NFL playoff predictions are made simpler when the Tremendous Bowl choose made earlier than the 2018 season enters the postseason as the favourite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February. That is the case for Sporting Information and the Saints. We preferred New Orleans then, and we nonetheless like them now.

However these NFL playoff predictions embrace far more than SN’s Tremendous Bowl choose. Which gamers are flying underneath the radar and able to get away within the playoffs? What playoff group fields probably the most reliable offense? Protection?

SN NFL writers Tadd Haislop, Invoice Bender, Vinnie Iyer and David Steele reply these questions and extra beneath.

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NFL playoff predictions

What group taking part in on wild-card weekend is the largest menace to win all of it?

Haislop: Chargers. Earlier than the 2018 season, SN picked the Chargers to symbolize the AFC in Tremendous Bowl 53. We will’t again down now. Los Angeles was adequate this season to have had an opportunity to clinch the No. 1 seed in Week 17. The Chargers failed to do this, in fact, with the Chiefs taking good care of their very own enterprise. However the level nonetheless stands: LA, a wild-card group, has a legit case as the very best group within the AFC, if not the NFL.

Bender: Chargers. LA completed 7-1 on the street this season, with wins in Seattle, Pittsburgh and Kansas Metropolis. The Chargers have a top-10 protection, and Philip Rivers is again within the playoffs for the primary time since 2013. It’s a boom-or-bust choose, however that is Rivers’ finest shot to get to a Tremendous Bowl in a very long time.

Iyer: Chargers. SN picked the Chargers to get there in our preseason predictions, and so they’re nonetheless harmful as a high wild card. Rivers’ profile suggests he’s overdue to play in a Tremendous Bowl, and they’re loaded with playmakers to win video games with both explosive offense or shutdown protection. Anthony Lynn can also be probably the most underrated coach within the playoff subject.

Steele: Ravens. Sure, it looks like excessive recency bias after they went 6-1 down the stretch with Lamar Jackson and gained their division in such dramatic vogue within the closing minute of the ultimate recreation. However due to Jackson, the best way they re-imagined their offense, their again-stellar protection, and the best way they manhandled their first-round opponent (the Chargers) and fell in time beyond regulation to the Chiefs, each on the street … why not?

MORE: Picks for all 4 wild-card video games

Which of the 4 bye-week groups is most prime for an upset?

Haislop: Rams. Of the three groups the Rams might doubtlessly face within the divisional spherical, all — the Bears, Cowboys and Seahawks — can be a troublesome matchup for a run protection that ranked 23rd within the league within the common season with 122.Three yards allowed per recreation on the bottom. LA is lucky to have its first-round bye, primarily to have Todd Gurley as wholesome as attainable. However the truth that the Rams’ offense grew stale towards the top of the common season is a authentic concern. Particularly since all these aforementioned potential opponents even have robust defenses.

Bender: Rams. The intuition is to select the Chiefs, however how will the Rams reply to both the Bears or the Seahawks if that’s the divisional matchup? Chicago punished LA a number of weeks in the past, and Seattle, a playoff-seasoned group, misplaced two video games to LA by seven factors. Possibly the Rams will play the Cowboys, as a substitute, however that would not be simple.

Iyer: Rams. They’re limping in with a banged-up Todd Gurley and a shaky Jared Goff main the once-unstoppable offense, and so they have loads of holes round Aaron Donald on protection. Additionally they are in line to attract the Bears, a group that dominated them at Soldier Discipline within the common season, and Chicago can have loads of fan assist in LA within the divisional spherical.

Steele: Rams. For a number of causes — Cooper Kupp’s absence, Todd Gurley’s odd combo of accidents and unusual utilization, their secondary flaws and the beatings they took from late-surging contenders within the Bears and Eagles — they’re wanting susceptible on the mistaken time. Their potential opponents (Bears, Seahawks, Cowboys) all can D up robust. After all of the offensive fireworks, they could want Donald to place them on his shoulders. It’s an actual load.

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Who’s your choose for playoff MVP?

Haislop: Drew Brees. If Brees doesn’t win the MVP award for his efforts through the common season, it gained’t be theft; the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes did stuff in 2018 solely Peyton Manning has carried out within the NFL. In addition to, although the Saints quarterback has by no means gained the regular-season award, he probably would like to be the MVP of the playoffs. That might imply a New Orleans run to the Tremendous Bowl.

Bender: Drew Brees. He’s 5-Zero at house within the Superdome within the playoffs, and he averages 254.eight passing yards with 11 TDs and one interception in these video games. That’s why home-field benefit was so essential.

