We are now through week 13 of this National Football League season and one thing to me is very clear. When healthy, the San Francisco 49ers are the best team in football, they just walked into “The Linc” and ran through the previously 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles were supposed to be the big dogs of the National Football Conference (NFC) but possibly got a wake-up call this weekend. With that being said my prediction for the one seed in the NFC and the team with home-field advantage in the playoffs is the 49ers. They have been dominant against both the Dallas Cowboys and the Eagles, owning the head-to-head match-ups against each. All they have to do is get a game back on the Eagles.
Dallas will surpass the Eagles atop the NFC East as the two seed after they beat them twice and keep the streak of no consecutive NFC East winners since 2004. Detroit will follow up as the third seed and the Buccaneers will get by the Falcons and take the NFC South. Rounding out the NFC playoff picture will be the Eagles, the five-seed who will travel to Tampa Bay in round one of the playoffs and obliterate the Baker Mayfield-led Bucs.
The sixth seed will be the red-hot Green Bay Packers who will travel to Detroit for an in-division playoff game for the ages, which ends with a Jordan Love hail mary as time expires to take the lead as time expires giving Detroit flashbacks to Rodgers doing the same to them eight years ago. The seventh seed will be the New York Giants … just kidding. They are going to end with the fourth pick in the draft and miss out on the big three of top prospects Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Marvin Harrison Jr.
The real seven-seed is going to be the Los Angeles Rams trying to make another Super Bowl run which will be quickly halted as Dallas trounces the Rams as they did earlier in the regular season.
The second round of the playoffs will feature Green Bay traveling to San Francisco for another installment in the historic Packers vs. 49ers playoff matchups. Love and the young Packers team will put up a valiant fight, but the 49ers defense proves to be too terrifying for Love, leading to the Niners advancing to the NFC Championship for the second year in a row. Additionally, Philly will head down to Dallas for what will turn out to be a legendary addition to the Eagles and Cowboys rivalry.
Philly and Dallas will deliver haymakers back and forth the entire game only for Philly to get down to the one yard-line with just seconds left in the game down four. We all know what happens next, Jalen Hurts rides on the back of Jason Kelce into the end zone bringing Philly the win in Dallas.
The NFC Championship is a match-up of titans, titans who despise each other. Fights happen almost after every whistle, non-stop talking and late hits continuously occur, the refs are letting them play and calling a fair game (for once). However, Philly coming off a physical game vs Dallas cannot last the entire game, slowly losing energy and hope as Deebo Samuel runs through tacklers and into the endzone repeatedly. Quarterback Brock Purdy with a this time healthy UCL in his throwing arm leads the 49ers to the Super Bowl beating the Eagles and beating the system quarterback allegations. Now that we know the 49ers are in the Super Bowl, time to talk about who they are playing.
The AFC playoff picture is a bit more heated than the NFC playoff picture. The Jaguars, yes the Jaguars, with an easy rest of season schedule will stand alone atop the AFC playoff picture. The race to Las Vegas will run through Jacksonville. The Ravens will follow as the two seed followed by Miami at the three and the Chiefs finish at the four spot.
Things are heating up in the AFC wildcard race where the C.J. Stroud-led Houston Texans to find the five seed after winning out the rest of the season. Following Houston is the Denver Broncos, completing their comeback from the laughing stock of the league managing to get the sixth seed. The race for last place in the AFC playoffs will come down to Josh Allen finding a way to will the Bills into the seven seed as the scariest of the wildcard teams.
The first round of the playoffs will consist of the Bills traveling to Baltimore for a physical beat down of a game where Lamar Jackson manages to find a way to win with now-healthy Mark Andrews. Denver will travel to Miami and won’t let up 70 points this time, but still, Russell Wilson won’t have the magic to match the high-powered Miami offense. The final game will see the Chiefs host Houston in a great match-up but safety Justin Reid and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnaulo will confuse Stroud enough to sneak by the young Texans team.
The Divisional round will see Kansas City traveling to Jacksonville for a rematch from last year’s playoffs. Trevor Lawrence and the Jags changed the outcome from last year and upset the reigning Super Bowl Champion Chiefs. In the other game, Baltimore finds a way to shut down Miami’s high-powered offense in the cold of Maryland keeping the Dolphins from hitting full stride leading to the Ravens traveling to Jacksonville for the AFC Championship Game.
Another barn burner with Trevor going back and forth with Lamar, but the Ravens’ dominant interior defensive line proves too much for the Jags’ offensive line putting pressure on Trevor and shutting down the Jag’s running attack. The Ravens advance to the Super Bowl on the backs of Lamar and defensive lineman Justin Madubuike.
