The field is set and the 2020-21 NFL playoffs will soon be underway, reaching its apex with Super Bowl 55 on February 7, 2021. The NFL’s playoff bracket has some […]
The field is set and the 2020-21 NFL playoffs will soon be underway, reaching its apex with Super Bowl 55 on February 7, 2021. The NFL’s playoff bracket has some new twists this year: an additional playoff team in each conference, and as a result, only one first round bye to give out per conference.
The changes seem to be paying off so far: there were more competitive and meaningful games in the final weeks of the regular season, and very few teams were afforded the opportunity to rest their starters in Week 17. Looking forward, two additional teams means two additional markets of NFL fanbases engaged on Wildcard Weekend. All around, the move seems like a win for the league and it’s fans.
Without getting too off topic, we have this year’s playoff field. Some of the usual players fill in the league’s top seeds, including the reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, and New Orleans Saints all returned to the postseason as usual. Newcomers like the Cleveland Browns and Washington Football Team also joined the field, but will they be able to make any noise?
There’s tons of storylines, potentially juicy matchups, and interesting Super Bowl possibilities that could come to fruition in early February. I’ll lay out how I see the bracket playing out, and the ultimate Super Bowl matchup and winner.
In my preseason predictions, I chose the Baltimore Ravens over the Seattle Seahawks. By midseason, I pivoted to a safer Kansas City Chiefs team, again over the Seattle Seahawks. Now that the playoffs are actually here, will I stick with my midseason prediction? Or will matchup problems within the bracket complicate the results?
#2 Buffalo Bills (13-3) over #7 Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) over #6 Cleveland Browns (11-5)
#5 Baltimore Ravens (11-5) over #4 Tennessee Titans (11-5)
It’s quite possible we see the home team/division winner take all three Wildcard Weekend matchups in the AFC. In each instance, the better team earned the higher seed. Perhaps the Cleveland Browns could make some noise against the Pittsburgh Steelers in their first playoff appearance since 2002. But Cleveland barely beat Mason Rudolph last week: Pittsburgh should get it done with Ben Roethlisberger.
Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens will look to exact revenge on the Tennessee Titans team that upset them 28-12 in last year’s postseason. With the Ravens surging and Tennessee kind of sputtering to the finish, I think Jackson finally gets his first playoff win.
#2 New Orleans Saints (12-4) over #7 Chicago Bears (8-8)
#3 Seattle Seahawks (12-4) over #6 Los Angeles Rams (9-7)
#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) over #4 Washington Football Team (7-9)
The NFC results basically mirror the AFC side of the bracket, with the #2 and #3 seeds advancing while the #5 team “upsets” the #4 division winner. However in this instance, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t be pulling off an upset: they won four more games than Washington Football Team in the regular season. While it would be fun to see Washington compete in this setting, I just don’t see it happening.
The New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks will prove to be too much of well-oiled machines for the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams to keep up. Mitch Trubisky and the Bears are red-hot, but I don’t think they can keep up with Drew Brees and the Saints offense. While the Rams might have been able to shut down Russell Wilson earlier this season, Los Angeles has faded towards the season’s end, and I see a swift exit for them.
#1 Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) over #5 Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
#2 Buffalo Bills (12-4) over #3 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Spoiler alert: my AFC playoff predictions aren’t very bold. The top seeds take each game here in the divisional round. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are too much for the Ravens to overcome. The Buffalo Bills were able to beat the Steelers in the regular season, and I think Josh Allen and company can do it again in order to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) over #1 Green Bay Packers (13-3)
#2 New Orleans Saints (12-4) over #3 Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
This is round of the bracket on the NFC side is where things get interesting. We’ve seen it before: Aaron Rodgers winning 13 or more games, posting an MVP season, and then the Green Bay Packers swiftly getting bounced in the playoffs after a first round bye. The biggest reason for their early exit this year is their opponent: the Buccaneers beat the Packers 38-10 in the regular season.
Initially, I wanted to pick the Seahawks to go all the way to the Super Bowl (and stick with my season-long prediction that Seattle would represent the NFC.) But even when the offense is churning (which it hasn’t been so much lately,) I don’t think their defense can stop a red-hot Saints team.
AFC: #1 Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) over #2 Buffalo Bills (12-4)
It would be incredible to see Josh Allen lead the Buffalo Bills to the Super Bowl in 2021. Unfortunately, “on paper,” it’s hard to predict an upset of the most consistent team in the NFL. Including the playoffs, Kansas City is 29-6 over the past two seasons. Patrick Mahomes will be playing in his third straight AFC Championship, and will reach his second straight Super Bowl.
NFC: #2 New Orleans Saints (12-4) over #5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
Tom Brady and Drew Brees duking it out for the rights to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. While we never got to see the two future Hall of Famers meet in the Super Bowl, this would be the next best thing. Even in the twilight of their careers, these two quarterbacks are still putting their teams in the position to win football games in January. As far as the matchup goes, the Saints beat the Buccaneers 34-23 opening weekend and then 38-3 in November. New Orleans completes the hat trick, knocks Brady out of the playoffs, and reaches the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl 55
#1 Kansas City Chiefs over #2 New Orleans Saints
Super Bowl 55, in this scenario, pits the reigning champions against an all-time great who may be playing the final games of his career. Unlike Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl 50 appearance, Brees is still playing at an extremely high level, and he could very well be the catalyst that pushes the Saints to the NFL’s biggest stage.
There’s a lot of good teams in the 2020-21 NFL playoff field, but there’s not one that I would pick against Mahomes and the Chiefs. Don’t get me wrong: I think this would be an exciting back and forth game. Many times when two high flying offenses meet in the Super Bowl, the results are calmer than expected. But I think Kansas City-New Orleans would be the perfect matchup for a 30-40 point shootout.
While it would be great to see Brees ride off in to the sunset with a second Super Bowl victory, I’d be a fool to bet against the Chiefs. Mahomes earns his second Super Bowl title in just his third season as an NFL starter. It could very well be the beginning of the NFL’s next dynasty.
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Travel and Hiking
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Header Photo Credit: Via Gridiron Experts