2018 NFL Playoff Predictions and Reulgar Season Wrap-Up
Happy New Year, everyone!
There’s something about the New Year that makes us say “ya know, I’m glad last year is over. I’m looking forward to this year.”
Regardless of how the year behind us went, good or bad, we’re looking forward to 2018. I think that’s the case for me (and many of the teams in the NFL) as well.
With the playoffs upon us, it’s time to take a look back at this tumultuous 2017 NFL season. It’s certainly been a year full of the unexpected, with not only major player injuries, but many teams surprising us in the standings. The playoff picture is quite unusual, definitely not like anything I’ve seen before since I’ve been an NFL fan.
Let’s talk about it.
We begin in New England as we always do, with forty-year old Tom Brady looking to lead the defending champions back to the promised land. A 42-27 loss at home against Kansas City and a 36-33 loss at home against Carolina proved troubling for the Patriots, who at that point had the worst scoring defense in football, a year after having the best scoring defense. Since that time, the Patriots have only lost one game and given up an average of 14 points per game, making them one of the best scoring defenses in football since the start of October. They will be the top seed in the AFC, and the way that the rest of the conference looks, they may find themselves in a second consecutive Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history.
The Pittsburgh Steelers also found their way back to the postseason, this time as the #2 overall seed with a 13-3 record. After a tough loss at home to New England, they are also poised to meet up with their AFC East Rival some time this January.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the season was the emergence of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who finished with an 11-5 record and an AFC South Division win, its first since 1999, when they made an AFC Championship appearance. Thanks to the reappearance of Tom Coughlin of Executive VP of the franchise, could the Jaguars return to form? They currently lead the league in both pass defense and total defense, earning the nickname “Sacksonville” this year. They’re an underrated team looking to make its mark on this league.
In the NFC, it was a year of surprises. Of the six playoff teams this year, only one of them (Atlanta) has made it this year. We’ve got five new faces to work with here.
First is the Philadelphia Eagles, who, behind their fearless leader Carson Wentz, finished 13-3, and earned the top seed in the NFC. Even after Wentz tore his ACL with three weeks to go in the season, the Eagles still have a very potent offense thanks to the additions of Alshon Jeffrey and Jay Ajayi.
The Minnesota Vikings are also in the mix this year as they look to become the first team to ever host a Super Bowl. They lead the league in scoring defense, and Case Keenum has inexplicably racked up 13 wins for the Northern Defenders.
The NFC South has been a total shootout this year, with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints rebounding from a 7-9 season a year ago to an 11-5 record and a division win, even after losing their first two games this year. Hot on their heels were the Carolina Panthers, who also rebounded from missing the playoffs to a 12-4 record as well.
For some teams, the season was very good. For others, it was not.
There were the Oakland Raiders, who many expected to challenge the Patriots in the AFC this year. They went 6-10 and missed the playoffs.
The Houston Texans were also supposed to make the AFC South competitive with the defensive front ends of JJ Watt, Jadaveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus, paired with a resurgent offense led by rookie sensation Deshaun Watson. Watt, Merciless and Watson all got hurt, and Houston limped to a 4-12 record.
The New York Football Giants were supposed to be one of the best teams in the NFL this year, after going 11-5 last year. Instead, this year was an absolute garbage fire for the G-Men, as they finished 3-13. It didn’t help that they lost all of their core wide receivers, not to mention there being issues between head coach Ben McAdoo and the players themselves. Have we seen Eli Manning’s last year in New York?
This is a partial list of NFL players who got hurt this year:
- JJ Watt
- Deshaun Watson
- Julian Edelman
- Odell Beckham Jr.
- David Johnson
- Aaron Rodgers
- Richard Sherman
- Eric Berry
- Joe Thomas
- Brandon Marshall
- Sam Bradford
- Zach Miller
- Dont'a Hightower
- Carson Palmer
- Ryan Tannehill
That team could win the Super Bowl.
And then there were the Cleveland Browns. The Browns became the 2nd team in NFL history to lose all 16 games in a season. And they drafted so well too.
I also did not have a very good season this year.
And by that, I mean this NFL season was so messed up that I couldn’t predict my way out of a paper bag.
My fantasy football team won its league this year though! Way to go, Buttfumblers!
At the beginning of the NFL season, I tried to make some predictions as far as records, standings, and playoff teams were concerned.
Out of every NFL team this year, I correctly predicted three of them.