Las Vegas sees the stars out as a rematch of the brother bowl in Super Bowl XLVII, 49ers vs the Ravens. The defensive lines of each team are dominant and the score remains low. Punts rain back and forth until the Niners breakthrough on a nice drive on the backs of George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Christian McCaffrey. The scoring then continues with each team putting up points non-stop until towards the end of the game the Ravens get stopped.
They attempt a 60-yard field goal with Ravens kicker Justin Tucker and he nails it to take the lead with a minute remaining. Purdy has a chance to win the game down three points, the drive seems stagnant until on a third and long Purdy launches one deep to Ronnie Bell who somehow gets behind the defense and waltzes in for the game-winning touchdown. The Niners sit atop the NFL and bring the Lombardi back to San Fran rounding out another great NFL season.
As Ryan mentioned earlier, it is crazy to think that we are already onto week 14 of the NFL season. Time flies when you’re having fun, and I sure as heck am doing that as both a huge league enthusiast and a stressed-out Giants fan. One key takeaway from week 13 is that I agree with Ryan’s take on the 49ers, they are indeed the hottest team in the game. I could care less regarding the fact that the Eagles are still in first place, the 49ers deserve props for the way they played yesterday. They are loaded on both sides of the ball.
Brock Purdy is the perfect quarterback for Kyle Shanahan’s offense, he arguably is the best play-caller in the game save for his former confidant, Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel. The young Iowa State product does what he has to do to win, and his accuracy is quite outstanding. Not only does having the likes of Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle help, but having a solidified offensive line led by all-pro left tackle Trent Williams helps significantly, along with the plethora of other options they possess.
Did I mention the loaded pass rush that they have as well? Oh, and by the way, it just got even stronger with the addition of Chase Young from the Commanders. Having him, Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead in the fold will make opposing quarterbacks’ lives a living hell. The unit makes life a lot easier for the second circuit on defense, who can deter their focus on stopping the run and playing aggressive pass coverage, skills that no other team can usurp them in.
Middle linebacker Fred Warner is a tackling machine, and outside linebacker Dre Greenlaw is one of the best cover linebackers in the game. The secondary will miss rising star safety Talanoa Hufanga, who suffered a torn ACL in week 11, but if the unit can simply do its part and play with a next-man-up mentality, then they should be fine. With the Seattle Seahawks stuck in quicksand, the Los Angeles Rams being unproven outside of a few core pieces and the Arizona Cardinals doing everything they can to obtain the number pick in order to draft hotshot USC quarterback Caleb Williams, the 49ers easily will win the NFC West and will ultimately grab the number one seed in the NFC.
Going back to the Eagles, they are still no doubt a contender. But are they the favorites to win the Super Bowl? No. I think Jalen Hurts is a good quarterback, but I think the engine that gets the Eagles moving is their elite offensive line, arguably the best in the game, as well as their one-two punch at receiver with AJ Brown and Devonta Smith. Oh, and did I mention their defense yet? They have as good of a pass rush as their offensive line, and I honestly think that only the 49ers have a stronger defensive line on paper than the Birds.
That secondary featuring the one-two combo of Darius Slay and James Bradberry will only induce the anxiety for opposing offenses to a higher degree, and they also massively upgraded at safety with the acquisition of Kevin Bayard from the Tennessee Titans. The Eagles also improved at the weakside spot of their linebacking core by scooping up Shaquille Leonard, who recently got released by the Indianapolis Colts and this move will only enable them to elevate from here on out. With the archrival Dallas Cowboys struggling to get the Eagles’ number, and with the Giants and Washington Commanders both having abysmal seasons, the division is for the Eagles to take once again.
Besides the Eagles and the 49ers occupying the first and second spots atop the NFC, the third and fourth spots will be occupied by the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons, winners of the NFC North and South, respectively. The Lions are building something special under the leadership of general manager Brad Holmes and their very likable head coach, Dan Campbell. Campbell has his squad playing with a healthy dose of swagger and energy.
