As we get to the end of the 2020-2021 Regular Season, there are a lot of surprises that I would never have been able to predict.
1) Washington makes it to the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
2) The Packers get the #1 seed after Rodgers puts up MVP-like numbers.
3) The 49ers regress and put up a 6-10 record a year after making the Super Bowl.
Although, there are some things I love to predict and that will be this years playoff bracket, winners and losers!
Bears (#7 Seed) @ Saints (#2 Seed)
We saw this matchup on November 1st, as the Saints won a narrow game 26-23 in overtime. Both teams put up decent passing numbers, and lackluster rushing numbers as the rushing leader for the game was David Montgomery with 81 yards and 0 touchdowns. Since that game, the Bears are 3-5, allowing under 20 points in just one game that resulted in a 19-13 loss to the Vikings. One the other side, New Orleans has gone 7-2 with star QB Drew Brees going down, and Taysom Hill taking over and creating a team that is dynamic in a much different way.
In this matchup it will ultimately come down to Chicago's rushing attack against New Orleans' rushing defense. Chicago finally began showing an identity before it was too late, that identity is not Trubisky, but David Montgomery. Montgomery has 570 total yards and 5 total touchdowns in the last 4 games, and is heading into the playoffs on a hot streak. As for New Orleans, they have only allowed roughly 94 rushing yards and .68 rushing touchdowns a game this year. Their defensive front has stopped the rushing game quick in most of their games this year. The real question is, can they do it again?
Our Prediction: Bears 21 , Saints 27
Rams (#6 Seed) @ Seahawks (#3 Seed)
At a split in the division, the Seahawks and Rams both come in with very different strengths and one very similar weakness. Clearly, the Seahawks will come into the matchup with much more momentum than the Rams, but the Rams come in, I believe, with a higher ceiling. I don't think either would win the Super Bowl, but I believe if the Rams win, they could go further than the Seahawks would. The strength of the Seahawks is their passing offense, Russell Wilson is a phenomenal talent, although it's not shown as much with no rushing game. Wilson has led this team singlehandedly to 12 wins. Their weakness is, you guessed it, their rushing attack. Carson was their rushing yards leader with 681, after appearing in only 12 games. On the other hand, the Rams strength is their defense, holding their opponents to under 300 yards per game this season. Their weakness is their rushing offense. Cam Akers has done better than some expected, but it still wasn't enough to win more games for this very talented team.
In this matchup, we will be looking at Russell Wilson and the Rams defense. Whoever can come out hot early will win this matchup. Don't look for a comeback, don't look for a shootout, this game will be very simple and, most-like, low scoring.
Our Prediction: Rams 10 , Seahawks 16
Buccaneers (#5 Seed) @ Washington Football Team (#4 Seed)
Tom Brady will once again step into the postseason, this time with a chip on his shoulder. We all know Brady won the split up from the Patriots, but Brady wants more than just a playoff appearance. Tom Brady threw for the 3rd most yards this year, and will have a tough matchup against this stingy defense, who have allowed the second least amount of passing yards with just over 3000. While this is shaping to be an amazing matchup, the storyline will be who's offense can step up early. As much as we love to see Alex Smith go into the postseason after everything he's been through, it doesn't seem like it will be a close matchup. Alex Smith is still getting back to his old form with only one reliable receiver, and although Antonio Gibson has been a helpful weapon this season, they will need to step up their game to come close to beating the Buccaneers.
On the other side, Tom Brady is beginning to see the emergence of Antonio Brown as a threat. This has been a relief as Mike Evan and Chris Godwin haven't played like themselves this year. Of course, they haven't been terrible in any sense, but I have not be critical of something in this high powered offense. Ronald Jones has also done his part as he has taken a slight burden off of Tom Brady, being able to run effective and set up the play action pass plays. In the playoffs we see many should-be blowout games end on the last drive, but don't let this spectacular Washington defense fool you, you need to have an good offense to win playoff games.
Our Prediction: Buccaneers 31 , Washington Football Team 10
Colts (#7 Seed) @ Bills (#2 Seed)
The more I research these two teams the more I'm convinced that these two teams could be shaping up to give us the thrill we would never have thought we would see. The Bills have the advantage offensively, while the Colts hold their strength on defense. Philip Rivers threw the ball for over 4000 yards for his eighth straight year, taking pressure off of rookie running back Jonathan Taylor. The Colts offense finished #10 in the league and look ready to go up against the Bills lackluster rushing defense.
The tale of the tape in this matchup will be the defenses. The story is the same for both. The both excel at rushing defense, and will be playing against a great passing offense. They both need to improve on rushing defense, and will be playing again "middle of the pack" rushing defenses. While many would say the Bills have an easy shot to the divisional round, I would say the Colts are a great matchup for this team. This game should be very close, and will go down to the wire.
Our Prediction: Colts 28 , Bills 31
Browns (#6 Seed) @ Steelers (#3 Seed)
After 19 wild years (2002), the Browns will come back and play in our matchup of the week. With momentum on the Browns' side, there is no one in the league that plays more competitive football than these two when they face off (With exception to the Cowboys and Eagles). The Steelers rode on the back of their defense, specifically their passing defense, while the Browns were carried by their workhorse back Nick Chubb, who rushed for over 1000 yards, even after being out from week 5-9. I listen to every segment from The Herd on FS1, and Colin Cowherd always says that the way the Browns will win is by getting the running game established early, and letting Baker Mayfield play complimentary football. The Steelers are much better at passing defense than rushing defense, so in this matchup we should see very little by Mayfield, and a lot of action from Chubb and Hunt.
As for the Steelers, we should hope to see the same game plan, with a spark from Roethlisberger to light up this atrocious running game. The key to this game for Pittsburgh is to make the run game work just enough to complete long play action passes. If the run game doesn't work, Pittsburgh doesn't work. The Browns can score on any defense in the league, the real question of this game is, can the Steelers?
Our Prediction: Browns 20 , Steelers 13
Ravens (#5 Seed) @ Titans (#4 Seed)
Get ready for ground and pound with a sprinkle of passing as two of the leagues worst passing offenses and the two best rushing offenses go head to head! Derrick Henry and... Lamar Jackson were the two teams' respective rushing leaders, and they will go head to head this week. Jackson has been in sort of a slump as he passed for 400 less yards and ran for 200 less yards than last year, but nonetheless, he is a weapon when used right. On the other side of the ball we have back to back rushing yards leader Derrick Henry going full force showing us that bruising back are not just a thing of the past.
Enough about the rushing game though, the key to this game is defense and the Ravens are locked and loaded boasting the leagues 7th best defense, clashing against the Titans 5th worst defense (the worst defense under defensive-minded head coach Mick Vrabel). Although it sound a bit crazy to think about, since football is a team sport, I believe this matchup is all in the hands of Lamar Jackson. Jackson will certainly have to run the ball as some point, but will he have enough peace in mind to remain calm under pressure? If the Titans blitz early and often this could make Jackson panic, we have seen it before. On the other hand, if the Ravens defense can stop Henry early, how will the Titans adjust? This could very well be the closest game of the week, and worth the watch on Sunday afternoon.
Our Prediction: Ravens 20 , Titans 21