As the smoke finally clears on this year’s regular season, the NFL Playoffs are officially underway. With all of the matchups and possibilities confirmed, some of the staff at The Swing of Things decided to take on the task of predicting what’s going to happen in the next month of football. The result was David Austin Bumpus and Ryan Hathaway coming together for one huge, in-depth look at the 2016 NFL Playoffs.
AFC Championship Picks:
Bumpus’s Pick: New England Patriots, 23 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 13
As much as people are hating on the AFC this season for being a weak conference, this year’s playoffs will surely be interesting. The field is wide open for anyone to succeed, and I think the 6-seed Steelers have the chance to power through to the AFC Championship to battle the 2-seed Patriots. Both offenses are powerhouses, and both defenses are just as good. However, I think a fully healthy Patriots offense can beat any defense in the league, as Brady would have Gronk, Edelman, Amendola, and LaFell to throw to rather than relying on Keshawn Martin. It’s just a matter of how their defense can step up against Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. I think the home-field advantage here helps New England, and they’ll shut down Big Ben with its pass rush and Malcolm Butler will stop Antonio Brown for the second time this season for another Patriots victory over Pittsburgh at Gillette.
Hathaway’s Pick: New England Patriots, 20 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 17
It’s not difficult to envision the high flying Pittsburgh Steelers offense defeating the division champion Bengals for the second time in 30 days, especially without Andy Dalton. Both AFC divisional games could go either way, but I picked the teams who have far and away the two best quarterbacks (miraculous Peyton Manning resurgence notwithstanding). In a match-up between the Steelers and the Patriots in Foxboro, a bizarro world rematch of the first game of the season, the game would likely come down to the Pittsburgh offense against the New England defense. It’s hard to envision the Patriots defense we saw in week 17 stopping Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton (who could absolutely be the X-Factor working against Leonard Johnson or Justin Coleman), but one with all of it’s key pieces in place, especially Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Devin McCourty, may be up to the task.
NFC Championship Picks:
Bumpus’s Pick: Seattle Seahawks, 31 vs. Arizona Cardinals, 17
I knew it as soon as I wrote about them a month ago that this Seahawks team had returned to their dominant selves. This offense is not slowing down anytime soon, and the possible return of Marshawn Lynch makes this whole situation even scarier. This team dropped 30 points just in the first half against the Cardinals (my original pick for the NFC spot in the Super Bowl) last week. That was without much of a running game too, which makes adding in Lynch that much more important for Seattle. The Cardinals and their defense will cruise to the NFC title game, but I think they’ll focus too much on stopping the passing attack of Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, and Jermaine Kearse, and forget all about Beast Mode. This game could get ugly, and I think it may be more of a three-touchdown difference rather than the two that I picked.
Hathaway’s Pick: Seattle Seahawks, 30 vs. Arizona Cardinals, 27
I have no qualms about picking the red-hot Seahawks to upset both the Vikings and Panthers, but it will be interesting to see if an offense that looks much better on the field than on paper can keep pace with arguably to most robust unit in the league. The emergence of David Johnson in the wake of Chris Johnson’s injury gives Carson Palmer another dangerous weapon in an offense that already featured Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd. There are no doubts about the mettle of the Seahawks defense, and it will be interesting to see if a significantly improved Russell Wilson and the suddenly unstoppable Doug Baldwin can overcome the Cardinals defense for a second time. Tyrann Mathieu is a huge loss for Arizona, but Seattle won’t have Jimmy Graham, and it’s hard to predict how Marshawn Lynch will look. But in spite of all that, the Seahawks are playing their best football all season and for all of Arizona’s shiny toys on offense, they will still have to overcome the league’s best defense.
Super Bowl 50 Picks:
Bumpus’s Pick: New England Patriots, 23 vs. Seattle Seahawks, 20
I think everyone who has watched the NFL all of this season knows this is what everyone thinks will be this year’s Super Bowl. People probably hate it since it’s the same teams, different arena, but you can’t argue against the two teams’ dominance. The Patriots fully healthy will crush any team that steps in their way, and the Seahawks on their A-game can take down any NFC foe that dares to try and touch them. Both teams’ offenses haven’t really been stopped to this point (not counting the last two weeks of the Patriots’ season, since no one played), and I think it’ll take both of their defenses to finally stop each other. This game will be just like Super Bowl XLIX, and I think last year’s game will make this one even better. I expect plenty of hard hits, highlight plays, and everything in between. I think, like the last time the two teams met in Arizona, it comes down to the final two minutes again. This time, however, I think it’s Brady having to pull off one last Super Bowl two-minute drill to set up a Stephen Gostkowski game-winning field goal for a Patriots repeat.
Hathaway’s Pick: Seattle Seahawks, 17 vs. New England Patriots, 14
This one puts a bad taste in my mouth just typing the words out on the computer screen. The scary thing is, I’m not even confident it would be close let alone that New England would be able to stop Pete Carroll from defeating his former team in a rematch of Super Bowl XLIX and Russell Wilson from winning his second Vince Lombardi trophy in a 3 year span. I don’t think I’ll have to remind most of you that the last quarterback to do so was the man he goes up against in this scenario, Tom Brady. There is little argument to be made that Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner and Co. aren’t the better defense in the matchup. What it will all come down to is whether Brady and the Patriots offense can turn up their play in the postseason and resemble something close to the unit that looked so unbeatable before losing Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, and Julian Edelman. If Edelman is healthy, all bets are off, but Brady and Rob Gronkowski may not be able to get the job done by themselves.