NFL playoffs preview 2018-2019


Anikait Koppaka, Staff Writer

With a little over half the NFL season complete, a few key teams have separated themselves from the pack and are poised for strong postseason showings, while others are still fighting for the opportunity to play in January. As the end of the season nears, the drama will only intensify surrounding the final playoff spots as the postseason slate is determined. Let’s take a look at who will reign supreme over the league once the playoffs arrive.

AFC East

This division has gone according to script with the New England Patriots (8-3) in position to win for the 16th time in the past 18 years and in contention for a playoff bye. The Tom Brady and Bill Belichick combo has continued to succeed, and the return of WR Julian Edelman and addition of WR Josh Gordon and RB Sony Michel have opened up the offense paving the way for another division title. The only other noteworthy team in this division is the Miami Dolphins (5-6), who have struggled after a red hot start to the season. They have lost six of their last eight games and poor QB play from Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler have been the cause of this. Due to this downward trend, it will be unlikely that the Dolphins sneak into the playoffs.

Prediction: The Patriots are the #3 seed in the AFC, and the Dolphins miss out on the playoffs.

AFC North

The Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1) got off to a slow start, but eventually returned to form and got ahead of the rest of the division. RB James Conner has been a revelation for this team in place of star RB Le’Veon Bell’s absence. Paired with the dynamic receiving duo consisting of Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster, the Steelers have piled points on the opposition with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm. If the Steelers can continue to stay hot, they will definitely be in contention for a first round bye, but a difficult schedule down the stretch may complicate things. Other playoff hopefuls include the Cincinnati Bengals(5-6) and Baltimore Ravens (6-5). The Bengals are all but eliminated with horrible play recently along with their starting QB Andy Dalton heading to injured reserve. The Ravens have played well as of late with rookie QB Lamar Jackson, but the burden may get too heavy to carry with a difficult upcoming schedule.

Prediction: The Steelers are the #4 seed in the AFC, and the Bengals and Ravens don’t make the playoffs.

AFC South

Similar to the Steelers, the Houston Texans (8-3) got off to a slow start, but have won eight straight games since. Led by sophomore QB Deshaun Watson, WR Deandre Hopkins, and a formidable defensive line consisting of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, the Texans were able to turn their season around. This success could be attributed to a fairly easy schedule, but it has put them in the driver’s seat to win the division. The schedule doesn’t get any more difficult, so Houston would be a good bet to get a first round bye. Right on the Texans’ heels are the Indianapolis Colts (6-5), who have won five straight games. QB Andrew Luck has been red hot under new coach Frank Reich in a rejuvenated offense. The Colts will have trouble catching up to the Texans for the division title, but should be able to secure a wild card spot come January.

Prediction: The Texans are the #2 seed in the AFC and will get a first round bye. The Colts will get in as the final wild card team in the #6 seed.

AFC West

One of the biggest surprises of this year has been QB Patrick Mahomes’ spectacular play. At the helm of the Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) offense, they have averaged 36.7 points per game, second best in the league. With the best record in the AFC, the Chiefs are in position to claim a first round bye and a division title. The Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) have also been up to snuff led by QB Philip Rivers. They have been equally balanced on both sides of the ball and should have no problem acquiring a wild card spot. Also in the hunt are the Denver Broncos have pulled off two impressive wins recently and reasserted themselves into the playoff picture. Facing a fairly easy schedule the next 5 weeks, it would be no surprise to see Denver still playing in January, but their early season struggles may come back to haunt them in the playoff race.

Prediction: The Chiefs are the #1 seed in the AFC and will get a bye. The Chargers will fill out a wild card spot as the #5 seed. The Broncos will just barely miss the playoffs.

NFC East

This is currently the most unpredictable group as there are a few teams still in play for the division title. Initially, the Washington Redskins (6-5) paced the division, but it will be difficult for them to make any noise because of QB Alex Smith’s injury. The Dallas Cowboys (6-5) have taken advantage of this and jumped ahead of the Redskins at first place. With a rugged defense and an offense revitalized by new WR Amari Cooper, the Cowboys have become the favorites to win the division. Still looming are the reigning champions Philadelphia Eagles(5-6), who despite a slow start are still in the thick of things. If they can overcome their weak secondary and make a run in the last few games, they will certainly have a chance to make it, but it will be a difficult task.

Prediction: The Cowboys are the #4 seed in the NFC, and the Redskins and Eagles miss the playoffs.

NFC North

One of the biggest surprises of the NFL season has been the Chicago Bears (8-3). The Bears have shattered all expectations with the third best record in the NFC. With a stellar defense led by DE Khalil Mack and S Eddie Jackson along with an efficient offense under coach Matt Nagy and QB Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago has greatly improved from their lackluster 2017 season. Following three straight wins over division rivals, the Bears have all but locked up the division. Close behind the Bears are the Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1), who have struggled at times during the season, but a strong offense led by QB Kirk Cousins and a dynamic WR duo consisting of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have pulled out key wins for them. Minnesota has a tough upcoming schedule, but their performance up to this point says that they will be up to the challenge.

Prediction: Bears are the #3 seed in the NFC, while the Vikings capture a wild card spot as the #5 seed.

NFC South

Arguably the best team in the NFL is the New Orleans Saints (10-1). With MVP frontrunner Drew Brees at the helm, the Saints have been electric on offense and average a league best 37.2 points per game. The Saints should comfortably win the division for the second year in a row and be well on their way to capturing a first round bye. The Carolina Panthers (6-5) initially looked like a guarantee for a wild card spot, but after losing three straight games, their season is in doubt. If Carolina can return to their early season success, they will be a formidable opponent. Their most recent loss to the Seattle Seahawks may be a key factor in tiebreaker scenarios and could potentially be the reason they miss out on the postseason.

Prediction: The Saints are the #1 seed in the NFC and get a first round bye. The Panthers don’t make the playoffs.

NFC West

Along with the Saints, the Los Angeles Rams (10-1) are one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. Under offensive guru Sean McVay and MVP candidates Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, the Rams have averaged an astounding 35.4 points per game, third best in the league. The Rams should have no problem securing a division title and a first round bye. In the hunt is the Seattle Seahawks (6-5) , who have shocked many with their success this season. QB Russell Wilson has willed this team into playoff contention, and with a fairly easy schedule and favorable wins for tiebreaker purposes, the Seahawks are a good bet to make the playoffs.

Prediction: Rams are the #2 seed in the NFC and get a bye week. The Seahawks sneak in the final wild card spot as the #6 seed.