It is late December, and that means The National Football League (NFL) playoffs are right around the corner. While football experts are scrambling to make predictions about which franchises make the cut and which do not, here at the Blue and Gold are ready to do just the same.

This article was written just after Week 15 and before Week 16. This leaves three weeks left in the regular season for teams to jostle for a divisional victory or a wild card berth.

The National Football Conference (NFC) is up for grabs. The first team to secure a spot in the postseason was the Philadelphia Eagles, who did so back in Week 14. Their dominant victory over the New York Giants moved the team to 12-1 and clinched an NFC East victory for the first time since 2019. The team won its first Super Bowl in 2017 when unlikely hero Nick Foles stepped in at quarterback for injured star Carson Wentz late in the season. This year, the now 13-1 Eagles have a star-studded offense with quarterback Jalen Hurts, halfback Miles Sanders, and wide receivers A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith that has serious potential to make a deep playoff run. If they continue their dominance, this team could potentially take the first seed and a first-round bye in the NFC.

The next team to clinch a postseason berth was the historic San Francisco 49ers during Week 15. They took down the Seattle Seahawks, who are now fighting for a wild-card spot, on Thursday Night Football by a score of 21-13. They now hold a 10-4 record and an NFC West title. Their last title came in 2019, like the Eagles, but those 49ers advanced to Super Bowl LIV before losing 31-20 to the Kansas City Chiefs. This Kyle Shanahan-coached team has seen plenty of injuries over the past few years and have already lost quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo this season. Now, they have to depend on rookie Brock Purdy from Iowa State University, who they drafted with the very last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. So far, things are looking up for the storied franchise and they have the defense to go on a run.

The third team to clinch their division was the Minnesota Vikings, also during Week 15. In order to do so, they had to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The now 11-3 team dropped down to a 33-0 deficit by halftime against the now 4-9-1 Indianapolis Colts. Unbelievably, quarterback Kirk Cousins, halfback Dalvin Cook, and wide receivers Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn led the biggest comeback in NFL history during the second half and overtime to win on a 40-yard Greg Joseph field goal. This dethroned the former record holder, nicknamed “The Comeback”, when Buffalo Bills backup quarterback Frank Reich led the team back from down 35-3 against the Houston Oilers in the 1992-1993 Wild Card Round. The team holds sole possession of the second seed in the NFC, two games behind the leading Eagles.

Every year, there is always one division that never gets moving. This year, it is the NFC South. Currently, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the division lead with a measly record of 6-8. The New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons are all tied right behind them with a record of 5-9. Since every division winner is given a playoff spot, and a top 4 spot at that, one of these teams will stumble their way into a home game in the wild-card round. The Buccaneers, who were favored to be one of the NFL’s top teams this season, have struggled heavily. The winner of this division likely won’t do much in the postseason.

There are still a few teams looking for a wild-card berth in the conference. The 7-7 Seattle Seahawks, 7-7 Detroit Lions, and the (5-8) Packers are the teams currently in the hunt, along with every NFC South team that is looking to get in via division victory. The 10-4 Dallas Cowboys have clinched a wild-card berth, and will likely retain the first spot as the next two slots are held by their NFC East division rivals New York Giants (8-5-1) and Washington Commanders (7-6-1). Currently, all four NFC East teams hold a playoff position. If this remains, it would be the first time that every team in a single division earned a postseason berth in the same season. However, this was only made possible upon the playoff expansion to 7 teams in 2020.

As for the American Football Conference (AFC) side, there are a few clear-cut Super Bowl contenders followed by some solid teams. Leading the conference are the 11-3 Buffalo Bills, who hold a tiebreaker with the 11-3 Kansas City Chiefs after they took them down 24-20 at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 6. Those two teams, who both came away with thrilling victories against the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans this week to clinch their respective divisions, are the clear-cut favorites to escape the AFC this season. Last year, those two sides met in the AFC Divisional Playoff and had an outstanding high-scoring matchup that ended with a Kansas City 42-36 overtime victory. Those Chiefs would fall to the Cincinnati Bengals 27-24 in their next game, the AFC Championship. Every game matters for these two, however, as a single loss can ruin either team’s shot at the first-round bye.

The next two playoff hopefuls come from the AFC North. The current division leaders are the Cincinnati Bengals, who defeated Tom Brady and the Buccaneers this week 34-23 to advance to 10-4. The Baltimore Ravens are sitting at a 9-5 record after falling to the Cleveland Browns 13-3. Previously, the Ravens held the division lead because they pulled off a 19-17 victory against the Bengals in Week 5. These two will play one more time in Week 18, a matchup that could decide the division. The other two teams in the division, the Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, are just barely hanging on to their playoff hopes at 6-8 each. Regardless, Baltimore and Cincinnati look destined for a playoff spot. 

The last division in the conference is the second-worst in football, the AFC South. The Tennessee Titans currently lead at 7-7 while the Jacksonville Jaguars charge for them at 6-8. Tennessee has won the division two consecutive years, largely due to the contributions of star halfback Derrick Henry. However, Jacksonville is storming back into the playoff picture with a surging young offense and first-year head coach Doug Pedersen. This week, they pulled off a surprising upset against the Cowboys on an interception return in overtime. Just a few weeks ago, sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence led the team down the field with just seconds to play for a 28-27 win over the Ravens. The Jaguars and Titans will meet again during the final weekend of the regular season. If Jacksonville keeps up the momentum and Tennessee continues to fall, this game could decide the division and the playoff berth that comes with it. 

