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John Stocco’s NFL Playoff Predictions

Graphic by Pat Pryor

Written by: John Stocco

Twitter: @realJohnStocco

Week two of the preseason is underway, and instead of talking about fourth-string cornerback battles at cornerback for the Chicago Bears I decided to change it up a bit, and make some predictions. It’s almost impossible to make accurate playoff predictions in the NFL because all of these teams are one injury away from having their season destroyed. That still doesn’t stop me from making predictions. Here are my playoff predictions for the 2019 NFL season.

AFC Playoff Picture

1st Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West Champions)

It might feel impossible, but I think the Chiefs are going to be better. Will Mahomes have 50 TD’s again? Probably not. Here’s why I think the Chiefs will be better. The talent and now the experience. Last season the Chiefs were a fantasy football team that came to life. They improved defensively by trading for Frank Clark, and signing Tyrann Mathieu. On the offensive side they have the most explosive playmakers with two late round steals in the NFL draft. Mecole Hardman with Tyreke Hill and a healthy Sammy Watkins could be the league's best receiving core.Did I forget to mention Travis Kelce? They didn’t miss a beat when they lost Kareem Hunt. Damien Williams stepped right up, and they drafted a draft sleeper out of Utah State, Darwin Thompson. They have all the talent, and they have the best quarterback in the world, but more importantly they now have the experience. In football you need youth, coaching, talent, and experience to be successful. The Chiefs have all of that. We saw Mahomes in big games and we saw a quarterback who was calm, cool, and collected, in hectic environments, against some of the best defenses in football, and with the greatest quarterback and greatest coach of all time looking over his shoulder in a game that would send Kansas City to the Super Bowl. Patrick Mahomes is special, and the Chiefs are going to be a special team to watch in 2019.

2nd Seed: New England Patriots (AFC East Champions)

Shocker right? Take away Gronk, take away Trey Flowers, take away Trent Brown, and the Patriots will still be the Patriots. The Patriots are the masters at changing the game. When teams devalued tight ends, the Patriots used as many as possible. When teams played the conservative running game, the Patriots found running backs who can catch just as well as they run. The Patriots are always looking to reinvent the game, and that’s what makes them so great. Brady won’t be as dominant, but they have an offensive line that never stops improving, three running backs who can be used on any down, Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and always a dependable defense. The Patriots are going nowhere.

3rd Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC North Champions)

The toxic is out. The noise is now finally silent and the Steelers can go back to playing football. There’s a youth movement coming in Pittsburgh and it’s time to get educated on the young up and coming stars in the Steelers system. JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, James Washington, and Devin Bush on defense. JuJu has WR1 heights, James Conner was a breakout star last year by playing just as well as Le’Veon Bell. He rushed for 973 yards, caught for 497, and scored 13 total touchdowns. With Antonio Brown’s talents in Oakland there leaves a hole in the offense, and filling that hole for a top-five receiver in football is easier said than done, but James Washington is a candidate for breakout star this year like James Conner was last year. He started the year right by having 4 receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown. Last but certainly not least, the Steelers finally have a leader on defense. Steelers love Devin Bush, and so did many scouts and draft experts. I expect him to take an immediate impact this season.

4th Seed: Indianapolis Colts (AFC South Champions)

Obviously, this all relies on the health of Andrew Luck. The Colts have adopted the “Patriots way.” Invest in the offensive line, have a three running back system, have a dependable defense, and rely on tight ends or low-risk high reward receivers. Andrew Luck showed how great he can be in this league last year, and I expect him to do the same this season. Andrew Luck is a top-five quarterback in this league, and the questions about him are totally justifiable, but when he’s healthy you must fear the Colts or you’re going to look foolish in the end.

5th Seed: Los Angeles Chargers (Wild Card)

Just like the Chiefs, the Chargers are not going to miss a beat without Melvin Gordon. Gordon is good, but the combination of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson can get the job done and produce more. Mike Williams, Derwin James, Joey Bosa, they’re young, talented, and have an impressive head coach. They have a Hall of Fame quarterback and a top 10 defense. if the Chiefs weren’t in their division they would be division champs.

6th Seed: Cleveland Browns (Wild Card)

The sexy pick in any playoff prediction, but not as a Wild Card team. People want the Browns winning the AFC North, and eventually winning the Super Bowl. They have loads of talent on their roster, and they are deep, but year one I believe there will be growing pains. A rookie coach, with a ton of youth. They’re going to be the hottest story of the season, and they’ll make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but right now I can’t put them over the Steelers. You feel insulted? Blame your history.

