2019 NFL Playoff Predictions
January is a busy time for me. I go from cramming my Best of the Year spread into a week (even though I said to myself I would have it done earlier this year and I lied), right into a prediction list for the 2019 NFL playoffs.
I’m on my toes for the most part, though. As is common for the new year, I’m feeling reinvigorated heading into 2019. We’ll see how long it lasts.
Just like always, we’ll take a look at the big storylines from this season, then move into judging me for how wrong I was in my ten bold preseason predictions from August of last year, and finally look ahead to the playoffs that start this weekend.
And just like every year for the NFL, nothing went as planned.
The big story of the year was the Kansas City Chiefs, who, behind Patrick Mahomes and his record-setting pace of scoring touchdowns, reached the top of the AFC this year at 12-4. With a near fatal offensive attack, which features Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, and (for a while at least) Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs led the NFL in yards and points per game during the regular season, never scoring fewer than 27 points in a game. And in order to beat them, you’ll probably have to be good on offense as well- in the four games the Chiefs lost this year, they averaged 37.5 points in those games. Their defense isn’t great, but Kansas City is exemplary of this new, high-octane offense brand of professional football.
The Patriots have numerous question marks heading into the playoffs. There are questions in regards to the health of Tom Brady, who many have clocked a decline in play for the New England QB. The team had and then lost Josh Gordon. Their defense is suspect. The wide receiver group is not nearly as strong as it was last year. And still, the Patriots ended up with an 11-5 record, and, thanks to some luck from other teams losing at timely points, the #2 seed in the AFC. They’ll have a bye week and a home game in Foxboro. Whether it will yield dividends remains to be seen.
After a 4-12 campaign last year, the Texans remained healthy for all of 2018 and rode a nine game win streak after starting 0-3 to a final 11-5 record, the AFC South title, and the #3 seed in the AFC.
The NFC was all about surprises, as the Green Bay Packers stumbled to a 6-9-1 record, and the Minnesota Vikings also failing to make the playoffs at 8-7-1. The NFC North went to the Chicago Bears, whose trade for Khalil Mack seems to have paid off. Mack had 12.5 sacks this year. The Oakland Raiders, Mack’s former team, have 13. You can see the difference, no? Mitchell Trubisky is blossoming into one of the better quarterbacks in this league, and Tarik Cohen is going to be very good for a long time.
Speaking of being very good for a long time, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are back in the playoffs as the NFC’s top seed. With both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram leading the charge of the ground, and Michael Thomas leading the NFL in receptions, Drew Brees’ MVP caliber season brought the Saints a 13-3 record. They enter with the best Super Bowl odds at 21%.
The Los Angeles Rams, as expected, were huge players in the league this year, with Jared Goff showing that he’s going to be a stud for a long time. With receivers like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks in the mix, as well as Todd Gurley, the Rams were lighting up teams left and right- they even took down the Chiefs in a 54-51 classic in week 10.
As for me, I actually won my fantasy football league this year- and I mean I legitimately won a league I cared about winning.
This drink is for you, George Kittle. Thank you.
And now, let’s see how I fared with my preseason bold predictions:
1. The Cleveland Browns will still finish last in the AFC North.
The Browns finished in third place at 7-8-1, thanks to the emergence of Baker Mayfield, who led all rookie QBs with over 3,700 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. After the team fired coach Hue Jackson, the Browns went 5-3 under Williams, which included a three-game win streak over the Panthers, Broncos, and Bengals. The Browns have a lot to look forward to with Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Jarvis Landry leading the charge in seasons to come. They finished 1.5 games ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals, who finished in 4th at 6-10.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo will lose his first game of his career in week one.
The Vikings defense, as expected, swallowed up Garoppolo in his first start of the 2018 season in a 24-16 win. Mike Hughes’ interception return for a touchdown put Minnesota up by fourteen, only to see the Niners try to chip away at the lead. They were not able to close the gap they had shortened to eight, and the Vikings handed Jimmy G his first loss as a starter. Garoppolo would later tear his ACL in week three and be lost for the season, and San Francisco tumbled to a 4-12 record.
