NFL Playoff Predictions: It has been an NFL season like nothing we’ve seen before. The COVID-19 pandemic, player opt-outs, and devastating injuries have headlined much of the year. Unsurprisingly, it’s turned preseason NFL projections into dust with early favorites slipping and surprise teams emerging as Super Bowl contenders.
If you had told me at the beginning of the season that the Cleveland Browns would be enjoying one of their winningest seasons in history, I would have admired your wishful thinking. If you had told me New England would struggle, I never would have assumed you meant four straight losses. With division races in flux every week and the expanded NFL Playoffs format creating more opportunities, each game is more significant than the last.
This column will be updated every week to reflect wins and losses, take divisional matchups into account, and include key injuries that impact the playoff race. But, for now, here’s who I think will make it into the NFL playoffs, by division:
UPDATED: Nov. 12, 11 AM EST
Current playoff picture
Before we get into the predictions, let’s establish who would make the NFL playoffs if they started tomorrow. As it stands, top spots in the NFC belong to the Philadelphia Eagles out of the NFC East, the Los Angeles Rams out of the NFC West, the New Orleans Saints out of the NFC South and the Green Bay Packers out of the NFC North. Wild Card spots would be awarded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals. The lone bye week would be awarded to the Saints.
In the AFC, the undefeated Steelers lay easy claim to the top spot in the AFC North as well as the conference’s bye week. The AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs, as well as the the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East round out the division leaders. The Cleveland Browns, the Tennessee Titans and the Las Vegas Raiders would be given Wild Card slots.
NFL playoff predictions: NFC & AFC outlook heading into Week 12
NFC East: New York Giants
The Philadelphia Eagles were dealt another crushing loss by the Cleveland Browns in Week 11, in a game that can only be described as another disastrous appearance by Carson Wentz. The pouring rain certainly didn’t help his cause, but his sack and interception problems showed no signs of slowing down.
Philadelphia’s path to the NFL playoffs gets even more grueling in the next few weeks. They will face the Seattle Seahawks (Week 12), Green Bay Packers (Week 13) and New Orleans Saints (Week 14). Did we mention they also have to face Kyler Murray?
The New York Giants had a bye in Week 11, and maintain the same 3-7 record as all of the other NFC East teams. But, they are showing a consistent improvement in gameplay, even without Saquon Barkley. Week 12 sees them match up against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are now force to play without Joe Burrow, and Weeks 13 and 14 match them up against the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals, respectively. They’ll be tough matchups, but the Giants proved they can hold their own in that hard fought game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This division is so bad it’s hard to tell what could happen. The Giants came out of nowhere to become real divisional contenders after their two huge wins, but one loss could cost them, or any team, their playoff hopes.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks’ loss to Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills came as a bit of a shock. Fortunately for Seattle, their huge divisional win over the Arizona Cardinals keeps them in the hunt for the top spot. The Rams, though, pulled out a huge win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that put them in the top spot of the division.
Seattle and the Rams are slated to faceoff again before the regular season ends. The game is an important one for top spot, but it’s huge in the Wild Card race, too. I don’t see D.K. Metcalf and Ty Lockett slowing down, so I expect them to pull out the W. We could see three NFL Playoff teams emerge from the NFC West this season, but only one can win the banner. We predict that will be the one led by NFL MVP frontrunner Russell Wilson.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
Weeks 9 and 10 weren’t kind to the Chicago Bears. They suffered two ugly losses, this time at the hands of the Tennessee Titans and the Minnesota Vikings. What’s worse, though, is that they lost Nick Foles in the last minutes of their Monday Night Football matchup. With Chicago slipping further down the NFC North, Green Bay doens’t really need to stress about their Week 11 upset loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Aaron Rodgers shouldn’t worry, his team’s throne atop the North is pretty padded.
