Mirror On the Wall, Who Will Win and Take it All
Here are our predictions for the NFL Playoffs
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In the past 18 weeks of NFL football, we have seen a lot. There have been legendary as well as dramatic moments and storylines that will not be forgotten in the years to come. There have been superstar rookies alongside seasoned veterans who have helped their teams get where they are today (go check out Duncan & Kaileen’s article on NFL Regular Season Awards). But finally, we are here where it all counts—the NFL Playoffs. With 14 teams duking it out, all with one common goal, you won’t want to miss a moment. Though anything can happen, here is The Spectator’s prediction for what will go down in the 2024 NFL Playoffs:
Wild Card Round:
Browns (5) vs Texans (4)
In Week 16, the Cleveland Browns took on the Houston Texans and came out on top 36-22, but there was a big asterisk—quarterback CJ Stroud did not play. And anything can happen in this game, as it looks to be a quarterback battle. For the Browns, 38-year-old Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco is the main star, going 4-1 as a starter. On the Texans, rookie quarterback Stroud has led his team to a 10-7 record, earning them the title of AFC South champions. Even though this exciting Texans team will have Stroud this time around, the Flacco-led Browns have experience and a stronger defense on their side, which should prove to be enough to convincingly win this Wild Card game and take away the asterisk from their previous win.
Chiefs (3) vs Dolphins (6)
In Week 9, the Kansas City Chiefs took on the Miami Dolphins in the land of Bratwurst and Beer and came away with a key win in a close 21-14 game. The struggles in Kansas City have really highlighted the Blank Space left behind by wide receiver Tyreek Hill, whose unfilled shoes have prevented them from being the dominant team they have been in past years. The Dolphins’ seemed to only get better with Hill having a MVP caliber year and the run game at an elite level. However, the Dolphins always seemed to fade when playing good teams as they went 1-5 against teams that made the playoffs. We have the Chiefs winning this close matchup, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes has a reputation of being able to live up to the moment in the playoffs. Also, the NFL is scripted…
Bills (2) vs Steelers (7)
The Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers have not played yet this season, but the Bills seem to be a clear favorite in this matchup. However, Buffalo has not been perfect this season, so this matchup is still up for grabs. After a rough first half of the season, the Bills have won five straight matches against a difficult set of opponents, landing them atop the AFC East. Similarly, the Steelers were 7-7 but snuck into the playoffs after winning their last three and a Jacksonville Jaguars Week 18 loss. However, the Steelers unfortunately lost their defensive superstar in linebacker T.J. Watt to a Week 18 injury, keeping him out of this game. Despite the late-season heroics of this Steelers team, this Bills team is a serious force to be reckoned with.
Ravens (1) vs Browns (5)
In our predictions we have the Baltimore Ravens playing the Browns, but regardless of whether the Ravens play the Browns or the Texans, we see the Ravens winning. Quarterback Lamar Jackson has shown why he should’ve been paid earlier with an MVP-caliber season along with his numerous weapons including wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (he is indeed back) and tight end Mark Andrews. Aided by their defense, the Ravens have emerged victorious against some of the best teams in the league this season. With this team demonstrating both strength and consistency, having won 10 of their last 11 (excluding their Week 18 matchup where they benched their starters), we don’t think this is a team that Is(iah) likely to lose.
Bills (2) vs Chiefs (3)
This memorable matchup would be the third time in four years that the Chiefs and Bills meet in the playoffs. In both cases, the Chiefs came out on top in games that have proven to be thrillers, but we believe that for Buffalo, the third time’s the charm. Though both teams are strong and have lots of playoff experience, what separates the Bills from the Chiefs and most other teams in the playoffs right now is that they are currently at their best. Though this has always been a close matchup, the Chiefs’ recent struggles make it hard to rely on them, which is why we have the Bills winning.
Ravens (1) vs Bills (2)
These two teams are currently the best teams in the AFC, and it’s not really close. However, the Ravens have something that the Bills don’t—consistency. Quarterback Josh Allen’s career-high 18 picks this season have contributed to losses against many weaker teams. And when they do play stronger teams, the Bills never seem to dominate, whereas the Ravens have handed beatdowns to some of the best teams in the league. With his maturity and full team around him, we think Jackson is going to Vegas for a shot to win the big game.
