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Thomas: NFL midseason playoff predictions

| Friday, November 6, 2020

Although COVID-19 has turned the schedule upside-down, we’ve more or less hit the halfway point of the NFL season, with the trade deadline having passed on Tuesday. As such, I’ll offer up my midseason NFL playoff predictions, calling each division, as well as wildcard slots in each league. And, for the loyal readers who make it until the end, I’ll be offering a way-too-early Super Bowl prediction. Let’s get into it.

AFC East — Miami Dolphins

I’ll be brief with explaining this upset pick. Miami has sneakily been one of the top defenses in the league, and they’re 4-3 with the toughest part of their schedule behind them. After visiting Arizona, they have five of their next six games against opponents with losing records. Meanwhile, Buffalo hasn’t won by more than 10 points, struggled twice to put way the Jets, got blown out by the Titans and ultimately looks a lot worse than their 6-2 record. Miami will go on a second-half surge to claim this division.

AFC South — Indianapolis Colts

This is a complete two-horse race, with the Texans and Jaguars floundering their way to 1-6 records. Both the Colts and Titans are 5-2, but the Titans are struggling, and the Colts’ very strong defense (19.4 points allowed per game) makes me believe that Indy will pull this one out. Tennessee should still be a very dangerous squad should they make the postseason, as Derrick Henry is built for short stretches of utter dominance, but I’m going with the Colts to claim a top-4 seed. 

AFC North — Baltimore Ravens

Look, I really want to pick the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have received a huge boost from former Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool. However, the unbeaten Steelers are winning in ugly — and unsustainable — fashion. From digging an early double-digit deficit against Baltimore, to nearly choking a 20-point lead to the Titans, it’s questionable whether Pittsburgh can keep this up. With only one win by more than 10 points, I’m not confident they do. Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens started 4-2 last season before ending on a 10-game winning streak. Expect something similar this year. 

AFC West — Kansas City Chiefs

I’m not going to be bold here. Patrick Mahomes is scary-good at football. And he’s got an absurd amount of talent around him. They’ve got the top offense in the AFC and a top-5 defense. This team is a Super Bowl contender with a 3-game lead in their division and no legitimate challengers to be found. 

NFC East — Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia is the prettiest piece of garbage in the dumpster fire that is the NFC East. New York is clearly not ready to compete for a title yet, and Washington’s defense keeps them in some games, but not enough. Dallas’s quarterback situation is an absolute mess. Philadelphia basically wins by default — they’ve at least looked competitive if not great this season, and with a 1.5-game lead in the division, I don’t see the Eagles letting anyone catch up. 

NFC South — Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

The Bucs have been very good since an opening-week loss, with a 38-10 thumping of the Packers cementing themselves as a favorite within the NFC. They’ve got a clash with the Saints this week, as Tom Brady and Co. look to take hold of the two-man division race. Tom Brady simply doesn’t lose divisions, and I don’t see that being different with a new team. 

NFC North — Green Bay Packers

Sorry Chicago, but I’m not at all convinced in your 5-1 start to the season. Two straight losses and an ongoing quarterback controversy have the Bears stumbling, who are 2-3 since benching Mitchell Trubisky. The Packers have been dynamic offensively, and they would likely have an extra win had it not been for a career day from Dalvin Cook this past week. I don’t think the Packers are winning a Super Bowl this year, particularly after not acquiring receiver help at the deadline, but they’re the best option here. 

NFC West — Arizona Cardinals

Going with the upset to finish off my divisional predictions. Arizona is red-hot, with a three-game winning streak, highlighted by an upset of the division-leading Seattle Seahawks. They have the best defense in the division and an electric offense that is led by the dynamic Kyler Murray, thrilling DeAndre Hopkins, veteran Larry Fitzgerald, as well as a handful of versatile weapons in their backfield. The Cardinals are a really good team, and I think they’re a premier team in the NFC. 

AFC Top 4 Seeds

  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Baltimore Ravens
  3. Indianapolis Colts
  4. Miami Dolphins

NFC Top 4 Seeds 

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  2. Arizona Cardinals
  3. Green Bay Packers
  4. Philadelphia Eagles

AFC Wildcards

I’m going to start with my biggest divisional snub. While I didn’t go with Pittsburgh to take the AFC North, I will ride with them to be my top wild card, earning them the No. 5 slot. 

For my second pick, I’m going with the Titans. Despite the current skid, Tennessee still has a great coach, an overachieving quarterback and possibly the best RB in the league. They’ll get a 6th seed. 

And to round out my playoff field in the AFC, I’m taking the Buffalo Bills. As mentioned earlier, I’ve been less than impressed with the Bills, but their 6-2 start will propel them to the playoffs. 

NFC Wildcard

The Seattle Seahawks have a questionable defense, but their offense is way too explosive to keep out of the playoffs. They’ll get the 5th seed. 

Secondly, I’m going to the NFC West again. The Los Angeles Rams are a maddeningly inconsistent team, but I think with Aaron Donald anchoring a solid defense, they’ve got a solid shot at the playoffs. 

With the last slot, I’m going with New Orleans. The Saints have won four straight, but they’ve been ugly wins against largely inferior opponents. They haven’t looked like a true contender to this point, but I think Brees gets them into the playoffs. 

A way too early Super Bowl call

Despite not picking them to win the division, I’m going with Seattle as my Super Bowl pick. I think the defense causes some regular season issues, but Pete Caroll figures it out and the explosive offense covers any holes. Give me Seattle over the Kansas City Chiefs in February.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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