Somehow, through all the madness, we’ve made it to 2021. It seems like forever ago since mass gatherings and pints in the pub with the lads was a guilt-free experience.
When covering your face in public was more likely to get you pulled over by your local law enforcement than it was an act of decency. And when Netflix and Chill was a euphemism rather than a government recommendation. But as much as we’d love to believe we are completely done with all the turmoil and mayhem the 2020 brought us, there is one massive issue that needs to be resolved. The 2020 NFL Season. Well, yeah, I suppose there’s still Coronavirus too, but as a Dolphins fan the NFL has been killing my hopes and dreams regularly for over 30 years so I’ll start with that. As anyone who has followed my babble since the preseason will be aware of, I’m not one to play it safe with my predictions and I don’t shy away from taking shots at whoever I think deserves it. So, sit back while my opinion on what we can expect to see from this season’s playoff football no doubt earns me yet more backlash but hopefully from a safe distance!
Lets start with a quick look at who is in and who are conspicuous by their absence:
The AFC side is less dominated by who is in (don’t worry, we’ll chat about the Brows later) and more by the familiar name that is missing. Yes, The New York Jets. Just checking you’re still paying attention, of course I’m referring to the New England Patriots. Whether you love them (I suggest seeking psychological help) or hate them, there is no denying January football is always more fun when Hoodie and his evil empire are in the mix. But the lack of talent, which has been evident since last season, has finally caught up to them and they were well off the pace this season. Their torch of dominance has well and truly been passed to Cheeseburger Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. They have continued to look borderline unstoppable at times and any money put down on them not being there in February is a brave call.
The line of teams ready to take a swing at them are the Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and even the Cleveland Browns are in there too. To be honest, all of these teams come to the table armed with legit ways to win it out and none can be counted out in any game. Whether it’s the ground and pound run games of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans that suits playoff football so well. Or the suffocating defences in Baltimore, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. You know the saying, defences win Championships. Or the sheer QB mastery that Pat Mahomes and Josh Allen have displayed this year. This AFC race could provide instant classic after instant classic.
I’m not sure the same can be said for the NFC side. In comparison to the very competitive AFC, it’s fair to say the NFC needs to drop some dead weight before that will really get going. Although who knows, it may provide a heart-warming underdog story for the ages. Top of the mountain stand the Green Bay Packers and pissed off Aaron Rodgers (although if you’ve watch him on the Pat McAfee Show every week, he doesn’t seem all that pissed off!). They’ve got themselves a bye again this year, although this one is an actual bye and not just having to go through the formality of beating the Cowboys.
That also means the road to the SuperBowl runs through Lambeau which really stacks things in their favour, even in a crowd less environment. Speaking of home field advantage, the Saints can make it to the NFC Championship game playing in their dome, which will be a big source of confidence for Drew Brees. Familiar foes Seattle and the Rams go head to head for the 3rd time this season in a game that could hinge around the availability of QB Jared Goff. The list is made up with the Chicago Bears and Washington Football Team. Both these teams should be thanking their lucky stars they made it this far because neither should really be anywhere near playoffs if we’re being honest. I swear, if Mitch Trubisky wins a SuperBowl, Dan Marino can take it that God either hates him or has the worst sense of humour ever! But as much as I’d love to fire shots left, right and centre at Washington, I just can’t help but be delighted for the 2 guys who are spearheading that effort, Alex Smith and Ron Rivera. Both guys are the epitome of class, and the World and its mother knows that organisation could do with a hell of a lot more of it. So, I hope they can give a good account of themselves, though I don’t expect the dream to live past their trip to Tampa Bay and good old Tom Brady. The Buccaneers simply have too much weaponry for them, whether Mike Evans is available or not.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN:
Obviously, the landscape of these playoffs can change drastically in a very short space of time. The seeding system means one wrong result can throw an entire bracket prediction off completely. It’s impossible to predict injuries and Coronavirus circumstances pooping up at any given time but I’ll have a bash at what could happen:
The Packers and Chiefs have Bye’s into the Divisional Round.
#7 Indianapolis Colts @ #2 Buffalo Bills
Great game to kick this off. The Bills have been on fire lately and they will take some stopping. They won’t have it easy against a very live underdog in the Indianapolis Colts, however. I can see this game being decided late, but I think the Bills will just edge it. The Colts squeezed into the playoffs courtesy of the Bills win over the Dolphins. Josh Allen giveth, Josh Allen taketh away!
#6 Cleveland Browns @ #3 Pittsburgh Steelers
A nice in division rivalry and one that would have been a great game to look forward to if the Browns weren’t dealing with a mini Covid crisis which has already cost them their Head Coach for the game. It’s tough to see them overcome that going up against a Steelers team who have been effective all season in dealing with cannon fodder. I feel sorry for the Dawg Pound who have been waiting so long for this opportunity only to see them not get a fair shake at it.
#5 Baltimore Ravens @ #4 Tennessee Titans
A repeat of a Divisional Round game last season when an upstart Titans upset the in-form Ravens. I can see a similar result too; I just believe the Titans match up well against the Ravens. While Derrick Henry is lining up in that backfield, I have them as favourites over a Ravens team who will need a plan B that we haven’t see from them yet on offense to win this one.
#7 Chicago Bears @ #3 New Orleans Saints
As I expressed earlier, I think the Bears are extremely lucky to have gotten this far. But when you have a fantastic defense and your run game gets progressively better as the season goes on, that can happen. Whether that defense will be good enough to keep them in it against Brees and the Saints is a whole other animal though. I’m going safe with this one.
