NFL Playoff Preview

Seven-time+Super+Bowl+champion+Tom+Brady+hopes+to+lead+the+Buccaneers+to+a+second+consecutive+title.

Photo courtesy of www.insider.com.

Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady hopes to lead the Buccaneers to a second consecutive title.

It is one of the most fun and exciting times of the year for the NFL: the playoffs. The top fourteen teams in the league battle it out to determine who wins the biggest game of the year, the Super Bowl, and the Lombardi trophy. 

This is the second year of the new playoff format where only the first seed (as opposed to the first two seeds) in each conference gets a bye. Also, the NFL added another team in each conference to the playoffs. There is reseeding after every round, so the first seed always plays the lowest remaining seed. The team that is the lowest seed is away for the divisional and conference games. 

Jalen Hurts, in only his second year as Eagles quarterback, has led Philadelphia back to the playoffs. (Photo courtesy of www.bleedinggreennation.com.)

Let’s start with some of the surprise teams that made the playoffs this year, starting in the NFC. The #7-seeded Philadelphia Eagles have been led by former Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts. Many people thought that Hurts would not lead this Eagles team to a playoff spot, but their fans had confidence in him. 

“Jalen Hurts changed the team so well even with the weight of the world on his shoulders [and] starting with a 2-5 season,” said seventh-grade Eagles fan Thomas Harris. “The Eagles clinched the playoffs last week, and I think they can make a nice little playoff run,” said Harris.

Another surprising team is the NFC’s #5 seed: the Arizona Cardinals. They started off 7-0 but had a bit of a drop-off as they lost 6 of their last 10.  The team struggled with a number of injuries, including one to star QB Kyler Murray. He was having an excellent season before his injury, but will look to take his career to the next level as he leads his team into the playoffs. Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury has done an excellent job, and is a top candidate for Coach of the Year. 

“The offense is really good, but Kyler Murray is needed for this offense to do well,” said eighth grader Aidan Brown. 

Turning to the AFC, one of this year’s surprises has been the Cincinnati Bengals, the #4 seed in the conference. Many doubted their talents until former 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow had a phenomenal season. His former receiver from LSU, Ja’Marr Chase, is also having an exciting rookie season. As a rookie of the year candidate, he put up record numbers against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17, with 266 yards (most receiving yards by a rookie) and three touchdowns. 

“Ja’Marr Chase was a very good draft pick for the Bengals,” said eighth-grade NFL fan Reecie Hoben. “He is having an amazing season.”

After having top picks in the last couple of drafts, this Bengals team is using those players effectively as they won the AFC North division this year. 

In addition, not many people thought the #6 seed in the AFC, the New England Patriots, would be back in the playoffs after all-world quarterback Tom Brady left for Tampa two years ago. Without Tom Brady, the Patriots went 7-9 last year with veteran QB Cam Newton. However, they switched things around this year starting with the 15th overall pick – QB Mac Jones out of Alabama. He is a Rookie of the Year front runner and is having a spectacular season. The Patriots’ success also comes from their coach, Bill Belichick, who many consider the greatest coach of all time. 

“This is the best I have ever seen the Patriots defense,” said seventh grader Ollie First. “They added a bunch of defensive players this offseason that helped the team overall.”

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger waves goodbye at what may have been his last career home game in Pittsburgh in Week 18. (Photo courtesy of www.nfl.com.)

Maybe the most surprising team no one expected to make the playoffs this year is the Pittsburgh Steelers. They had a 10 percent chance of making the playoffs going into Week 18, according to this site. As it seems to be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s last year in the NFL, they had clutch wins against the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens during the last two weeks of the season. In winning those games, they needed a bunch of dominoes to fall into place in order to qualify for the playoffs. One of those dominoes was the Indianapolis Colts, who looked like a lock for the playoffs, but they lost to arguably the worst team in the league, the Jacksonville Jaguars, on the last Sunday of the regular season.  Also, the Steelers made the postseason without star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but his spot was filled in quickly by Diontae Johnson. 

“Diontae Johnson had a breakout season that affected this team,” said seventh grader Griffon Alterman. “His skills on the field really helped this team, and he took JuJu’s role easily.”

Of course, this year’s playoffs also feature teams many people expected to be contending for the title.

The defending Super Bowl champions and #2 seed in the NFC, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are going on another run and looking to repeat. The Bucs had a stellar season, especially Brady. He is having an MVP-caliber year and does not seem to be aging whatsoever. 

