2016 NFL Playoffs: Predicting Wild-Card Winners, Divisional Round, Super Bowl 50 Favorites
The 2015 NFL regular season is officially over, and the wild-card round of the playoffs is all set into place. It's the playoffs, and anything can happen in 2016. Some teams have gotten hot while others have cooled off, so now's the perfect time to do some predicting. Below are predictions for the wild-card winners, eventual divisional matchups and even the Super Bowl 50 favorites.
AFC Matchup: Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
When: January 9 at 4:35 p.m. ET on ABC
The Chiefs have been on an epic roll since their dreadful start, winning their last 10 games in a row to earn the top wild-card spot. It was just weird how it happened too, because they were absolutely awful early in the season, starting just 1-5. But the defense has truly turned it around, and the offense, surprisingly, isn't too bad either. The defense is top 10 in yards allowed, and in the top five in interceptions, sacks and points allowed (just 17.9 per game). Offensively, they have a top 10 rush unit even without Jamaal Charles, and Alex Smith has been taking great care of the ball as usual. All of that has led to a plus-14 turnover differential, the second best margin in the league.
Houston has also been on a roll, albeit a much smaller one. They've closed the season with three-straight wins, the last two being blowouts. Of course, how much can you take from that when those wins came against a the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans went 5-1 against the division, meaning they went just 4-6 outside of it. They don't pose much of a threat outside of DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt.
Prediction: Chiefs 27, Texans 16
AFC Matchup: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
When: January 9 at 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS
The big question going into this matchup is whether Andy Dalton will be back for the Bengals or not. Obviously, Cincy would like for their starting quarterback to be back for this one, but they're playing his medical status close to the vest. It makes sense, playing a division rival after all in the playoffs.
A few weeks ago, Dalton was injured against the Steelers, and McCarron stepped in. He played hard, finishing 22-of-32 for 280 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions. Granted, it was his first real action of regular-season football of his career. In the three games since, McCarron has throw four touchdowns and zero interceptions. But he isn't scoring the football at the same rate that Dalton was, going 2-2 with McCarron at the helm.
Pittsburgh heads into the playoffs as favorites by many. They have perhaps the most potent offense of any team in the NFL when healthy, and right now they are for the most part. But the Steelers have had mixed results against the Bengals. Big Ben did put up 33 points in their last meeting, but scored only 10 in the first of the season.
Truth be told, to be able to predict a playoff game correctly takes a lot of luck. To correctly predict a playoff game between divisional opponents is almost all luck. Let's go with the home team.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Steelers 23
NFC Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
When: January 10 at 1:05 p.m. ET on NBC
The Vikings may have the better record at 11-5 and won their division, but the 10-6 Seahawks could be the hottest team in football right now. Russell Wilson has been on an absolute tear the second half of the season, throwing 24 touchdowns and only one interception in the final seven games. Seattle went 6-1 during that span, and the defense is in form as well. That unit is second in the league in yards allowed and first in points surrendered.
Minnesota is a tough team as well, but they lack the experience that Seattle has, especially at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater is ahead of his years as far as taking care of the ball is concerned, but he doesn't push the football down the field nearly enough. And against arguably the top defensive unit in the NFL, I wonder if he'll be able to do much against them at all. After all, he's only thrown 14 touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons. That's not going to cut it in this one.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Vikings 20
NFC Matchups: Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins
When: January 10 at 4:40 p.m. on Fox
Our last wild-card matchup comes Sunday afternoon as the Packers head to our nation's capital to take on the Redskins. Once thought to be a Super Bowl frontrunner, Green Bay has exposed its true colors the past 10 games.
Starting 6-0 against a weak schedule, the Packers have gone just 4-6 since. The issues on the line on both sides of the ball are tremendous, and Aaron Rodgers doesn't have much help from his receivers. Rodgers is having one of his worst seasons as a pro (which is crazy to say when he threw 31 touchdowns and only eight interceptions) by posting a career-low completion percentage at 60.7 -- well below his career number of 65.1 percent. While Rodgers has still done a phenomenal job taking care of the ball, he hasn't been one of the best quarterbacks this season. His 92.7 passer rating is also the lowest of his years as the starter.
The Redskins, on the other hand, have come together at just the right time. When no one else really seemed ready to take the NFC East and provide the division a legitimate playoff contender, Kirk Cousins led the Redskins to a positive record for the first time since Robert Griffin III's rookie year.
While their numbers over the season aren't spectacular, the last six weeks of the season have been a different story. Washington is 5-1 during that time, averaging 27.8 points per game and allowing just 21.0. If those numbers were their yearly total this season, that'd put them at fourth in points per game and 14th in points allowed. This team should be taken seriously.
Prediction: Redskins 31, Packers 24
- Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
- Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots
- Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
- Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals
Super Bowl Favorites:
- Carolina Panthers
- Seattle Seahawks
- New England Patriots
- Denver Broncos
- Arizona Cardinals
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Washington Redskins