The Packers have a huge weapon on their side. Davante Adams called himself the best wide receiver in the NFL and his stats back it up. Adams’ production has been outstanding this year. In eight games this season, one of which he left after halftime, Adams has 68 receptions, 847 receiving yards and ten touchdowns. Oh, Mr. Rodgers is also cooking. Even after a Week 11 slip, he still has a 115.8 quarterback rating. He is definitely back to his MVP-caliber form. I’m not going to mess with that. Unsurprisingly, I’ll predict the Packers win the NFC North.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
No one could have predicted that Tom Brady would absolutely fall apart in arguably the most crucial game of the season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before the Week 9 blowout, he hadn’t thrown three interceptions in a game since 2011. The arrival of Antonio Brown made little impact when they hit the field. Michael Thomas’ return, however, was hard to miss. The Saints win changed the tides for me, until Drew Brees went down in Week 10, making Taysom Hill the starting quarterback for a few weeks. I’ll still give the Saints the first spot in this division, due in part to an excellent Week 11 performance from Hill. Tampa Bay will take the Wild Card slot. Two huge wins for the Saints in those head-to-head matchups will prove costly for the Bruce Arians’ Buccaneers, even if the Saints take a downward spiral without Brees.
NFC Wild Cards: Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals
After a huge, dramatic victory against the Buffalo Bills, Arizona proved they are real contenders. Kyler Murray is a force to be reckoned with. He doesn’t fold under pressure. And than can take Arizona places. Just like it took them to the top of the division in Week 10. I don’t think the loss to the Seahawks will cost them a Wild Card slot, either. The Rams’ division win also makes the division leader and, while we don’t expect it to last, they overtook the Bears as contenders for the final spot.
AFC East: Buffalo Bills
The Bills are still sitting pretty at 7-3 atop the division. But, the Dolphins are coming in close, thanks to Tua Tagovailoa. Their 6-4 record is certainly respectable, even after losing to the Denver Broncos. But, I don’t think they can compete with Josh Allen and company. I’ll still give this division to the Buffalo Bills.
The winless Jets aren’t even a part of the conversation. After a four-game losing streak, including a loss to Buffalo, New England’s chances are slim, even though they seem to be figuring it out. Worse for the Patriots, they have another divisional matchup against Buffalo later in the season. As it stands, the AFC East will come down to the Bills and Dolphins. I bet that’s not a sentence you expected to hear in 2020.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
Unsurprisingly, the Steelers are still undefeated after beating the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a COVID-19 scare, the Baltimore Ravens seem to be struggling a bit, but they are still a force to be reckoned with, and all eyes are on Lamar Jackson. The Ravens and Cleveland Browns (coming off another victory) will make this a fight, but the Steelers are already running away with the AFC North.
The Browns are having a better season than anyone predicted. Better yet, their upcoming schedule is kind to them. But I don’t think the Steelers will lose enough games to compromise their division lead. When it comes to NFL Playoff predictions, the Steelers are a no-brainer at this point.
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City narrowly beat the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 11, but Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Patrick Mahomes proved why they have Super Bowl rings. The Raiders are the only team to hand Kansas City a loss this season, and it looked like they may have done it again. But, Kansas City pulled out the win and are now 18-1 in their last 19 games and holds a firm grip on the AFC West. Quite frankly, it’s an easy prediction to say the Chiefs will remain on top here.
The Las Vegas Raiders are in second place with a 6-4 record, but the three-game deficit to Kansas City will be too large to overcome. There is a real chance the Raiders could make it back to the NFL Playoffs, but it will take a lot.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts faced another test in the Green Bay Packers, but they came through with a statement victory. If the defense continues to play a high level, with Philip Rivers bringing stability to the offense, the Colts belong in the Super Bowl conversation.
Moving forward, I’d still expect this to be a neck-and-neck race with the Titans. Tennessee ran into some problems in Week 10, but we know this team can get hot in an instant. With the weather getting colder, the Titans can turn to Derrick Henry to carry this team. Good things happen when Henry has the football. Look at what he did to bring them to a hard-fought victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11. When Henry’s force is paired with Ryan Tannehill, the Titans are dangerous.
There’s no question that whoever doesn’t win this division will get a Wild Card spot. Right now, it’s looking like that will be the Titans.
AFC Wild Card: Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns
I’ll still guarantee the first Wild Card slot for the Ravens. While the Titans are still out of the top spot in the AFC South if the playoffs started today, there is plenty of time to recover. It’s a great story to see Indianapolis back in the hunt, but it’s not even the best part of the AFC’s playoff picture.
No matter what happens the rest of the way, this will be a magical season for the NFL. With the playoff expansion, we could see both the Dolphins and Browns make it in our NFL Playoff predictions. The Browns are putting up a great fight, and I think it will prove a worthy one. I think a 7-3 record is good enough to give them some Wild Card attention. Given how much both Miami and Cleveland adore football and the years of atrocious football that have aged the fans, this will be a fun finish.