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NFL Playoff predictions Week 12: Titans fight back, Cleveland strikes again

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: Dec 1, 2 PM 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 New York Giants out of the NFC East, the Seattle Seahawks 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 Los Angeles Rams 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 Tennessee Titans in the AFC South and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East round out the division leaders. The Cleveland Browns, the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens would be given Wild Card slots.

NFL playoff predictions: NFC & AFC outlook heading into Week 12

Related: Find out who our experts think will win Super Bowl 2021 (Updated Weekly).

NFC East: Washington Football Club

The Philadelphia Eagles were dealt another crushing loss by the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12, in a game that can only be described as another disastrous appearance by the struggling team. The loss officially cost them the leading spot in the division, a spot now occupied by the New York Giants, though Washington Football Club has the same record.

Philadelphia’s path to the NFL playoffs gets even more grueling in the next few weeks. They will face the 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 suffered the biggest loss of the week, though, when Daniel Jones suffered a serious injury in the narrow 19-17 win over the Joe Burrow-less Cincinnati Bengals. They have now won 3 straight games, something that hasn’t happened since 2016, but with the DJ injury, things will likely go downhill very quickly.

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 three huge wins, but the Jones injury leaves Washington Football Club (especially after their Thanksgiving divisional win over the Dallas Cowboys) as the favorite for top spot in this division.

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks’ huge divisional win over the Arizona Cardinals keeps them in the hunt for the top spot, and their Monday Night Football victory over the Eagles put them back in first place. The Rams and the Cardinals are both putting up strong fights, but Arizona’s loss to New England may have cost them. The Rams’ loss to the Saints edged them out of top spot, returning Russell Wilson to his number one divisional slot.

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

The second half of the season isn’t being kind to the Chicago Bears. They continue to suffer ugly losses, especially divisionally, at the hands of the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. And, they now have to rely on Mitch Trubisky as quarterback with the Nick Foles injury. With no real competition in the NFC North, Green Bay doesn’t really need to stress. Aaron Rodgers shouldn’t worry, his team’s throne atop the North is pretty padded.

Related: NFL defense rankings: 49ers climb, Buccaneers tumble into Week 13.

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 nine games this season, one of which he left after halftime, Adams has 74 receptions, 908 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Oh, Mr. Rodgers is also cooking. As it stands, he racked up 3100 passing yards for 33 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. 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 and upsetting losses for the Buccaneers. 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, and the Saints are showing no signs of slowing down without Brees.

NFC Wild Cards: Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals

Even after a loss to the struggling Patriots, 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. The Rams’ division win also helps them solidify a wild card spot in the NFC.

Related: NFL Power Rankings: Chiefs overtake Steelers, for now.

AFC East: Buffalo Bills

NFL Playoff Predictions: Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen dominated in Week 3 win over Los Angeles Rams
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Bills are still sitting pretty at 8-3 atop the division. But, the Dolphins are coming in close, thanks to Tua Tagovailoa. Their 7-4 record is certainly respectable, with help from a divisional win over the New York Jets. 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 with a 5-6 record. 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 and carrying their best record in a long time) 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 pulled out a huge victory over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in one of the most anticipated games of the season. They are not to be messed with, and performances from Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill remain impressive every week. The Chiefs are now 19-1 in their last 20 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 6-5 record, but the 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: Tennessee Titans

Tennessee ran into some problems in Week 10, but they have really turned it around to regain the top spot in the division. With the weather getting colder, the Titans can turn to Derrick Henry to stay hot and 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.

Ultimately, though, I think their massive Week 12 victory over the Colts won them the division lead.

Indianapolis is far from being ruled out, though. 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.

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 Colts.

Related: 2021 NFL mock draft: Four QBs projected in top-10 picks.

AFC Wild Card: Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns

It’s very weird to type that the first Wild Card slot currently belongs to the Cleveland Browns. While the Colts are still out of the top spot in the AFC South if the playoffs started today, there is plenty of time to recover. The Baltimore Ravens, struggling as of late, have to believe that too. 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 8-3 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.

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