In the words of Ja Rule and Ashanti, I’m not always there when you call, but I’m always on time. I know it’s been a minute since we’ve had a column but let’s face it, trying to outdo our Thanksgiving Power Rankings column was a tall task. That said, we’ve reached the end of the NFL season and beginning of the playoffs so what better time to dive into some predictions. Before we talk about the playoffs, let’s take a quick look at my predictions at the halfway point of the season. I won’t make anyone relive my beginning of the year picks where I picked the Broncos over the Packers in the Super Bowl. Yikes. Clearly my biggest whiff of the year was the Broncos. I’ll take full responsibility for that. I did not see Russell Wilson going from an annual Pro Bowl caliber quarterback to a Pro Bowl Tik Toker who apparently completely forgot how to throw a ball down the field. The Packers came together at the end of the year, but it was unfortunately too little too late. Aaron Rodgers has a very complicated legacy for sure. We’ll have time for that down the road.
At the halfway point of the season I said the following:
Wow. What a difference 8 weeks can make. What changes would I make at this point? Clearly in the AFC the Broncos, Colts and Raiders are out. I’d have the Chiefs as the AFC West winner as opposed to Wild Card and the Titans replace the Colts as the AFC South winner. For the AFC Wild Card I’d go with the Dolphins and Chargers at this point. I’m also a slight lean to taking the Patriots to replace the Bengals due to Ja’Marr Chase’s injury. In terms of the NFC it looks as if the Vikings will be taking the NFC North and I’d bet on the Niners to take the NFC West. Call me delusional but I still think the Bucs are winning their division. If I were to guess the 3 NFC Wild Card teams at this point I would go with Dallas, Seattle, and by a nose right now the Falcons. The Giants have a chance to make it real interesting if they win their next 2 games, but they also have to go to Philly twice, at Minnesota and at Dallas. For the Super Bowl, as much as it pains me to say this I’d go with the Eagles over the Chiefs right now. Sleeper team in the AFC? Watch out for the Dolphins. Bradley Chubb on that defensive line is going to be a problem.
Much better. The Dolphins were my sleeper team with Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, but without him and backup Teddy Bridgewater, they are no longer a team to watch out for. The Bengals didn’t miss a beat without Ja’Marr Chase and quarterback Joe Burrow cemented himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. My only miss on the NFC were the Giants, who proved their mettle down the stretch with some hard fought victories (and losses) that have put them a year or two ahead of plan in terms of making the playoffs. I had predicted that Seattle would be one of the worst teams in the NFL at the beginning of the year. Who saw the resurgence of Geno Smith coming? Certainly not me. The Chiefs and the Eagles were my Super Bowl pick and both of those teams clinched the #1 seed for their respective divisions.
Alright, enough with the recaps. Let’s get to this week’s playoff predictions!
Seattle at San Francisco – The 49ers are the most equipped team in the NFC to knock off the Eagles. They have one of the best defenses in the league, and won their last 10 games of the season due to the play of rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. They have George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk on offense. Everything in my head says they should be a sure thing at home this week. And yet, I have two big factors holding me back. 1. The weather in Santa Clara is not expected to cooperate, as the forecast is calling for heavy downpours throughout the day. 2. Brock Purdy is 6-0 at quarterback with 13 touchdowns and 3 picks. That said, he’s a rookie, and do you know that rookie quarterbacks are 1-8 in their last 9 starts in the playoffs? Pete Carroll is a defensive coach and I just think he is going to be very determined to come up with a game plan that stifles the rookie QB. The prediction here? I’ll begrudgingly go with my head and pick the 49ers, but I think this one has the makings of an upset.
LA Chargers at Jacksonville – The Jaguars finished the season strong under new head coach Doug Pederson and QB Trevor Lawrence is beginning to show why he was the consensus #1 overall pick two years ago. After their bye week they finished the season 6-1 down the stretch and by taking the AFC South, are rewarded with a home game against Justin Herbert and the LA Chargers. The Chargers very foolishly decided to play their starters last week, and it cost them starting receiver Mike Williams who will be out with a fractured back. I love what Justin Herbert brings to the table but without Williams I think this becomes a very predictable offense. I also trust Doug Pederson a lot more than Chargers head coach Brandon Staley who will be out of a job (hello Sean Patyong) if they lose this game, and I think they do. Taking the Jaguars at home.
Miami at Buffalo – I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one. The Dolphins are starting rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson who has looked lost in his brief playing time this season. Not only that, but his first playoff start will be on the road against Buffalo who are one of the top 3-4 teams in the NFL. This one is going to get ugly. No need to overanalyze, the Bills will be playing for their teammate Damar Hamlin and the city of Buffalo and win in a romp. Bills win big.
NY Giants at Minnesota – A road playoff game is always a challenge. But the Giants lost on a 61 yard field goal on Christmas Eve in Minnesota and I think they will relish the chance to get some revenge in this game. That said, it’s not going to be an easy task. Kirk Cousins has had playoff success in the past, and my preseason pick for offensive player of the year Justin Jefferson has been one of the best players in football this year. Tight End TJ Hockenson has been a fantastic addition as well. In terms of the Giants, this will be quarterback Daniel Jones first playoff start. Jones did a much better job protecting the ball this season, and will have to do the same in order for the Giants to keep the game close. The Giants are also healthy for the first time all season. I think that the Vikings have more talent on paper, but I think the Giants have two x-factors going in their favor – On the offensive side of the ball, Head Coach Brian Daboll and Offsensive Coordinator Mike Kafka are playing with house money. No one expected the Giants to be in this position. I think you’re going to see a lot of creativity, and I can see the Giants testing what has been a lackluster Vikings defense this season. The other x-factor? Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has a full compliment of players to work with in this game, and I think you’ll see an equally creative game where they test Kirk Cousins time and again. This may be the most difficult game to pick, but I’m going with the Giants in a very close one.
Baltimore at Cincinnati – If Ravens QB Lamar Jackson was playing in this game, I’d probably pick Baltimore as their defense played very well down the stretch. That said, Lamar Jackson isn’t playing and while I love John Harbaugh and the Ravens D, their offense is enough of a liability this game that will keep the defense on the field and eventually wear down in the second half. The Bengals were expected to fall off this year and despite some challenges injury wise which we referenced above, they won their last 8 games of the season against some tough opposition. I’m not betting against Joe Burrow. I think the Bengals win at home here, despite the game staying close in the first half.
Dallas at Tampa Bay – I think the NFL should implement a rule for the playoffs – if you don’t finish with a winning record (even as a division winner), you shouldn’t be able to host a playoff game. The Buccaneers were not impressive this season as indicated by their 8-9 record, and for the first time in his career, Tom Brady looked human. The Bucs still have a lot of talent but something just looks off this year. Coach Todd Bowles did not impress in his first season as head coach of the Bucs. The Cowboys finished 12-5 this year, however they too have been capable of some very poor outings sprinkled between some of their brilliant ones. You always bet against Tom Brady at your own risk, but I think the Cowboys have more talent and I think Mike McCarthy is a better coach than Todd Bowles. Cowboys win a close one on the road, and Tom Brady finds a new home next season.
We’ll be back next week for the divisional round – enjoy your football weekend!