The final week of the NFL season has come to a close. The season played out as I predicted in my piece covering kickoff weekend. Offense was the name of the game, and defenses were mostly in charge of bending but not breaking. The league MVP will most likely be Aaron Rodgers, who led the Green Bay Packers to a 13–3 record and the #1 seed in the NFC, finishing the season with 48 touchdown passes the second highest passer rating for a season in NFL history, only behind his own 2011 season. Many pick Patrick Mahomes as the second best player, but my money goes to Josh Allen, who led the Buffalo Bills to a 13–3 record and their first division championship since a year before I was born. His improvement was massive and if this season is any indication, they will be contenders for many years. The big question for them now is can they compete with the Kansas City Chiefs. In more postive outcomes, the Cleveland Browns, led by Baker Mayfield, finally made the playoffs after an almost 18 year absence, posting a 11–5 record in the process.
There have been plenty of disappointments as well. The Washington Football Team has been crowned the NFC East Champions after what many can consider a football disgrace in the Philadelphia Eagles. Washington becomes the first football team in history to advance to the playoffs with a 7–9 record. It doesn’t feel right, but it is what it is. The Cardinals missed out on a playoff spot after showing promise earlier in the season. Their second year QB Kyler Murray showed flashes of greatness, but he was inconsistent and threw too many picks to finish. The Vikings were another disappointment, missing out on the playoffs thanks in large part to their abysmal defensive play. None were more dissapointing, however, than the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Charges, who could’ve easily won at least 11 games respectively if their defense knew a thing or two about stopping the opposing offense at least for once.
The team to beat in the entire NFL is clearly the Chiefs, who finished with a 14–2 record and the #1 seed in the AFC. They have their work cut out for them thanks to the high likelihood of facing really great teams such as the Bills, Titans, Steelers, or Ravens. They defeated them all (minus the Steelers) in the regular season, but the postseason is always different. Football is one of the few sports that constantly offer the chance of an underdog to knock out the leading man, but to beat the Chiefs’ it would have to be at the expense of many many factors going their way. In my estimations, only the Bills and Steelers have the best chance. Bills for their offense and Steelers for their defense. What’s fascinating about the Chiefs is how despite their amazing play and record they have many problems in various areas. They remind me a lot of Deontay Wilder, a professional boxer who is more known for his left hook than actual fundamental boxing skills; they find a way to win but it is highly unrecommended to follow their formula.
While the AFC playoff picture is dominated by the Chiefs, the NFC goes through the Packers. Led by Rodgers and their touchdown-machine offense, the Packers’ problems are the same of virtually every team: their defense is very much capable of allowing an avalanche of points as well. No matter how well defenses may have looked through stretches of the season or on paper or even in the rankings, the games speak for themselves: to survive a good matchup you need to score points. However, this dynamic had made games highly volatile and hard to predict at times.
While those two immortals rest in their week off of slumber and/or excess, the unlucky ones get ready to fight. This week’s matchups border from interesting to lopsided. The first game is on Saturday, Colts vs. Bills. I expect the Bills to put on a show. The Colts have a formidable offense and a good defense, but this type of mixture is no longer a consistent winning formula in the NFL. Teams are now being built based on offensive strengths, and the Colts simply don’t fit into this scenario that well. The Bills’ offense is clicking on all cylinders, dominating and imposing their will against their last two opponents by a cumulative score of 142 points, allowing a mere 54 points to the opposition in the process. They could falter a little against the Colts’ formidable front seven, but if the offense can’t produce enough points they are in trouble.
Following the Colts/Bills game is Rams vs. Seahawks. This game is of complete disinterest to me. I don’t like either team from an aesthetic perspective. The way they look and the way they play football just rubs me the wrong way, like a bad sitcom like Friends. I wish the best of luck to whoever wins.
The final Saturday game is Buccaneers vs. Washington. I expect the Bucs to win this comfortably. Tom Brady is coming off one of his best statistical seasons at age 43, throwing for 40 touchdown passes and a passer rating above 100 for the seventh time in his career, adding even more mind-blowing moments to his already established status as the greatest quarterback of all times. Washington has a good pass rush that should not be diminished in importance; however they are very much capable of keeping the Bucs at bay (pun wholeheartedly inteded) due to their clear struggle against good playoff teams. The game will either be close or a blowout, no in-between.
The Sunday games begin with Titans vs. Ravens, a rematch of a highly explosive matchup in week 11. This one will probably be a close one as well, although with less scoring; they’ll both keep their running games dwindled and rely more on their passing game, only problem being they are both inconsistent without their respective running game. It might end before the 4th quarter starts or carry on until the team who has the ball last, with the latter being a more likely scenario. I don’t see running back Derrick Henry completely dominating the game; fresh off of concluding a 2,000 yard rushing campaign (just the 8th in NFL history) there’s a chance he might be fatigued. This means the Titans will probably have to rely on quarterback Ryan Tannehill to lead the team to victory, a task he has shown more than capable of doing. I’d pick the Titans if I was a betting man, but much like the Rams/Seahawks game, I don’t really care much for who wins this matchup to invest that much energy.
The next game will be an upset, Bear vs. Saints. The Saints are a team that was very much capable of reaching the Super Bowl in all their seasons since 2017. They had a formidable defense and an explosive offense that could score points even in the direst of circumstances or the best of defenses. While the defense remains the same, their offensive production has diminished and Drew Brees isn’t the quarterback he once was. The matchup could get ugly if the Bears’ defense is consistently creating pressure and stopping the run. Their biggest question mark remains on offense, who have shown to be anything but consistent this season. This game may be no different, but they’ll do enough to be carried by their defense, I would hope.
The final game to close out Wild Card weekend is Steelers vs. Browns, a rematch of the final week and one of the few times in NFL history a team meets three times in the season. I don’t have it in me to pick this upset. I want the Steelers to lose because it brings me unnecessary joy, but so does the Browns losing. This is a state were a quarter flip could decide the outcome I want for me, but on a more matchup level interpretation, the Browns do a good job at competing and keeping the score close. I’d say this is about the same as the Ravens/Titans in that whoever gets the ball last has the best chance to win the game.
With the regular season concluding in eventful fashion, the playoff promise the same historical precedent. The addition of a new playoff spot and the likelihood of an expanded 17 or 18 game schedule for next season has provided new grounds for which to judge and determine new contenders. These moves are being made to entice competition and allow different philosophies and schemes to figure each other out in more way than before. More than anything, the game is becoming more mental and analytical. This unexplored frontier will be the way of the future in the NFL. Get on with it.
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