Wild Card Round:
Cowboys (2) vs Packers (7)
The first wild card game is between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, who have had very different seasons. The Cowboys put up an impressive and consistent 12-5 record, complete with a 33-13 thrashing of division rival Eagles and defensive performances that ranked top five in both passing completion percent allowed and passing yards allowed. The same cannot be said about the Packers, though, who snuck into the playoffs with a 9-8 record and had an extremely varied season. Statistics-wise, the Packers don’t look extraordinary, and with losses against the Falcons, Broncos, and Giants, we aren’t fully convinced they are the real deal. As a result, the Cowboys are heavily expected to move on to the divisional round.
Lions (3) vs Rams (6)
The second NFC Wild Card game is between the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams, both of whom had their ups and downs across the season. Both teams’ strengths rely on the offense, where the Lions boast standout quarterback Jared Goff while the Rams have fifth-round rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua, who broke both the rookie reception and receiving yards records. As a result, this matchup comes down to the defenses, and ultimately, the Lions have the edge, with an elite run defense. The Rams, however, only offer a middle-of-the-pack defense and will find it difficult to guard players like wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. As a result, despite the capability of the Rams, the Lions look to have an edge with slight positional mismatches.
Buccaneers (4) vs Eagles (5)
In what would’ve been a crazy prediction halfway through the season, we see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers having an edge over the Philadelphia Eagles in the last Wild Card matchup of the season. While the Eagles stumbled toward the season’s finish line, the Bucs started firing on all cylinders, with quarterback Baker Mayfield rising to the occasion over the last six games. On the other side, the Eagles have suffered many health issues, highlighted by the loss of star wide receiver AJ Brown, whose condition remains doubtful due to a knee injury he suffered in Week 18. And with the Bucs’ hot streak led by a confident quarterback and home-field advantage, the Eagles will have much to plan for in order to win.
49ers (1) vs Buccaneers (4)
In this Divisional Round matchup, the San Francisco 49ers come in as extreme favorites and one of the top teams to win it all. Led by a duo of quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Christian McCaffrey, the 49ers offense terrorized defenses across the league. They are first in the league in yards per passing play, second for passing TDs, third in rushing yards, and first in rushing TDs. This elite run-pass combo, helped along by a top-tier defense, will be too much for the Bucs to handle, especially considering their poor stats against the pass.
Lions (3) vs Cowboys (2)
This game might be one of the closest to call, with both teams making very strong cases for the win. However, the Lions have a slight edge with the unique ability to make explosive plays, with the third-most 20+ yard plays this season. This could potentially overwhelm the Cowboys’ defense, whose secondary has looked very porous at times. That being said, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cowboys win either, as they boast star players like quarterback Dak Prescott and linebacker Micah Parsons, who can be game-changers and dominate the play.
49ers (1) vs Lions (3)
Here is where the Lions’ dream run comes to an end. We expect them to put up a good fight, but they are going against a strong team that overpowers them on both sides of the ball. The 49ers have demonstrated their ability to shut down offenses and rip holes in defenses through their numerous blowout wins against respectable teams. Thus, regardless of who wins the Lions-Cowboys game, it will be hard to imagine them being able to halt the 49ers, aided by their home crowd.
49ers vs Ravens
In a classic Super Bowl XLVII rematch, we see it going the other way this time, in favor of the 49ers. This is a close one to call, though, especially since the Ravens beat the 49ers in Week 16, with Purdy throwing four interceptions. However, the 49ers have a more well-balanced team that allows them to be more flexible when setting up a game plan against an opponent. On the other hand, the Ravens often have to rely on a handful of players to succeed, especially Jackson, and when he’s not playing well, the whole ship starts to rock.
This year was full of surprises, drama, high expectations, and memorable moments, always delivering at every step along the way. With the season coming to an end and the best teams making themselves known, it will only be a matter of time until we find out who the best team this year is. As the path to the coveted Super Bowl appears fraught with challenges, we will no doubt see many moments of brilliance and epic storylines that the NFL playoffs always provide.