- New England (13-3)
- Baltimore (9-7)
- Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)
Not bad. Up one from last year!
Out of the twelve playoff teams, I correctly predicted four of them, cutting my total in half from last year.
- New England (13-3), first in AFC East (predicted first in AFC East)
- Pittsburgh (13-3), first in AFC North (predicted first in AFC North)
- Tennessee (9-7), first wild card (predicted first in AFC South)
- Minnesota (13-3), first in NFC North (predicted as second wild card)
I said the Giants would meet the Patriots in the Super Bowl. How wrong I was.
In addition to a season standings prediction, I also made 10 bold predictions for the NFL season. Now, some of these also include the playoffs, so I will rank these predictions as either correct, incorrect, or pending. Let’s see how I did:
1. The Atlanta Falcons will miss the playoffs. (Prediction: Incorrect)
The Falcons are in third place in the NFC South, but still managed to squeak in with two crucial wins in the last few weeks of the season, one over the eventual division champion Saints, and another in week 17 against another division rival Carolina to seal the deal (had they lost, Seattle would have needed to win and be in). They also beat Seattle at CenturyLink field, which won them a wild card tiebreaker. Despite the inconsistencies from Matt Ryan and the offense this year, the Falcons have another shot at avenging their Super Bowl defeat.
2. The New York Jets will go 0-16. (Prediction: Incorrect)
I really whiffed on this one, you guys. This Jets team was lined up to be the worst team in football in a long time. And when they lost their first three games, everyone thought they’d surpass those expectations. And then they Jets won three games in a row. They were within a game of the AFC East lead at one point. They won more games than the Giants this year, who were predicted to be a major playoff threat. And after all that, the Cleveland Browns decided to drop the ball and go 0-16 this year.
3. Some kind of stupid new kickoff rule will be added this year. (Prediction: incorrect)
Sorta. There was definitely no new kickoff rule added this season. But there was more debate over what is defined as a catch and what is not (see James, Jesse).
4. Deshaun Watson will be the AFC’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. (Prediction: Pending, but probably incorrect)
If Watson hadn’t torn his ACL midway through the season, I would say he would have been a shoo-in for the Offensive ROTY award. However, since he did, I would probably venture a guess to say he’s out. As far as a winner is concerned, the likely candidate might be Juju Smith-Schuster from Pittsburgh, as he broke the team’s rookie WR record this year with 58 catches for 917 and 7 touchdowns.
5. Deshone Kizer will start all 16 games for the Browns. (Prediction: incorrect)
Believe it or not, I was actually pretty close on this one. Kizer started 15 games for the Browns. Kevin Hogan started one game when Kizer was benched due to injury- or sucking. Probably both. I’m not really sure. But I was close!
6. David Johnson will win the rushing title this year. (Prediction: Incorrect)
0-for-2 on this prediction. Johnson tore his ACL in the first game of the season, which all but eliminated him from the race. The Rams’ Todd Gurley won the rushing title this year, amassing 1,305 yards. Johnson finished with 23 yards on the season to land him in a tie for 172nd. Tom Brady had more rushing yards than David Johnson.
7. Brock Osweiler will start for the Broncos by the end of the year. (Prediction: CORRECT!)
Ahh, the Broncos quarterback situation. It’s a perfect storm of stooges who don’t know how to throw a football. The Broncos started 3-1 under Siemian, but then proceeded to lose their next eight games, with head coach Vance Joseph replacing Siemian with Brock Osweiler in week 9 against Philadelphia. Siemian was replaced in week 12 with Siemian, who won the next two games for Denver. Unfortunately, Siemian sustained a shoulder injury, leaving Osweiler to again take his place for a win against the Colts and a loss against the Redskins. Paxton Lynch did get the start in week 17, but I think that was more to get him primed to either be moved or just to get him reps. Either way, I’m calling this loss for the Broncos’ quarterback experiment a win for me and my prediction.
8. The NFC East’s worst team will have a losing record. (Prediction: Incorrect)
Whiffed big on this one too. One team may be in great shape by the end of the season, but the rest of the division sputtered. The Giants lost their first 5 games, 6 out of their first 7, and that was it. It didn’t help that all of their receiving options were hurt. The Cowboys didn’t have Ezekiel Elliott for six games this year, and it was evident that Dak Prescott struggled with a sophomore slump. And the Redskins reverted back to the utter state of despair, which resulted in the form of a 7-9 season. Only the Cowboys and Eagles finished with winning records this year.
