2018 NFL Playoff Bracket Projection: Vikings roll at home, win Super Bowl LII
The return of the Purple People Eaters takes over as Mike Zimmer's squad wins the Super Bowl at home
The 2018 NFL Playoffs are here. The 2017 NFL season blitzed past us faster than anyone could imagine and it really hasn't settled in just how shocking this particular playoff field is.
Evenfrom a 1-12 standpoint because of the different injuries they've dealt with throughout the course of the season.
Breaking down the playoff bracket, which features, is not easy. But let's try anyway. Shoutout to the CBS graphic team and the awesome Mike Meredith for the full playoff bracket below.
Wild Card Round
Titans at Chiefs (-9)
The Titans' biggest strength -- running the ball -- lines up well against the Chiefs biggest weakness -- stopping the run. That's a red flag for a team favored as much as the Chiefs. But I can't stop thinking about the 2016 wild-card game where the Chiefs punched the Texans in the mouth early and never stopped punching until it was 30-0. A few months later the Texans were signing Brock Osweiler. The Chiefs rank as a top-10 team in yards and points per drive, and the Titans aren't good at stopping teams from dinking-and-dunking down the field. It's easy to see slow, methodical drives from Alex Smith followed by shot plays to Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, an early turnover from the Titans offense and a Chiefs 14-0 lead before half. The Titans aren't built to come back.
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Titans 7
Falcons at Rams (-6)
The toughest game by far of Wild Card Weekend to predict because the Falcons are so full of upside. Granted, it's unfulfilled upside, but it's still upside. They match up well in terms of personnel on both sides of the ball, but the biggest key here for me is the Rams having Aaron Donald and the Falcons not having Andy Levitre. That's a big weakness in a bad spot against the guy who should win Defensive Player of the Year. The Falcons are 20th against the run by DVOA and 21st in DVOA against running backs catching the ball, per Football Outsiders. That's a less-than-stellar recipe against Todd Gurley.
Prediction: Rams 24, Falcons 21
There is something about the Bills that makes me want to believe. It's probably the improbable way they got into the playoffs in Week 17, coupled with the impossible way they managed to keep winning games. Their whole is much greater than the sum of their parts. And yet, without LeSean McCoy -- or even a fully healthy Shady -- the Bills are really going to struggle to score against the Jaguars. There is totally some kind of way in which the Bills drag this game into the muck, force Blake Bortles to throw the ball a lot and end up leading 13-10 (see above, same thing) in the third quarter, get the stadium panicked and steal a win. It just doesn't feel in the cards without Shady at 100 percent.
Prediction: Jaguars 21, Bills 3
This isn't enough points given what we've seen from Saints-Panthers this season. Yeah, it's tough to beat a team three times (so they say, whoever they is), but the Saints are just a bad matchup for Carolina. Their offensive line negates Carolina's dangerous defensive line and their pass-catching running backs can negate the blitz-heavy approach that Steve Wilks brings with Carolina's defense. New Orleans has been very good at home and Drew Brees has been great at home in the playoffs: in four home playoff games with New Orleans, he's completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,153 yards and 8.4 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions. I think the Panthers have a lot of upside, but they need Cam Newton to be perfect, and he doesn't have enough around him for it to happen.
Prediction: Saints 31, Panthers 17
Note: Lines are my estimation from here on out.
Chiefs at Patriots (-8)
We've seen this movie before, and we know how it ends. Despite all the turmoil in New England (reported turmoil anyway) and despite the Chiefs looking great in my hypothetical Wild Card Weekend game, New England is still a huge favorite in this spot and proves why, with Tom Brady hooking up with Rob Gronkowski for a couple of touchdowns and Dion Lewis ripping off a couple of big runs. The Patriots defense can't completely stop the Chiefs offense, but with two weeks to prepare for a revenge game against the team that humiliated them in Week 1, a salty Bill Belichick takes care of Andy Reid's squad.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Chiefs 21
Jaguars at Steelers (-4)
Big Ben remembers, Jags. Ben Roethlisberger remembers how you intercepted him five times during the regular season and nearly caused that old cowboy to retire. Well, that old cowboy has a few bullets left in his holster. Or something. Jacksonville's a terrible matchup, again, but Roehtlisberger won't play as poorly as he did during the regular season, and Jacksonville won't get a bunch of breakaway runs late from Leonard Fournette because they won't be winning. Instead, Pittsburgh will bottle up the run and force Bortles to throw, ending an entertaining Jaguars season prematurely. Blake Bortles is the one who might throw five picks here.
