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NFL Playoff Predictions

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NFL Playoff Predictions

Image courtesy of Google under the Creative Commons License

Image courtesy of Google under the Creative Commons License

Image courtesy of Google under the Creative Commons License

Image courtesy of Google under the Creative Commons License

Zack Deutschmann, features writer

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NFL Playoff Preview

With December football underway, it’s time to look forward to everyone’s favorite sporting event: The Super Bowl. The biggest sporting event in America will take place Sunday, Feb. 9, 2019. But before we can talk about that, we must see which teams will be competing for the chance to play in the ultimate title game. Here is my predicted American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC) seeding for the 2018 NFL playoffs.

AFC

 

  1. Kansas City Chiefs

  2. New England Patriots

  3. Houston Texans

  4. Baltimore Ravens

  5. Los Angeles Chargers

  6. Pittsburgh Steelers

 

1.  Kansas City Chiefs – It is easy to hand the Chiefs the first-seed, based off how well they have played over the first 13 weeks of the season. With MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, the Chiefs’ offense is explosive, as it averages over 37 points per game (as of week 14) which leads the NFL. Mahomes has been everything the Chiefs needed as they made the decision to trade their former starting Quarterback Alex Smith and give Mahomes an opportunity to start. Combine him with explosive playmakers Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs can outscore any opponent.

 

One key note for the Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes, currently at 41 touchdown passes, needs 14 more to surpass Peyton Manning’s regular season record of 55 touchdown passes, which he did in 2013.

 

2. New England Patriots –  The Patriots will have their ninth consecutive first-round bye, after clinching the second-seed in the AFC. The Patriots are relying less on their 40-year-old quarterback Tom Brady and more on their effective running game of Sony Michel and James White. Despite a 6-0 record at home, the Patriots finished their road schedule with a record of 3-5. Their inconsistencies away from home leads to concerns over how dominant of a team they really are.

 

One key note for the Patriots: Dating back to 2013, the Patriots have won their last nine playoff home games, but they have lost their last three away playoff games. Clinching a first-round bye would be crucial for the Patriots to make a return to the Super Bowl.

 

3. Houston Texans – The Texans began the season at 0-3, after losing close games to the Patriots, Tennessee Titans and New York Giants, won nine in a row, and currently have the third seed in the AFC. After recovering from a heartbreaking torn ACL last year when the Texans seemed destined to be one of the top teams in the AFC, Watson has been inconsistent, as he has 17 total turnovers (nine interceptions and eight forced fumbles). They have a legitimate shot at getting a first-round bye, but in order to do so, the Texans must continue riding their hot defense to win games.

 

One key note for the Texans: After losing to the Colts at home, the Texans have a favorable schedule coming up (Jets, Eagles and Jaguars). The teams combine for a 14-25 record, suggesting the Texans have a real shot at winning out, and if coupled with at least a Patriots loss, they could bypass the wild-card round with a first-round bye.

 

4. Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens will win the AFC North over the Pittsburgh Steelers after relying on rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson to lead them through the rest of the season. After narrowly losing to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens visit the Los Angeles Chargers, sandwiched between a pair of winnable games vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cleveland Browns. I pick the Ravens to win the AFC North based off the Steelers recent struggles, as well as the Steelers tough schedule coming up.

 

One key note: Relying on a rookie quarterback also has its drawbacks. Many question Jackson’s passing as a concern for the future, as he has completed only 59-101 passes, for a total of 684 yards and four touchdowns in four games. His inconsistency has created turnovers on offense, as he has thrown three interceptions to go along with eight lost fumbles.

 

5. Los Angeles Chargers – After several disappointing years in which kicking issues, injuries and inconsistent quarterback play have plagued them, the Chargers are one of the top teams in the AFC. They have the second best record, but since they are in the AFC West along with the Chiefs, the highest playoff seed they can clinch is the fifth seed. With a looming matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, they can potentially bypass the Chiefs to receive the number one seed.

 

One key note: Last season, the Chargers converted (66.7 percent) field goal attempts and were actually efficient in converting 88.1 percent of PAT’s (point-after attempts). This year, they have already converted 23 of 28 attempts (82.1 percent). With Mike Badgley at kicker, the Chargers now have a well-rounded team, and unlike in years past, won’t lose due to inconsistency at kicker.

 

6. Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers, who currently hold the lead in the AFC North, will not win the division, but still make the playoffs as the sixth seed in the AFC. The Steelers issues began early in the pre-season, as former All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell decided to not sign the franchise tag, and has missed all of the season due to the inability for both sides to reach a long-term deal. Even with the surprising absence of Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers still find themselves in a prime spot to contend in the AFC playoffs, due to second-year running back James Conner, who has more than made up for Bell’s absence. The Steelers have largely disappointed, with surprising losses to the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. Inconsistency with the offense to score points and beat teams they are supposed to, their lead in the AFC North can disappear quickly, as they have the Patriots and Saints still left to play.

 

One key note: The Steelers have lost three straight, and there are concerns, that with losses to the Patriots and Saints could derail their playoff hopes, as there are four 7-6 teams fighting for the last wild-card spot. What makes the Steelers the most likely candidate to clinch the sixth seed is that they rank top 10 in both passing and rushing categories out of the remaining 7-6 teams in the AFC.