9. The Patriots won’t have an undefeated season… but they’ll still win the Super Bowl. (Prediction: Pending. For now.)
A week one, 42-27 loss to Kansas City removed all of the “undefeated season” talk. And then the Patriots started the season 2-2 and everyone got nervous. But at 13-3 atop the AFC, the Patriots have Vegas’s odds to win the Super Bowl this time around. With a stouter defense than they’ve had in the first four week, and an offense that has found a rhythm, all signs point to New England cruising their way to another Super Bowl appearance.
10. Colin Kaepernick will find a home this season. (Prediction: Incorrect)
With all the injuries this year, you would think that Kaep would find a home this year. Unfortunately, he did not. There was that whole thing a few months ago where he was close to signing with the Ravens, only to have his girlfriend tweet something about the team, leading to them not signing him. What Kaepernick did start, however, was the NFL anthem protest movement- a great show of solidarity between players across the league, uniting and (figuratively) standing up to the oppression of people of color by figures of authority. So we do have him to thank for that. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until next year for Kaep to find a home.
Total prediction record: 1.5-8.5
Now that all of our playoff teams, matchups, times and TV packages are in place, let’s give a quick prediction slate for the road to Super Bowl LII.
Wild Card Weekend (January 6th & 7th)
5. Tennessee Titans at 4. Kansas City Chiefs- Saturday 1/6, 4:35pm (ABC/ESPN)
I will start by remarking that the AFC Playoff picture is a story of kings and peasants. These AFC Wild Card games will be truly abysmal. After starting the season well, both Kansas City and Tennessee fell off the rails, the former nearly losing their division after winning their first five games of the year, and the other actually doing it, eventually needing help to get in to the playoffs. I’m going to pick Kansas City on this one. Tennessee is way too overmatched, Marcus Mariota has proved himself to be spotty at times, and the home crowd at Arrowhead will obviously be a factor early on. Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill light it up on offense for KC, leaving everyone to think the Chiefs are for real before they lose their next playoff game on the road.
Prediction: Kansas City 31, Tennessee 13
6. Atlanta Falcons at 3. Los Angeles Rams- Saturday 1/6, 8:15pm (NBC)
The Falcons are the NFC’s only returning playoff team. But as the last team in, they’ll have to fight their way through three road games in order to avenge their Super Bowl loss from a year ago. Their first step is a Los Angeles Rams team, a squad with a potent offense of their own thanks to the emergence of Jared Goff at QB and Todd Gurley having a career year. The offense is clicking under coach Sean McVay, as they were the highest scoring team in football through the first 16 weeks. I would only chalk a Rams loss here up to inexperience. Goff has never played in a playoff game before, hell, he’s only been a starter for a season and a half. But I think with nearly 100,000 strong at the Coliseum, the Rams should be okay, and the Falcons will wither away and become a shell of what they once were.
Prediction: Los Angeles 36, Atlanta 20
6. Buffalo Bills at 3. Jacksonville Jaguars- Sunday 1/7, 1:05pm (CBS)
The Bills made the playoffs. THE BUFFALO BILLS MADE THE PLAYOFFS for the first time in this millennium. And because we’re in the bizarro world of the 2017 NFL Playoffs, they’re facing off against the 11-5 Jacksonville Jaguars. This should be an easy win for the Jags here, playing in their first home playoff game in over a decade. Tyrod Taylor is a nice story at the QB position, but I think he lacks what it takes to step up and make big plays in a high-pressure playoff situation. And Lesean McCoy might not even play since he was carted off the field with an ankle injury in week 17. If the Jaguars defense can keep Taylor stagnant, they shouldn’t have a problem. They are the best pass defense in football this year, after all.
Prediction: Jacksonville 27, Buffalo 10
5. Carolina Panthers at 4. New Orleans Saints- Sunday 1/7, 4:40pm (FOX)
Both these teams are out for blood. New Orleans, after losing their first two games this year, rebounded to an 11-5 record and an NFC South Division win. The Carolina Panthers have also amassed an 11-5 record after being able to keep their teams relatively unscathed in terms of injuries. The Saints went 2-0 against Carolina this season, and Drew Brees is the best quarterback in the NFC playoff field. This game will probably be the most interesting in the slew of Wild Card contests, as we’ll be getting a solid New Orleans offensive attack against a stout Carolina defense, and an iffy Carolina passing attack against a young, mostly inexperienced, sometimes revolving-door-esque Saints defensive unit. Should be a fun matchup, but I think New Orleans comes out on top for the third time this season against their divisional foe.