These are not your same old Lions; they will fight each and every play and if you knock them down, they will get back up and bite your kneecap off. That is what this team resembles. The offense has been clicking on all cylinders, as it ranks second in total yards per game (400.6) and sixth in points scored (27.3). The offensive line ranks amongst the best in the game, as it makes it near impossible for opposing edge rushers to take down quarterback Jared Goff as he creates magic with the ascending receiving duo of Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams. Rookie tight end Sam LaPorta is coming into his own as a legitimate threat in the passing attack, too. The defense, despite some inconsistencies, has some pieces including sensational edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson and safety Brian Branch. The Lions are a safe bet to win the NFC North, as the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are fringe wild card teams at best and the Chicago Bears are located at the bottom barrel in the game with a lack of an identity and horrific coaching and playcalling.
The NFC South, in comparison to the other divisions, is hands down the worst division in the NFL this season. Three mediocre to below-average teams will have the golden opportunity of securing the number four seed and more than likely getting humiliated at home by the likes of the Dallas Cowboys or Seattle Seahawks. These three teams include the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If I had to flip a coin in terms of who is going to win the “sink bowl,” it would be the Falcons.
The Falcons are a team that has some solid, budding pieces in running back Bijan Robinson, wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts, along with a stout offensive line led by tackles Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary, in addition to guard Chris Lindstrom. Here’s the problem: none of these skilled players are living up to their potential. Why? It is because of below-average quarterback play and the coaching that is led by head coach Arthur Smith.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder has not done his part of playing the game manager and is often one of the reasons why the Falcons are unable to close out games with his questionable decision-making and mechanics. While Smith, a coach whom I was high on, was supposed to be the next great offensive guru and he has come up short spectacularly. He doesn’t put his players in the best positions to succeed. For example, he lines up Pitts as a blocker when he is supposed to be this big play threat with his huge frame while throwing the ball to fellow tight end Jonnu Smith, a player he once coached in Tennessee as the offensive coordinator of the Titans. London not being properly utilized in the passing attack as advertised, and also, do not forget about the fact that Robinson barely played for no apparent reason early on in the season.
The defense, led by newly acquired safety Jessie Bates and homegrown stalwarts such as cornerback A.J. Terrell and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, have done a fine job, but is it enough to overcome the offensive obstacles that are holding this team back? I don’t think so, but unless they somehow wake up and live up to their potential, I don’t see this team being anything more than an 8 or 9 win team and getting knocked out at home in front of a pro-Dallas crowd.
The three wild card spots in the NFC will be secured by the Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams. The Cowboys are no doubt going to the playoffs, and they will most likely win 11 or 12 games to grab that first wild card spot. They also have an easy path on Super Wild Card Weekend, as they line up against the woeful Falcons with their quarterback, Dak Prescott, having arguably the best season of his career. Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb continues to torch opposing teams’ corners as he flashes off his speed and efficient playmaking abilities.
The defense, led by outside linebacker Micah Parsons, is electrifying. Parsons has been dominant, as the Penn State product has 11.5 sacks on the season. Other key contributors include second-year cornerback Daron Bland, who has eight interceptions along with five pick-sixes this season, the latter of which being an NFL record. The Seahawks are more than likely going to take the second wild card spot despite their inconsistent play, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The offense, led by quarterback Geno Smith and the threesome receiving duo of D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba, has done a fine job for the most part, but the defense has been widely inconsistent this season despite a good up-and-coming secondary on paper. Out of the remaining teams still in the playoff hunt, I’m going to the dice and settle for the Rams.
I think they have been playing some good football as of late and have had two promising victories over the Cleveland Browns and Seahawks in recent weeks. Head coach Sean McVay is someone that I would strongly caution betting against, and quarterback Matthew Stafford has quietly turned around after having a banged-up campaign last season. Wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua, the latter of which is a rookie, form an outstanding receiving duo that creates a big challenge for rival defensive coordinators to the scheme. Even though the defense is vastly unproven, star defensive tackle Aaron Donald is still there and his presence makes any defense better with him sacking the quarterback and stopping the run.
Moving on to the AFC, the number one seed in the conference will be locked up by the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore has been playing some very good football this season and is one of the most underrated teams in the league. Quarterback Lamar Jackson has been healthy for the most part and has been a difference-maker for the Baltimore offensive attack. Injuries have still hampered the unit to some degree, as tight end Mark Andrews and running back J.K. Dobbins are out for the season, forcing the team to look at other options in backup tight end Isaiah Likely and wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., who returns to the field this season after being knocked out of Super Bowl LVI after tearing his ACL while a member of the Rams.
The Ravens’ defense has been nothing short of electric. The unit has playmakers on all three levels, with defensive tackle Justin Madubuike lining himself up for a huge payday with 10 sacks thus far on the campaign. Linebacker Roquan Smith, acquired from the Bears at last season’s trade deadline, has been one of the best middle linebackers in the game. His combination of stuffing the running back and making plays in the passing game has elevated this unit to a high level.
