2017 NFL Playoffs: Postseason predictions and regular season wrap-up
I’m a lot happer this year than I was last year. I’m for sure happy that 2016 is over. I’m happy we all get a brand new start. And, for the first few days, we haven’t really had anything monumentally bad happen, so I think we’re doing okay. But most of all (and maybe this is just how my brain functions), I am happy that my hometown football team is back where they belong- at the top of the playoff pyramid.
The New England Patriots, needing to win just one game to clinch the top seed in the AFC, defeated the Miami Dolphins, 27-14 in Miami last weekend. This is pretty much the same game where they did not show up to play last season, lost, and ended up in the #2 seed. They would lose in the AFC Championship Game in Denver, and the aforementioned Broncos would go on to win the Super Bowl.
But a year has gone by, and the outlook of certain franchises has changed like night and day, even for the Patriots (although their complexion has remained relatively unchanged- Tom Brady has only missed the playoffs in one season where he completed the year as a starter).
With that being said: it’s 2017, which means the NFL playoffs are right around the corner. We’ve seen some surprise teams make the playoffs, and now that we’re down to the final twelve teams, we finally get to separate the contenders from the pretenders.
The 2016 NFL season was a doozy, to say the least. We began with a matchup of our two previous Super Bowl teams, Denver and Carolina. Everyone thought Carolina would be gunning to avenge their loss, especially since the Broncos were without Peyton Manning, who had retired following his triumphant win in Super Bowl 50. But the champs and new QB Trevor Siemian held their ground, holding off the Panthers in a week one victory.
17 weeks later, both squads have missed the playoffs and are sitting at home, watching two other teams fight to become the next Super Bowl Champion.
We also had the final exorcism in the Deflategate saga this year, with the NFL ultimately winning out, and Tom Brady being suspended for the first four games of the year. Fortunately, the Patriots were able to win three out of the four while starting two different quarterbacks: Jimmy Garappolo and Jacoby Brissett. Both were able to show off their potential in big ways, with convincing wins over the Cardinals, Dolphins, and Texans. Since his return, however, Tom Brady has been terrific, posting the best touchdown to interception ratio in league history (28 touchdowns to 2 interceptions- that’s 14 touchdowns between each interception, which is absurd), and leading the Patriots to a 10-1 record since his return. The Patriots are sitting atop the AFC heading into the playoffs.
A surprise team this year was the Oakland Raiders, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, when they went on to play in the Super Bowl. QB Derek Carr was sensational, as were his offensive weapons Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Latavius Murray. Unfortunately, Carr broke his leg in week 16, leaving the Raiders with many questions at the quarterback position.
The season didn’t go so well for teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, who were a sexy pick to make the playoffs this year. Instead, the Jags went 3-13 this season.
The season didn’t go well for someone else either.
I didn’t win my fantasy football playoffs. Hell, my team went 4-8 this season. We finished dead last. But that’s beside the point.
I speak, of course, of my NFL regular season predictions at the start of the year. They did not go so well:
Earlier this year, I predicted every team’s record in the standings. I predicted exactly TWO of them correctly:
- New England (14-2)
- Baltimore (8-8)- Baltimore counts for maybe half. I picked them to finish third in their division. They finished second.
I also predicted all of our playoff teams. I fared a little better, selecting 8 out of the 12 (and 5 of 6 in the AFC) including:
- New England (14-2), first in AFC East (predicted first in AFC East)
- Pittsburgh (11-5), first in AFC North (predicted first in AFC North)
- Houston (9-7), first if AFC South (predicted first in AFC South)
- Kansas City (12-4), first in AFC West (predicted as first Wild Card)
- Oakland (12-4), first wild card (predicted as first in AFC West)
- Dallas (13-3), first in NFC East (predicted as first in NFC East)
- Green Bay (10-6), first in NFC North (predicted as first in NFC North)
- Seattle (10-5-1), first in NFC West (predicted as first Wild Card)
I also predicted New England would beat Arizona in the Super Bowl.
I also made 10 pre-season predictions for the NFL. Let’s see how I fared on those:
1. David Johnson (RB-Arizona) will win the rushing title. (Prediction: Incorrect)
NOPE. Cowboys rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliot won the rushing title this year, with 1,631 yards. Johnson was seventh on the list this year, with 1,239. Johnson did lead the league in yards from scrimmage this year though, posting 2,118 yards as both a back and a receiver, beating out Elliott by over 100 yards.
