Predicting the 12 NFL playoff teams down the stretch

The NFL playoff picture is coming into focus with just a few weeks left in the regular season, and it’s time for some bold predictions about the season’s conclusion.

One team has already punched its ticket to the NFL playoffs by clinching its division. The rest of the playoff contenders still have work do to before they can start their postseason travel plans.

With that in mind, here’s how we see the NFL playoff teams lining up in the next four weeks as the regular season wraps up.

AFC playoff teams

6. Tennessee Titans

If the NFL playoffs ended today, the Titans would be out. With a 7-5 record they are currently the No. 7 seed in the AFC due to Pittsburgh holding a tiebreaker. Yet looking at the way this team has played the past month and a half since Ryan Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota as the starter, it’s clear this is a team on the rise.

With games against the Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans (twice) and New Orleans Saints still left to play, it’ll take nothing less than a classic playoff push to get in. Tennessee has the defense, and now the offensive firepower, to get it done.

5. New England Patriots

This projection is based on simple idea that Tom Brady and his Patriots offense is a broken thing these days. During the past four games, New England has either lost or barely won (50-50 split) due to the lack of production from the offense.

And with games against two other top AFC contenders — Kansas City and Buffalo — still on the schedule, we’re expecting this slippage to continue down the home stretch.

4. Houston Texans

When Deshaun Watson is on his game, there are few teams in either conference that can beat the Texans. The Patriots found that out the hard way on Sunday night. With a defense that is coming along lately in terms of defending the pass, Houston has the pieces in place to potentially get deep into the NFL playoffs.

With two very winnable games coming up against Tampa Bay and Denver, along with two games against Tennessee, we’d be stunned if the Texans didn’t split the series with the Titans and finished the season 11-5 with the AFC South title in hand.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

It’s been a bit of a herky-jerky type of season for the Chiefs, who came within a few moments last January of making it to Super Bowl LIII. However, with star Patrick Mahomes coming back to full health and the Chiefs showing a modicum of competency on the defensive side of the ball lately, this team is going to finish strong.

Looking at the remaining schedule, if the Chiefs do beat the Pats as I expect them to, they could run the table the rest of the way and finish 12-4 on the season.

2. Buffalo Bills

Yes, it’s certainly a bold prediction. But if the Bills — a team that is playing outstanding football on both sides of the ball — can slay the dragon that is AFC East overlord New England, the division is theirs for the taking.

Before they take on the Pats, though, the Bills have the top team in the NFL coming to Buffalo in Week 14. If Josh Allen and Co. find a way to slow down Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, we could be looking at the No. 1 seed when it’s all said and done.

1. Baltimore Ravens

As mentioned above, the Ravens are traveling to Buffalo in Week 14 for a contest that could end up being an AFC title game preview. This is a game we’d expect the Ravens to win. Even if they lose, though, the rest of the schedule is set up for a cruise to the finish line.

Baltimore faces the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers to close out the 2019 NFL regular season.

NFC playoff teams

6. Minnesota Vikings

A flawed, yet extremely talented team, Minnesota should be able to fend off the Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears for the final NFC playoff spot down the home stretch.

With two extremely winnable games against the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Chargers and two more challenging games against the Green Bay Packers and Bears to close out the season, Minnesota should get in.

5. Seattle Seahawks

Currently the No. 2 seed in the NFC after a thrilling Monday night win over Minnesota, Seattle is on a roll having won eight of its past nine games. Funny enough, this Seahawks team isn’t good on defense and almost always seems to need Russell Wilson to come to the rescoue at some point in every game.

The main reason we’re projecting a fall back to No. 5 is that we’re predicting the San Francisco 49ers will get revenge in their Week 17 matchup to wrest control of the NFC West away from the Seahawks in the final regular-season game.

4. Philadelphia Eagles

Now here’s a stunner: The Eagles are 5-7 and have been falling apart at the seams in recent weeks. Carson Wentz has struggled this season, and the Eagles have a clear problem at the receiver position.

Yet looking at the schedule, it’s clear the Eagles have a perfect opportunity to bounce back in the final month and take the NFC East. With two games coming up against the New York Giants, sandwiching games against Washington and Dallas, this division is Philly’s for the taking.

3. New Orleans Saints

Currently the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the 10-2 Saints have a prime opportunity to take a significant step in Week 14 as they host the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers. Should they win this game, the Saints could run the table and finish 14-2.

As good as the Saints are, I don’t see things playing out in that fashion. Instead, it seems more likely that the 49ers, who are two special teams plays away from being 12-0 right now, will win Sunday, knocking the Saints down a peg in the loaded NFC.

2. Green Bay Packers

The Packers are flawed. Their offensive line has struggled in recent weeks against teams with an elite pass rush. Their defense is a little too much break, not enough bend at times. Yet heading into the final quarter of the season, it’s clear that the pass rush, the team’s rushing attack, and of course Aaron Rodgers, give Green Bay a real shot to make it deep into the postseason.

On that same note, Green Bay’s final four games lend themselves to a strong finish record-wise. With upcoming games against Washington, Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit, the Packers are likely going to win at least three of those games.

1. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers came within a last-second field goal of potentially knocking off the best team in the NFL on the road in the pouring rain. The team’s only other loss (to Seattle) was due to a shank from an undrafted rookie kicker on a potential game-winning score in overtime.

We’re looking for the 49ers to finish strong and win out to head into the NFL playoffs with the top seed in the NFC and a record of 14-2. This Sunday’s game against New Orleans will quickly put this notion to the test.

One thing is certain: The final month of action in the NFC is going to be wild and crazy, and we’re loving every second of this.

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