Predicting the Playoff Teams of the NFL This Season

With more than half of the NFL season behind us, teams have started to look ahead to the playoffs. These next few weeks will be extremely telling for some teams as they try to secure some of the few postseason spots available. Here are the teams that I think will still be playing after week 17.

AFC North – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have really stepped up their 
game as of late. They currently stand at 6-2-1 and are riding a five-game win streak after losing two and tying one of the first four games of the season.

The offense is flying high on the backs of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and James Conner, who are all top-five in the NFL in touchdowns scored for their respective positions.

The question mark at the start of the season for Pittsburgh was their defensive capability. The defense has played much better during this win streak, consistently holding opponents to 21 or fewer points in each of those six victories.

Though they have tough match-ups against the Chargers, Patriots and Saints coming up, I expect the Steelers to run away with the AFC North title with relative ease.

AFC East New England Patriots Unsurprisingly, the Pats have experienced another successful season thus far. Though they have not seemed quite as dominant as in previous years, mostly because of their aging roster, the Pats have still managed to go 7-3 through Week 10.

With the offensive additions of Josh Gordon (acquired via trade) and Julian Edelman (returned from four week suspension), Tom Brady has a full arsenal of receiving targets, making the Pats difficult to stop, especially late in games.

Their defense has definitely seemed more vulnerable than in previous years, but I still believe that the Patriots will have no problem winning the otherwise extremely weak AFC East division.

AFC South – Houston Texans

After an abysmal 0-3 start, the Texans 
have completely turned their season around and won their last six games. Led by quarterback DeShaun Watson, the passing attack has been effective lately and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been unguardable.

Also, with the fact that they acquired start wideout Demaryius Thomas and have a top-notch defense, it is clear that the Texans should run away with the AFC South.

Though the Tennessee Titans only sit a game behind the Texans and are also currently trending upward, I believe that the Texans will pull out a decisive home victory against the Titans in week 12, ultimately putting Houston in the best position to clinch the division.

AFC West – Kansas City Chiefs

The AFC West has been a pleasant surprise 
in the NFL this season. The Chiefs, led by second year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, have stormed to the top of the standings with a current record of 9-1. 

Mahomes has already thrown for 31 touchdowns so far and, with his huge array of weapons on offense, all signs point to him to have continued success down the stretch this season.

The Los Angeles Chargers have also performed quite well, and currently stand at 7-2 behind the incredible play of running back Melvin Gordon and their stellar defense.

However, as the Chargers face a fairly difficult string of opponents before finishing the season, it looks like the Chiefs will hold on to take the AFC West title.

AFC Wild Cards

Wild Card Spot: Los Angeles Chargers

Though I do not envision the Chargers overtaking the Chiefs for first in the AFC West, I still believe that their balanced offensive attack and defensive prowess will ultimately earn them a Wild Card spot. With only two losses through the first ten weeks, the Chargers have proven that they have what it takes to win, and they would most likely be atop any other AFC division.

Wild Card Spot: Tennessee Titans

The Titans are another team that has rebounded from a slow start.

After beginning 3-4, quarterback Marcus Mariota has strung together a pair of impressive victories against the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.

Tennessee’s roster is still young and unproven, but I think they have enough talent to catch lightning in a bottle and return to the playoffs as a Wild Card team once again.

NFC North – Green Bay Packers

Perhaps the most tightly-contested 
division in the NFL, the NFC North has three teams that have realistic shots at winning the division.

The Chicago Bears have surprised everyone this season and currently lead the NFC North.

Their 6-3 record can be largely attributed to recent addition Khalil Mack’s impressive play and second year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s 19 touchdown passes. The Vikings have also been solid, as many analysts expected, boasting a respectable 5-3-1 re- cord to show for it.

Despite these records, I think that although the Packers currently sit at 4-4-1, Aaron Rodgers will turn it on like he always does and Green Bay will win the NFC North.

NFC East – Washington Redskins

Against the odds, the Redskins have man
aged to start this season with a 6-3 record. This is largely because of the solid play by newcomers on both sides of the ball, notably quarterback Alex Smith, running back Adrian Peterson and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Since the Redskins have two more wins than the next two teams in the division (Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles), I think they should be able to cling to the divisional lead for the rest of the season.

However, this is not necessarily a testament to the Redskins dominance but rather the extremely difficult schedules that the Eagles and Cowboys will have to face for the rest of the season.

NFC South – New Orleans Saints

With arguably the best offense in the entire NFL, the Saints can and have put up points against everybody, including a state
ment win against the Rams in week 10. With quarterback Drew Brees at the helm, any team would expect to be successful. Add to that generational talents such as running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas and the Saints become virtually unstoppable.

Though the Carolina Panthers are relatively close behind them in the standings, I do not see any signs of the Saints slowing down and expect them to eventually win the NFC South title.

NFC West – Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have been the most dominant 
team in the NFL this year. It is actually crazy to watch this team because they simply have no weaknesses.

With a high-powered offense led by running back Todd Gurley and an insane defense filled with stars like defensive end Aaron Donald and cornerback Marcus Peters, there is no stopping the Rams.

They currently sit at 9-1 and, in the otherwise very weak NFC West, they will most likely clinch the division title within the next few weeks.

NFC Wild Cards

Wild Card Spot: Chicago Bears

The Bears are probably the one of the best Cinderella stories of the NFL season.

With extremely young talent at nearly every position, it looked as though Chicago would need at least one more season to develop. However, the early-season acquisition of linebacker Khalil Mack has seemed to energize this Bears team, and they have played very impressively against some formidable opponents. Though the Bears currently lead the NFC North at 6-3, I do think they will cool off a bit. Still, they should be able to sneak into the playoffs by grabbing one of the wild card spots.

Wild Card Spot: Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings season has been a bit bumpy up to this point. It is not that they have played poorly, because 5-3-1 is still a solid, winning record. However, with the tie with the Packers and an uncharacteristic loss to the lowly Buffalo Bills, the Vikings have simply not lived up to their preseason hype. With a cushy schedule the rest of the way, they should be able to clinch the other Wild Card spot behind the Bears, but they will need quarterback Kirk Cousins and the defense to step up in order to do so.

Contact Ethan Marchetti at [email protected].