Safety Kyle Hamilton is a playmaker most teams crave to have, as he has thrown flashbacks to the likes of Ed Reed with his athleticism and physical style of play. With the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals missing their quarterbacks for the season, as well as the uncertainty of quarterback Kenny Pickett’s ankle on the Pittsburgh Steelers, make the Ravens clear favorites to win the AFC North.
The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will take the number two spot behind the Ravens. Nothing has changed in Kansas City. They still find ways to win games and are a thorn in the side of their opponents on Sundays.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce never fail to disappoint and running back Isiah Pacheco has been the consistent running back the Chiefs have been searching for since the days of Jamaal Charles and Larry Johnson. Their receiving corps is questionable, mixed with inconsistency and inexperience across the board, which has cost them some games with some crucial drops but for the most part, its members have stepped up when called upon.
The defense has done its job, as young guns such as linebacker Nick Bolton and edge rusher Michael Danna have stepped up to lift some weight off of the shoulders of Mahomes & Co. They should win the division, especially with the extremely disappointing Los Angeles Chargers falling apart, the Denver Broncos slumping after hitting their grove earlier this season and with the Las Vegas Raiders being an all-around mess.
The number three seed will be scooped up by the Miami Dolphins. Mike McDaniel has done a heck of a job getting the most out of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has been arguably the most accurate gunslinger in the game this season. Don’t forget the fact that he has a plethora of speedy playmakers to work with, starting with wideout Tyreek Hill, who needs no introduction. The man is on a mission this season, as he has 1,481 receiving yards this season, leading the league by a country mile. The question we should be asking ourselves now is whether or not he will be the first receiver in league history to hit 2,000 receiving yards in a season.
With 17 regular season games played now, it is entirely possible. His running mate, Jaylen Waddle, also has dominated. He is a weapon that many teams, including the New York Giants, strive for on a daily basis to solve their miscues in the passing game. Don’t forget about rookie running back De’Von Achane, who has become a gadget player in the running game and is averaging an insane 9.5 yards per carry, and as mentioned before, he is a rookie. The defense, led by the lockdown duo of Xavien Howard and Jalen Ramsey, is something that makes offensive coordinators’ on rival teams up late at night. It is an all-around strongly built team, and they are the favorites to win the division with the disappointing Buffalo Bills, laughable New York Jets and out-of-touch New England Patriots all reeling this season.
With the devastating injury occurring to quarterback Trevor Lawrence on Monday night in the Jacksonville Jaguars game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Houston Texans are now the favorites to grab the number four seed and control of the NFC South. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud has been sensational, as the rookie is the runaway favorite for the AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year and has been involved in the MVP conversation with his impressive play. The young Texans have a lot of excellent pieces, including wide receivers Tank Dell and Nico Collins, running back Dameon Pierce and playmakers on defense in edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. Nobody expected the Texans to be in this position this season, as it was expected to be a rebuilding year about growth and development.
Head coach DeMeco Ryans has helped the “baby Texans” arrive on the scene ahead of schedule and have defied all odds by defeating the likes of the Jaguars and Bengals, two favorites to win their respective divisions this season. They have an easy schedule too, and although the Jaguars will be in the mix along with another up-and-coming team, the Colts, Houston will prevail as NFC South champions.
The final wild card spots will be taken up by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. It is a tough call here, as so many teams have lost their quarterbacks for the season or in the short term. Jacksonville will sneak in, but they will be lucky. Lawrence just got injured, so we will see how serious his ankle injury was in the game against the Bengals the other night. The Steelers also have concerns after their quarterback, Kenny Pickett, was injured in Sunday’s loss against the Cardinals. But they will sneak in as the second wild card due to their efficient defense and their excellent coaching led by head coach Mike Tomlin.
I was inclined to choose the Bills, but their struggles and hard schedule had to make me think otherwise. I will go with yet another team with unfortunate quarterback fortunes the Browns, who lost Deshaun Watson for the season. To add further insult to injury, they also lost running back Nick Chubb for the season as well as a couple of months back, but they have continued to win games with guys stepping up. The defense, led by pass rusher Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward, has been outstanding this season. There is no doubt that the Browns can sneak in, and they have the right mindset right now to make it happen.