2. Antonio Brown will break the single-season receiving record (Prediction: Incorrect)
Whoops. Brown was poised for a great season this year. Unfortunately, due to injuries to his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and various other issues, Brown finished fifth in receiving yards this year with 1,284 yards. No one came close to breaking Calvin Johnson’s record of 1,964 yards this year. The closest was T.Y. Hilton, who came up about 500 yards short.
3. The Oakland Raiders will win the AFC West (Prediction: Incorrect)
When Carr broke his fibula in week 16, I knew the Raiders were in trouble. They had a game in hand on the Chiefs, but needed to get through the recently eliminated Broncos to win the AFC West for the first time since 2002. They were steamrolled, as clearly the play of Derek Carr made that much of a difference. Oakland is still going to the playoffs, though. They’ll just be doing it as a Wild Card team.
4. The Denver Broncos will miss the playoffs (Prediction: CORRECT!)
If you have Peyton Manning on your team, you better not lose him, because you’ll suck if you do. That’s exactly what happened to the defending champs, who missed out on a chance to defend their title. The Broncos missed some of their defensive departures, including Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan. Ironically enough, they even missed Brock Osweiler. Not even Von Miller and his stupid glasses could save the Broncos this season.
5. The NFL’s new rules will only make it more frustrating to watch- and they’ll still have no idea what constitutes a catch. (Prediction: CORRECT!)
I’m going to give myself the benefit of the doubt and say I got this one right. The NFL began the year with something of a zero-tolerance policy for taunting and celebrating, which they would reel back… sorta.
The number of flags didn’t go down, per se (teams were averaging 8.09 flags per game compared to 8.10 last season), but the number of game-deciding questionable calls was through the roof. Cam Newton was hit many, many times to the head this season, many of which went unflagged. There were phantom pass interference calls (take Richard Sherman on Travis Kelce, for instance. That went unflagged). There were penalties for hugging referees and throwing towels. More players got ejected this season than ever before.
Also, this was ruled a catch for Odell Beckham Jr. He caught that ball. That ball. The one that is clearly on the ground.
The NFL needs to make some rule changes for next year (particularly pass interference, but that’s another story for another day. If they don’t we’ll all be in for a healthy dose of the No-Fun League next year.
6. Andy Dalton will lose his job to A.J. McCarron. (Prediction: Incorrect)
The Bengals were a dismal 6-9-1 this year, but that wasn’t enough to make Andy Dalton lose his starting job.
7. Tony Romo is about to get Bledsoe’d. (Prediction: CORRECT!)
Slay, Dak Prescott. The Cowboys had a bunch of questions at the QB position when Tony Romo got hurt. All the questions they may have aren’t there anymore thanks to Dak Prescott. The Cowboys lost in week one to the Giants. After that, Prescott led them to a franchise-record 11 consecutive victories. The success was due, in part to the emergence of Ezekiel Elliott and the standout offensive line of the Cowboys. Regardless, Tony Romo is now backing up Dak Prescott heading into the playoffs. There’s talk he could be gone as soon as the offseason rolls around.
8. The Cleveland Browns will go 0-16 this year. (Prediction: Incorrect)
And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling Chargers! The Browns went 1-15 this year, getting their first win of the season (and first in over a calendar year) against the San Diego Chargers, who had two opportunities to at least tie the game. The first field goal was blocked, and the second went wide right, sealing the victory for Cleveland. They almost beat the Steelers the next week, too. But Landry Jones was like “NOPE,” defeating them in overtime, 27-24.
9. The Jacksonville Jaguars will be in the playoff hunt. (Prediction: Incorrect)
The Jaguars were literally out of the playoff picture after they went 1-3 before their week five bye week. Thanks for playing. Better luck next year.
10. The New England Patriots will not lose a game in which Tom Brady starts. (Prediction: Incorrect).
Again, I was so close with this one, too. Tom Brady went 10-1 against opponents this season, with his only loss coming at home against the Seattle Seahawks, 31-24. A last-second pass to Rob Gronkowski in the end zone was broken up, and the Seahawks handed Tom Brady his first loss of the year.
Total prediction record: 3-7.
