Red Zone: Predicting The Playoff Field & Super Bowl LIV
Alright, so we have your humble scribe's prognostication for the entire NFL field. How will that translate when the league contracts into its playoff form? And who will play on the game's grandest stage?
1. New Orleans The Saints have been one of the senior conference's best teams in the last few years. Their synergy will give them home field advantage at least one more time.
2. Philadelphia The Super Bowl LII Champions showed they are no fluke with their late season surge to make the playoffs last year. They still improved in the offseason, and that will manifest itself as the Eagles will be in the championship picture.
3. Chicago The Bears will be in year two of the Matt Nagy era. QB Mitch Trubisky should show his growth and capability as a pro passer as the Monsters of the Midway prevail in the Division of Death
4. Los Angeles The defending NFC champions have a menacing defense and a stellar offense, but changes in personnel and how they will be used will mean the Rams will regress some to the mean, but not a drastic dropoff.
5. Detroit With a new offensive coordinator and a pass rush buoyed by free agency, the Lions are in prime position to post a rebound season, one that nets them a wild card berth.
6. Carolina Many consider Cam Newton overrated, but he was leading a confident Panthers team to a 6-2 record to open 2018 only to collapse as Newton dealt with a debilitating shoulder injury. Now with the franchise QB and emotional center of the team sporting a clean bill of health, the Tobacco Road Cats will make a postseason comeback.
1. Kansas City The Chiefs' offense was as spectacular as the defense was putrid. The offense under NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes will cool off a touch, but the rebuilt D will be improved.
2. New England Until the Patriots show otherwise, they get a first round bye by default. One could list all the faults this roster carries, but since they render that analysis irrelevant, what's the point?
3. Cleveland It's a chemistry experiment, to be sure. But the combustible elements will be neutralized (at least for this year) as the Browns turn in their best campaign since their 1999 relaunch.
4. Indianapolis Oh, the perils of picking winners and losers before training camp. With Andrew Luck's unforeseen retirement, the fortunes of the Colts have been thrown into the blender. If Indy wins the South, it will a team effort across the board with Jacoby Brissett fulfilling his potential as Luck's immediate successor under center.
5. Los Angeles The Chargers are the mentally toughest team thanks to their unfortunate home field situation. Then again, being a road team during a playoff run when your own home stadium can be used against you isn't the worst fate to succumb.
6. Pittsburgh The Steelers missing the playoffs last year was one of the more stunning developments in 2018. That will not occur again.
Super Bowl LIV
Chiefs over Saints
Consider this karmic payback to give the football world the Super Bowl that should have been one season ago. The Saints played a close game against the LA Rams in the NFC title game when WR Tommylee Lewis was blindsided by an out of position defender in CB Nickell Robey-Coleman as a Drew Brees pass floated by... And no penalty was called. As it were to occur, the Rams made the most of the opportunity and won the Super Bowl berth and left Saints fans seething throughout the spring. The year before that, they were victimized by the Vikings' Minneapolis Miracle, a game in which the Saints came back from 17 points down at halftime. There comes a point where the fickle finger of fate stops giving its target the bird. And in truth, this may be the Saints last chance to make another Super Bowl with Brees as the quarterback and Sean Payton as the head coach. They have a lot of their core still in place, and quite frankly, just too good of a team to be denied by bad joss once again.
But if there is a team that can match up with New Orleans toe to toe, it's the Chiefs. KC themselves were moments away from making their first Super Bowl trip in 50 years, only to have a defensive lineman trigger an offsides penalty and get hit with a specious roughing the passer flag that took away what was a game sealing interception. The Achilles heel of the Chiefs was their defense, more often than not putting pressure on the offense to score more points. The offense fired on all cylinders last year, with Patrick Mahomes becoming the youngest quarterback to throw for 5000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a season. The defense was rebuilt from stem to stern, discarding players whose time had passed and making bold moves to bring in guys who could make an immediate impact. If the defense just improves from their dreadful performance of last year, Kansas City becomes the team to beat, even if the offense lets off the throttle a little bit.
And for those who think that the New England Patriots should be the team to beat? That march to Lombardi Trophy #6 was hardly a march of dominance, the Divisional round drubbing of the LA Chargers notwithstanding. Yes, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick haven't gone anywhere. But football is more than 2 men. Plus, the Pats are trying to make four straight Super Bowls to tie the 1990-93 Buffalo Bills, a feat no other team has replicated. It will not be easy, especially with younger and more explosive teams on the rise. Possible? Absolutely. But complete deference to the Team of the Millennial Generation? Not at this age.