Well, after an insane 2020 we all hoped 2021 would bring things “back to normal.” After January 6 occurred, well, um, no, not so much. But the NFL playoffs start this weekend, so let’s turn to some fun stuff, shall we? I will be making predictions for every playoff game through the Super Bowl. While I cannot promise they will ALL be right, I CAN promise that….almost certainly most of them won’t be. You’re welcome. Least I could do. Here’s Part I, for this weekend’s slate of games.
Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints
The Bears started the season 5-1, and I thought they were the worst 5-1 team I had ever seen. Then they lost 6 straight games and I was proven right! Season over for Da Bears! Except then they won 3 in a row and somehow snuck into the playoffs as a pretty mediocre 8-8 team. Which I think is super since my Dolphins went 10-5 and didn’t make the playoffs. As for New Orleans, I haven’t had a great read on them all year, mostly due to the health of Drew Brees. When he’s right, the Saints can beat anyone. When he’s hurt, well, they went 3-1 and still have Alvin Kamara running the ball so who knows? I can’t see the Bears winning this game. Saints advance.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
The Rams have been another team that’s been hard to peg this season. At times they look like an elite contender (beating Seattle and Tampa Bay in consecutive weeks, with talent on both sides of the ball. Aaron Donald is probably the best defensive player in the league, and Jalen Ramsey is still a top cornerback. But they have also lost to teams they shouldn’t have (yeah, I’m looking at YOU, NY Jets) and with QB Jared Goff a maybe at best for this game, the Rams are a long shot. The Seahawks started the year 5-0 and I kept reading that Russell Wilson was the leading candidate for MVP. Which struck me as somewhat insane, not because he isn’t great or a perfectly fine candidate for the award, but simply because anyone was writing about the MVP 5 games into a 16-game season. They then stumbled through the middle of the season, going 3-4 and looking like they could miss the playoffs, before righting the ship with 4 straight wins. A fully healthy team would give Seattle trouble, but potentially without Goff? Forget it. Seahawks advance.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team (not to be confused with Washington’s baseball, hockey and basketball teams)
The last time a 7-9 team made the playoffs they won their first game (Seattle over the 11-5 Saints in 2010). Could it happen again? Sure, why not? The Bucs are super hot and cold (notice a trend developing?), looking like world-beaters one week (destroying Green Bay) and mediocre another (losing 38-3 to the Saints). Most people expect a low scoring game, since Chase Young and the Washington defense is solid, and their offense very much isn’t. The Bucs also have a top defense (5thin yards allowed) and their offense is streaky at best. So naturally this game will end up something like 38-35. Again, let me say how awesome it is that my Dolphins didn’t make the playoffs at 10-5 and another team got in at 7-9. Great stuff! Buccaneers advance.
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
Most pundits expected the Bills to contend for and potentially win the AFC East this year, but few expected them to vault this quickly into real contention for a Super Bowl title. But they have one of the most explosive offenses in football and their blow-out loss against the Titans back in October is their only poor showing all year. Their 13-3 record isn’t a fluke. As for the Colts, they’re solid enough, and were actually pretty consistent all season on their way to 11 wins. But other than a 2 week stretch where they beat the Titans and Packers, they mostly beat up on bad teams, and I just can’t see Phillip Rivers putting up enough points in frigid Buffalo to keep up with Josh Allen and the Bills. Bills advance.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Did I say something about teams being up and down this season? The Browns lost to the Jets a couple weeks back and barely sneaked by the Steelers’ JV team to sneak into the playoffs. But Nick Chubb is an absolute beast of a running back and Myles Garrett is just as scary on the other side of the ball. They have talent and have to be fired up to pay their rivals in their first playoff game since the War of 1812 (a slight exaggeration, I grant you). As for the Steelers, they went 11-0 and then lost 4 of their final 5 to limp into the playoffs. 2 of those losses were to losing teas (Cincinnati and Washington). I have no idea what will happen in this game, but I’ve been around long enough to know that the safe prediction is generally the one that involves Cleveland losing. Steelers advance.
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans
To me, this is the game of the weekend. The Ravens looked elite last year and again at the start of this season, until mid-November hit and they lost 3 straight. Now Lamar Jackson looks healthy and they look great again, winners of 5 in a row. The Titans have been solid all year and Derrick Henry is the best running back in football. The Titans knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs last year and beat them in Week 11. Both games were in Baltimore. Now the game is in Tennessee and somehow Baltimore is still favored. Despite the fact that the 5-game winning streak I mentioned came mostly at the expense of the NFL dregs (Dallas, Jacksonville, the Giants and Bengals). I say the Titans pound the ball on the ground all day and run away in the 4th quarter. Titans advance.
Commercial Real Estate Broker/Sports Fan
Staff writer at Six Feet Apart, commercial real estate broker for CBRE, Inc., and most importantly, a father of two.