If you told me the Rams, Jaguars, Titans, Saints and Bills all would’ve made the Lombardi Tournament before the season began, I probably would’ve sarcastically told you “Yeah, and I bet the Packers will miss the playoffs for the first time in 9 years, huh?” Well, you genius, you. Except you’re not a genius, because you didn’t tell me that. You didn’t see this coming, and neither did anyone else. So, let’s get into each of these teams, new and returning, expected and surprising, and select the winner for each game, on the way to SB52.
Wildcard – Bills (6) @ Jaguars (3)
Two of the surprising teams I mentioned earlier, these teams don’t match up well – at all. The Bills have a solid offense, lead by LeSean McCoy, but I don’t see them upsetting a team that possesses all the right matchups in their favor, especially on defense. Since there will be practically no hope for passing against the Jaguars elite secondary and premier pass rush, the Bills only hope is to establish a solid run game, and even then the Jaguars still have a potent run defense. Not to mention the game will be played in Jacksonville. Advantage Jaguars.
Bills 14 – Jaguars 26
Wildcard – Titans (5) @ Chiefs (4)
Mariota’s playoff debut. In Arrowhead. Nerves? Nah. Okay, maybe a little. Everything that really makes sense, the Chiefs above average pass rush, the Titans lacking offense, the Chiefs offensive weapons in Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill, all points to a Kansas City victory. However, I have a feeling Mariota, Murray, and the rest of the Titans will show up and bring a long awaited playoff victory to Tennessee. Advantage Tennessee.
Titans 17 – Chiefs 13
Divisional – Titans (5) @ Patriots (1)
This is one of the easier picks I’ll probably have to make today. I went with the upset in the last round, but I don’t see a potentially battered up (depending on how well he gets protected in the Wild Card) and unproven Mariota taking this one, in Foxborough. All matchups go to the Pats, and not to mention they are lead by TB12, the greatest playoff quarterback we’ve ever seen. Advantage Patriots.
Titans 10 – Patriots 22
Divisional – Jaguars (3) @ Steelers (2)
While the status of AB, my pick for NFL MVP, is unknown, I don’t think that will effect the outcome of the game. Whether or not the top NFL receiver is available, I don’t see the Steelers getting their star-studded pass game going in this one. I see a Steelers team come out, underestimate, and play down to their opponent. I see Big Ben get swallowed up by a terrific pass rush, and keep it close, but it will catch up to him, and the rest of the offense. I think, on the other side, the Steelers will perform on defense, but their offense won’t be able to complement. Advantage Jaguars.
Jaguars 16 – Steelers 13
AFC Championship – Jaguars (3) @ Patriots (1)
If you haven’t already noticed, I’m rooting for the Jags. I really am. We all love an underdog, come-up-from-the-dirt success story. However, the fairytale ends here. Blake Bortles vs Tom Brady. That’s essentially what this comes down to. I’m sure Blake Bortles will be Blake Bortles, if not less, and I have confidence Tom Brady will find a way to pick apart this highly-acclaimed defense, en route to his 8th AFC Championship, and Super Bowl appearance. Advantage Patriots.
Jaguars 21 – Patriots 30
Wild Card – Falcons (6) @ Rams (3)
Here we have one of the more interesting matchups of Wild Card Weekend. The defending NFC Champions, facing up against the high powered offense, and remarkable defense of the up-and-coming Rams. I expect the exciting offense of Atlanta to dull a bit, and for their defense to underperform, as per usual. While I see this one being a nail-biter, I see Jared Goff and Todd Gurley (the likely MVP) pulling away in the 4th to secure the first playoff win for the Rams in recent history, in LA. Advantage Rams.
Falcons 25 – Rams 34
Wildcard – Panthers (5) @ Saints (4)
The NFC Champs of two years ago face a division rival. The Saints swept the season series, and don’t expect a change come Sunday. Drew Brees is hungry for another Super Bowl, and he’s simply not going to let a division rival stand in his way. Cam looked shaky in Week 17 in a crucial game, tossing 3 INTs, so what’s there to trust coming into the Wild Card round? The Saints offense would love 3 extra possessions, and if Cam performs how he did, this game won’t even be close. And that’s exactly what I see happening. Expect the Saints to show up in the Super Dome. Advantage Saints.
Panthers 17 – Saints 31
Divisional – Saints (4) @ Eagles (1)
Two words. Drew Brees. This game is all in his hands. Brees vs an unproven Eagles team, who has lost their MVP-caliber quarterback. On the other side, Nick Foles. A solid quarterback, who has exceeded expectations… but can he outplay Brees? This has the potential to be one of the better games of the season, and I expect it to be close till the end. I expect likely DROY Marshon Lattimore to keep one of Foles’s targets in check, and for Brees to flex his veteran playoff experience on an inexperienced defense. Advantage Saints.
Saints 26 – Eagles 24
Divisional – Rams (3) @ Vikings (2)
What Case Keenum has done for this Vikings team can not be taken away from him. He has lead, essentially the same team that missed the playoffs the last year, to the 2 seed in the NFC. Of course this can be attributed to the defense stepping up as well, and offensive weapons such as Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, but we always blame quarterbacks, so we’re going to give him the shine, as well. However, do I see Case Keenum carving up this Rams defense? Do I see the Vikings defense stopping the Gurley-Goff duo? To keep it short, no. I see Goff and Gurley, and the rest of the Rams, once again stepping up to show the rest of the league they mean business. Advantage Rams.
Rams 31 – Vikings 26
NFC Championship – (4) Saints @ (3) Rams
Wow, what a season for the Rams. From 3rd in their division in 2016, to a conference championship appearance the next year. They have a chance to prove themselves, show they are serious. The young, talented duo of their offense has a real chance to beat one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, on their way to their first Super Bowl appearance in a decade. Will they do it, though? Yes, yes they will. I fully expect the Rams to make it out of the hellhole we call the NFC, and to emerge victors of the conference, and represent it in SB52. Advantage Rams.
Saints 20 – Rams 30
Super Bowl 52 – Rams vs Patriots
A rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI, the team Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl against, the first team Brady cemented his legacy against. Tom Brady’s legacy started against this team, and he has a chance to even further separate himself in the GOAT conversation. However, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and not-mentioned-yet Aaron Donald have something to say about that. Aaron Donald is a freak of nature, and one of the most talented defensive players we have seen in years. I expect him, if he has the opportunity, to show up on the biggest stage on Earth. Expect him to wreak havoc on Brady all day, but expect Brady to find a way to keep the game close, and put up points, as he always does. Also, expect LA’s explosive offense to complement Donald’s performance. The team that passed the torch to Brady, the then St Louis Rams, will take it right back from him, and hand it off to Jared Goff, 16 years later. Aaron Donald is your Super Bowl 52 MVP. The Los Angeles Rams are your Super Bowl 52 Champions.
Rams 38 – Patriots 30
Happy New Year, let the games begin.