2020-2021 NFL playoff preview

AKA the Official Optimist Playoff Analysis

2020-2021+NFL+playoff+preview

Lizzie Allen, Editor

WILD CARD ROUND

AFC No. 7 seed Indianapolis Colts at No. 2 seed Buffalo Bills 

  • It’s been almost 25 years since the Buffalo Bills hosted a playoff game, almost 26 since they’ve won one, and they hold an aura of mediocrity for NFL fans everywhere except in Orchard Park, New York. This year, however, the Bills are genuine contenders as their high-powered offense has propelled them to a 13-3 regular season record and the AFC East division title, wrestled away from the Patriots after a seemingly endless reign. With MVP candidate Josh Allen connecting with Stefon Diggs, who is finally accessing his full potential, the Bills offense finished the season second in the league in total yards and third in passing yards per game. Their defense is nothing to laugh at, but also nothing to write home about, finishing in the middle of the pack in just about every stat. 
  • The Indianapolis Colts eked into the playoffs with an 11-5 record and some major help, nabbing the last Wild Card seed out from under the Miami Dolphins after their Week 17 loss to the Bills. Defense has been their strong suit all season long, with Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner helping keep opposing offenses to less than 100 rushing yards per game. Their offense has been hot and cold and packed with highs and lows. 17-year veteran Philip Rivers put on a middling air show beside outstanding rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, who churned out a record packed season finale in Week 17, helping him finish the season with the third most rushing yards, and looks to ride that momentum into the playoffs.
  • This game is going to come down to the Bills offense versus the Colts defense, and the Bills will come out on top. As good as the Colts D has proven to be this season, they’re not going to pull this one off. 
  • Bills 31, Colts 21

NFC No. 6 seed Los Angeles Rams at No. 3 seed Seattle Seahawks 

  • The Seattle Seahawks march back to the playoffs for the eighth time in ten years, and the eighth time in his nine years for Russell Wilson, who led the team to a 12-4 regular season record. Wilson and his throwing arm have been the stars of the season for the team, doling out 1,000 yard seasons to his top two targets, receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Between the three of them and running back Chris Carson, the offense has allowed the defense to be inconsistent. Led by the hard-hitting Bobby Wagner and off-season acquisition Jamal Adams, they’ve shut down opposing rushers with the fifth best run defense, but opened up wide for opposing passers with the second worst pass defense. 
  • After appearing in the Super Bowl after the 2018 season and then completely missing the playoffs after the 2019 season, the 10-6 Los Angeles Rams are hoping this is their bounce-back season. It probably won’t be. Jared Goff remains questionable to play after undergoing thumb surgery and missing Week 17, and if he’s not back under center, replacement John Wolford won’t be able to perform like the playoffs require. The Rams bright spot is their dominating, stifling, league-best defense behind the behemoth that is Aaron Donald and the star that is Jalen Ramsey, and if they can lean on that, they might just have a shot. 
  • If Goff isn’t able to play, and possibly even if he is, this is a no-brainer. The Rams defense will keep the game in check, but Wilson and the Seahawks offense will outperform Los Angeles and come up with the W. 
  • Seahawks 24, Rams 17

NFC No. 5 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 4 seed Washington Football Team 

  • There had to be a member of the NFC East in the playoffs, and the 7-9 Washington Football Team just happened to have the best worst record of them all. After starting out a truly dismal 1-5, they managed to pull themselves together enough to stagger into the playoffs on the backs of a surprisingly competent defense, led by Montez Sweat and monster rookie Chase Young. They finished the season second best overall, second best in passing yards allowed per game, and fourth best in points allowed per game. However, the offense, led by Alex Smith and Terry McLaurin, finished eighth worst in points scored per game, and defenses can’t win games by themselves. 
  • Tom Brady is back in the playoffs. The inevitable appearance by the quarterback comes with the 11-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year, instead of the usual New England Patriots, after his NFL-shaking free agency signing. And it’s seemed to work out all right for Brady, as he, Mike Evans, and Ronald Jones II have propelled the Bucs to the seventh-best offense and third-most points in the league. On the other side of the ball, linebackers Devin White and Jason Pierre-Paul are keeping their defense stingy, and won’t make it easy for anyone they play. 
  • As fun as it would be for the Washington Football Team to pull off the ultimate underdog story, it won’t happen. The Buccaneers defense will crush the Washington offense, and Brady and his offense will easily handle the Washington defense.
  • Buccaneers 28, Washington 10

AFC No. 5 seed Baltimore Ravens at No. 4 seed Tennessee Titans

  • Derrick Henry could probably single handedly win any given game if he had to, but luckily he hasn’t had to, as his Tennessee Titans have put together a well-balanced season on their way to an 11-5 finish. Henry, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and receiver A.J. Brown have combined to finish the season third best in offensive yards per game, and second best in rushing yards per game. Henry will be the key for the Titans going into the playoffs, and they’ll need him to keep his monstrous production up, which he most likely will do. The defense has been less monstrous, finishing near the bottom of every stat category and raising concerns about their ability to shut offenses down.
  • The Baltimore Ravens have had a roller coaster of a season, starting 6-2 before dropping three straight games and winning their last five to finish 11-5. Their offense has also provided a roller coaster with Lamar Jackson at the helm, as the quarterback leads the team in both passing and rushing yards. Unfortunately, this has the Ravens as first in rushing yards per game, and dead last in passing yards per game. The team will need to lean on their more consistent defense, starring linebacker Jerome Baker and cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who have kept the Ravens at the top of the league. 
  • This should be one of the closer games of the playoffs. The Titans defense will have its hands full with Lamar Jackson, and the Ravens defense will have its hands full with Derrick Henry, but ultimately the Ravens will come out on top.
  • Ravens 27, Titans 21

