The NFL regular season is over, and the postseason starts tomorrow. The eternal challenge is to pick all 11 playoff games correctly, straight up, in advance. Sure, your friend’s sister’s uncle’s co-worker once claimed he predicted them all right, although it’s hard for him to provide any proof of it.
We’re going to give it a go here, and then we will check back after the Super Bowl on February 3 to see how we did. Chances are we miss a pick in the opening weekend of action, and that’s pretty normal. But we have to try.
Wild-Card Round (January 5-6):
- Indianapolis at Houston—There’s not much separating these two teams, surprisingly. The Colts have the better office, and the Texans have the better defense. Overall, Houston rates out slightly better on paper, and it has home-field advantage, thanks to winning the AFC South. The two teams split regular-season matchups, each winning by a field goal on the road. Also, the squad that won the turnover battle won each respective contest. The edge goes to the Texans with their plus-13 turnover margin this year, as the Colts managed just a plus-2 edge. Combined with the home field, we see Houston winning this one.
Texans 27, Colts 21.
- Seattle at Dallas—These two teams played in Week 3 at the home of the Seahawks, where the 2013 champs emerged victorious, 24-13, thanks to three forced turnovers against the Cowboys offense. Does the setting switch matter? Always. But Seattle led the NFL in turnover margin (plus-15), and while Dallas was solid at plus-3 themselves, we still like the experience QB Russell Wilson brings to this situation for the Seahawks. The Cowboys offense rates out as the worst, by far, in the NFL postseason, and the Seattle defense is good enough to keep that trend alive and well for the road victory. But not by much, even though Dallas is very overrated.
Seahawks 17, Cowboys 13.
- Los Angeles at Baltimore—The Chargers got the shaft here, as they tied for the most wins in the AFC but lost the tiebreaker to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West Division race. Thus, they get relegated to this unfriendly matchup on the road. The Ravens are the better team, in truth, and they are at home. With a dynamic QB (Lamar Jackson) running the anemic offense for Baltimore now, anything can happen for the Ravens on any play. Los Angeles hasn’t been in the postseason since 2013, and that’s the only playoff appearance for QB Philip Rivers since 2009 as well. These Chargers are not as good as the 2006-2009 teams that won four straight division titles. Did we mention the Baltimore defense is the best one in the playoffs?
Ravens 24, Chargers 20.
- Philadelphia at Chicago—Defending champs usually go down fighting, and we expect the Eagles to play well against a team that hasn’t been in the postseason since 2010. However, the Bears are a vastly superior team on paper this year, and they have home-field advantage. That means something at Soldier Field. Chicago outscored its opponents this year by 138 points, while Philly managed just a plus-19 margin in that category. That’s a significant edge for the Bears on top of everything else. Just getting to the postseason was an accomplishment for the Eagles.
Bears 21, Eagles 13.
Divisional Round (January 12-13):
- Baltimore at Kansas City—The Chiefs have a history of flaming out at home when earning the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Remember 1995? 1997? 2003? Even in 2016 with a bye, Kansas City lost at home. It’s what this franchise does, with just one (!) playoff victory since 1993. The good news here is that the Chiefs are a better team than the Ravens, and they should be better rested as well. Plus, QB Patrick Mahomes, who should win the league MVP award, is a different beast than the QBs who lost those aforementioned games for the Chiefs (in order, Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, Trent Green, and Alex Smith). Kansas City hasn’t missed of a beat on offense without RB Kareem Hunt, although the Baltimore defense is very good. This will not be an easy game for the Chiefs to win, but they should do so. Remember the Week 14 game between the two teams? Expect more of the same, as these are the two best teams in the AFC this season, period.
Chiefs 34, Ravens 28.
- Chicago at Los Angeles—This is yet another postseason rematch of a regular-season contest. The Rams turned the ball over four times at Soldier Field in Week 14 on the way to scoring a season-low six points. Los Angeles really hasn’t been the same team since its 11-1 start, and so much of the Rams offense relies on RB Todd Gurley. If his knee is sound, the Bears will be hard-pressed to slow down L.A.’s offense on the road. The Rams defense is the worst one in the NFC postseason on paper, but the team has talent on that side of the ball to matchup with the Chicago offense. Expect Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky, in his first NFL playoff start, to crack.
Rams 27, Bears 20.
- Houston at New England—Can the Patriots lose on their home field in the postseason? Sure, it happened as recently as 2013, although it also happened in 2009 and 2010. Are the Texans the team to pull it off in 2018? No. New England rated out as the fifth-best team in the AFC this year, but luckily, they draw Houston in this round. The Patriots are better on both sides of the ball, and they are at home, which more often than not benefits them. Plus, the Texans will be tired. Think back to Week 1, when these two teams played, and the game will be similar.
Patriots 27, Texans 23.
- Seattle at New Orleans—The Saints are heads and shoulders above their competition this postseason, on paper, and New Orleans is at home. That should add up to something special for the Saints this month. But the offense has sputtered in the last six games, committing eight turnovers combined, after committing just eight total in the first ten games. Keep an eye on that stat: The Seahawks led the NFL in turnover margin as noted above. That is Seattle’s best chance here. Finally, keep in mind that the New Orleans defense is better than the Seahawks defense.
Saints 31, Seahawks 20.
Conference Championships (January 20):
- Los Angeles at New Orleans—In Week 9, the Saints beat the Rams at home in an exciting 45-35 shootout where the teams gained a combined 970 yards. Expect more of a defensive battle this time around, however. That’s the nature of the postseason, of course. Keep in mind the L.A. offensive struggled noted above, as well as the fact New Orleans scored 14 points or less in three of its final five regular-season games. This should come down to which defense forces the most turnovers, and where on the field those turnovers occur. We do expect QB Drew Brees to be better than QB Jared Goff, however. Experience matters in situations like these.
Saints 24, Rams 21.
- New England at Kansas City—Back in Week 6, the Patriots held on to beat the Chiefs in Foxboro, 43-40, when the two teams gained a combined 946 yards. Sound familiar? We know Mahomes won’t be rattled, and this comes down to a chess match between the head coaches. The Chiefs are the better team, and they will be playing this game on home. Those disadvantages have not bothered Tom Brady in the past, but Brady is old now … and he posted his highest interception rate since 2011 this season. We flirt with danger here, but we think the Brady Era is in decline.
Chiefs 38, Patriots 31.
Super Bowl LIII (February 3)
Kansas City vs. New Orleans—The Chiefs are a shade better than the Rams, and that still means they’re slightly behind the Saints on paper. The edge in this matchup, played in Atlanta, goes to the New Orleans defense … and an unintentional albeit key home-field advantage for the Saints. After all, what’s the different between Deep South cities in Georgia and Louisiana? Not much. Both teams have similar scoring and turnover margins, while both have experienced coaches. But keep this in mind: Kansas City’s four losses came by a combined 14 points. The game will be close, but again, we see the New Orleans defense making a few more stops than the Chiefs defense.
Saints 41, Chiefs 38.
Check back on February 4 for the NFL wrap-up piece. Enjoy!