Iyer: Drew Brees. With Mahomes probably getting regular-season MVP by posting a 50-TD, 5,000-yard effort and ending the sentimental push for Brees, the Saints QB might be simply tremendous if he will get his second Tremendous Bowl MVP, as a substitute. The Saints can have success with the operating recreation and protection, too, because the playoff favorites, however Brees will execute at a excessive stage throwing the ball all around the subject with no out of doors street video games forward.

Steele: Drew Brees. The trail for Brees and his group just isn’t simple, nevertheless it’s handy, on the Superdome all through. The weapons are in place. The protection has proven it may well step up when wanted (versus a 12 months in the past). There are two different Tremendous Bowl winners within the NFC subject, however they don’t negate what Brees has completed as effectively. It looks like Brees’ time.

What under-the-radar participant will turn out to be a star within the playoffs?

Haislop: Derwin James, S, Chargers. So perhaps a first-round draft choose and first-year Professional Bowl choice can’t be an “under-the-radar” participant, however James as a rookie has been arguably the very best Chargers defender this season. The security has three picks, 13 passes defended, 3.5 sacks, six QB hits and 105 mixed tackles this season. His affect might be felt within the postseason, and if he’s not thought of a star already, he’ll turn out to be simply that over the following month.

Bender: Damien Williams, RB, Chiefs. The Chiefs misplaced Kareem Hunt through the common season, however Williams has confirmed to beneficial between the tackles and as a receiver out of the backfield. He might be closely concerned within the recreation plan.

Iyer: Demario Davis, LB, Saints. The Saints’ inside linebacker was not the flashiest free-agent signing in 2018, however he was the very best when it comes to giving his group precisely what It wanted: a thumper in opposition to the run who can even make massive performs in opposition to the cross as a each a canopy man and blitzer. He and Cameron Jordan will ship because the group’s defensive leaders for a deep, versatile entrance seven.

Steele: Mark Andrews, TE, Ravens. The 68-yard strike from Jackson on the season’s penultimate weekend broke open the sport in opposition to the Chargers in LA. Andrews has been an underrated savior, notably with Jackson beginning. For the season, he led all rookie tight ends in receiving yards with 552 — greater than the Eagles’ harmful Dallas Goedert and excess of teammate and first-round choose Hayden Hurst. At instances, he has carried out extra injury than the huge receiver corps the Ravens famously beefed up within the offseason. If opponents can’t gradual him down, they’ll battle to decelerate the Ravens.

MORE: All you want to find out about Tremendous Bowl 53

What offense do you belief probably the most?

Haislop: Chiefs. This is not shut. The Chiefs led the league in yards per recreation (425.6) and factors per recreation (35.3) in a 12 months by which offenses as a complete have been breaking NFL information. Their quarterback put up numbers solely Peyton Manning has managed within the league. Even with out Hunt, the creativity of Andy Reid’s offense and the ability of Mahomes provides Kansas Metropolis probably the most reliable unit.

Bender: Chiefs. The Chiefs scored at the very least 26 factors in each house recreation, and regardless of this being Mahomes’ first go-around within the postseason — and everyone knows Reid’s observe document — it’s time for a breakthrough. That is the 12 months. We expect. Hopefully.

Iyer: Chiefs. The Rams and Saints have had dangerous, out-of-sync video games. The Patriots are attempting to re-establish their identification as a group that should lean extra on the operating recreation. The Chiefs haven’t slowed their machine one bit, as Mahomes provides them a high-scoring ground each week, and their operating recreation is getting the complementary job carried out it doesn’t matter what again is being featured. Additionally they have probably the most matchup nightmares throughout the board, beginning with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.

Steele: Saints. Sure, the Chiefs and Mahomes’ 50 landing passes are within the subject, however the exiled Hunt just isn’t. The Rams are on the market, however they’ve proven their Achilles heel recently. The Patriots are the Patriots, however Rob Gronkowski just isn’t his traditional Gronk, and so they’ll miss Josh Gordon badly. The Saints must fall flat on their faces to not take over within the playoffs.

What protection do you belief probably the most?

Haislop: Bears. If the Bears fail to advance within the postseason, it gained’t be for a scarcity of excellent protection. Chicago led the league with simply 17.7 factors allowed per recreation this season. Given a entrance that features Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, plus a secondary that features Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos, plus a center that options Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith … good luck in opposition to that.

Bender: Bears. The Bears are disruptive, they pressure turnovers and so they have Mack. The Eagles might be a well-liked choose this week, nevertheless it’s the Bears who might make a run with that protection within the NFC.

Iyer: Bears. The Ravens, Texans and Cowboys have their circumstances. However all of these groups can battle at instances within the secondary and don’t all the time get the sacks and takeaways wanted to show video games. The Bears have the superior stuffers and ball hawks on each stage and probably the most disruptive edge rusher within the playoffs in Mack.

