This year’s NFL postseason looks to be as wide open as ever, particularly on the NFC. So who do members of the Check Down staff think will break through to Minneapolis and win Super Bowl LII?
As I said in my latest Sunday Recap, I’m confident in the Patriots for a few reasons. Of course, they have the best coach + quarterback combination in the field. And with the help of the dynamic Dion Lewis, an improved defense that finished fifth in points against, and a relatively weak group of AFC playoff teams, New England is easily the likeliest bet to reach Super Bowl LII.
I bet the Pats will either meet Minnesota or New Orleans, but I’ll go with the Saints largely because I have spoken highly of them all season long. Plus, since a Divisional Round meeting against the shaky Eagles is likely, I’d be foolish to pick against a team quarterbacked by a future Hall of Famer that has a potentially easy road to at least the NFC title game. From there, though, I’ll side with New England because I don’t think there’s a defense outside of perhaps the Vikings and Jaguars that can truly contain Brady and company.
Let’s see how this prediction turns out, though. I’m taking New Orleans despite the fact that the Vikings and their sensational defense might not have to leave home for the entire postseason. And now there is also this nonsense emanating out of Foxboro concerning the Patriots’ “demise.”
I know I’m going against the grain with my AFC pick, but I’m surprised how many people are sleeping on Jacksonville. While they are technically a warm weather team, the Jags’ play-style is conducive to colder environments, namely Pittsburgh and Foxboro. They rank second in the NFL in sacks (55.0) and interceptions (21) and boast a league-high defensive DVOA (-16.1%). Jacksonville’s secondary, headlined by A.J Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, is also ranked first in the league by Football Outsiders. Not to mention their front seven, anchored down by Calais Campbell (14.5 sacks) and Yannick Ngakoue (12.0 sacks), has to ability to make life very difficult for opposing signal callers.
The main knock against the Jaguars is their quarterback, Blake Bortles. While very inconsistent, Bortles has shown he’s capable of riding this defense for all it’s worth. His 21 TDs to 13 INTs this season is definitely respectable. Assuming Bortles would have to get through the Patriots en route to the Super Bowl, he would face a defense that has allowed the third most passing yards in the NFL. And my last point, look at the teams who have beaten the Patriots in the playoffs as of late. The 2015 Broncos were led by a uninspiring version of Peyton Manning; the 2012 Ravens were quarterbacked by Joe Flacco; the 2011 Giants were quarterbacked by Eli Manning, and the 2010 Jets were quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez. The common denominator? These teams had stellar defenses, but pedestrian quarterbacks.
On the NFC side, I’m going with the Minnesota Vikings. Probably the biggest surprise this season has been the quarterback play from journeyman Case Keenum. Keenum has posted a higher DVOA and QBR than Tom Brady, who will most likely be the league’s MVP. Couple Keenum’s masterful season with one of the best defensive units in the league, and you have a recipe for success. With the Eagles being forced to start Nick Foles under center, the Vikings may very well enjoy home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and even in the Super Bowl. Similar to the Jags, the Vikings have all the makings for a team that is built to succeed in cold weather conditions of January and early February. A defense that has three DPOY candidates in Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, and Harrison Smith will wreak havoc on whoever they end up meeting in the Super Bowl. Oh, did I mention they will be at home, too?
In the AFC, it’s pretty simple. Tom Brady and the Patriots will play either the Chiefs, Titans, or Bills in the divisional round and will make easy work of one of these three inconsistent teams. They won’t have to play the Jaguars or Steelers until the AFC Championship, and I have to trust New England at home.
The NFC playoff field is composed of much more talented football teams, where all have some sort of chance at playing in Super Bowl 52. But I’m rolling with the Vikings. The rise of Case Keenum has been the cinderella story of 2017, and I believe it will continue throughout the NFC playoffs. Minnesota has already beaten the Falcons, Saints, and Rams and has looked very strong at home. I think they scrap their way to the big game with gritty, low scoring victories.
I would LOVE to pick the Vikings in a Super Bowl home game to win their first title in franchise history. Instead, I’m putting my money on Belichick’s gameplan. New England stifles Minnesota’s ground game early, forcing Keenum to air it out 45+ times and not allowing the Vikings to lean on an early lead like they have done in every one of their 13 wins (they have just one 4th quarter comeback). The Patriots won’t play particularly sharp, but they’ll capitalize on the mistakes of an inexperienced Vikings team and coast to a 10-point win.