Prediction: New Orleans 31, Carolina 26
Divisional Playoffs (January 13th & 14th)
4. New Orleans Saints at 1. Philadelphia Eagles- Saturday 1/13- 4:35pm (NBC)
Overall, this should be one of the more entertaining matchups of the divisional round. New Orleans will be riding high of a thrilling Wild Card victory into Philadelphia on a short week, as they look to score a victory over Nick Foles and the Eagles, who not only backed into the playoffs with a loss at home against Dallas, but have been squeaking by with victories in the last quarter of the season, especially since they’ve lost their MVP-quality quarterback in Carson Wentz. The offense has become stagnant and I see New Orleans capitalizing on that. The Eagles may rank first in total defense, but the Saints rank second in total offense, and if Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram can wear down the Philly defense, and the Saints can put some pressure on Foles, I see New Orleans scoring a last-second upset victory, putting the Eagles on the couch, awaiting the second coming of their lord and savior Carson Wentz next season.
Prediction: New Orleans 24, Philadelphia 21.
4. Kansas City Chiefs at 1. New England Patriots- Saturday 1/13- 8:15pm (CBS)
Well, well, well. Here we are again, friends. Unfortunately, neither of these two teams are the same as when we saw them in the first game of the regular season, when Kansas City embarassd the Patriots at home in a 42-27 victory. Since then, the Chiefs went 5-0, but lost 6 of their next 7, including consecutive losses to the Giants, Bills, and Jets. The Patriots would start the season 2-2 thanks to the worst defense in football, then rebound to win 11 of their next 12, thanks to what is now the fifth best scoring defense in football. This should be close early, but expect the Patriots to simply overwhelm the Chiefs by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. Also expect the weather to be cold, Andy Reid to mismanage the clock, and for Brady to not only exploit the deep ball with the absence of safety Eric Berry, but also for the three-headed Patriot rushing attack to destroy Kansas City’s 25th-ranked rushing defense. New England rights the wrongs from earlier this season and advances to its seventh consecutive AFC Championship game.
Prediction: New England 38, Kansas City 16.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars at 2. Pittsburgh Steelers- Sunday 1/14- 1:05pm (CBS)
In another rematch from this season, the Steelers will look to avenge their loss in Pittsburgh from earlier this season, when Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions as the Jaguars rolled 30-9. I expect this game to be just a little closer. For Pittsburgh, it all depends on the health of Antonio Brown, and if he is able to contribute to this Pittsburgh offense which has been very good for the majority of the season. If he’s not, they Steelers will need to expect big games from Juju Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant, as well as Le’Veon Bell. In the end, I can chalk up a Steelers win due to Jacksonville’s playoff inexperience. Jacksonville might not be scared of Pittsburgh having beaten them before, but that was in October, and the Steel City in January is a very scary place. I don’t know if Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense is good enough to make the big play when it matters. We will get the matchup we want in the AFC Championship.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 21, Jacksonville 14.
3. Los Angeles Rams at 2. Minnesota Vikings- Sunday 1/14- 4:40pm (FOX)
The Vikings will look to become the first team to host a Super Bowl when they open the playoffs against the Rams. This game is the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. The league’s best scoring offense against the league’s best scoring defense. But in this case, I give the edge to Minnesota’s monster defense. That’s right, not Case Keenum and the Vikings offense, but the defense. I expect a low scoring game on both fronts, and for Minnesota to move on and host the NFC Championship game.
Prediction: Minnesota 14, Los Angeles 13.
Conference Championships (January 21st)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers at 1. New England Patriots- Sunday 1/21- 3:05pm (CBS)
This is what we wanted. A meeting of two god-like quarterbacks in the AFC Championship. We were here last year, and we know how it ended, with New England defeating Pittsburgh en route to its fifth Super Bowl title. The Patriots will look to do the same thing, while the Steelers look to avenge their loss in early December and defeat their AFC Rival. Again, though, if Antonio Brown is unable to play, and with the game in Foxboro, it will be very hard for Pittsburgh to score. We truly never know what Bill Belichick has up his sleeve as far as defensive packages are concerned. I also anticipate James Harrison being a factor in this game. Will he stick it to his former team? I’m thinking there’s going to be a crucial sack in the game with Harrison in the middle of it. Tom Brady and the Patriots are able to wear down the Steelers defense, and repeat as AFC Champions, advancing to their second straight Super Bowl.
