Written by: John Stocco
Now it’s official. The first one I promise was just a feeler. Like a mock fantasy football draft. You’re feeling things around, testing the field, seeing if you should jump on running backs, or wait on tight ends. It was a feeler and thanks to Andrew Luck the John Stocco playoff predictions were ruined. Now it’s legit. Rosters for the most part are set, we know who’s playing week one, and we know who’s holding out. Other than a few times, this time I’m going to predict the round by round scenarios in the playoffs, and I’m going to tell you who I believe is going to be playing in Super Bowl LIV.
1st seed: Los Angeles Rams
Because they were humiliated in the Super Bowl, many fans and media analysts want to give up on the Rams, expecting a Super Bowl hangover. I believe in McVay, I think Goff is legit, and I think the Rams are going to be better. The only problem they have is putting faith in Todd Gurely because of tendonitis in his knees. That puts a little more pressure on Goff’s arm, but I think it’s manageable. The Rams are clearly the best team in their division, and now they have chips on their shoulders that look like logs.
2nd seed: Chicago Bears
Bring on the heat, and bring on the expectations. The second year for Trubisky 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 equals a 2019 campaign in which they 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.
3rd seed: Philadelphia Eagles
This is a huge year for the Eagles. The Super Bowl window is still open, but they don’t have Nick Foles anymore. Carson Wentz has to prove he can stay healthy and put up MVP numbers just to save his image as a franchise quarterback. The Eagles have done everything possible to help out Wentz, bringing back DeSean Jackson and drafting Miles Sanders and JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Wentz has to prove that he can carry this team without the spirit of Nick Foles flowing in the background. This year, they have enough talent to outmatch Dallas in the NFC East, especially if Zeke wants to continue this holdout.
4th seed: New Orleans Saints
There are three things that worry me about the Saints: their offensive line, the decline in
Drew Brees, and a 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 against Atlanta, but it wasn’t evident until the game against Dallas the week after. He didn’t have the same juice in his throws, he couldn’t make the big plays, 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. I pick the Saints to still win the division because I don’t think too much of the NFC South. The Bucs are a team in no man's land, the Panthers are mediocre at best, and I don’t think the Falcons have enough firepower on defense to make keys stops.
5th seed: Dallas Cowboys
I really like this Dallas team. On offense, defense, and special teams, they are pound for pound, with the exception of the head coach, better than the Eagles. I think they’re better than the Eagles with Ezekiel Elliott. We don’t know what the hell is going on with Zeke and the contract extension. The Cowboys are bracing themselves on missing Zeke for three, four, five, maybe six games. If Zeke comes back this is a Super Bowl team, but if Zeke holds out for the entire year, I think they are one-and-done.
6th seed: Green Bay Packers
Predicting the Packers to make the playoffs makes me sick. I wanna puke over my laptop just typing this. There’s a new coach, an improved running game, and now a motivated Aaron Rodgers. Why a motivated Aaron Rodgers? Because his reputation is on the line. Mike McCarthy was the perfect punching bag because everyone looked at him and loved to blame the fat old guy. Now there’s a new coach with a solid group of talent around him; if Rodgers doesn’t get it done then it’s all on him. Rodgers gets it done and makes the playoffs.
In the hunt: The Seahawks are a total mystery. Last year they pulled off a miracle by rebuilding and still made the playoffs, but even though I like the way they’re built, I think they just miss the playoffs. On paper, one look at the Vikings gives the impression that you’re looking at a Super Bowl team. Then you watch them play and realize they’re just average with an injury prone running back and a bad offensive line.
1st seed: New England Patriots
No Gronk? No Trent Brown? No Trey Flowers? No problem. Tom Brady has the most offensive weapons he’s had to work with since arguably the 2007 season. Two dual threat running backs in Sony Michel and James White, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon back and hopefully clean, two rookies in N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers, and they also have their first round draft pick from 2018 back, offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn from Georgia. Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, all the reports coming from New England’s camp is they love the way this defense is built, and they think it could be their best defense in years. Just when you think they’re out, they pull you back in. The Patriots aren’t going anywhere, and have you seen their schedule? Steelers at home, at Miami, Jets at home, at Buffalo, at Washington, Giants at home, at New York (Jets). Right off the bat that’s 7-0 at best. Pats take the one seed in the AFC.