NFC No. 7 seed Chicago Bears at No. 2 seed New Orleans Saints 

  • The 12-4 New Orleans Saints head back to the playoffs for the fourth straight year, hoping to reverse the curse that’s caused them to lose in new painful ways each time. This year might be the year, with Drew Brees performing admirably and Alvin Kamara having a top-15 season. Although the offense is solid overall, the run game is what the Saints thrive in, and will hope to rely on coming up. Their defense is also in top form, finishing in the top five in just about every stat category under the leadership of Cam Jordan and Malcolm Jenkins. 
  • The Chicago Bears are in the playoffs because of wins over teams like the Jaguars, Texans, and Falcons, and are as mediocre as their 8-8 record says. Their defense has been decent, anchored by linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith, but they still remain solidly in the middle of the pack. Their offense has sputtered behind first quarterback Mitch Trubisky, then Nick Foles, then Trubisky again, and ended the season in the bottom of just about every stat. Their offense won’t be able to find their momentum when they need it in the playoffs, and will drag the whole team down with them. 
  • This game will be interesting because, although it should still be a blowout Saints victory, they’ll be playing without a single member of their running back corps due to Covid. Regardless, the Bears don’t have it in them to topple the Saints. 
  • Saints 24, Bears 13

AFC No. 6 seed Cleveland Browns at No. 3 seed Pittsburgh Steelers 

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a…weird season. After starting out with a shocking 11-0, they dropped three straight and pulled out of their slide in time to finish the season with a solid 12-4 record. Their Ben Roethlisberger-led offense relies almost solely on the passing game, and they finished the season firmly in last place in rushing yards per game. Their defense is much more consistent, with a shutdown pass defense and solid run defense, headed by T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick, and will prove a difficult obstacle to pass for anyone they meet in the playoffs. 
  • Welcome back to the playoffs, Cleveland Browns, it’s only been 18 years!!! The Browns have steadily been proving themselves contenders this season on their way to an 11-5 finish, largely thanks to Baker Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb, who helped the team finish third best in rush yards per game. Mayfield, Chubb, and Jarvis Landry are a genuine offensive problem, which is a big help for their defense. Myles Garrett and B.J. Goodson have kept things in check, but they’re middling against the pass and slightly-better-than-middling against the run.
  • These teams will play for the third time this season, and for the series title. They’ve split their regular season games, the Browns won most recently, and the Browns are going to win again. 
  • Browns 24, Steelers 21

DIVISIONAL ROUND

Because of the additional wild card spot this year, the No. 1 seed in each conference was given a first round bye week. The No. 1 seed will play the lowest remaining seed in the divisional round.

AFC No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs

  • Can anyone stop the 14-2 Kansas City Chiefs from a repeat Super Bowl performance? Nope. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Tyreek Hill have the offense on fire and lead the league in offensive yards per game and pass yards per game. Safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorenson have the defense in a comfortable position, but they don’t need much more than that because their offense is so electric. And with an extra week of rest, they’ll likely be unstoppable.

NFC No. 1 seed Green Bay Packers

  • Aaron Rodgers should win MVP this season, and the perfect finish would be a nice Super Bowl ring for the 12-4 Green Bay Packers. The Rodgers to Davante Adams connection puts the Packers near the top of the league in offense, and at the very top in points per game. Their relative Achilles heel is the run defense, but even then they remain stout, guided by Adrian Amos and Za’Darius Smith. The Packers deserve their top seed, and will show that in the playoffs. 

AFC No. 5 seed Baltimore Ravens at No. 2 seed Buffalo Bills

  • As impressive and fun as the Ravens may be, they won’t be able to stack up to the Bills. 
  • This game will come down to whose offense handles themselves better, and the Bills will win that almost every time.
  • Buffalo 30, Baltimore 24

NFC No. 3 seed Seattle Seahawks at No. 2 seed New Orleans Saints

  • Theoretically, this game could go either way. But considering the apparent curse on the Saints and their woes surrounding finishing playoff games, the Seahawks and their hot offense will come out victorious.
  • Seahawks 27, Saints 24

AFC No. 6 seed Cleveland Browns at No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs

  • The Browns won’t make it further than the Divisional during this trip to the playoffs. The Chiefs don’t look to slow down for anybody, especially the poor Browns. 
  • Chiefs 38, Browns 21

NFC No. 5 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 1 seed Green Bay Packers

  • The Packers aren’t going to let Tom Brady back to the Super Bowl. Their explosive offense will overwhelm the Buccaneers and carry them out on top.
  • Packers 34, Buccaneers 28

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

NFC No. 3 seed Seattle Seahawks at No. 1 seed Green Bay Packers

  • Try as they might, the Seahawks won’t be able to beat the Packers. That said, this will be a terrific showdown between the Packers offense and the Seahawks defense. 
  • Packers 28, Seahawks 21

AFC No. 2 seed Buffalo Bills at No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs

  • Again, no one will beat the Chiefs. The Bills are genuine contenders, but not as good as Mahomes and his offense. 
  • Chiefs 35, Bills 24

SUPER BOWL

AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs vs. NFC Champion Green Bay Packers

  • In this Super Bowl I (Packers 35, Chiefs 10) rematch 54 years later, the Chiefs will beat the Packers and win the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year. The Packers won’t make it easy, but Kansas City will find a way.
  • Chiefs 31, Packers 24