NFC Playoff Picture

1, Los Angeles Rams (NFC West Champions)

Not only is picking the Rams as the NFC West champions a boom or bust pick, but picking them as the number one seed in the NFC is a boom or bust pick. I think Goff and McVay are legit, and losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl will give this team an edge walking into the 2019 season. Under Sean McVay, this isn’t a team that’s already feeling accomplished. Too many people are sleeping on the Rams by putting the Super Bowl loss hangover. McVay is smarter than that, Goff is better than that, and the defensive core is still intact. Remember when Nkdamakung Suh was on the team last year? Yeah, me neither.

2, Chicago Bears (NFC North Champions)

Bring the heat. Second year for Trubiksy and the offensive crew under Matt Nagy’s offense, an upgrade at running back with the additions of Mike Davis and David Montgomery, and a defense that is not only the best in football, but in 2019 they will be a defense that will be more aggressive under defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. A lot of people think this team is destined for regression, and to that I say, thank you for the ammunition.

3, Philadelphia Eagles (NFC East Champions)

This is a huge year for Carson Wentz, and even though he got his big payday, I believe Wentz will play like he still has something to prove. As much as Eagles fans won’t like to admit it, he does. They won a Super Bowl with Nick Foles, and they made the playoffs with Nick Foles after dealing with bad injuries and even worse losses all season. Drafting Miles Sanders, and adding Desean Jackson to an already strong receiving core, and a healthy Wentz has MVP aspirations.

4, New Orleans Saints (NFC South Champions)

Even though I’m not expecting much out of the Saints this year I still believe they have enough firepower to win the NFC South. There are three things that worry me about the Saints. Their offensive line, the decline in Drew Brees, and the pass interference penalty that wasn’t called last year. Why am I worried about their offensive line? Losing Max Unger to an unexpected retirement will hurt this team more than everyone expects. Just ask Seattle how losing Max Unger affected them when they traded the franchise center for Jimmy Graham. They lost their anchor on the offensive line, and for a team with an old quarterback and a team that will start heavily relying on the run, it’s going to hurt them more than you think. Drew Brees is an all-time great quarterback, but you’re lying to yourself if you think he’s going to come back as the same old Drew Brees. We saw a decline in his play last year after that Thursday night game in Dallas. He didn’t have the same juice in his throws, he couldn’t make the big play, and he was missing his targets on easy throws. It’s like we saw the beginning of the end for Brees in the second half of the 2018 season, and it could get worse in 2019. Obviously, I still think they’re good enough to make the playoffs, but the dominance won’t be there like last year. An offensive line that has gotten worse, a decline in Drew Brees, and two heartbreaking playoff losses two years in a row. All of it equals out to a team that doesn’t get the job done again.

5, Dallas Cowboys (Wild Card)

Pound for pound. Player for player. I believe the Cowboys have a better team than the Eagles, but why do I have the Eagles as division winners? The potential of Zeke not coming back. Now I think they will find a way to get a deal done and re-sign Ezekiel Elliott, but both sides are nowhere near to a deal at this point. The Cowboys might have to learn the hard way, and if Zeke misses games in the regular season that could hurt their pursuit of an NFC East championship. They have a top 10 defense, a top 10 offensive line, Dak Prescott with a full year of Amari Cooper, and another year of Michael Gallup. If Zeke comes back this team could make a Super Bowl run.

6, Seattle Seahawks (Wild Card)

The fight for this 6th spot in the playoffs could be one of the tightest races in recent memory in the NFL. Packers, Vikings, Falcons, and Seahawks. Four teams that you can easily make the case for them being a playoff team. I have the Seahawks walking out as the winners. They lost Doug Baldwin, they lost Earl Thomas, and they lost Frank Clark. No problem. Their defense is led by a top-three defensive player in the NFL, Bobby Wagner, and their offense is led by a top-five quarterback in the league, and an MVP candidate. It seems like they finally fixed the running game with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. A revitalized receiving core in Tyler Lockett, and rookie of the year candidate Gary Jennings. Wilson and Wagner leading the way with the great coaching that does a good job developing young talent. The Seahawks will shock people again.

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