Steele: Bears. It solely looks as if both Mack or Jackson are taking part in all 11 spots on every play. However additionally they have beasts within the entrance seven that may shut down a operating recreation, and arguably the very best nook this season in Fuller. They’ve proven what they will do in opposition to the Rams, and so they just about ruined the Vikings’ and Kirk Cousins’ season. Sure, that is headed precisely the place it appears to be headed.

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Who’s your choose to win the AFC?

Haislop: Chargers. We must always know higher than to select in opposition to the Patriots, particularly once they enter the playoffs with a first-round bye. Invoice Belichick’s group stays probably the most ready within the league, and the protection has improved simply in time to go with Tom Brady’s offense. So my reply is … the Chargers? Their protection is sweet sufficient to hassle Brady, and in contrast to the Jaguars final 12 months, their offense is sweet sufficient to construct on a lead ought to New England stage one in every of its patented rallies.

Bender: Chiefs. It’s all about getting New England out of Foxborough, and that’s what will occur. Kansas Metropolis has scored 40 or extra factors in three of the final 4 conferences with New England, and the groups have break up these 4 video games. This time the Chiefs win, and Reid lastly will get to the Tremendous Bowl.

Iyer: Chargers. Why again down now from our preseason choose for AFC champions once they’re robust entrants within the match? They’ve proved to be a mighty, fearless street group, and with Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen getting extra assist of late, they will transfer the ball on anybody. Additionally they have defenders who can take turns taking up video games equivalent to Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Casey Hayward and James.

Steele: Patriots. Once more. For the eleventy-billionth time. The little window for the AFC to push the Patriots in opposition to the wall closed quick; the back-to-back weekends of the Miami Miracle and the fade-out in Pittsburgh really feel like 1,000,000 years in the past. They received their bye. The Chiefs and Texans nonetheless must show they will come by way of this deep within the playoffs. The Ravens are completely able to getting within the Patriots means — once more. This time, for perhaps the final time, Brady’s expertise will win out in opposition to a rookie in, by then, his 10th begin.

Who’s your choose to win the NFC?

Haislop: Saints. A lot has been made about the truth that the Saints gained the Tremendous Bowl the final time that they had home-field benefit all through the playoffs. That’s the Superdome impact, and it’s actual. In fact, no matter the place the video games are performed, New Orleans is solely the very best group within the league and has been for a lot of the season. The protection and operating recreation is in nice form heading into the playoffs, prepared to go with Brees’ exact passing. There are not any true weaknesses on this group.

Bender: Saints. It’s house candy Dome for Drew Brees, nevertheless it’s New Orleans’ operating recreation and protection that can carry the group again to the Tremendous Bowl for the primary time since 2009.

Iyer: Saints. Why again down now for our preseason choose for NFC champions once they have turn out to be stronger favorites than we might have imagined? They’ve few holes and may beat opponents in each means. When Brees is extra of the gravy than the meat, that is the very best group coach Sean Payton has ever had, extra gifted total than the Tremendous Bowl 44 champions.

Steele: Saints. Matchups are the whole lot, and a matchup of the Saints’ offense in opposition to the Bears’ protection is fully attainable. Historically, meaning a win for the protection. Not this time, although; not with what the Saints have on their facet, the Dome, the reminiscence of that elimination by the Vikings final 12 months, an opportunistic protection of their very own and Brees taking part in to exit on the best of notes.

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Who wins Tremendous Bowl 53?

Haislop: Saints. “The Saints can run and cross on anyone, and their protection is absolutely loaded from Jordan on the road again to Lattimore within the secondary.” These have been our phrases in August, when SN picked the Saints to win Tremendous Bowl 53. They nonetheless apply in January. The across-the-board expertise on the roster, mixed with the savvy of Brees, makes New Orleans the most secure wager to hoist the Lombardi Trophy … in Atlanta, of all locations.

Bender: Saints. A Saints-Chiefs matchup can be the right quarterback promote. Brees, who simply set the all-time yardage document, meets Mahomes, who simply dropped 50 TDs this season. The previous guard will root for Brees. The subsequent gen will root for Mahomes. We’ll get a shootout, and Brees will maintain up the Lombardi Trophy in the long run.

Iyer: Saints. Who Dat that may beat the Saints within the Superdome, after which once more at their house away from house in Atlanta? Nobody. They may as effectively begin making ready Bourbon Avenue for a pre-Mardi Gras get together. Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler, as a result of the Saints are marching methodically to their second world championship.

Steele: Saints. They felt like the fitting choose from the very finish of final 12 months’s postseason, and so they have carried out nothing to dispel that since. They might must climate one final impediment, the legacy of Brady, Belichick and the Patriots. Brees, Payton, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and the remaining might be as much as the problem. Prepare for a second Lombardi Trophy and Final Mardi Gras Redux in New Orleans.

Contributing: Invoice Bender, Vinnie Iyer, David Steele

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