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It’s playoff time in the NFL, and 14 teams all have a chance to win the Super Bowl LVI. It begins this weekend with six wild-card games before the winners join the Packers and Titans in the division round next weekend. Anything can happen in the NFL playoffs. Just ask the Buccaneers, who won the Super Bowl a year ago out of the NFC’s No. 5 seed, and won three road games en route to their title. So how will the next few weeks go? Will favorites live up to their expectations, or will underdogs trigger some unlikely disruption?
We asked 15 of our NFL analysts about their best prediction for the off-season as a whole and what will happen in the games leading up to the Super Bowl. Which team is best set up to win it all, and who will help them get there? Will it be Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or someone else leading the NFC? And will the Titans hold lots of talented AFC teams? Let’s predict this season’s playoffs, starting with how far the AFC’s top-seeded team can go.
Is the Titans the best AFC challenger?
Sam Acho, NFL Analyst: I double my choice in mid-season. After three wins to end the regular season and a record of 12-5, Tennessee will reach the Super Bowl. And it will not be the only seed No. 1. I got the Packers and Aaron Rodgers to face the Titans in this year’s biggest game.
Stephania Bell, NFL fantasy analyst: The Titans will win the AFC Championship with a run-off offensive behind Derrick Henry’s return. To those who can mock the idea of a modern offensive that is close to the bottom of the league in pass-play percentage and goes all the way to the Super Bowl, may I present the 2018 Patriots to you? Yes, they had this guy named Tom Brady, but they also ran the ball 43.1% of the time, number five in the league that year. The Titans in 2021 rushed with 46.1% of the games in the league, and they did so without Henry in half of their games, after suffering a significant foot injury. Henry’s return adds power to their running game and a massive red zone threat on the ground (10 TDs before his injury), which will prove to be too much for the Titans’ AFC opponents.
Jeremy Fowler, NFL Writer / Reporter: Henry continues right where he left off, leading the playoffs in rushing. Rarely does a star player have two months to rest his legs before the off-season, especially a 247-pound back with a 2,000-yard season on his resume. The 1-seed Titans battled through injuries and is ready for January football, meaning Henry will touch the ball 20 or more times. I’m not sure I’m ready to put Ryan Tannehill in the Super Bowl, but this team has the ingredients to get there behind Henry, receiver AJ Brown and an opportunistic defense.
Can the Bills or Chiefs return to the AFC Championship Game?
Dan Graziano, NFL Writer / Reporter: The Bills are to play in the Super Bowl. This is a team that has been together for a while now and they are still pinching after last year’s AFC Championship Game loss in Kansas City and longing for an opportunity to avenge it. The December 26 match in Foxborough, Massachusetts, was a turning point for their season. The reluctant Devin Singletary told me, “We knew we had what it took to get where we wanted to go, but that game just gave us even more confidence and made us hungrier.” The Bills’ running game is a much better place than it was this time last season, which should help offensive coordinator Brian Daboll avoid the trap of being too one-dimensional. And I do not think people really appreciate how good their defense is under Leslie Frazier. I know it was the Jets and their season was over (week 18), but holding another professional football team to 53 yards in total in a game is really something. This team is well trained, believes in itself, has the league’s most weatherproof quarterback and has been building towards this for a few years now. I say they collect it.
Jason Reid, senior writer at The Undefeated: Kansas City advances to its third Super Bowl in a row by defeating Tennessee in the AFC Championship Game in Tennessee. A 34-31 away loss to Cincinnati in Week 17 cost the Kansas City Conference No. 1 seeding and a chance to host the AFC title fight for an unprecedented fourth season in a row. But there is still plenty to like at Chiefs, starting with quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The superstar learned to operate more patiently this season, while the teams were content to play Cover 2 and rarely sling him in hopes of avoiding giving up the big games that have defined the historic start to his career. But the Chiefs’ biggest turnaround happened in defense. Often overmatched during the team’s 3-4 start, Kansas City’s defense formed the basis of its eight-game winning streak. During that time, the Chiefs allowed the fewest points per game. match (12.9) and had the most takeaways (21) in the NFL.
Marcus Spears praises Andy Reid for the job he has done coaching the Chiefs this season.
