After a grueling 17 weeks across the NFL, it’s officially time: the 2019 playoffs have officially arrived.
This year’s 12-team playoff picture features a variety of talented teams, with some familiar faces returning to the equation in the NFC, while fresh blood enters the fray in the AFC.
With the new talent ready to showcase their skills on the big stage, fans will await answers to a laundry list of pressing questions as it relates to the league’s future: Is the Patriots dynasty over? Do Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have one more run in them? Are Lamar Jackson and the Ravens for real? How will Jimmy Garoppolo perform in his first postseason play of his career?
The beauty of it all? Fans can see it all play out before their eyes over the next month, with 11 games set to be played to prove who the best of the best really is in the NFL for the 2019 season.
While it’s smarter to just let things play out, it’s time to have some fun with predictions for the full slate of playoff action, all the way down to Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
AFC Wild Card Round
No. 3 Patriots vs. No. 6 Titans
Prediction: Patriots win
This year, the Patriots may not be the team that everyone has become accustomed to over the last two decades, but it’s tough to imagine their dynasty ending in a Wild Card game against the Titans at Gillette Stadium. If they can replicate the performance they put together just a few weeks ago against the Bills to clinch the AFC East title, Bill Belichick’s squad should be in line to advance.
No. 4 Texans vs. No. 5 Bills
Prediction: Bills win
Before the Saturday night game gets underway, the Texans will host the Bills in Houston in the first postseason action of 2020. However, despite having the homefield advantage in their favor for the Wild Card round, the Bills seem like the better team overall. Their defense should be able to stifle Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense, all en route to a Divisional Round matchup with the Ravens.
NFC Wild Card Round
No. 3 Saints vs. No. 6 Vikings
Prediction: Saints win
Drew Brees and Michael Thomas have been an unstoppable duo for the Saints on offense this season, and the Vikings haven’t been able to get the job done when the lights shine bright this season. I don’t see Kirk Cousins leading the charge in New Orleans on Sunday, especially with an injured Dalvin Cook running behind him, so I wouldn’t hold out any hope for any “Minneapolis Miracle” magic for the boys from Minnesota. As a result, the Saints advance to the next round.
No. 4 Eagles vs. No. 5 Seahawks
Prediction: Seahawks win
This will somehow backfire and serve as bulletin board material for the Philly faithful, but the Eagles winning the NFC East was a joke. The Seahawks were a few inches away from winning the NFC West and earning a second seed in the conference, but now they have to head on the road to play an injury-filled Eagles offense in the Wild Card round. As long as the Seahawks don’t keep things close like they have with other subpar opponents in 2019, this should be an easy one for Russell Wilson and Seattle’s offense.
AFC Divisional Round
No. 1 Ravens vs. No. 5 Bills
Prediction: Ravens win
As long as the Titans don’t upset the Patriots in the Wild Card round, the Ravens would play the winner of the Texans-Bills game in the Divisional Round. No matter who they match up with, the Ravens should run away with this one, with a rested Lamar Jackson under center and stellar defense ready to dominate at home in their first postseason action of the year.
No. 2 Chiefs vs. No. 3 Patriots
Prediction: Chiefs win
While the Patriots have proven they can beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the postseason, it looks like the clock may finally strike midnight on New England’s dynasty as the team heads back to Kansas City for the Divisional Round.
Tom Brady and the Patriots offense have yet to get in a consistent rhythm this season, with Julian Edelman getting a majority of the reps and younger receivers like N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers failing to build up a level of trust with their veteran quarterback.
Add in the volume of the fans in Kansas City, and the Chiefs should be able to disrupt the Patriots as they attempt to build up any momentum early in the matchup. On the flip side, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense will need much higher offensive production than they had in their first game against the Patriots defense in 2019, when they only put up 23 points at Gillette Stadium.
If they can get the job done on that side of the ball, the Chiefs should be able to send the Patriots home, potentially ending New England’s dynasty in the process.
NFC Divisional Round
No. 1 49ers vs. No. 5. Seahawks
Prediction: 49ers win
Each of these two teams has taken a game in their season series, and it looks like they should collide once more as they take their rivalry back to San Francisco in the Divisional Round.
Their last matchup came down to just a few inches as the 49ers made a stand at the one-yard line to clinch the NFC West and the top seed in the NFC. While these two teams are almost equals, it seems like the 49ers have the edge from an overall standpoint, with a variety of stars on both sides of the ball that could make a big difference.
If the bye week can help players like Nick Bosa and George Kittle get back to full strength for the 49ers, then the 49ers should be able to pick up where they left off in Week 17 and advance to the NFC Championship.
