematch the Chiefs, that is only to Belichick’s advantage and neither team is the same as they were way back in week 1 when the Chiefs stuck it to the Patriots.  The Steelers will have an intriguing matchup no matter what happens.  If the Bills happen to upset the Jags, then the Bills automatically play the Patriots as they have the lowest seed in the AFC.  The Steelers would then either rematch the Chiefs (who they have a strong, positive recent history against) or rematch the Titans who the Steelers blew out of the water back in week 11.  Most likely scenario: a rematch against the Jags who blew them out of the water in what was likely Ben Roethlisberger’s worst career game.  As with the potential Chiefs/Pats rematch, both the Steelers and Jaguars are different teams than when they met back in week 5.  If the Steelers can stop the run (admittedly something they tend to struggle with at times) then the Jags will be in a world of hurt.  As for the Jags D, if they can stop Bell (they did in week 5, before Bell proceeded to run wild the rest of the season), then they may be able to stun Ben again.  My money is on the more experienced team and more experienced quarterback if this rematch occurs.  Last but not least, we are looking toward another rematch: the Vikings and the Rams.  This matchup back in week 11 was highly touted as a potential playoff game but the end result fell short of expectations.  The Vikings bottled up Gurley and Goff wasn’t able to carry his team to victory.  I don’t really see a different result occurring as the Vikings’ run D is nothing short of fantastic and the Rams truly live and die with Gurley.

 

Championship Sunday

Sunday, January 21nd:

Highest Remaining NFC Seed (Minnesota Vikings) vs. Lowest Remaining NFC Seed (New Orleans Saints), 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 the Vikings and the Saints (who played each other in the NFC Championship back in the ‘09-’10 season and played week 1 of this season) would start this weekend off right.  In this potential scenario, I have the Saints coming out on top.  I can see this game going either way for many reasons, and the motive for my final decision is rather senseless: no team has ever participated in a Super Bowl that they hosted.  In what is essentially a coin-flip scenario, I decided to go with something that has no impact on the game at all, sue me.  As it is, the Saints have a great run game, they have Drew Brees at QB, and an opportunistic defense that can force turnovers, but otherwise gives up yards at an average rate.  The Vikings have a decent running game, a passing game that capitalizes on defensive mistakes, a stout run defense, and a secondary that can shut down the passing game.  Like I said, coin flip.  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

 

A Super Bowl meeting between these two teams means that not only am I psychic, but that I am also a millionaire because I won the most recently lottery.  Just kidding.  The way I see it, there are 5 teams that are well above the rest: the Patriots, Rams, Saints, Steelers, and Vikings.  Clearly the other 7 teams were good enough to make it to the playoffs; I just don’t think they are as well-equipped on both sides of the ball as these 5 teams.  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 or the Rams in the Super Bowl instead of the Saints would be less appealing to me personally, since both teams 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 much better-equipped to pass the ball with Drew Brees than the Rams are with 2nd year QB Jared Goff, or the Vikings with career-journeyman Case Keenum.  Both offenses have shown that they can put up points on just about everybody, but ask yourself, who would you rather have leading your offense with 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, down by 6: Brees, Keenum, or Goff?  Exactly.

 

Image Credit: CBSSports.com

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