Seth Walder, analytical author: The winner of the Bills-Chiefs division round matchup will win the Super Bowl. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), they are the second and third best teams in the league, respectively. The Bills boast the best points difference in the league, and the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes as quarterback – either, which is a good sign of a deep play-off. And while I still believe in Tampa Bay, and it’s the FPI’s No. 1 team, the model does not know that of the trio of great wide receivers that the Bucs started the season with, only Mike Evans is still healthy and on guard.
What can we expect from the Cowboys and Bengals?
Matt Bowen, NFL Analyst: Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse will be a difference in the playoffs. Dallas has playmakers at all three levels of Dan Quinn’s defense in Demarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs. But do not forget Kearse. He is a long, distant safety with versatile qualities, and in Quinn’s man-heavy system, Kearse is the tight end matchup player. First up to Candles: 49ers’ George Kittle.
Mike Clay, NFL Analyst: The Cowboys and Bengals will each win several playoff games and are legitimate candidates to represent their conference in the Super Bowl. Dallas is No. 1 in the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, fifth in offensive scoring and sixth in touchdowns allowed. The Cowboys have one of the league’s deepest and most talented attacks along with a breakout defense. And the Bengals are playing their best ball of the season, and if they beat the Raiders and things break, their path to the title fight could include a trip to Tennessee in the division round and a rematch with a Chiefs squad they defeated while piling up. up 34 points just two weeks ago. With a solid defense and quarterback Joe Burrow playing at a high level, Cincinnati would have a chance to win all three games.
Eric Moody, author of fantasy / sports betting: The Bengals want to reach the Super Bowl. In weeks 16 and 17, Burrow passed 971 yards and eight touchdowns, helping Cincinnati to the AFC North title. With positive momentum, a QB that excels under pressure to overcome mediocre offensive line play, an offensive that uses a trio of talented receivers (Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd) to threaten opposing defenses vertically and a defense , who can apply consistent pressure with just four linemen, the Bengals have all the necessary elements to fight for the Super Bowl.
Mike Tannenbaum, NFL Analyst: Dallas will run and win at least two – and maybe three – games. The Cowboys are built for the playoffs and have three elite pass rushers in Lawrence, Parsons and Randy Gregory. If their offensive line is healthy (especially Tyron Smith), they will be good on the offensive and elite on defense.
Will the Packers live up to the hype?
Doug Kezirian, Sports Betting Analyst: Packers is the betting favorite for good reason. NFC once looked like a glove, but the warts have appeared with inconsistency and damage. And the AFC is full of dubious candidates. I expect Green Bay to host the Lombardi Trophy as quarterback Aaron Rodgers still plays the position flawlessly.
Field Yates, NFL Analyst: The Packers will hold serve at home this time and they advance to a Super Bowl championship. This is not exactly going to go beyond that, but this team feels different from last year’s iteration that marched into the playoffs with high expectations. With Green Bay’s balanced offense and a defense that could return several important starters (including pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith and cornerback Jaire Alexander), I count myself among those who expect the package to play at SoFi Stadium in the middle of February.
Seth Wickersham, NFL Writer / Reporter: This is only a hint, but I predict this will be the final playoff for three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks with their current team. We know the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger is retiring. But I think Tom Brady wants that too. And finally, Aaron Rodgers leaves Green Bay after another season without reaching the Super Bowl.
Domonique Foxworth describes why he could see Aaron Rodgers retire soon and then decide to come back later along the way.
Tom Brady’s Bucks back in the Super Bowl?
Anita Marks, fantasy / sports betting analyst: It will be Bill Belichick vs. Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. The only two wildcard games that I am convinced of are the Bengals over the Raiders and the Chiefs over the Steelers. The remaining matchups are tossups for me, so to steal a sentence from Jalen Rose: Let’s give the people what they want. I think the Patriots are a complete team. They can knock on the stone in the fourth quarter Saturday night against Buffalo, and then they would match well against the Titans and Chiefs on their way to the Super Bowl. And in the NFC, the Brady and the Buccaneers could see the Eagles, Rams and Packers on their way to the Super Bowl – and they have the guard to disrupt Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game.
Jordan Reid, NFL draft analyst: Brady will help the Buccaneers become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since the Patriots in 2004 and 2005 – which also had Brady at the helm. As a 44-year-old, he undoubtedly had one of the best seasons of his career with 5,316 passing yards in the league and 43 touchdowns. Tampa Bay is running on a three-game winning streak that goes into the playoffs, and despite not getting the No. 1 seed, Brady has the necessary experience – even in the elements, if they were to see the Packers at Lambeau Field.