The 32-team NFL has been whittled down to 12 teams who have a shot to reach the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Join our staff at Contest General as we pick winners for each of the 11 games left of the season, capped off with our Super Bowl 52 picks in February.
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Conference Championship Games
Most football fans have reconciled with the fact that the Patriots are going to the Super Bowl once again. New England has been in the AFC Championship Game in seven straight seasons, and it has only been beaten in two of the previous six appearances and has lost just one of those games at home. The team is 18-3 at home in the playoffs under the direction of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and it has never lost to Jacksonville here in Foxboro. The only bright side if you’re a Jags fan is that you’re playing in the AFC Championship Game after 10 straight years of picking in the top-10 in the NFL Draft. Even if this game is lost by 100 points, there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. The Jags do look a lot like those Giants teams that gave the Brady Bunch so much trouble in Super Bowls over the course of the last decade, but those teams had Eli Manning at quarterback and not Blake Bortles. It’ll take a Herculean effort to get the Jags to Minneapolis.
Doug Pederson said it right in his postgame press conference last week when he said that the media hasn’t been giving his Eagles a chance since losing Carson Wentz for the season in Week 14 to a torn ACL. The Eagles were the first No. 1 seed to be underdogs in their first playoff game, and now, they’re going to be the first home side to be a dog in the NFC Championship Game since 2015. The Vikings, though, have lost their last five trips to the NFC Championship Game, and they’re fighting against Super Bowl history as well. No team has ever played in the Super Bowl in its own home stadium. Should Minnesota find a way to take care of business in the City of Brotherly Love, it will be the first to do so.
Divisional Round Picks
There has never been a No. 1 seed lined as an underdog in its first playoff game in NFL history — until now. Philadelphia isn’t your typical No. 1 seed for sure, knowing that Carson Wentz was lost for the season a month ago with a torn ACL. Atlanta isn’t your average No. 6 seed either. The Falcons, of course, won the NFC last season and were minutes away from winning the Super Bowl. Atlanta hasn’t looked nearly as complete this year as it did last season, but it did look the part of a darn good team last week at the Coliseum against the Rams. It really would feel like a lot more of an upset if Philly beat Atlanta than if Atlanta beat Philly.
The Patriots effectively have two straight byes in the playoffs this year. The Titans were able to upset the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium last week, but it’s hard to say they were the better of the two teams. They got incredibly lucky to rally from down 21-3 to beat a team that never seems to have any luck in the postseason. Now, they have to go into Foxboro, a place where Tom Brady is 17-3 in his career in the playoffs.
The Steelers and Jaguars have a history against each other. Jacksonville has come into Heinz Field and won four times in the Ben Roethlisberger era, including a playoff game a decade ago. Earlier this season, the Jaguars were 30-9 winners in the ‘Burgh, a victory that really announced their arrival as playoff contenders. Pittsburgh, though, has been stewing over that three-touchdown defeat for a while. No team in the league needed a bye week more than the Steelers, and with Antonio Brown healthy and Le’Veon Bell and Big Ben both having two weeks in a row off, this is as good as this offense should look this year.
The Saints held on as tight as could be last week against Carolina and ultimately survived. Now, they have a chance to avenge a loss from Week 1 where their season started at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Vikings. Minnesota was a 29-19 winner that day, though that team featured Sam Bradford at quarterback and Dalvin Cook at running back. The names are obviously different now, especially at the quarterback spot with Case Keenum making his first career playoff start against a future Hall of Famer. This is definitely the most-intriguing of the four playoff games this week. It’s a strength vs. strength game with the New Orleans offense against the Minnesota defense, and whichever team imposes its will on the other is likely to win this game.
Wild Card Picks
The Titans made it into the playoffs this year in spite of the fact that they only beat one playoff team the rest of the season. Still, Marcus Mariota and the gang have been steadily rising over the course of the last few years, and it all culminates with this moment against the Chiefs in the team’s first ever playoff game. This is a big moment for Kansas City, too, knowing that it hasn’t won a home playoff game in five tries, including last year’s disappointment as the No. 2 seed against Pittsburgh.
Good on the Rams for getting into the playoffs in a year they were merely expected to take a few steps forward offensively. Instead, Sean McVay came right in and changed the whole culture in Los Angeles, getting the most out of both Jared Goff and Todd Gurley in ways that Jeff Fisher simply couldn’t. The Falcons are the defending champs of the NFC, though, and they aren’t going to go down without a fight. Remember that Atlanta played against playoff teams in four of the last five weeks of the season, so it’s ready for this trip across the country.
The Jaguars have spent the last 10 seasons picking in the top-10 in the NFL Draft. Now, they’re in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and they’re ready to make a big impact now that they’re here. They’ve gotten a dream draw against a Buffalo team that is clearly the worst of the postseason clubs in 2018. The Bills are merely happy to be here, marking their first playoff appearance since the Music City Miracle in 2000. With LeSean McCoy on the mend, though, it’s going to be hard to see the Bills having much success against one of the best defenses in the game.
This is the third meeting of the year between the Panthers and the Saints, and Carolina is hoping that the third time is the charm. After getting blown out in each of the first two meetings, these two will meet again. Cam Newton has had two really bad games against the boys from the Bayou, and the Superdome has never been his favorite place to play in his career. The Saints have the look of Super Bowl champions this year with an improving defense and a dynamic ground game between Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.