With the playoffs set following Sunday’s action, the path to the playoffs will crown one winner. Based on the schedule, performance in the regular season, roster experience, and coaching, here is my prediction for how the playoffs will pan out:
The first game out of the AFC is the Titans and Ravens, a rematch from the divisional round last year. I guess that it’s a very close game. The Titans are riding with a hot Derrick Henry into the first round against a Ravens team that has been very good against the run. In Week 10 of the regular season, the Titans beat the Ravens in overtime in a game where Derrick Henry Rushed for 130 yards. If Henry isn’t able to get going, that is when the Titans struggle due to their high dosage of play-action and recently read option.
If Lamar Jackson and the Ravens can control the clock and run against a below-average Titans rushing defense, and if Jackson doesn’t play as poorly as he did last year, Ravens’ offense is a threat to anyone. For the Titans’ their offense has been strong as of late, posting 30+ points in three of their last four games surpassing 40 in two of those.
Their loss against the Packers came in a game where Aaron Rodgers picked apart the defense and Ryan Tannehill was forced into a shootout with the best QB in the NFL this year. The Ravens play more of a run-first slow-paced offense which plays right into the Titans gameplan and tempo. Expect a low scoring bruising game that could go either way.
Prediction: Titans- 20, Ravens- 17
The next game is the AFC North showdown between the Steelers and the Browns. If I’m being honest, the Steelers looked rough to close the season, and the Browns won last time these two teams played. However, based on sheer experience, I think Big Ben has a great game, and he and Mike Tomlin advance. What this game comes down to is if the Browns can run against the Steeler’s defense, which they were not able to Week 6 in a 38-7 loss to Pittsburgh. Baker Mayfield has been hot lately, so this is his chance to prove it on the big stage in a duel against one of the best playoff QBs of time.
The key to analyzing this game is simple, the Browns are the 3rd best rushing team via yardage in the NFL, while the Steelers are the 4th best against the run. If they can contain the run, as well as they have all year, all the pressure is on Baker Mayfield (who has never seen the playoffs) and a depleted receiving core. The Steelers’ experience and Tomlin’s coaching will prove its value.
Prediction: Steelers- 30, Browns- 20
The last Wild card game is the Indianapolis Colts against the red hot Buffalo Bills. These two have not played this year, but Buffalo has been clicking on all cylinders, while Indy has been strong to end the year as well. This game comes down to Josh Allen’s ability to handle pressure and Phillip Rivers limiting turnovers.
Rivers has been poor throughout the playoffs in his career and likely won’t get many more shots to change that. Buffalo has been average against the run this year, and rookie Jonathan Taylor has been on fire lately. If Taylor can handle the bright lights, Buffalo is in trouble.
On the other end of the spectrum, Josh Allen has been out of this world the past few weeks, but against a strong Colts defense, he will need to be precise. Cole Beasly’s status for the game is still up in the air, but if both he and Stefon Diggs are playing, Josh Allen will be in great shape this Saturday.
Buffalo has held their own against strong competition, and if their secondary can play how it has against Miami, New England, Denver, and Pittsburgh the last four weeks, the Colts will be forced to lean on a rookie running back. I think Buffalo will ride their hot streak and send the Colts home and Phillip Rivers into a commentator’s booth.