2nd seed: Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the game, and the defense shows improvement, mainly because it’s pretty impossible not to. Some might think I’m nuts, but I think the Chiefs will be better this year. Mahomes has another year of experience, they have some of the most explosive weapons in football in Tyreek Hill, Damien Williams, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, and rookies Mecole Hardman and Darwin Thompson. Also, the additions of Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu were were much needed to help take the pressure off Mahomes’ arm. This year, the Chiefs won’t have to average 38 points per game to win a hard fought battle. They showed us that they’re going all in this year.
3rd seed: Pittsburgh Steelers
The toxic, the negative energy, the bad press, all of it is finally out of Pittsburgh, and after missing the playoffs, the Steelers are hungry. I think we’re going to see a different kind of Steelers team. The ball will be spread out to younger guys like James Washington and Jaylen Samuels, and their defense is more athletic and more explosive, with first round pick Devin Bush being my favorite to win the defensive rookie of the year. Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season, and after missing the playoffs in 2018, the most underrated overrated coach of all time could have his team on a mission.
4th seed: Houston Texans
I had the Colts here last time, but since Andrew Luck wanted to do what’s best for him and not the fans, I have to change it. To be honest with you all, I don’t even have enough confidence in this pick. The Colts with Jacoby Brissett? Still good, but not quite sure if they’re a playoff team. Titans with Marcus Mariota or Ryan Tannehil? No thanks. The Jaguars with Nick Foles and Leonard Fournette? I think I trust them less. I’m sticking with Watson, Hopkins, and a defense led by JJ Watt in one of the weakest divisions not just in football, but in all sports.
5th seed: Cleveland Browns
The Browns are finally going to do it. There’s too much talent on both sides of the ball, and usually when that happens you get cold feet and you predict that things are gonna go wrong. What Baker Mayfield did last year was something special. He didn’t just put up great numbers without starting every game, but he made the Browns relevant. He took a team that just came off an 0-16 season and he made them relevant where people said that the Browns have one of the brightest futures in the NFL. Another year of Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb, acquiring Odell Beckham Jr, who I believe will have a 2007 Randy Moss esque season. On defense you add Oliver Vernon, with one of the best young edge rushers in the game in Myles Garrett. The talent is ridiculous and I find it hard to believe that a team with this much talent will miss the playoffs. Sometimes the hype is right.
6th seed: New York Jets
Yes, you read that right, I swear I’m clean when I say this. I believe the Jets are going to be the shock of the NFL and make the playoffs. The first reason why is that I believe in Sam Darnold. I loved his game at USC, and I think he’s going to be a superstar quarterback in this league. The duo of Darnold and Gase is going to be the story of the NFL. The addition Le’Veon Bell will elevate Darnold and the Jets, Ty Montgomery is the perfect fit in a Gase offense, and Robby Anderson is a receiver that many are sleeping on. They improved their offensive line by bringing in center Ryan Kalil from retirement, and they improved their defense by drafting the best defensive prospect in the draft, and signing the best linebacker in free agency. Leonard Williams, Quinnen Williams, CJ Mosely, and Jamal Adams, will lead a feisty group on defense.
In the hunt: The Ravens are too unpredictable. They have athleticism and speed, but their playbook might be coming from 1932. Too much negativity heading into the season for the Chargers for me to put them in the playoffs with the injury of Derwin James. The rest, Jaguars? Colts? Bills? Titans? Broncos? I either can’t trust any of these teams to win a big game.
NFC Wild Card Round
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Green Bay Packers
Eagles win 35-27
New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys win 27-21
AFC Wild Card Round
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New York Jets
Steelers win 31-21
Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns
Browns win 27-24
NFC Divisional Round
Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Bears win 21-17
Los Angeles Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys win 24-23
AFC Divisional Round
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Chiefs win 38-34
New England Patriots vs. Cleveland Browns
Patriots win 34-20
NFC Championship Round
Chicago Bears vs. Dallas Cowboys
Bears win 28-27
AFC Championship Round
New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs win 34-31
Chicago Bears 23 - Kansas City Chiefs 21