2018 NFL playoffs predictions

Movie quote of the day:

“Milk was a bad choice!”

– Ron Burgundy, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004)

Wild Card weekend

AFC:

Jacksonville Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson (39) and safety Barry Church (42) celebrate after a defensive stop against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

No. 6 Buffalo Bills (9-7) at No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
EverBank Stadium
Jacksonville, Fla.
Line: JAC -8.5
O/U: 39

If LeSean McCoy can’t play in this game, I highly doubt Buffalo will be able to put together an offense that can score on Jacksonville’s defense. Even if McCoy does play, I’m still not sure the Bills would have enough firepower offensively to win. The Jaguars’ defense is fast, plays at a high level, and has been one of the league’s most consistent units all season – ranking in the top five in the NFL in total defense, scoring defense, passing yards per game, third-down efficiency, and takeaways. Jacksonville’s offense relies heavily on Leonard Fournette and the run game and Buffalo’s defense struggles to defend the run – giving up 124.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks in the bottom four of the league. I expect Fournette to have a big day and Blake Bortles to be just good enough for the Jaguars to move on to the divisional round.

Prediction: Jaguars 23, Bills 14

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Tennessee Titans (9-7) at No. 4 Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
Arrowhead Stadium
Kansas City, Mo.
Line: KC -8.5
O/U: 44.5

DeMarco Murray has already been ruled out for this game, which is a huge blow to Tennessee’s offense. The Titans are very reliant on running the ball effectively and it’ll be a tough task to win without their leading rusher. While Marcus Mariota played very well last week against Jacksonville, I’m not sure he can carry Tennessee’s offense without a stable rushing presence like Murray to back him up – although I wouldn’t completely rule out second-year running back Derrick Henry playing well in relief of Murray. Bottom line, Kansas City has been the much better team the last few weeks – winners of four games in a row. The Chiefs also have the better head coach in Andy Reid and will have home-field advantage this week, and Arrowhead Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. Kansas City winning at home feels like a no-brainer.

Prediction: Chiefs 26, Titans 17

NFC:

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) rushes against the Tennessee Titans during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

No. 6 Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at No. 3 Los Angeles Rams (11-5)
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Los Angeles
Line: LAR -6
O/U: 48.5

Everyone has been saying this week to watch out for Atlanta because its offense has the capability of breaking out at any moment. My rebuttal to that is that the Falcons’ offense has underperformed all season, including Matt Ryan (57.8 completion percentage, 1,211 passing yards, 7.2 yards per attempt, four touchdowns, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 78 in his last five starts), and I’m not expecting that to change just in time for the playoffs. Even though I think Atlanta’s defense is underrated, I’m not sure it’s good enough to keep the Rams’ offense from scoring too many points this week – the Rams’ offense led the NFL in points per game this season. After the Rams sat some starters last week though, I’m expecting them to come out a little flat Sunday so I think Atlanta will be able to keep this game pretty close. In the end, I think Todd Gurley will be too much for the Falcons – who has accounted for 877 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns in his last five starts.

Prediction: Rams 24, Falcons 20

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) runs with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Carolina Panthers (11-5) at No. 4 New Orleans Saints (11-5)
Mercedes-Benz Superdome
New Orleans
Line: NO -7
O/U: 48

Carolina has what it takes to make a Super Bowl run. The Panthers are well coached by Ron Rivera, they have a stable run game led by Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey, and they play really good defense. However, Cam Newton is just way too inconsistent for me to take Carolina seriously – he’s posted a passer rating of 71 or below nine times this season. There’s no way that I can put any faith into a quarterback that has performed that poorly this season and expect that team to make a championship run. New Orleans is the better team with just as good of a head coach, a veteran Super-Bowl winning quarterback, one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL led by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, and a defense that has allowed just 17.6 points per game since week three. Plus, the Saints will have home-field advantage. I like them to win comfortably.

Prediction: Saints 31, Panthers 19

Divisional round

AFC:

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) hands the ball off to running back Dion Lewis (33) during the second half against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4 Kansas City Chiefs at No. 1 New England Patriots (13-3)

There’s a part of me that really wants to take Kansas City to win this game because of the way the Chiefs beat New England pretty handily back in week one, and also because of that apparent “dysfunction” in New England’s locker room and front office. If there’s any head coach that can knock off the Patriots twice in one season, it’s Andy Reid. However, I just don’t see that happening. First, Bill Belichick is too good of a coach to lose to Kansas City twice. Second, even with all the “dysfunction” in New England, it feels like that’s a massive smoke screen so that the other playoff teams won’t take the Patriots as seriously. Third, the Chiefs have had too many injuries defensively this year and I expect league MVP front-runner Tom Brady to deliver in the postseason. New England should win this game, but I do feel like Kansas City will keep it close.