 

NFC

 

  1. Los Angeles Rams

  2. New Orleans Saints

  3. Chicago Bears

  4. Dallas Cowboys

  5. Seattle Seahawks

  6. Minnesota Vikings

 

1.  The Los Angeles Rams – With top-five metrics in both offense and defense, and a favorable schedule for the remainder of the season, the Rams will lock up the first-seed and clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They face only one team with a winning record the rest of the way (Chicago Bears in Week 14). They have a high chance of finishing 14-2, but that can change depending if playoff seeding won’t be affected in Week 17, where most teams bench their starters to keep them fresh for the playoffs.

 

One key note: The Rams have perennial MVP candidates in Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald. Leading the league in total touchdowns and scrimmage yards (19 and 1707 respectively), Gurley has established himself as the best running back in the NFL. Leading the league in sacks, Donald has a legitimate shot at breaking the single season sack record (22.5 set in 2001 by Michael Strahan).

 

2. The New Orleans Saints – Headlined by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, the Saints are arguably the top team in the NFC. The reason why they aren’t projected ahead of the Rams is due to their schedule, as they face the Steelers at home sandwiched between two games against the Carolina Panthers. Earlier in the season, the Saints won a thriller against the Rams 45-35 (the game was much closer than the score, as the Saints scored a touchdown with a minute remaining in the game.

 

One key note: The Saints actually average more points per game than the Rams (34.4 compared to 32.7) and have the best running back tandem in the league in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II.

 

3. The Chicago Bears – Defense, defense and more defense. The Bears rank at the top in nearly every defensive category including total takeaways (25 interceptions and nine fumbles recoveries), total sacks (40), points per game allowed (19) and yards allowed per game (309.9). This defense only allowed six points to the Los Angeles Rams, which proves that this defense can stop any team.

One key note: The last time the Bears made the playoffs was in 2010, when they reached the NFC Conference Championship against the Packers but ultimately fell short. With the NFC North won, the Bears look to clinch a first-round bye by beating their remaining opponents, and hoping that the Rams lose two of the next three games.

 

4. The Dallas Cowboys – After falling to a 3-5 start, the Cowboys have stormed back in the NFC East, leapfrogging the Redskins and Eagles to take sole possession of the NFC East lead. The acquisition of Amari Cooper from the Raiders has lit a fire under this offense, as they now have an explosive wide receiver alongside their dynamic running back Ezekiel Elliott.

 

One key note: Before the Amari Cooper trade, the Dallas Cowboys were one of the worst teams on third down. Now the Cowboys rank among the leaders on third down conversion percentage, as well averaging more points per game after their trade for a potential number one wide receiver in Amari Cooper.

 

5. The Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks have transformed into one of the more competitive teams in the NFC, and it shows with their 7-5 record. They have played some of the toughest teams very close, as depicted below:

Week 1 @ Denver: 27-24 Loss

Week 2 @ Chicago: 24-17 Loss

Week 5 vs Los Angeles Rams: 33-31 Loss

Week 8 vs Los Angeles Chargers: 25-17 Loss

Week 9 @ Los Angeles Rams: 36-31 Loss

 

Of course, to be a good team in the NFL, you have to win these close games, and the NFC West could be a whole lot different had the Seahawks beaten the Rams. The Seahawks’ path to the playoffs would be more clear, had they won let’s say at least two of those games. Despite that, the Seahawks sit at 7-5 and in the thick of the NFC playoff race, due to their reliance on protecting the football, as they have a +11 turnover differential.

 

One key note: The Seahawks have transitioned to a run-first offense, even with versatile Quarterback Russell Wilson. The change has paid off, as they rank first in the NFL in rushing yards per game (148.8); however, they rank 27th in the league with 204.4 passing yards per game. This transition has allowed the Seahawks to run early and often on teams, in hopes of establishing a league and managing the time of possession to close out games.

 

6. The Minnesota Vikings – After winning one of the craziest playoff games in NFL history, the Vikings fell short in the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. In an attempt to guide themselves deeper in the playoffs, the Vikings signed free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins to a lucrative three-year, $84 million dollar guaranteed deal. With a big improvement to the quarterback position, the Vikings were projected by many to be one of the elite NFC teams as well as super bowl contenders. The Vikings have largely disappointed, due to offensive inconsistency, as the Vikings lost a winnable game in Week 3 to the Buffalo Bills as they scored only six points at home. The Vikings will make the playoffs, due to the relatively easy schedule the rest of the season (vs Miami Dolphins, at Detroit Lions and vs Chicago Bears). The rest of the wild-card hopefuls have difficult schedules (Carolina Panthers face the Saints twice, the Philadelphia Eagles have to face the Rams and Texans). The final NFC wild-card spot may be won by the Vikings, even with a less than desirable 8-7-1 record.

 

One key note: The steep price the Vikings paid for Kirk Cousins hasn’t exactly paid off as they thought it would. Case Keenum, the starting quarterback last year for the Vikings, actually had a higher quarterback rating (72.8) than Kirk Cousins currently has (62.7). QBR is a measurement in which it incorporates all of a quarterback’s contributions to winning, including how he impacts the game on passes, rushes, turnovers and penalties. Is Kirk Cousins the answer for the Minnesota Vikings? We will find out in three weeks, if the Vikings can clinch the sixth-seed in the NFC.

 

About the Writer
Zack Deutschmann, features writer



Interests: Water Polo, Baseball, Swimming
Favorite quote: Failure will not overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.
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