Prediction: New England 36, Pittsburgh 19.
4. New Orleans Saints at 2. Minnesota Vikings- Sunday 1/21- 6:40pm (FOX)
Well, this isn’t nearly the matchup I expected. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, who gave up on Adrian Peterson (and everyone thought they had given up) and somehow have made it to the NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings and their formidable defense. I do not like this matchup for the New Orleans Saints, who lost to the Vikes back in week one. They may not have had their feet under them yet like they do now, but a loss is a loss. I think that in front of the home crowd, the Vikings are able to shut down either Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram on the ground, or force some pressure on Drew Brees. I’m not saying Brees can’t make plays, but he can’t do it all. And all it takes for the Vikings offense is a few big plays against an inexperienced Saints defense. Minnesota, in an upset, will become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Prediction: Minnesota 24, New Orleans 20.
Super Bowl LII- Sunday, February 4th, 6:30pm (NBC)
New England Patriots vs. Minnesota Vikings
This is a peculiar matchup, and a ridiculously unexpected one (at least on the NFC side). But then again, this NFL season has been full of unexpected twists and turns, so why the hell not? The Patriots seek their second straight and record-tying sixth Super Bowl title, while the Vikings seek their first in franchise history. This has the potential to be a very interesting Super Bowl, particularly since the Patriots have a history of keeping their Super Bowls close, and the Vikings are a relatively underrated opponent.
The game remains close, as is tendency in these high-importance Super Bowl games. But New England pulls it out again for their sixth Super Bowl title.
Prediction: New England 30, Minnesota 24.
Again, fight me.
With the game at U.S. Bank Stadium, the home of the Vikings, expect Minnesota to strike first, scoring the first 10 points of the game, and are up 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Tom Brady and the Patriots battle back in the second quarter after Dion Lewis scores from a few yards out, then two Stephen Gostkowski field goals (the second just before halftime) give New England a 13-10 lead just before the Justin Timberlake concert.
In the third, the Patriots again are able to wear down the Vikings terrific defense, thanks to their ability to sub in and out both on the ground and through the air. By the end of the third, the Patriots are up 23-17.
The Vikings score in the fourth quarter to take the lead late, thanks to a crucial defensive stop, maybe even a missed field goal, and a touchdown from Latavius Murray to give the Vikings a 24-23 lead with just over six minutes to go.
And because this is the Patriots, and because this is Tom Brady, the Patriots drive the ball down the field, with Rob Gronkowski scoring a touchdown with just under 2 minutes to go. The Patriots are able to come up with a sack on Case Keenum on 4th down, and win their sixth Super Bowl championship, 30-24.
Overall, I attribute the Patriots win to the fact that, aside from a win at home over the Rams, the Vikings have exactly zero statement wins. They are 3-2 against playoff teams this year, with a win against New Orleans coming in September, the win at home against the Rams, and a win against a struggling Atlanta team, 14-9.
I do not for a second believe that the Vikings are a better team than the Patriots. They’ve had a weak schedule with the advantage of winning the division due to Aaron Rodgers being hurt. Getting to play teams like Chicago and Detroit twice a year is already a gift. Keep in mind this is the same Vikings team that started last year 5-0, and then lost 8 of their next 11. That defense is dominant because they haven’t had to play anybody. And on the offensive side of the ball, who considers Case Keenum to be a good quarterback? I think he’s having a good year where the defense has been good and the team itself has been nothing short of lucky.
The Patriots win again, Tom Brady is probably the MVP. All is right with the world.
Truth be told, y’all, I can say with sincerity that I have no earthly idea what is going to happen once the playoffs start. That’s the thing when you have five new playoff teams in the NFC and a truly dismal AFC playoff picture. Anything has the potential to happen. Philadelphia could recover and miraculously make a run. Jacksonville could invoke the wrath of Tom Coughlin and upset the Steelers and possibly the Patriots. Hell, even the Bills could come out of nowhere and win the Super Bowl (that one might be a bit of a stretch). There’s no one who can predict these games, especially when there are so many unknown variables that each team possesses that could win or lose them games.
This is just my fantasy world where I try to predict the future- this is just the timeline I have chosen to go with on this particular day. Anything can and probably will happen.
I do know one thing though.
Even though we might not have anticipated it, these playoffs are going to be fun.
Who's your pick to win it all? Leave a comment down below.