The wild-card race in this conference is one of the best the NFL has seen in years. The first spot will likely go to the second-place AFC North team, whether that be Baltimore or Cincinnati. The second wild-card spot is held by the 8-6 Los Angeles Chargers, who defeated the Titans 17-14 on a game-winning 43-yard field goal. The Miami Dolphins currently hold the final wild-card spot at 8-6. However, they definitely aren’t safe. Just outside the picture are the 7-7 New York Jets and New England Patriots, who both lost close games last week. Behind them are a bunch of 6-8 teams, including the Jaguars, Browns, Steelers, and Las Vegas Raiders. All of these teams have a shot to sneak into the picture.

The current playoff picture after Week 15 and before Week 16. (ESPN)

Now that we know the playoff picture going into Week 16, it is time to make some predictions. This next section will cover not only who I believe will make the playoffs but how those theoretical playoffs would turn out. Please remember that I am not an NFL expert and everything noted here is purely my personal opinion.

First, the AFC side. I think that the Bills and Chiefs are both going to win out and finish with 14-3 records. With the previously mentioned Buffalo victory over Kansas City in Week 6, they would hold the tiebreaker giving them a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs. The AFC would have to run through Buffalo in freezing January which is petrifying for other teams. Kansas City would move into the second spot, allowing them to play the seventh seed.

Most likely, both Baltimore and Cincinnati head into their Week 18 contest tied at 11-5. With the game in Cincinnati, I have the Bengals taking it home and moving into the third seed with an AFC North title. I think that Miami wins out and finishes 11-6 as well, leaving Baltimore and Miami in a tiebreaker that the Dolphins hold after their Week 2 comeback from 21 down against those Ravens. This means that the Ravens will fall all the way down to the sixth seed giving them a rematch with the Bengals the following week. Luckily for the Dolphins, they move up to the fifth seed and will take on the fourth-seeded winner of the AFC South.

The race in the AFC South is really tightening up. I think that by the time the Titans-Jaguars Week 18 game comes around, Jacksonville will hold a 7-9 record and the Titans will sit at 8-8. I predict that Jacksonville will win that game and surprisingly steal the AFC South away from Tennessee. This will put the Jaguars into the 4th seed and kick the Titans out of the postseason. With this, the AFC division winners have been set: Bills, Chiefs, Bengals, and Jaguars.

In terms of the highly contested 7th seed, I believe that it will not be as close as many think. The Chargers will win out and finish with a 10-7 record, ousting the 9-8 Jets to finish in the playoffs. This finishes our AFC playoff bracket, seeded as:

  1. Buffalo Bills
  2. Kansas City Chiefs
  3. Cincinnati Bengals
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars
  5. Miami Dolphins
  6. Baltimore Ravens
  7. Los Angeles Chargers

Now to the NFC side, which is far simpler. I believe that the current division leaders in all four divisions, which are the Eagles, Vikings, 49ers, and Buccaneers, coast their way to a division title. This sets the top four seeds in said order. We saw what happened when the NFC went through Philadelphia in 2017, and now it will happen again. Can those Eagles repeat their title chances?

As for the wild-card spots, I believe that the Cowboys will win out into the fifth seed. That would include a win at home against the Eagles this coming weekend. This potential 13-4 record makes Dallas a serious contender to make a playoff run even as a wild-card team. The sixth seed would finish in the hands of the Giants, who would sneak their way in with a 9-7-1 record to be the third NFC East in this playoff picture.

The final seed is heavily up for grabs. Currently, the Commanders, Seahawks, and Lions are all in a neck-and-neck battle for the spot. However, I think that Washington and Seattle struggle while the Lions secure two victories to make the playoffs at 9-8. This outcome is enlightening for coach Dan Campbell and the Detroit franchise which has struggled since the turn of the century. This leaves the NFC playoff bracket seeded as:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles
  2. Minnesota Vikings
  3. San Francisco 49ers
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  5. Dallas Cowboys
  6. New York Giants
  7. Detroit Lions
My predictions for the end of season playoff bracket (ESPN)

While I won’t go in-depth on how I think this playoff would turn out, my bracket prediction is shown in the image below. Currently, I think that Kansas City has the best shot to win another Super Bowl. Their high-powered offense has been incredible and they are always a force in the postseason. Still, San Francisco has shown incredible defense on the NFC side. They are currently my pick to make it out of the conference. On top of that, do not count out Cincinnati, Miami, Tampa Bay, or Detroit. The Bengals and Dolphins have the potential to beat any team they play and the Lions have shown that they can play with anyone. As for the Buccaneers, they have quarterback “Touchdown” Tom Brady. While they haven’t shown much promise this year, it is impossible to disregard his outstanding postseason career in which he has earned seven Super Bowl titles and five Super Bowl MVPs. As many have learned over the years, you never count out Touchdown Tom. 

Postseason predictions with my proposed bracket (

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