NFL Playoff Preview

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NFL Playoff Preview

The 2019 NFL playoffs are sure to be full of surprises.

The 2019 NFL playoffs are sure to be full of surprises.

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The 2019 NFL playoffs are sure to be full of surprises.

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The 2019 NFL playoffs are sure to be full of surprises.

Kaegan Cowan, Web Editor

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The NFL playoffs are upon us, and things are sure to be very unpredictable. Let’s take a look at each of the participating teams and then make predictions as to how everything will shake out.

AFC

 

No. 6: Indianapolis Colts

The Colts had a remarkable turnaround in quarterback Andrew Luck’s return from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss all of the 2017 season. Though the Colts started 1-5 (including an overtime loss to their first-round opponent, the Houston Texans), they finished the final 10 games of the regular season with a 9-1 record. The 10-6 record was barely good enough to earn the AFC’s final playoff spot, but with a high-scoring offense coordinated by first-year head coach Frank Reich and a solid defense led by rookie standout linebacker Darius Leonard, this team certainly cannot be counted out.

 

No. 5: Los Angeles Chargers

Sometimes things really don’t go your way. The Chargers are stuck with a road game against the Baltimore Ravens, who just beat the Chargers in Los Angeles two weeks ago, despite tying with the Kansas City Chiefs for the best record in the AFC at 12-4. However, there is a definite reason that this team deserves a wild card spot instead of the 1-seed. Though veteran quarterback Philip Rivers was in the MVP conversation until recently, he has had interception issues with two picks in each of his last three games. Though he escaped with wins in two of those three games, the playoffs don’t tend to be kind to turnover-prone quarterbacks, especially when your team is on the road to begin with. Yet, there are certainly Super Bowl aspirations for the Chargers. If they are able to defeat the Ravens, they likely will have another matchup with the Chiefs in Kansas City next week, a situation in which the Chargers were victorious (albeit by just one point) three weeks ago.

 

No. 4: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens fought for their playoff lives against the suddenly decent Cleveland Browns last week, and their stellar defense was able to thwart Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield’s last-minute comeback attempt to secure the 4-seed. But perhaps the more talked-about aspect of this team has been its offense. An injury to Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco threw rookie Lamar Jackson into the starting role, and many were skeptical of Jackson’s ability. While Jackson has issues throwing the ball, a run-heavy offense led by Jackson and fellow rookie running back Gus Edwards has propelled the Ravens to a 6-1 record in Jackson’s starts and a lot of momentum going into the playoffs. Just like the Chargers, the Ravens will need to be careful with turnovers—Jackson has 13 turnovers in his seven starts, mostly fumbles. If the Ravens can hold on to the ball, it will be very difficult to beat them.

 

No. 3: Houston Texans

Just like their first-round opponent, the Colts, the Texans had a rough start to the season, dropping their first three games. Also like the Colts, though, they bounced back, ripping off nine straight wins following the 0-3 start. But, the Texans finished just 2-2 in their last four games of the season, a bit of shaky ground to stand on going into the postseason. Nevertheless, this team is well-balanced with a strong passing attack from second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson and NFL first team All-Pro wide receiver Deandre Hopkins plus a solid defense led by another first team All-Pro, defensive end J.J. Watt, making an excellent return after two straight injury-marred seasons. Both sides of the ball must step up for the Texans to defeat the Colts, and their situation is further complicated by the fact that they just lost at home to the Colts in Week 14.

 

No. 2: New England Patriots

Did somebody say regression? Five-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and Hall of Fame lock Tom Brady put up pedestrian numbers this season along with his favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and the Patriots’ defense was middle-of the pack. Yet this team finds itself in a familiar spot with a first-round bye. Sure, the predictably weak AFC East made for an easy five wins (with a single loss to the Dolphins coming on a near-miraculous play as time expired), and all of the team’s losses came to non-playoff teams, but this is still the New England Patriots, after all. Their reign over the NFL since the new millenium began has been nothing short of domination, and there is no reason to assume this year’s team will not find itself in the same place it did last year: the Super Bowl. Rookie running back Sony Michel led a powerful rushing attack to take some pressure off 41-year old Brady’s shoulders, and the defense was good enough to help the team to a 11-5 record.

 

No. 1: Kansas City Chiefs

Speaking of defense helping a team, well, let’s just say the Chiefs’ defense has done them no favors. The Chiefs have a 12-4 record despite scoring nearly 38 points on average in their four losses. This team is not hiding its obvious imbalance or major flaw: the defense. Ranked 31st in the NFL in yards allowed per game, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s signature “bend-but-don’t-break” approach has looked like less bending and more breaking. But, alas, there’s hope; this team is the number one seed in the AFC, is it not? The Chiefs have had one of the greatest offensive seasons in NFL history; they became the first team ever to score more than 26 points in every game they played. Look no further than the passing game to see why this offense scores so much. Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in his first year as the starter, is the odds-on favorite to win NFL MVP, becoming the seventh quarterback to throw for over 5,000 yards in a season and the third to throw 50 touchdowns. His supporting cast has been excellent: tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill are both first-team All-Pros. The offensive line has been great as well with right tackle Mitchell Schwartz named a first-team All-Pro and left tackle Eric Fisher being named to the Pro Bowl. The Chiefs clinched potential home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but they have not won a single home playoff game since 1993 despite having six(!) opportunities to do so since then.