With the final standings determined, the 49ers will take a bye in the NFC, with the Eagles pitted against the Rams, the Lions against the Seahawks and the Falcons against the Cowboys. The Eagles will eat the vastly unproven Rams defense outside of Aaron Donald for lunch, as Jalen Hurts will throw for three touchdowns while adding another on the so-called “brotherly shove” in a 31-7 blowout win for the Eagles.
The Lions, in their first home playoff game since 1994, will also come out victorious but in a closer game, defeating Seattle 34-31 in an offensive shootout. Goff will throw for four touchdowns, with two going to St. Brown, one going to LaPorta and one going to Williams. Smith will throw for four touchdowns himself as well, but it won’t be enough to endure the strong home advantage the Lions will have in the first home playoff game in the history of Ford Field. The Cowboys will steamroll over the Falcons, winning 29-14 as Prescott will throw for three touchdown passes in the win.
In the AFC, the Ravens will have an extra week to rest, as the Chiefs will play host to the Browns, the Dolphins will play host to the Steelers and the Texans will host the Jaguars in a divisional showdown. The Chiefs, in a closer-than-expected game, will beat the Browns, 31-20. The Brown’s defense will do everything in their power to disrupt the Chiefs’ offensive machine, but it won’t be enough. Mahomes and Kelce will connect on three touchdowns with Pacecho sneaking in once.
The Dolphins, in their first home playoff game since 2008, will make the Miami faithful proud with a 37-10 victory over the rugged Steelers. Hill and Waddle will each have 150 receiving yards at the bare minimum and the combo of Ramsey and Howard will pick off Kenny Pickett one time apiece in the win. In the Lone Star state, the Jaguars will defy the odds and beat the Texans, 24-21, as Lawrence makes his return from injury by throwing three touchdowns in a big victory.
Moving on to the divisional round, the 49ers will host the Cowboys once again in San Francisco, while the Eagles will take on the Lions in Philadelphia. In a rematch from last season, the 49ers will once again send the self-proclaimed “America’s team” back to where they belong: the couch. The 49ers’ band of key playmakers consisting of McCaffrey, Kelce, Aiyuk and Samuel will each score once, as the 49ers win 28-14 and with Dallas lining up running back Tony Pollard at center on the last play of the game to commemorate their loss. The Eagles will defeat the Lions, 41-38, in a tug of a war type-of matchup with both offenses exploding. Brown and Smith will be too much for the Lions’ defense to handle, thus resulting in the heartbreaking loss that hopefully will give the Lions confidence and hope moving forward.
On the AFC side, the Jaguars will trot to Baltimore to face the Ravens and the Dolphins will line up against the Chiefs in KC. In a stunning upset, the Jaguars beat the Ravens on a last-second field goal from the leg of kicker Brandon McManus by a final score of 24-21. Lawrence will throw for three touchdowns and the Jacksonville defense led by the edge-rushing combo of Josh Allen and Travon Walker will put Jackson and the Ravens in a very difficult spot. The Dolphins will march into Arrowhead Stadium and will send Mahomes and the Chiefs to the golf links as Hill seeks revenge on his former team by posting 210 receiving yards and three touchdowns in a 37-24 triumph.
The championship games leave us with a rematch between the 49ers and the Eagles in the City of Brotherly Love, as well as a Sunshine State battle between the Jaguars and Dolphins in Miami. The 49ers, who already have the Eagles number from their battle earlier this season, will become victorious in Philly for the second time this season. The keys to victory will be McCaffrey scoring both a receiving and rushing touchdown as well as Bosa bringing down Hurts for three sacks in a hostile and cruel environment.
In a shocking turn of events, it will be Jacksonville who will march into Miami and punch their first ticket to the Super Bowl in franchise history after McManus will once again push it through the uprights in a 33-30 win. The Jaguars’ defense will somehow find a way to slow down the high-speed Dolphins’ offensive attack and will be rejuvenated and fired up after the returns of Lawrence and wide receiver Christian Kirk from injuries from weeks before.
The Super Bowl, taking place in Paradise, Nev., will be a battle between the 49ers and Jaguars. Despite a valiant effort, the Jaguars will fall a tad bit short, 24-14, in a game that will be all about defense. The 49ers’ defense, in particular their pass rush, will be too much for the Jaguars offense to overcome, playing the key to the 49ers’ sixth Super Bowl championship in franchise history. Bosa will emerge as Super Bowl MVP with another valiant effort with three and a half sacks and a recovered fumble. Purdy and co. will do enough on offense to lock up the win, as McCaffrey, Kittle and Samuel will find the end zone one last time apiece before treating themselves to a celebratory parade in downtown San Francisco.