No. 2 Packers vs. No. 3 Saints
Prediction: Saints win
Each conference’s third-seeded teams, the Patriots and Saints, are in eerily similar situations as they head into the postseason in the new year: they’re working with aging quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Drew Brees) who are each nearing the ends of their respective championship windows, and both let a first-round bye slip through their fingers in the second half of the season.
However, after picking the Chiefs to take down Brady in the Divisional Round, I’m predicting a different fate for Brees and the Saints. The offensive production in New Orleans was off the charts over the final stretch of the season, with the Saints putting up 34-plus points in their last four games of 2019. Meanwhile, the Packers topped out at 23 points in that same timespan.
The Saints offense seems to have hit its stride, and as long as weather doesn’t play a factor at Lambeau Field in mid-January, the Saints should advance to the NFC title game for the second year in a row.
No. 1 Ravens vs. No. 2 Chiefs
Prediction: Chiefs win
This is a game fans have been waiting for since the Chiefs won their first matchup back in September, and while the venue is guaranteed to be different for this installment, I don’t see the result changing if these two teams collide with the AFC Championship on the line.
The Chiefs defeated the Ravens 33-28 back in Week 3 at Arrowhead Stadium, and did so without one of their biggest offensive weapons in the lineup: wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
Sure, you can argue that Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has evolved in a major way since their first meeting back in September, and Baltimore’s defense has greatly improved in the same amount of time, but adding in such an important piece to the Chiefs’ offensive puzzle makes them a completely different and much better team.
I think the Chiefs’ offense is too well-rounded for the Ravens defense to handle, and I believe the postseason experience is just what Kansas City will need as they look to advance to their first Super Bowl in 50 years.
No. 1 49ers vs. No. 3 Saints
Prediction: 49ers win
These two teams put on the game of the year when they first met in December, combining for 94 points and topping it all off with a game-winning field goal from kicker Robbie Gould to give the 49ers the win.
The game played a major factor in the 49ers landing a first-round bye (and homefield advantage) in the playoffs, and is the reason they’ll be well-rested heading into the NFC title game. Meanwhile, the Saints will have already played in two postseason games by the time they would head to California for their 49ers rematch, which could be a decisive factor in the long run.
As I said earlier, that extra week off for the Niners will help them get stars like George Kittle and Nick Bosa back to full strength, which will help Jimmy Garoppolo offensively, and will improve the defensive drastically.
Bosa will need to provide ample pressure to Drew Brees and the Saints offense to force mistakes, and the 49ers will need to take advantage of the opportunities that defensive performance would provide. Add that all up, and you’d have the 49ers advancing to the Super Bowl to play the Chiefs down in Miami.
Super Bowl LIV
AFC Champion Chiefs vs. NFC Champion 49ers
Prediction: 49ers win
This season may be the toughest in a long time as it relates to picking the teams that will be representing each conference when Super Bowl LIV kicks off in Miami, and it’s even harder to narrow down who will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as the confetti falls at Hard Rock Stadium in February.
These two teams are, in my mind, the most balanced out of any of the 12 squads that advanced to the postseason. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense is explosive when things are clicking, and their defense has the ability to come up in the clutch when a stop is needed, as was evident against the Patriots back in December.
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On that same day, the 49ers offense put up one of their best offensive performances of the year, dropping 48 on the Saints in hostile territory to pick up a big win. While their defense didn’t show up in that game, they’ve proven themselves in numerous other ways throughout the 2019 campaign, and the pieces are there to terrorize any offense when they get momentum rolling in their favor.
When it comes to picking a winner in a game like this, it’s all about stretches of success. The Chiefs were solid throughout the year, finishing out 2019 with six straight wins to clinch the AFC West. But, they lost to three-quarters of the AFC South in a span of six games in the middle of the season, and showed signs of weakness at times when it came time for defensive consistency in close games.
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Meanwhile, the 49ers pulled out some incredible victories throughout quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s first full season under center in the team’s offense, taking down the Saints, Seahawks and Packers (decisively) for some key wins in 2019. But, they lost close, winnable games against the Falcons, Ravens, and an overtime battle with the Seahawks at different points of the year, with both sides of the ball struggling at different times in big moments.
In the end, it’s tough to argue with the 49ers’ resume and talent level on both sides of the ball. I think their proven ability to perform when the lights are at their brightest (along with an added revenge factor for Garoppolo as he squares off with the team he was playing against when he tore his ACL in 2018) will come in handy as they take down their AFC counterparts en route to their first Super Bowl title since 1995.