 

NFC

 

No. 6: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles appeared essentially DOA after an overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14  dropped them to a 6-7 record. The defending Super Bowl champions seemed to exhibit none of the characteristics that took them to the playoffs last season. But, then, almost scripted like a movie, starting quarterback Carson Wentz went down with an injury like last year, and backup quarterback (almost a shame to give him that title) Nick Foles took over once again. Foles injected life back into the Eagles, leading them to crucial wins in all three of their remaining games over the likes of the Los Angeles Rams and Texans. This team has a lot of momentum going into the first round of the playoffs, and Nick Foles has yet to lose a playoff game. Unfortunately, they are matched up with a stout Chicago Bears defense, and the Eagles’ bottom-half defense may have issues against a dynamic offense coordinated by first-year head coach Matt Nagy.

 

No. 5: Seattle Seahawks

Many NFL pundits wrote this team off as a lost cause before the season. The team’s dominant Legion of Boom defense that seemed on the edge of creating a dynasty in Seattle had mostly broken up before the season began, save unhappy safety Earl Thomas, who was very vocal about his desire to be traded. The Seahawks’ season appeared destined to be a mess after Thomas broke his leg, ending his season and his hopes for a trade, and he gave the middle finger to the Seahawks sideline as he was carted off the field. However, quarterback Russell Wilson headed an offense that boasted a strong running attack along with Wilson’s top-tier throwing ability, and the Seahawks were able to bounce back from a 4-5 start with wins in six of their last seven contests. A bit surprisingly, the Seahawks’ largely young and inexperienced defense stepped up to give this team a very balanced feel heading into a first-round matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. Head coach Pete Carroll showed no signs of attempting a rebuild with this team; rather, he reloaded it with young talent. If the team doesn’t find success in the playoffs this season, they should be in good hands for years to come.

 

No. 4: Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys were the beneficiaries of a very weak NFC East, even though the Washington Redskins were the driver’s seat of the division until a season-ending injury to quarterback Alex Smith derailed the Redskins’ season. The Cowboys stepped up, though, winning 7 of their last 8 games including a 13-10 victory in Week 13 over the NFC 1-seed New Orleans Saints. The offense hasn’t been particularly special, but quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and wide receiver Amari Cooper (acquired from a midseason trade with the Oakland Raiders) have ensured that the offense has still been able to help the team win games. The defense has stepped up in recent weeks with the help of linebackers Leighton Vander Esch, a rookie, and Jaylon Smith. Another well-balanced playoff team, the Cowboys should be able to rely on either side of the ball to help lead the team to victory.

 

No. 3: Chicago Bears

The Bears, like the Cowboys, acquired a franchise player from the Oakland Raiders, defensive end Khalil Mack. Mack is a first-team All-Pro defensive end who has been nearly unblockable, disrupting opponent offenses with his pass-rushing ability. First-year head coach Matt Nagy, formerly the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, has helped second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky get more comfortable after a rough 2017 campaign. Trubisky has been assisted by dynamic running back duo Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, along with a solid core of wide receivers and veteran tight end Trey Burton. But the defense is certainly the more important part of Chicago’s squad, and a couple of opponent turnovers may give the Bears all they need to win in the playoffs.

 

No. 2: Los Angeles Rams

The Rams stumbled a bit at the end of the season after jumping to an 11-1 start with wins over the Chargers, Seahawks twice, and Chiefs. The singular loss to that point was to the 1-seed New Orleans Saints in a shootout. But, the Rams went 2-2 in their last four games, losing out on the opportunity to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In those losses, the normally excellent offense led by second-year players Jared Goff, quarterback, and Todd Gurley, running back, was stymied by the defenses of the Bears and Eagles. The Rams enter the playoffs on a two-game win streak, but a defense that largely has struggled outside of defensive tackle Aaron Donald will be put to the test by playoff opponents’ offenses. If the Rams’ offense looks like it did against the Bears and Eagles, this team is in trouble. Otherwise, they are a strong Super Bowl contender.

 

No. 1: New Orleans Saints

The Saints are very similar to the Rams in that they have what appears to be an offensive juggernaut when they play well, and a defense that is quite vulnerable to the better offenses in the NFL. Hall of Fame lock Drew Brees has done a great job coordinating the offense and not turning the ball over. He set the NFL single-season completion percentage record (min. 10 attempts) despite not having a whole lot of help from his receivers other than first team All-Pro Michael Thomas. However, the Saints’ running game is the most difficult part of their offense to stop. They have a dynamic duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in the backfield, and either one of them can make game-breaking plays. On the other side of the ball, the defense has been unpredictable: sometimes solid, sometimes porous. The secondary was improved when the Saints acquired cornerback Eli Apple in a trade with the New York Giants, but it still cannot be trusted against potential opposing offenses like the Rams in the playoffs. The Saints earned the 1-seed with a solid regular season other than strange losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cowboys. If this team plays solid, mistake-free football, they are a near lock for the Super Bowl.

 

Predictions

 

Wildcard

Colts over Texans

Chargers over Ravens

 

Bears over Eagles

Seahawks over Cowboys

 

Divisional

Chiefs over Colts

Patriots over Chargers

 

Saints over Seahawks

Bears over Rams

 

Conference Championships

Patriots over Chiefs

 

Saints over Bears

 

Super Bowl

Saints over Patriots