3. For the third year in a row, a rookie will win the rushing title (namely, Saquon Barkley)
Despite finishing with more touchdowns and a better yards per carry average, Saquon Barkley finished second in total yards to this year’s rushing title winner, Ezekiel Elliott. Zeke didn’t even play the last game of the season, but still edged the outstanding rookie by 127 yards. Barkley, however, did lead all rookies in rushing yards, finishing with almost 300 more than Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay.
4. The Cowboys will be leading the NFC East before they collapse at the end.
I would say this could not be farther from the truth, as the Cowboys finished atop the NFC East with a 10-6 record. Thanks to the second coming of Amari Cooper, who totaled 725 yards and 6 touchdowns (including 3 in a back-and-forth game against Philadelphia, the same game I said the Cowboys would spiral after losing… which they didn’t) since coming to Dallas from Oakland, the Cowboys have subtly become one of the better teams in football. The Eagles did manage to salvage a playoff spot, but the Cowboys, much to my chagrin, won the division and will play a home playoff game this weekend. Jason Garrett has still not been fired.
5. Michael Thomas will lead the league in receiving yards.
Thomas finished with the most catches in the league this year, but he finished 6th among receivers in total yards, behind Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill, and Juju Smith-Schuster, with 1,405 yards on the season and 9 touchdowns. Still, Thomas managed to be Drew Brees’ favorite receiver, with 28.5% of targets on the season. As for Odell Beckham? Well, his team missed the playoffs, and he didn’t finish in the top 15 in catches, yards, yards per catch, or touchdowns. So much for the “Triple Crown” of receiving, I guess.
6. Helmet to Helmet contact and tackles will reduce significantly by the end of the season.
Prediction: Mostly incorrect
Since I could not find any unnecessary roughness penalty stats that are specifically helmet-related since the new rules were implemented, I’m going to call this prediction mostly incorrect. There was a no-call on Kareem Hunt, a running back, when he tried to run through Justin Simmons using the crown of his helmet as a leading point (although this was later turned into a $26,000-plus fine). I would say that just about every single penalty where the helmet was used as a point of contact (that I saw, and truthfully, my work schedule prevented me from doing very much in-depth football viewing this season) was a justified call. The referees, from an eye-test-only standpoint, did a good job of calling it. There were 197 unnecessary roughness penalties called this season, in comparison to 212 called a year before, but who knows if there was any correlation between helmet-to-helmet hits and regular unnecessary roughness penalties?
What really frustrated players (and made headlines) was the roughing-the-passer penalty, as 15 penalties were called for roughing the passer in just week one, and 48 over the first five weeks- 19 more than were called in the first five weeks of the 2017 season. So we’ll see what happens next year.
7. The kneeling won’t stop and nobody cares what you think about it.
In September, the NFL froze its established policy on the national anthem, meaning that, while the policy of the NFL is to “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem,” no players or team could be fined or disciplined by the NFL for violating the rule.
In the long run, this is good for everyone. It’s an unnecessary policy that should never have had to been established in the first place- honestly, this whole thing should be a complete non-issue and it’s spiraled out of control.
In the short term, it makes Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL’s owners look like idiots for going back on the policy that they created. And, honestly, I think that’s wonderful.
8. Nick Foles will start for the Eagles in week 1, then a different team in week 17.
In fact, we’re at the same place we began at the end of the 2017 season. When Carson Wentz went down in week 14 with a fractured vertebrae, Foles once again took control of the Eagles offense, ending the season 3-0 since then, and leading Philly back to the playoffs, giving them a chance to defend their title. The team I suggested the Eagles trade him to, the Broncos, ended up going 6-10, good for third in their division. Case Keenum still doesn’t know how to throw a football. The Eagles, on the other hand, made the right move by keeping Foles on the roster, and now they have a chance to put us through Groundhog Day once again in 2019.