Prediction: Patriots 28, Chiefs 23

Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Sean Davis (28) reacts on the field against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 2 Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

Jacksonville throttled Pittsburgh back in early October – that was the game when Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, two of them for touchdowns, and he contemplated retirement the following week. Even though the Jaguars have a nasty defense, I’m not sure they’re good enough to beat the Steelers twice in one season. I don’t expect that type of abysmal performance by Roethlisberger again, especially not after the way Le’Veon Bell finished the regular season, and I feel like Pittsburgh’s defense is much better since October and should be able to slow down Leonard Fournette and Jacksonville’s rushing offense.

Prediction: Steelers 27, Jaguars 19

NFC:

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson during the second half against the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4 New Orleans Saints at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

Even though it’s rare for a southern dome team to go into a harsh, cold environment and get a win in the postseason, I still really like New Orleans’ chances in this matchup. Philadelphia isn’t the same team without Carson Wentz, plain and simple. I don’t trust Nick Foles to be able to pick up the slack in the playoffs. The Saints have the clear edge at quarterback with Drew Brees and have a good enough defense that should be able to contain Foles and the Eagles’ offense. This will likely be a very cold game in Philadelphia, which is when having an effective run game will be critical to getting a win and the Saints have one of the NFL’s best rushing offenses. I think this will be a very close game, maybe even low-scoring game, but I like New Orleans to move on.

Prediction: Saints 20, Eagles 17

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Los Angeles Rams at No. 2 Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

I have a similar feeling about this game as I do about the Kansas City-New England matchup. I think the Rams are a very good team and could give Minnesota a lot of problems. They’ve already lost to the Vikings once this season – Sean McVay strikes me as a head coach that is very difficult to beat twice in a season – and this game will be in a dome which will help out the Rams’ offense since the game won’t be played outside in a cold place like Minnesota. I really want to take the upset, but I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger. I actually do think the Vikings are underrated. Their defense led the NFL in scoring and also ranked in the top three in the NFL in total defense, passing yards per game, rushing yards per game, and third-down efficiency. Case Keenum has also far exceeded my expectations since he became the starting quarterback and for whatever reason I feel like he has what it takes to get a win in the playoffs. I’m not overly confident about it, but something tells me Minnesota will be fired up to play in front of its home crowd and will be looking to prove the doubters wrong in this matchup.

Prediction: Vikings 27, Rams 21

Championship Sunday

AFC Championship:

New England Patriots linebacker Marquis Flowers (59) reacts after sacking New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (not seen)
during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 1 New England Patriots

Since 2013, the AFC representative in the Super Bowl was the No. 1 overall seed and had home-field advantage in the AFC bracket. The Patriots have also had Pittsburgh’s number for about the last decade – Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a combined record of 11-2 against the Steelers since 2002, and actually haven’t lost a game to them since 2011. So, fortune favors New England in this matchup. One could argue that means New England is due for a loss, but I can’t see it happening on the Patriots’ home field. I think New England continues its dominance over Pittsburgh – I think the outcome won’t be nearly as close as it was a few weeks ago – and get back to the Super Bowl for a fourth time since 2011.

Prediction: Patriots 33, Steelers 20

NFC Championship:

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes (26) celebrates with linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) and safety Harrison Smith (22) during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4 New Orleans Saints at No. 2 Minnesota Vikings

I said a few weeks ago that I thought Minnesota wouldn’t make it to the Super Bowl, but would get as close as it possibly could. Well, this game is when I think the Vikings will stumble. Minnesota got the best of New Orleans back in week one, but this is a much better Saints team that has been playing significantly better on the defensive side of the ball since that game. I think it’s tough to beat a head coach like Sean Payton twice in one season. Also, for as good as Case Keenum has been this season I just can’t see him leading Minnesota to the Super Bowl. Generally, the team with the better starting quarterback wins in the postseason and the Saints have the clear advantage in that category with Drew Brees. It should be a very close, entertaining game, but I like New Orleans to punch its ticket to the Super Bowl.

Prediction: Saints 24, Vikings 21

Super Bowl LII

No. 4 New Orleans Saints vs. No. 1 New England Patriots

There’s a part of me that thinks New Orleans’ offense just might light up New England’s defense. Despite allowing just 14 points per game since week four, the Patriots are allowing 335.7 total yards per game and 5.3 yards per play during the same stretch. I just feel like that is way too much to be giving up, and a team as talented as New Orleans is offensively with a veteran, Super-Bowl winning quarterback and an offensive-minded coaching staff will find a way to take advantage of the Patriots’ defense. There’s no way that I can pick against New England in a Super Bowl though. For as bad as the Patriots’ defense has been at times this season, I think if you give Bill Belichick two weeks to prepare for a team he’ll still find a way to exploit any weaknesses and slow down the opposing team’s offense enough to win. The Saints do have the defense that can give Tom Brady fits because they have a good pass rush and the weakness of New England’s offense is the offensive line. However, it’s the Super Bowl and that’s when Brady is always at his best and I expect him to be great once again.

Prediction: Patriots 28, Saints 24
Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady

Thanks for reading

Shane Price
Follow me on Twitter – @priceisright53

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