After seeing what happened last year, it’s hard for me to ever rule out Tom Brady and company, so I’m going with my hometown boys from Foxboro. However, there are a few things to be considered concerning the playoff field this year, which actually made my prediction fairly difficult (to be quite honest, though, I was never NOT choosing New England, but there is always a touch of doubt that can creep in)
The first point is the strength of the NFC this year. Last year it seemed that regardless of what other teams did in the playoffs, Atlanta was just going to run over whoever else made it to the NFC title game, which is exactly what happened. This year, I think every team except Carolina has a realistic chance of making Super Bowl LII. But New Orleans’ dual-threat of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara makes stopping the Saints much more difficult particularly since future Hall of Famer Drew Brees continues to play at a high level. Yet whoever makes it to the big game will either be a very scary offensive team (like the Saints, Rams, or Falcons) that can give the Patriots’ defense, which finished 29th in yards allowed, a serious run for their money, or a seriously tough defensive team, like Minnesota or those aforementioned Saints.
But since talking about potential Super Bowl opponents is both presumptuous and scary, let’s switch to the positives! For starters, Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, capable of doing the unthinkable in pressure situations. Additionally, even though many are saying that the Patriots are nowhere near as strong as they were last year, most of our trouble came earlier in the season against playoff-bound teams like the Chiefs and Panthers. I’m a big believer in Bill Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, and the Pats’ defensive system; and I think there will be some serious work done in the extra week of preparation that New England has earned. What else is there… oh right, the AFC is pretty much a joke this year. Tennessee and Buffalo were both outscored by opponents this year and have inexperienced quarterbacks. We have Kansas City, who is extremely high-powered offensively, but also lost 6 out of 7 games during the middle of the season. Then there are the Jaguars, who are still quarterbacked by BLAKE BORTLES. And lastly, there are the 13-3 Steelers, New England’s biggest threat. But because they couldn’t survive the ground, they do not have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. New England’s record against Pittsburgh has been extraordinary since 2005, and that won’t change come a potential meeting between the two heavyweights.
Still, it’s definitely the most nervous I’ve been for the Patriots competing for a championship. But the last time I was this nervous, the Falcons were up 28-3 with 17 minutes left in last year’s Super Bowl…
Super Bowl LII will feature the Patriots and the Vikings. New England will beat Kansas City in the divisional round despite being crushed by the same team Week 1 due to the Chiefs’ recent collapse. It’s inevitable that the Patriots will have to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the postseason. Although the Steelers gave them a run for their money in December and will have Antonio Brown back on the field, home-field advantage and a James Harrison revenge game will have the Patriots squeaking by into the Super Bowl.
The Vikings, meanwhile, have been on a roll, and the winner of the Falcons-Rams game won’t be able to stop them. Whether they face the Saints with Drew Brees’ experience and improved defense, the Eagles and Nick Foles, or the Panthers in the conference championship, the Vikings will come out on top with their home-field advantage and momentum. But although the Vikings will have home-field in the Super Bowl, Brady’s Super Bowl experience and Belichick’s famed halftime adjustments will prove to be superior in this close matchup.
Lee Stanley over
You think Browns fans have it bad? The Bills and Vikings are the only two franchises in NFL history to have played in four Super Bowls and lose them all! And these fanbases have continued to wait all these years for something — anything! — to cheer for.
But the stars appear to have aligned. Minnesota fans: you’ll likely have the opportunity to watch your team coast through the entire postseason from the comforts of your home stadium. With Case Keenum at quarterback! What are the odds?
And Buffalo fans: after snapping a seventeen-year playoff drought in miraculous fashion, the celebrations won’t stop there. Blake Bortles will toss four interceptions and allow the Bills to escape Jacksonville with a 7-6 victory. Then they’ll march into Foxboro and pull an upset so significant that the New England dynasty will vanish into thin air, never to return to haunt the Bills or any of their AFC East compadres again. Beating the Steelers in the AFC title game after that will obviously be a piece of cake.
So the football gods will lead us to the inevitable: a Buffalo vs Minnesota showdown. Unfortunately, though, something has to give…yet even though the almighty Donald Trump once attempted (unsuccessfully, I might add) to buy the Buffalo Bills, he’ll still take credit on February 4th for allowing Buffalo to celebrate its first Super Bowl victory.
And if the Bills lose, well, he’ll be responsible for that happening too!