Wild Card Weekend: January 7th & 8th
(5) Oakland Raiders at (4) Houston Texans- Saturday, January 7th, 4:35pm (ESPN/ABC)
The Raiders have too many questions at the quarterback position, especially now more than ever, as Matt McGloin, who took over for the injured Derek Carr, injured his shoulder. The Raiders will probably turn to rookie Connor Cook, who will be the first rookie to start a playoff game without starting a regular season contest. Based on Oakland’s week 17 showing against the Denver Broncos, their other offensive weapons (Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree) have proved pretty futile against good defenses. Houston is no slouch, finishing with the best defense in the NFL, even without J.J. Watt. This is not to say that Houston doesn’t have quarterback issues as well (because they do), but if I were going to pick a QB from these two starters, I would probably go with Brock Osweiler. If Oakland is going to stay in this one, they’ll need Khalil Mack and the rest of the defense to step up and get to Osweiler for a good portion of the game. But in front of a Houston crowd anxious for their team to play a home game in the Super Bowl, the Texans should make it a fairly easy victory on Saturday.
Prediction: Houston 27, Oakland 13.
(6) Detroit Lions at (3) Seattle Seahawks- Saturday, January 7th, 8:15pm (NBC)
This is a battle of unknowns, really. This much I know: The Seahawks are the Seahawks. They find ways to win games, and, at times, have shown they can be as dominant as ever. Their defense is still really good, even without Earl Thomas. The offense can score points and dominate opposing defenses with relative ease. Jimmy Graham is with the team this time around. However, they have also been erratic at times, with Russell Wilson and the team being stagnant and struggling to score points. There are questions on their offensive line, and they will lose games (even at home) they should not. The home loss in week 16 to Arizona is a prime example. The Lions, on the other hand, are never out of a game. They have trailed in fourth quarters of numerous contests this year, and still pulled out victories. However, they have gone from being able to win the division for the first time since 1993, to backing their way into the playoffs. With tough losses to the Giants, Cowboys, and Packers, the Lions have lost their last three games and face an unfavorable matchup in Seattle against a team hungry to get back to championship form. Lions QB Matthew Stafford has played like an MVP this season, but I think the Lions’ luck is about to run out, as the Seahawks and their home field advantage will have an edge in this one.
Prediction: Seattle 31, Detroit 17.
(6) Miami Dolphins at (3) Pittsburgh Steelers- Sunday, January 8th, 1:05pm (CBS)
The Sunday slate of games could give us the two most entertaining contests of the playoffs. The Dolphins beat the Steelers in Miami back in week six, in which Ben Roethlisberger missed a series due to an injured ankle. The game was also the coming out party for Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi, who racked up 204 yards and two touchdowns, averaging just over eight yards per carry. The two teams are very different now than they were in week 6. Roethlisberger and the Steelers have shown they can win when it matters, as they came from behind on Christmas Day to beat the Ravens on the final drive, and survived a tough contest against the Cleveland Browns (even without Roethlisberger in that one). The Dolphins are waiting on the health status of their QB Ryan Tannehill, who is three weeks removed from a sprained MCL and a partially torn ACL, suffered at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals in week 14. There is speculation he could play, but the Dolphins will have to rely on capable backup Matt Moore in the interim. I think the Dolphins surprise us in the first half, as they jump out to a sizeable lead at halftime. However, I think Big Ben and his offensive weapons will be able to out duel Miami, whose defense showed some issues against the Patriots in week 17. Pittsburgh comes from behind to win with a field goal in the closing minutes, and move on to Arrowhead to face the Chiefs.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 26, Miami 23.
(5) New York Giants at (4) Green Bay Packers- Sunday, January 8th, 4:40pm (FOX)
In a clash of two red-hot teams, the Giants and Packers will square off at Lambeau Field, where the Giants have had postseason success in the past. They will face a Packers team that has abided by Aaron Rodgers’ calm and collected “Run the table” approach: after appearing out of the playoff picture at 4-6, the Packers have won their last six consecutive games, and rode the momentum all the way to the NFC North Division title. Thanks to Micah Hyde, the Packers defense has really come around as of late, and Aaron Rodgers has used weapons like Jordy Nelson and Devante Adams (neither of whom he had at his disposal last year) to rattle off these six straight wins. The Giants have turned their season around as well under first year head coach Ben McAdoo, winning 11 games this season as opposed to going 6-10 last year. Many are saying that the Giants’ playoff pedigree as a whole, particularly on the road, will result in a win, and a trip to Dallas in the NFC Divisional Round. However, they are last in the NFL in scoring offense, averaging just over 19 per game (second worst among playoff teams). Ideally, the Giants do have a shot at the Super Bowl. Obviously, it all depends on which Eli Manning shows up to play, which, in the playoffs, has proven to be the good Eli Manning. However, I think the Packers are too darn hot, and will cool the Giants off with a win at home. The Giants’ playoff history in Green Bay will mean nothing come Sunday. Packers will fight off multiple lead changes, including a late go-ahead touchdown by the Giants, to win at the eleventh hour of this game.