“One of the reasons why Tom Brady is having a great season is because of his top-tier offensive line,” said eighth-grader Ryan Smith. “He is not that mobile, but he is able to move around in the pocket and look for his open receivers, all thanks to his offensive line.”

The Super Bowl LIV champions and #2 seed in the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs, are also back in the playoffs. Despite starting off horribly with a 3-4 record (last place in the AFC West), the Chiefs won eight straight games to move to 11-4 and won the AFC West division. QB Patrick Mahomes once again is a top candidate for MVP. 

“[Even] with a terrible start, Patrick Mahomes turned this entire team around,” said eighth-grader Derek Rubin. “He used his leadership mentality to lead [the] others.”

Another title contender is the #1 seed in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay is having an excellent season as it secured a first-round bye as the conference’s top seed. QB Aaron Rodgers, the frontrunner for league MVP, led them to a 13-4 record. Rodgers also won the MVP award last year, and some students think he will definitely repeat. 

Aaron Rodgers has his sights set on another MVP award and Super Bowl title. (Photo courtesy of www.skysports.com.)

“I think that Aaron Rodgers is the clear MVP candidate,” said eighth-grader James Carpenter. “He is having a great season, and there is no doubt in my mind he is winning this award easily.”

Another favorite to win the Super Bowl is the #3 seed in the AFC, the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have been inconsistent this year, but they finished strongly as they won their last four games to finish 11-6, good enough to win the AFC East for the second consecutive year.  QB Josh Allen is having a phenomenal season and has been helped by WR Stefon Diggs, Allen’s favorite target. The defense stepped up this year, as well, as they allowed the least amount of yards (4,637) and touchdowns (12) in the league. They may be a tough out in the playoffs.

“The defense had a great season with stopping the offense from passing and rushing,” said eighth-grade Bills fan Madison Jayson. “This is the best I have ever seen this Bills team.”

The #4 seed in the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams, have taken a huge turn after bringing in a bunch of players. QB Matthew Stafford, LB Von Miller, and WR Odell Beckham, Jr. headline this team’s roster. One star player who is having a breakout season, WR Cooper Kupp, is breaking records left and right. QB Matthew Stafford has found his first choice target and used that effectively to earn a playoff spot.  

Stafford was the leader of the team and gave them a shot to go far,” said seventh grader Nicholas Zaccagnino. “Kupp had one of the best seasons in NFL history.”      

No matter what happens, fans should be in store for another exciting season of NFL playoffs which begin on Saturday, January 16. Now it’s time for our predictions:

 

Reid Waxman’s Predictions: 

NFC

Wild Card

(7) Eagles vs (2) Bucs – Bucs 38-10

(6) 49ers vs (3) Cowboys – Cowboys 28-14

(5) Cardinals vs (4) Rams – Rams 24-21

Divisional

(4) Rams vs (1) Packers- Rams 27-18

(3) Cowboys vs (2) Bucs – Cowboys 38-35

NFC Conference Championship

(4) Rams vs (3) Cowboys – Cowboys 28-24

 

AFC

Wild Card

(7) Steelers vs (2) Chiefs – Chiefs 38-10

(6) Patriots vs (3) Bills – Bills 28 -10

(5) Raiders vs (4) Bengals – Bengals 49-18

Divisional

(4) Bengals vs (1) Titans – Titans 35-7

(3) Bills vs (2) Chiefs – Bills 26-20 OT

AFC Conference Championship

(3) Bills vs (1) Titans – Bills 24-9

 

Super Bowl

(3) Cowboys vs (3) Bills – Bills 38-11

 

Ryan Chait’s Predictions:

NFC

Wild Card

(7) Eagles vs  (2) Bucs – Bucs 38-9

(6) 49ers vs (3) Cowboys – Cowboys 41-31

(5) Cardinals vs (4) Rams – Rams 38-18

Divisional

(4) Rams vs (1) Packers – Packers 24-21

(3) Cowboys vs (2) Bucs – Cowboys 34-30

NFC Conference Championship

(3) Cowboys vs (1) Packers – Packers 27-23

 

AFC 

Wild Card

(7) Steelers vs (2) Chiefs – Chiefs 31-12

(6) Patriots vs (3) Bills – Bills 34 – 21

(5) Raiders vs (4) Bengals – Bengals 23 – 20 OT

Divisional 

(4) Bengals vs (1) Titans – Titans 27 – 14

(3) Bills vs (2) Chiefs – Chiefs 17-14

AFC Conference Championship 

(2) Chiefs vs (1) Titans – Chiefs 27-17

 

Super Bowl

(2) Chiefs vs (1) Packers – Packers 37-24