Prediction: Steelers 21, Jaguars 10
Saints (-1.5) at Eagles
Predicting the future a couple of days ahead is difficult. Expounding to a full week in advance and assuming a victory? Good luck with that! It's even hard to predict the line here, but I have a hard time with the Saints being a road favorite against the No. 1 seed in a game where we could see some terrible weather. I also have a hard time backing Nick Foles, and I'm not going to do it here, with the Saints going into Philly and moving the ball enough to put up points early and forcing Foles to try and pass a lot. It won't end well. Philly will probably prove me wrong and I can't wait to see Eagles fans in my mentions on Twitter (@WillBrinson). Should be a blast.
Prediction: Saints 24, Eagles 13
Rams at Vikings (-4)
Another rematch from a regular season game that, while not a shootout (therefore a game that did not get a lot of love nationally), was pretty entertaining. This game will be too, with the Rams having another shot to go down the field and tie things up late against a Vikings defense that is the best in the NFC on that side of the ball. The Vikings nearly allow it to happen, but Harrison Smith steps in at the last second and intercepts a Jared Goff pass intended for Cooper Kupp near the goal line. Too bad, because Sean McVay was going for two after he scored, and boy would that have been something.
Prediction: Vikings 17, Rams 10
Steelers at Patriots (-6)
The scheduling gods shine down upon us at CBS, gifting all of us a rematch of the highest-rated game of the 2017 season, and the best game of the year in Steelers-Pats II. Antonio Brown was missing for most of the first matchup and Pittsburgh nearly took care of business, but fell short courtesy of the absurd NFL catch rule. Fortunately for the Steelers, they have Brown back at maybe around 75 percent and a healthy Le'Veon Bell. Unfortunately they are playing in New England. The Patriots have lost in New England in the playoffs, but it doesn't happen much and it doesn't happen this year, with the Pats barely holding on and winning with a late field goal in a thrilling AFC title game.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Steelers 31
Saints at Vikings (-3.5)
Speaking of rematches, how about this gem from 2009, when the BountyGate Saints stormed past Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson to help set up the only Super Bowl victory of the Drew Brees/Sean Payton era. The Vikings get their revenge in this one, thanks in large part to an underrated offensive line and an underrated offense in general. Case Keenum isn't a perfect quarterback, but he does enough to make things go in this offense, extending plays and taking some shots down the field, but mostly not turning it over. The defense is the best in football and swarms Brees while managing to bottle up Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram enough to steal a win.
Prediction: Vikings 20, Saints 17
Patriots (-2.5) at Vikings
An epic Super Bowl unfolds in the Vikings' home stadium -- the buzz is palpable in the week leading up to the game, with Minnesota understanding it can become the first-ever team to win a Super Bowl it's hosting, not six months after the Packers were joking around about stealing a Super Bowl in the land of the purple giants. Justin Timberlake even covers Prince during the halftime show. Keenum plays the game of his life, and the Vikings are holding the ball with less than 30 seconds left on the Patriots' 2-yard line. Sound familiar? The similarities stop there, with Mike Zimmer and Pat Shurmur feeding Latavius Murray, who leaps over a pile of Patriots to score the game-winning touchdown. Confetti reigns down, and the perennially underrated Mike Zimmer hoists the Lombardi as a score of press-box scoundrels fire up "Is the Patriots' dynasty dead?" columns for Monday morning.
Prediction: Vikings 21, Patriots 20
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