9. Joe Flacco will lose his starting job to Lamar Jackson by the end of the season.
Given, this was due to injury, but with the Ravens in the playoffs, and Joe Flacco in fact cleared to play, Lamar Jackson is the current starting QB for Baltimore. Jackson has been stellar in the role, going 6-1 down the stretch to win the AFC North with a 10-6 record. Like I said he would, Jackson brings a new angle to the Ravens offense- the mobile quarterback threw for over 1,000 yards, and ran for another 554 during his seven games as starter. Whether or not he leads the Ravens back to success in the playoffs remains to be seen.
10. The simplified catch rule won’t make catches any easier to define.
Yeah, I was wrong on this one. If there are fewer steps to take in defining a catch, typically all a replay official has to do is look for those three things. Two feet down, control, and a football move reaching for the line to gain. It’s not that hard, I guess.
Final prediction record: 3.5
I’ve said before that I’m really terrible at predicting things like that.
Speaking of other things I was bad at, let’s take a look at how I fared from my standings predictions from earlier this year. I predicted all 32 teams’ records and potential playoff seedings.
I correctly predicted six out of twelve playoff teams:
Not bad. As for the records, I predicted those… less well. Of 32 NFL teams, I corrected predicted the correct records of the following teams:
So that’s fun.
Here are my updated playoff predictions. These Wild Card games are going to be FUN.
Wild Card Weekend
#6 Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at #3 Houston Texans (11-5)
Saturday, January 5th, 4:35pm (ESPN)
Andrew Luck and the Colts surprised us by clinching the AFC South with a 10-6 record, despite starting the season 1-5. The Texans became the team we thought they’d be before Deshaun Watson got injured last year. Indy is a good team with a solid defense, but I like Houston at home in a close one. Both games between the two have been decided by three points- I think this one is no different.
Prediction: Houston 27, Indianapolis 24.
#5 Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at #4 Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Saturday, January 5th, 8:00pm (FOX)
I have never been sure as to what Seattle is. Apparently, they’re still very good at playing football despite missing the playoffs at 7-9 last year. Russell Wilson is playing like the quarterback we know, taking passing the ball to a new level altogether. As for Dallas, they’ve re-emerged as a team with firepower on offense and an underrated defensive unit. This one will be a shootout, I think. But I like Seattle. We’ll get the bad Dak Prescott (and I think we will, it’s Dallas in the playoffs), and the Seattle defense will be able to hold Zeke and Amari Cooper to minimal damage.
Prediction: Seattle 31, Dallas 23.
#5 Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) at #4 Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Sunday, January 6th, 1:05pm (CBS)
The last time these teams met, Baltimore won on their home turf. I’m predicting the same thing this time around. I know it’s time for Rivers to win a ring, but this Chargers team has been both hot and cold this year with the virtue of a relatively easy schedule. They have the ability to play down to their competition, and I don’t think they’ll be able to figure out Lamar Jackson and company, while the top-ranked Ravens defense takes care of keeping the damage minimal. The Ravens go on to Kansas City.
Prediction: Baltimore 26, Los Angeles 13.
#6 Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at #3 Chicago Bears (12-4)
Sunday, January 6th, 4:40pm (NBC)
The Bears wanted Philadelphia. They could have sat back and taken a loss to Minnesota but they didn’t. I think the Bears know they can handle Philly. Nick Foles might be good to go but that doesn’t mean he’s Superman and will be playing without any semblance of injury. Chicago silences the haters and stifles the Eagles dreams of a championship repeat.
Prediction: Chicago 35, Philadelphia 21.
#4 Baltimore Ravens (10-6) at #1 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
Saturday, January 12th, 4:35pm (NBC)
Kansas City is the best offense in football. But I think the defense has something to say in this matchup. Another thing to note is that Kansas City’s defense is not that great- they’re the worst rushing defense in football- which bodes well for Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards. In a miraculous upset (especially since the Ravens were given a 1.3% chance to win the Super Bowl), I think the Ravens defense avenges their OT loss from earlier this season at Arrowhead, forcing a crucial turnover of Patrick Mahomes late in the game, and moves on to the AFC Championship.
Prediction: Baltimore 30, Kansas City 27.