#6 Los Angeles Rams @ #3 Seattle Seahawks
Another divisional rivalry game that may fall victim to circumstances. At the time of writing, it looks like Jared Goff is unlikely to play. I’m no huge believer in Goff, but they aren’t set up to beat the Seahawks without him to be honest.
#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ #4 Washington Football Team
Washington’s chances in this game relies purely on their defensive line causing enough disruption to keep Tampa Bay from putting this to bed early. And make no mistake, said d line is good enough to do it too. All 4 are 1st round draft picks and they have another in veteran Ryan Kerrigan. But staying in the game is one thing, winning it is another. And it’s hard to see them having enough to cause a shock. I’m taking the Buccs.
#4 Tennessee Titans @ #1 Kansas City Chiefs
Can anyone stop the Chiefs? The one weakness we have seen from them in the last 2 years has been stopping the run game. And in Tennessee, they will be facing the best team possible to take advantage of that. Not only can Derrick Henry take a game over by himself, but they are experts at setting up and executing play-action off it to keep defences off balance. It’s an ideal scenario to go against the Chiefs. The question is whether their own defense can hold up. That is a far bigger issue and came up short in the AFC Championship game last year. For some reason my gut is telling me to go with the Titans. I don’t know why. It’s a huge leap of faith, especially given that the Titans defense was better last year and still couldn’t get it done, but I’m going with it.
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers @ #2 Buffalo Bills
The 2 biggest question that need answering here are 1) Just how good are the Pittsburgh Steelers actually? And 2) Can the Buffalo Bills, and more specifically Josh Allen, keep this for going or will the wheels fall off the cart at some stage? The Steelers have been a lot better than I ever expected them to be. But at the same time, I find it hard to remember any point in the season where I felt like I was looking at a legit SuperBowl contender. I knew the Bills had the potential to be a contender, but I also can’t shake the feeling that the old raw version Josh Allen is still lurking in there ready to pop out any given game. To me, the answer to the 2nd question outweighs the answer to the 1st in this game, because if Allen and the Bills play as well as they have been, the Steelers won’t have an answer. That may be me underrating the Steelers again, but I’ll run that risk. I’m going Buffalo here.
#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ #1 Green Bay Packers
It’s Tom Brady vs Aaron Rodgers again. The 2 teams met earlier in the year and the Buccaneers put the Packers to the sword. Are we looking at the same thing happening again? I’m not so sure. That game happened in a pleasant Florida afternoon in October. This is going to be on a more than likely snowy day in January in a freezing cold Lambeau Field. Advantage Green Bay. As long as Rodgers is healthy, my money is on the Packers.
#3 Seattle Seahawks @ #2 New Orleans Saints
The other game on the NFC side sees the Seattle Seahawks travel to the Louisiana Superdome to do battle with the New Orleans Saints. The Saints will be hoping to avoid another heart-breaking playoff loss in, what looks likely to be, Drew Brees’ last season. The Seahawks have been impressive at times during the season but haven’t really solidified themselves as a major player in the SuperBowl race. Their secondary is one of the worst in the league, despite adding Jamal Adams. And I believe it will be their undoing against a dangerous New Orleans offense. I have the Saints going through.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#4 Tennessee Titans @ #2 Buffalo Bills
I have the first SuperBowl participant being decided by the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills going head to head. The Bills will need to slow down the power run and play action game of Tennessee. If Henry gets into an early rhythm, I’m not sure Allen and their pass reliant offense can keep pace in what will surely be difficult conditions. But this Bills defense are a tough bunch and won’t shy away from smash mouth football. I genuinely don’t know what way this would go, should it come down to it. It could possibly be whoever has the ball last. I’m going with Buffalo but with absolutely no conviction in that.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:
#2 New Orleans Saints @ #1 Green Bay Packers
The NFC comes down to the top 2 seeds in my predictions. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be close. I think Brees will find it tough to move the ball in Lambeau. Maybe they can lean on Alvin Kamara to stay in the game, but all my senses say the Packers win this pretty comfortably. It would be horrible to see Brees go out on a bad loss after all he has given to the game. But the NFL is an unforgiving environment and all the Packers will be focused on is booking their place in the SuperBowl in Tampa Bay. And that’s exactly what I think they’ll do.
THE BIG ONE:
AFC #2 Buffalo Bills VS NFC #1 Green Bay Packers
32 has been whittled down to 2. This game features the 2 favourites for the 2020 NFL MVP award as Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills represent the AFC against the NFC’s Green Bay Packers led by pissed off Aaron Rodgers. And as talented as both those guys, and offenses, are, I think the big advantage in this game is for Buffalo because they have a much more reliable defense. Can Green Bay possibly take that defense apart? Absolutely. But I’d be more inclined to think that Buffalo’s defense has a better chance of holding up against Green Bay’s offense than Green Bay’s defense has of keeping Buffalo’s offense in check. But as I have said earlier, I couldn’t confidently say Josh Allen doesn’t have a disaster day left in him this year either. This could either be a barn burner or a complete blow out. I’ll go with Buffalo again though, although should these 2 meet, it’s the kind of game that my prediction would probably change 1000 times before kick-off.
SUPERBOWL CHAMPIONS: BUFFALO BILLS
All I can be confident of, is between now and February 7th, there will be drama, controversy, tears, e