Prediction: Green Bay 27, New York 23.
Divisional Round: January 14th & 15th
NFC Divisional Playoff: (3) Seattle Seahawks vs. (2) Atlanta Falcons- Saturday, January 14th, 4:35pm (FOX)
The Falcons finished with the NFL’s best offense, scoring no fewer than 20 points in every game this season. QB Matt Ryan has been absolutely stellar, and finished with the fourth best QB Rating of all time in a season. Helping him out have been Julio Jones, who finished second in receiving, and RB Devonta Freeman, who had a 1,000-yard season this year with 11 touchdowns on the ground. The Falcons do have a first round bye at their disposal, and they will use it to ensure their team is healthy, including NFL sack leader Vic Beasley, who is nursing a shoulder injury. The Seahawks are a very physical team, and the Atlanta defense will have a tough test ahead of them. Much like Eli Manning and the Giants, it all depends what kind of Seahawks team shows up to play in Atlanta a week from Saturday. I think we get to see Matt Ryan and the offense tell the story, though. If Ryan and the offense function to full expectations, the defense will ride that momentum, and the Seahawks will have a lot to deal with on both sides of the ball. Atlanta, in a slugfest, advances to the NFC Championship Game.
Prediction: Atlanta 41, Seattle 31.
AFC Divisional Playoff: (4) Houston Texans at (1) New England Patriots- Saturday, January 14th, 8:15pm (CBS)
The Patriots are the best team in football. Tom Brady, at age 39, is enjoying what could be his best season as a professional, and could be on his way to being the oldest league MVP in history. Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount led the league this season in rushing touchdowns. The emergence of various receiving threats (despite losing TE Rob Gronkowski), including rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Chris Hogan, and TE Martellus Bennett, as well as a three-headed rushing attack of Blount, Dion Lewis, and James White. The offensive line has proved stable, and the defense ranks first in the NFL in fewest points allowed. Houston’s offense has been stagnant at times, as they rank 28th in the NFL and dead last out of the playoff teams in points per game (17.4) this season. The last time the Texans played in New England, they were throttled 27-0 at the hands of third-string QB Jacoby Brissett. The last time Houston came to New England in a playoff game, they were crushed, 42-14. And this time around, they have to deal with the quarterback who had the best touchdown to interception ratio in league history this year. The Pats are poised to avenge Tom Brady and Deflategate, and will cruise to their sixth consecutive AFC Championship game.
Prediction: New England 41, Houston 10.
AFC Divisional Playoff: (3) Pittsburgh Steelers at (2) Kansas City Chiefs- Sunday, January 15th, 1:05pm (CBS)
The Chiefs aren’t a slouch. They do have a seasoned coach in Andy Reid, a seasoned veteran at quarterback in Alex Smith, one of the top tight ends in football in Travis Kelce and a solid defense. Kansas City only lost four games this season, and won when it mattered most, despite a tough loss against Tennessee. But, by virtue of the Oakland Raiders losing to Denver in week 17, the Chiefs managed to squeak into the second spot in the AFC, which, depending on how you look at it, could be a blessing or a curse. Their opponent will be the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that is no stranger to postseason success. This will, no doubt, be a slugfest of a game. It all depends on which team wants to take the journey up to New England, honestly. Overall, I think Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers silence the crowd at Arrowhead, and put the Chiefs away handily. If Andy Reid has shown us anything, it’s that his teams manage to lose when it matters most.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 34, Kansas City 21.
NFC Divisional Playoff: (4) Green Bay Packers at (1) Dallas Cowboys- Sunday, January 15th, 4:40pm (FOX)
The Cowboys looked unstoppable this season, thanks in part to the play of their fantastic rookie duo, QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, and the play of their incredible offensive line, which has provided protection for the young guns, and allowed them to shine, making big plays all season long. Elliott led the league in rushing this season with 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns. On top of that, the Dallas defense has made its way to the forefront of the NFL, with playmakers like LB Sean Lee leading the charge. I for one am skeptical of the Cowboys in the playoffs, as they are notorious for not winning games in high-pressure situations. But I do think the Cowboys present a difficult matchup for the Packers, whom they beat by two touchdowns in Green Bay earlier this year. In Dallas, I’m sure it will be a very different story. With the Cowboys hungry to make good on their success in the regular season, Dallas moves on to the NFC Title game against Atlanta.