#3 Chicago Bears (12-4) at #2 Los Angeles Rams (13-3)
Saturday, January 12th, 8:15pm (FOX)
Teams that are cold in December typically don’t fare well in January. They lost two in a row to the same Bears and the Eagles, and gave up 32 points to a weak Niners team in week 17. I think the Bears come out swinging, and Khalil Mack gives Jared Goff fits all day long. Even with a fresh Todd Gurley, this Rams team is battered with injuries; they’re not the same team they were to start the season.
Prediction: Chicago 24, Los Angeles 15.
#3 Houston Texans (11-5) at #2 New England Patriots (11-5)
Sunday, January 13th, 1:05pm (CBS)
Of all the coaches that are former associates of Bill Belichick who have beaten the Patriots- Matt Patricia, Mike Vrabel, etc.- Bill O’Brien is the only one who hasn’t figured the hoodie out. Not to mention, the Patriots were the only team in the league this year to go undefeated at Gillette Stadium- a place the Texans have never won. This is the tomato can game for the Patriots. Tom Brady makes the league just a little nervous with this win.
Prediction: New England 37, Houston 24.
#5 Seattle Seahawks (10-6) vs. #1 New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Sunday, January 13th, 4:40pm (FOX)
It’s hard to bet against the Saints with the way their offense has been rolling. Even though Seattle has momentum, the Saints are just overwhelming if they get rolling. Seattle’s porous defensive line makes for a field day for Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, and Drew Brees is able to beat the Seahawks through the air. Marshon Lattimore has quietly become one of the best corners in football, and he’ll take away Doug Baldwin, one of Russell Wilson’s top targets. The road to Atlanta goes through New Orleans.
Prediction: New Orleans 28, Seattle 10.
#3 Chicago Bears at #1 New Orleans Saints
Sunday, January 20th, 3:05pm (FOX)
It’s the Bears’ vaunted defense against the Saints’ potent offense in a very loud Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Despite the presence of Khalil Mack, the Saints have so many ways to beat you on offense, and a good enough defense to keep you from scoring just enough times. The pressure’s on New Orleans to win one more big one before the best days of Drew Brees’ career is over, and I think they do. Mitchell Trubisky is inexperienced and it’ll show, as early mistakes come back to haunt the Bears. Growing pains are normal, though. The Bears will back soon.
Prediction: New Orleans 30, Chicago 10.
#4 Baltimore Ravens at #2 New England Patriots
Sunday, January 20th, 6:40pm
As a Patriots fan, I’m scared of Joe Flacco. I’m not scared of Lamar Jackson. Here’s a stat for you- the Patriots are 11-0 against rookie quarterbacks at Gillette Stadium. Jackson is no different, and he’ll be swallowed up by Trey Flowers and the New England defensive line. This isn’t to say that the Patriots’ defense won’t make big plays too: a late interception by Duron Harmon sends the Patriots back to the Super Bowl for the third year in a row.
Prediction: New England 31, Baltimore 26.
Super Bowl LIII
Sunday, February 3rd, 6:30pm (CBS)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
#2 New England Patriots vs. #1 New Orleans Saints
I am sticking with my guns and keeping my prediction from the start of this year intact. Both teams are still in it, so why not?
New England is an underdog for the first time since their 2001 win in Super Bowl XXXVI, but they won’t play like it in the opening quarter, as a quick throw to James White puts the Patriots up 7-0 on the game’s first drive.
From there, the Saints defense keeps the game locked down, keeping New England to field goals only while Brees and the offense get going. Alvin Kamara breaks loose a long run on the way to a Brees touchdown pass to Michael Thomas, then again to former Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson. Tom Brady, down 5 with the ball late in the fourth quarter (like he was at the end of Super Bowl LII), is picked off by Marshon Lattimore, sealing a win for the Saints. In the end, Brees ends with three touchdown passes, and a Super Bowl MVP, before using his speech to announce his retirement at the end of the game, going out on top.
Prediction: New Orleans 24, New England 19.
Call me out. Leave a comment down below.
The playoffs start Saturday, January 5th!