As playoffs start, AFC looks strong


Brentton Wharton, staff writer

We’ve come to the end of an NFL regular season many people thought we wouldn’t see.

When it began no one knew how it would work. Fast forward 17 weeks and 256 games later and we’re looking at the beginning of the postseason. Just from the eye test I can see that one side is a lot stronger than the other. On the AFC side the 7th seeded team, the very last team in the playoffs has a record of 11-5. Over in the NFC one of the division winners is below a .500 win percentage at 7-9.

Just for the fun of things I’m gonna list my predictions and breakdowns of every game slated for the first weekend of the playoffs, Super Wild Card Weekend. 

Starting with AFC out in Pittsburgh, we’ll see the 11-5 Cleveland Browns battle the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time in two weeks. Now the Browns picked up the victory this past weekend in week 17, however there is a bit of an asterisk on that game for me.

Pittsburgh had already clinched the division title and the playoffs, so they rested a lot of their major starters. Even without their key players the Steelers put up quite a fight. In week 17 the final score was 24-22 in favor of the Browns, I think this time will be different. Pittsburgh is hosting, it’s gonna be cold and Ben Roethlisberger is historically good on wild card weekend. I think this game could potentially get out of hand even. I have Pittsburgh rolling over the Browns 33-17. 

Another AFC game bids the 7th seeded 11-5 Indianapolis Colts against the 2nd seeded 13-3 Buffalo Bills. The Colts are coming off a great week 17 victory, one that got them into the playoffs. The Bills, on the other hand, ended the regular season on a six game win streak, and personally I believe they are the most dangerous team in these playoffs on either side.

For the Colts the key to victory will be running the football and keeping the high powered Bills offense off of the field for as much of the game as possible. The less possessions Josh Allen gets, the better it will be for the Colts. The weather in Orchard Park for this game is projected to be in the low 20’s with a high chance of snow, which will probably make for a very slow paced game.

In this game I think the Bills just outmatch the Colts. Even with the Colts’ ability to run the ball effectively the Bills offense is so good it might not matter. I have the Bills winning this one in a closer game than anticipated by many, I go 29-23 Bills. 

Last on the AFC side is probably the most anticipated of the matchups, a rematch from last year’s playoffs between the 11-5 Baltimore Ravens and 11-5 Tennessee Titans. I think this game will be the closest of any on wild card weekend. I think we’re in store for two great performances from Derrick Henry and Lamar Jackson. Henry will shine for 26 carries, 189 yards and 2 touchdowns. And on the other side I think Lamar Jackson will hold his own for about 170 passing yards to go along with 137 rushing yards and 3 total touchdowns (rushing & passing combined).

I think the difference maker will have to be Ryan Tannehill. No team has shown a greater balance of offensive firepower than the Titans. I think if Tannehill could throw for nearly 200 yards and a touchdown to complement Derrick Henry’s great performance on the ground they will win. In the Ravens’ last playoff game, their inability to get anything going to help their young quarterback, as well as horrible run defense hindered any chance they had to win. I think this game Jackson will have this Ravens offense firing on all cylinders to combat the Titans, and I see the Ravens and Jackson overcoming those recent playoff woes to win this one 35-28. 

The NFC’s matchups are less exciting to say the least. Staring out in Seattle we’ll see the 12-4 Seahawks welcome the 10-6 Los Angeles Rams. This game spells nothing but trouble for Los Angeles. Starting quarterback Jared Goff underwent surgery to repair a broken thumb two weeks ago, and as a right now they’re not optimistic about his chances to play.

I think Russell Wilson plays great along with a good performance from the Seattle defense, and I think it will just be too much for the Rams without their franchise guy. Personally I thought the Rams were a sleeper team to go all the way, but playing without Goff and going against Wilson in the wild card round, it does not look good for them. I say Seattle steals this one 30-19. 

Next up we have the 11-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers visiting the 7-9 Washington Football Team. I don’t think this will be much of a game, I don’t think anyone gives Washington a chance at all, not really even Washington fans.

Tom Brady in the playoffs is an entirely different monster, and with a chip on his shoulder against a young defense and lackluster offense as his challenger I think this one is over quick. I see an explosive first quarter for the Bucs offense, coming out of the gates hot for 250 total yards of offense in the first fifteen minutes. I think this game ends without it ever being in doubt, Tom Brady and the Bucs move after a 42-16 thrashing of Washington.

Last and maybe actually least (kidding) is the 12-4 New Orleans Saints squaring off against the 8-8 Chicago Bears. I don’t see this being much of a game either.

The Saints have one of the league’s best defenses and the Bears have one the league’s most inconsistent offenses. I think this will be one of those games where you look at the final score and go, “It was kinda close,” but while you’re actually watching the game it didn’t ever feel close. I think it’ll be a lower scoring and kind of a defensive battle that sees the Saints overpower the Bears 26-17.

So in conclusion, it’ll be a fun weekend of football to watch, and Chiefs and Packers fans can sit back and observe all their potential matchups for the divisional round.

First-round predictions: 

Steelers 33, Browns 17

Bills 29, Colts  23

Ravens 35, Titans 28

Seahawks 30, Rams 19

Bucs 42, Washington 16

Saints 26, Bears 17