Now that the brackets are set we examine the NFL’s playoff teams and predict who will end the season with a Super Bowl win.  This season has had a lot of great stories and finished with only four teams making a return trip to the playoffs.  Will we see familiar faces in Minnesota for Super Bowl LII or will new contenders emerge?

AFC

  1. The New England Patriots

The Patriots have the best coach and quarterback in football, maybe ever.  The Patriots had their struggles early, particularly on defense, but they have gotten better every week.  Although the Patriots have lost big time players like Julian Edelman and Marcus Cannon for the season the week off should help Rex Burkhead and possibly Malcolm Mitchell or Chris Hogan get back into the lineup.  The recent addition of former Steeler James Harrison, could give the defense just the help they need replacing Rob Ninkovich as an edge rusher and run defender.

  1. The Pittsburg Steelers

The Steelers still have some of the biggest playmakers in the league at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver.  Their defense has played very well this year, but has lost stars in Joe Haden and Ryan Shazier recently.  The Steelers have gotten a bad rap for playing down to their competition, but although they play in a lot of close games they win a lot of close games.  Although the Steelers looked very impressive for the majority of the game against the Patriots, the seemed to fall apart at the end and point fingers in the aftermath.  Could this be a sign of bigger problems in Pittsburg?

  1. The Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars’ turnaround has been one of the better stories of the 2017 NFL season.  The defense has been phenomenal, Blake Bortles has played well at quarterback, and when Leonard Fournette has been healthy, he has torn defenses apart in the run game.  The Jags were in competition for a bye week, but lost two games in two weeks, which is obviously not the sort of trend you want to be riding into the playoffs.  The Jaguars have also had a few discipline breakdowns recently which  could be a sign that the team is not ready to make a deep playoff run.

  1. The Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs started the NFL season by knocking off the reigning Super Bowl champs and introducing the world to rookie running back Kareem Hunt.  Quarterback Alex Smith was looking like an MVP candidate, but after weeks of leading the league, the Chiefs seemed to fall off.  Smith and Hunt were playing like mere mortals and the defense, which struggled even when the Chiefs were on top, was not helping their cause. When Head Coach Andy Reid gave play calling duties up to Offensive Coordinator Matt Nagy, the Chiefs got things rolling again.  They managed to fight off the surging Los Angeles Chargers and win the divisional title.  Which Chiefs team will we see in the playoffs?

  1. The Tennessee Titans

The Titans have run the ball effectively this year and that is about it.  Marcus Mariota has been an effective passer, but despite the addition of talented rookie receivers in the draft, the passing game has not been a major factor in the Titans’ success.  They have struggled defensively over the course of the season, particularly against the pass, but have managed to grind out enough wins to make a playoff appearance.

  1. The Buffalo Bills

The Bills make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.  Not bad for a team many thought was tanking based on their off-season moves.  The Bills found a way into the playoffs despite the disastrous decision to bench Tyrod Taylor for a game earlier in the season.  Taylor has played well this season despite the deficit of talent and experience the Bills have at the receiver position.  The Bills have run the ball well, but LeSean McCoy’s injury last weekend could have a major impact in that area.  Currently, McCoy is expected to play, but only time will tell if he is at or near 100 percent.

AFC Prediction

It will be Marrone’s revenge as the Jaguars get back on track against their head coach’s former team, the Bills.  The Chiefs will roll right past the Titans on their way to the divisional playoff round.  Unfortunately, that is where it ends for the Chiefs who will finish the season the opposite of how they began it, this time losing in New England.  The Jaguars however, will pull off the upset denying us all of the coveted Steelers/Patriots conference championship matchup and denying James Harrison his vengeance.  The Jaguars’ Cinderella story will end in New England, as the Patriots punch their ticket for another Super Bowl appearance.

NFC

  1. The Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles struggled in the defensive secondary this season, but where pushed to the top of the NFC by MVP candidate quarterback Carson Wentz.  Unfortunately, injury has ended Wentz’ season.  Although Nick Foles is a capable backup, he is no Carson Wentz.  The Eagles signed one running back in LeGarrette Blount this off-season and traded for another in Jay Ajayi during the year, but they have not shown the ability to run the ball effectively enough for the offense to lean on either of them.  For the Eagles to have a chance to make a Super Bowl run, they will need to find big plays and consistency in the run game.

  1. The Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are known for their defense and have played very well on that side of the ball.  When the Vikings lost their quarterback early in the season, an unexpected hero emerged in Case Keenum.  Keenum has been very impressive this season throwing to a pair of start receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.  The Vikings have also run the ball effectively with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.  This team looks like a serious contender in the NFC, despite not having a big name under center.

  1. The Los Angeles Rams

First year coach, Sean McVay has righted the ship in Los Angeles quickly and made would-be bust Jared Goff into a legitimate starting quarterback.  This year has also seen Todd Gurley return to his previous form as one of the league’s top rushers.  Goff has spread the ball around to a number of receivers including Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and rookie Cooper Kupp.  The defense has also been very impressive, particularly against the pass game.  How far can the young coach and the young quarterback take this team?

  1. The New Orleans Saints

The Saints struggled early, but then a couple of things happened.  The first is that the young defense started to play very well.  The second and most obvious was the emergence of rookie rusher Alvin Kamara.  While the team already had a number of offensive weapons including fellow running back Mark Ingram and second year receiver Michael Thomas, Karama gave Drew Brees one more playmaker to tip the scales in the Saints’ favor.  Could this be the year Brees adds another Super Bowl ring to his hall-of-fame resume?

  1. The Carolina Panthers

The Panthers had a bit of a slow start to the season, but have gotten things going in the right direction.  Cam Newton is playing well and although he does not have a true top receiver, tight end Greg Olsen and running back Christian McCaffrey provide a little extra spark to this offense.  The defense, lead by Luke Kuechly, has also played well during this playoff run.  The Panthers are an exciting team with the potential to be a major contender.

  1. The Atlanta Falcons

Although they finished third in their division, the Falcons manage to squeak into the playoffs and keep hope alive that they can defend their Super Bowl loss.  Once again quarterback Matt Ryan has a wide variety of weapons at his disposal offensively.  Julio Jones is among the best receivers in the league and Falcons’ running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are big time playmakers.  The young defense has continued to play well this season as the Falcons look to get back to the big game.

NFC Prediction

Although the Rams are extremely talented and have had a great season, I don’t think they have learned the lessons needed to win big games.  I see the Falcons pulling off the upset in Los Angeles.  The Panthers will give them a great fight, but the NFC South Champion Saints will advance to the divisional round with a win in a nail biter.  The Falcons will continue their run with a win over the Wentz-less Eagles in Philadelphia and the Saints will pull off the upset in Minnesota scoring on offense, defense, and special teams.  The Falcons’ hopes of redemption will fade with a loss in the conference finals to as the Saints book a flight back to Minneapolis.

Super Bowl Prediction

Two of the most acclaimed NFL quarterbacks of all time will face off as the Saints and Patriots meet in Super Bowl LII.  This game will be everything you want it to be, a high scorning affair with Brady and Brees dueling it out to the end.  The Patriots will win by a field goal in the closing minutes of the game.

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