Happy New Year everyone! After what feels like an eternity, the NFL Playoffs are finally here! Take a peek at my previews of each team to see why they have a shot at winning it all this year. If you’re curious about my actual picks, my bracket will be pictured below.
- (1) Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes. Tyreek Hill. Travis Kelce. Mahomes is the MVP of this season in my book as he has elevated this offense to astronomical numbers from the game managing style of play Alex Smith brought to the team. The lowest amount of points this juggernaut has scored in a game this year was 26 points. 26 points per game would STILL place the Chiefs in the top 10 in scoring this year. Let that sink in. Even without key players such as Sammy Watkins and Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs have still managed to stay in the top 10 for yards gained and the top three for points scored in the last three games. With weapons like Hill and Kelce catching the ball and Andy Reid play-calling, this offense can continue to carry its lackluster defense (which by the way has some extraordinary playmakers such as Chris Jones, Dee Ford, and Eric Berry when healthy) to a championship.
- (2) New England Patriots: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a first-round bye in the playoffs. However, something is different about the team this year; the offense has become run-centric as New England ranks in the top five in rushing across the entire league and Tom Brady has attempted the fewest amount of passes in a full season of games since 2010. Sony Michel and James White are pounding opposing defenses while Brady controls the ball down the field per usual. The defense is bolstered by All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore along with the consistent play of veteran Devin McCourty, emerging rookie J.C. Jackson, and stud up-front Trey Flowers. The empire can and will strike again.
- (3) Houston Texans: When you have the most talented second-year quarterback outside of Patrick Mahomes and a healthy J.J. Watt, almost anything is possible. Throw in elite wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a boost in the secondary from former All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu, and a healthy elite edge defender in Jadeveon Clowney and this is a Super Bowl team. Running back Lamar Miller also had a stellar year as his PFF rating of 74.6 ranked him higher than other talented backs such as Ezekiel Elliott and James Conner. This defense is ferocious. The offense has playmakers. Look out for the Texans.
- (4) Baltimore Ravens: The ground game with Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards has been electric to close the season. Since Jackson took over as the signal-caller, the Ravens have gained an average of 229.6 yards on the ground. That figure alone only sits behind Arizona’s total average yards by 12. Couple that with the stingiest defense in the league in terms of yards allowed and the second-best in scoring, and Baltimore is a scary unit to match up against. Watch out for Michael Pierce and Eric Weddle to continue to terrorize opposing offenses.
- (5) Los Angeles Chargers: Only the Chargers would find a way to be the 5-seed after winning 12 games on the season. This Philip Rivers-led team is littered with playmakers. He and six other players on this roster were selected for the Pro Bowl this year: Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Melvin Ingram, Derwin James, Mike Pouncey, and Adrian Phillips. That list doesn’t even include talented individuals such as Mike Williams, Joey Bosa, Casey Hayward, All-Pro Desmond King, and the returning-from-injury Hunter Henry. The Bolts are geared up and ready to take home their first Super Bowl.
- (6) Indianapolis Colts: Does anyone else think about how Andrew Luck hadn’t thrown an NFL pass since 2016 prior to this season? He has somehow come back even better than before and with a vengeance. The connection between Luck and T.Y. Hilton is on another level and Frank Reich’s offense in conjunction with the Quenton Nelson-led offensive line has opened up the running game for Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines to all succeed. The emergence of playmakers like Eric Ebron, Darius Leonard, and Margus Hunt has somehow pushed this team into the playoffs against all odds. Nobody wants to play the Colts right now.
- (1) New Orleans Saints: First let’s establish one thing, Sean Payton is one of the greatest offensive minds in football. With Payton’s play-calling, this team has been able to put up points with stars and no-names alike. Drew Brees is at the helm of this juggernaut with one of the top offensive lines in football, a running back tandem made up of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, AND All-Pro pass-catcher Michael Thomas. The defense also ranks in the top half of the league in both yards allowed and scoring and boasts the second-best run defense with a robust front comprised of Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, and David Onyemata. Only the Saints can stop themselves.
- (2) Los Angeles Rams: The NFC is loaded with great offensive minds, and Sean McVay is one of them. This team has made a complete 180 turn since he became the head coach as they ranked second in both points and yards per game only to the unstoppable Chiefs offense this year. Todd Gurley has had an All-Pro worthy season, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods have both eclipsed 1200 yards receiving, and Jared Goff graded out as PFF’s eight-best quarterback in the league this year. The defense is filled with playmaking studs as well such as hands-down Defensive MVP Aaron Donald, elite safety John Johnson III, and slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman. This could be the start of a new empire in the hands of McVay.
- (3) Chicago Bears: Speaking of turnarounds, Matt Nagy has been a godsend for this Bears team along with help from All-Pro Khalil Mack. The offense has been clicking as it sits in the top 10 in scoring, but even better, the defense has been just as fierce as the storied ‘85 team. This unit ranks at the top in yards allowed, points allowed, takeaways, rushing defense, opposing passer rating, and the list goes on and on. When Leonard Floyd or Roquan Smith are the worst players on your defense, that is scary. All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson wreaks havoc in the secondary alongside All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller, and the defensive front hounds the quarterback with pressure from not only Mack but also Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman. The offense also has playmakers of their own in Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, and Allen Robinson. Fear the Monsters of the Midway.
- (4) Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys from the beginning of the season are not the same Cowboys now. The Amari Cooper trade was the kick this offense needed to start performing better. Since Cooper joined the team, Dallas has averaged 362.3 yards per game compared to their 320 yards per game prior. They have also averaged more points even after laying an egg against the Colts in week 15. Although the offensive line has not been the same besides the stellar play of All-Pro guard Zack Martin, Dak Prescott is playing better, Ezekiel Elliott is the rushing leader in the entire NFL, and the defense has been one of the top units in the league featuring the likes of rookie Leighton VanDer Esch, breakout player Jaylon Smith, and elite pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence. Byron Jones has also been one of the best cornerbacks in the league this year helping the team rank in the top 10 in passing touchdowns allowed. This might finally be the year Dallas makes a breakthrough in the playoffs once again.
- (5) Seattle Seahawks: Somehow some way, Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson find themselves in the playoffs time and time again. This year, the duo found help in the most potent rushing attack in the league through Chris Carson and Mike Davis. Wilson also now has a healthy Doug Baldwin and a legitimate receiving threat in Tyler Lockett. On the other side of the ball, the defense has held its own with All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner leading the way alongside edge defender Frank Clark and Kam Chancellor-replacement Bradley McDougald. Although no longer the Legion of Boom, this team stays in games only ever losing by eight or less points this season. If the rest of the league isn’t careful, this could be ring number two for Russell Wilson.
- (6) Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Foles has a knack for the end of the season. Foles leading this team has transformed the way the offense runs and has opened up Alshon Jeffery to do what he does best – grab jump balls and make big plays down the field. Two out of the three wins this team earned to close out the season were against the Los Angeles Rams and the Houston Texans. I repeat: the Los Angeles Rams and the Houston Texans. Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert have been an outstanding tight end tandem and Josh Adams has emerged as a capable runner out of the backfield as well. With a sturdy offensive line led by All-Pro Jason Kelce, a secondary commanded by Swiss Army knife Malcolm Jenkins, and a defensive front touting All-Pro Fletcher Cox next to edge defender Brandon Graham, the Eagles have a very real shot at repeating as the Super Bowl champs.
Here is my playoff bracket as promised:
Cover Photo Credit: SportingNews