The seven playoff seeds in the National Football Conference are finalized! In this new playoff format, the top seeded Green Bay Packers will have a week off, while the other six teams (Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Football Team, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints) play this upcoming weekend. Three teams will advance to the divisional round and inch closer to the Super Bowl. Time to decipher which three teams have the best shot of advancing to the next round.
#7 Chicago Bears v. #2 New Orleans Saints
The regular season match-up featured a different quarterback for the Bears (Nick Foles), a star receiver out (Michael Thomas), and defenses stopping the run early and often. A lot has changed the past month and a half. Mitchell Trubisky is back starting and presents the best opportunity to beat a stout Saints defense that can rush opposing quarterbacks well, and Michael Thomas (per ESPN) should play this Sunday for the first time in a month.
Analysis: This favors New Orleans heavily. Chicago’s defense couldn’t get pressure on a backup left tackle against Green Bay last Sunday. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s bull-rush first mentality has burned the defensive front out. The Saints’ offensive line should give Drew Brees a lot of time especially the second half. Chicago’s offensive line will help Trubisky a bit since he’s a mobile threat, but the potential loss of Darnell Mooney hurts.
Prediction: New Orleans wins 30-17
#6 Los Angeles Rams v. #3 Seattle Seahawks
The Rams and Seahawks play in a third straight divisional game, and their third game against each other this season. The first two games featured defensive highlights, hard hits and not a lot of scoring. Both starting quarterbacks struggled to make plays and stretch the field. This game looks to continue that trend.
Analysis: Between Jared Goff’s injured thumb, a short week to prepare and the unspectacular performance by John Wolford last Sunday, the Rams defense is critical for creating turnovers and scoring opportunities. Kicker Matt Gay has range even if the offense can’t get touchdowns, but the return of runningback Cam Akers and offensive captain Andrew Whitworth will help even if it’s a small net positive.
Seattle’s Mike Iupati and Brandon Shell returning gives Seattle an offensive line at full strength. Russell Wilson’s struggles against Aaron Donald and the Rams defensive front presents opportunities for runningbacks Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde to control the game tempo. For the Seahawks, keeping the Rams offensive stars off the field notably in the second half is important for an early playoff win on a short week.
Prediction: Seahawks win 23-13
#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers v. #4 Washington Football Team
The trilogy meeting between Bruce Arians v. Ron Rivera is what we wanted. Tampa’s defense has dealt with COVID-19 issues the past week and a half, and Washington’s offense is so-so. Tampa’s offense is loaded even if Mike Evans doesn’t play. On the opposite, Washington boasts the best pass defense and the best front defensive four in the NFL. This will be a great game even with a 7-9 team in the playoffs.
Analysis: The key to winning for both teams involves the running game. Antonio Gibson is the key for the Football Team in order to win, so he should get a lot of touches early and often. Alex Smith is a bright quarterback who knows how to win in the playoffs despite his leg injury being a problem in the past week. Tampa may have an advantage smothering his best receivers in coverage, but there’s enough creativity with runningbacks to keep Washington hanging around.
Ronald Jones is a top three runningback in the NFL, but the offensive stubbornness of Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich prevent him from shining when it matters most. Arians does have the quarterback that takes competition to the next level in Tom Brady, and one would think despite Arians calling plays, this is Brady’s game. Rookie defensive end Chase Young opened his mouth too early and talked on how he wants to sack Brady at least once. The best quarterback in our lifetime took this personally, and we’ve seen Brady show up when he takes things to heart.
Prediction: Buccaneers win 27-17
Author’s picks last week: 10-6
Author’s picks this season: 164-86