Prediction: Dallas 37, Green Bay 27.
Championship Sunday: January 22nd
NFC Championship: (2) Atlanta Falcons at (1) Dallas Cowboys- Sunday, January 22nd, 3:05pm (FOX)
The NFC Championship will feature two explosive offenses: the Atlanta Falcons, who last went to the Super Bowl in 1998, and the Dallas Cowboys, whose last trip to the big game came in 1996. The Falcons are no strangers to the game, as they’ve been here before in 2013 and 2005. Dallas is seeking its first trip since they won the Super Bowl in 1996. In short, Dallas is a better team than Atlanta. They have a better defense, and if they can throw off the timing of Matt Ryan, they should be able to limit offensive production. Atlanta can’t throw the ball to Julio Jones or hand it to Devonta Freeman all game. The Cowboys also have better weapons on offense, in not only Prescott and Elliott, but in Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Jason Witten as well. I think Dallas just proves too big a challenge for the Falcons in this game, plain and simple. The Cowboys go on to the Super Bowl in Houston.
Prediction: Dallas 28, Atlanta 17.
AFC Championship: (3) Pittsburgh Steelers at (1) New England Patriots- Sunday, January 22nd, 6:40pm (CBS)
The AFC Championship game will be a matchup we all thought would happen. The big bad Pittsburgh Steelers against the playoff veteran New England Patriots. The Pats went to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 27-16 earlier this season, with Tom Brady throwing for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns. Pittsburgh started Landry Jones in the place of Ben Roethlisberger for the game (Big Ben was out with a knee injury), but the Steelers were able to keep the game relatively close. I don’t think this game should be any different for the Patriots this time around. The focuses remain the same: keeping the ball on the ground works well against this Steeler team, and now that the Patriots can switch it up between three backs instead of the two that they had back in week seven, that shouldn’t be a problem. The Patriots corners will be able to shut down Roethlisberger’s options (Antonio Brown and Darius Heyward-Bey), and the defense has been able to limit opposing running backs to an average of 88.6 yards per game (tied for 3rd in the NFL), meaning that if they’ve stopped Le’Veon Bell before, they should be able to do it again. The Patriots cruise to a win here that’s far less close than the score indicates. Tom Brady gets to play for Super Bowl ring #5.
Prediction: New England 31, Pittsburgh 25.
Super Bowl LI
Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots vs. Dallas Cowboys- Sunday, February 5th, 6:30pm (FOX)
THIS is the matchup everyone wanted to see. Can the New England Patriots claim their fifth Super Bowl Championship? Are the Dallas Cowboys for real? An interesting factor to consider in this game is location. The game is being played at Houston’s NRG Stadium. If the Cowboys make it here, they will have played all three of their postseason games in their home state of Texas, which, essentially, marks the first time that a team will be playing at home for the Super Bowl. Opposing them are the New England Patriots. They’ve won in this building before, in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played (2003, where they beat the Panthers 32-29 on a last-second field goal). Tom Brady is looking to show the entire league that he doesn’t care about his Deflategate suspension, and win a fifth ring after being suspended for the first four games of the season. Bill Belichick is looking to punch his ticket to not just the Hall of Fame, but for having his own wing named after him.
Prediction: New England 31, Dallas 20.
The Patriots give up a big play early, as Elliott breaks the defense for a long run. After that, New England completely shuts down the Dallas rushing attack, keeping Elliott out of the end zone for the rest of the game. On offense, Tom Brady throws for three touchdown passes, one to WR Julian Edelman, one to TE Martellus Bennett, and one to WR Michael Floyd, who ends his season on a high after being released from Arizona after being arrested for a DUI. Another touchdown comes on the ground, as LeGarrette Blount continues his monster season. The offensive line, which has been the Patriots’ Achilles heel in years past, holds firm, protecting Brady for most of the game. Prescott and the Cowboys are able to move the ball through the air, but the Patriots defense tightens up in the red zone, leaving K Dan Bailey to do most of the work for Dallas.
Tom Brady wins his fourth Super Bowl MVP award, and a fifth Lombardi Trophy makes its way to 1 Patriot Place in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Hopefully I’ll do a little better with these picks.
Also, speaking from the perspective of a fan, I really don’t want to face the Giants.
I really, really don’t.
What do you think will happen in the playoffs this year? Leave a comment down below.