2021 NFL Playoff Predictions

The NFL somehow made it through the regular season without a single cancellation, doing all it could to play every single game during this global pandemic. Some might consider that an accomplishment, but I’m not sure I would. COVID-19 cases popped up left and right, and they’ll continue into the postseason without a true “bubble”.

What’s the NFL going to do if it has to delay a postseason game? Or a star player tests positive the night before? Would the NFL really play on without a star QB? I’ve got my fingers crossed everyone stays healthy and COVID-free, but chances of that are, and as we’ve already seen with the Browns, highly unlikely.

All that throws another wrench into this year’s postseason, as if predicting it wasn’t hard enough. And as tempted as I was, there’s no way I can pick the Cleveland Browns to win the Super Bowl, especially after Head Coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive. The Browns reached the postseason for the first time since 2002, but they’re by no means a complete team, and have a lot of work to do to fix their defense this offseason. Still though, making the playoffs is a huge accomplishment for the Cleveland Browns, and the playoff experience will be invaluable for Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and more.

So who will raise the Lombardi Trophy, victors in Super Bowl LV? Scroll down to find out my predictions ⬇️

(All rankings come from Football Outsiders DVOA Metrics, which can be found here)

WILD CARD ROUND

AFC

No. 2 Buffalo Bills over No. 7 Indianapolis Colts. The Bills have been playing like the best team in football down the stretch, with a Top-5 offense led by Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. And while the Colts come into this matchup with a Top 10 defense, they’ve been vulnerable, giving up 28 points to the Pittsburgh Steelers and 44 to the Las Vegas Raiders in recent weeks. Matt Eberflus will have a good game plan for slowing down Allen, but Philip Rivers and co. just don’t have enough firepower to beat the Bills in Buffalo.

No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers over No. 6 Cleveland Browns. Even if Denzel Ward’s able to return, the Browns’ secondary is among the worst in football, with a defense that ranks 25th in the NFL. If Mason Rudolph can throw for 315 yards against the Browns’ secondary, imagine what Ben Roethlisberger can do, even without a run game. Baker Mayfield will do his best to keep things close, but the Browns are just too thin in the secondary and have lost too many players and coaches to COVID-19, to pull off the upset.

No. 5 Baltimore Ravens over No. 4 Tennessee Titans. A year ago, the Ravens were the favorite, and the Titans, led by a monster game from Derrick Henry, pulled off the upset. And while Henry is ready to rumble after a 2,000-yard season, the Ravens’ much-more balanced attack should be able to come into Nashville and pull out a victory, especially against Tennessee’s much-maligned defense, which ranks 29th in the NFL. In what should be a high-scoring affair, the Ravens get revenge.

NFC

No. 2 New Orleans Saints over No. 7 Chicago Bears. Mitchell Trubisky has played better as of late, but he certainly isn’t going to pull off the upset in the Superdome. Even if Alvin Kamara can’t play, Drew Brees is perfectly capable of putting up more than enough points on the Bears’ defense. While New Orleans’ 7th-ranked defense forces Trubisky into a few too many mistakes, sending the Saints to the divisional round.

No. 3 Seattle Seahawks over No. 6 Los Angeles Rams. Both teams appear to be in a funk, but at least the Seahawks have their Pro Bowl QB in Russell Wilson, while Jared Goff might not even play, with John Wolford potentially starting in his place. In what could be an ugly game, Wilson makes just enough plays against the Rams’ 4th-ranked defense, finding Tyler Lockett in the back of the end zone for a late, go-ahead touchdown.

No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers over No. 4 Washington Football Team. Tom Brady’s back in the postseason, but this time, he’s wearing red and black and without Bill Belichick. It certainly won’t matter against Washington though, who barely squeaked into the playoffs at 7-9. Chase Young and Washington’s star-studded defensive line might give Brady and the Buccaneers some issues, but not enough to pull off the upset, setting up a Brady vs. Rodgers matchup at snowy Lambeau.

DIVISIONAL ROUND

AFC

No. 5 Baltimore Ravens over No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs might be the favorite, and I might be crazy to pick against them, but something just seems a little off with Patrick Mahomes and co. And with a matchup against the Chiefs to look back on, John Harbaugh and the Ravens are able to scheme up enough pressure on defense, and score enough on offense, to pull off a shocker in Kansas City.

No. 2 Buffalo Bills over No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger might be able to shred a hapless Browns’ secondary, but against the Bills it’ll be a whole different story. Josh Allen is more than capable of making plays under pressure, and going toe-to-toe with Roethlisberger. Buffalo’s defense forces the Steelers to be one-dimensional and gets enough pressure on Big Ben to earn an AFC Championship berth.

NFC

No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers over No. 1 Green Bay Packers. Even after a year in Tampa Bay, Tom Brady is no stranger to the cold. A snowy NFC Divisional matchup might frighten other quarterbacks, but not Brady. Brady vs. Rodgers has all the makings of a classic, and no doubt this matchup would live up to the hype. But Brady, along with the 5th-ranked defense in the NFL, walk out of Lambeau with a win, besting Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ 17th-ranked defense.

No. 2 New Orleans Saints over No. 3 Seattle Seahawks. While Seattle’s defense has been rounding into form these last few weeks, even with a healthy Jamal Adams, it still doesn’t stack up with the remaining NFC playoff teams. And with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense in a bit of funk, Sean Payton and Drew Brees can take advantage, winning their way into the NFC Conference Championship.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

AFC

No. 5 Baltimore Ravens over No. 2 Buffalo Bills. It’s Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, a matchup of two 2018 first-round QBs. Both have developed into Top 10 QBs, with a myriad of weapons at their disposal. But in this matchup, its the Ravens’ Top-10 defense that can shine, fully healthy after being ravaged by COVID, Baltimore forces Allen into one too many mistakes, as Harbaugh reached another Super Bowl.

NFC

No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. No. 2 New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees has his sights set on one last Super Bowl run before he retires, and he’s already bested Brady twice in the regular season. But beating Brady in the playoffs is a whole different animal. The Superdome lights shine bright as Brady and Brees go back and forth, but it’s the Buccaneers, with their Top-5 offense and defense, the only team in the NFL that ranks in the Top 5 in both DVOA categories, that come out on top.

SUPER BOWL LV

Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Baltimore Ravens. Talk about a Super Bowl with some storylines. Can Brady win the thing without Belichick? Has Lamar Jackson ushered in the wave of the future with mobile QBs? Two teams with different styles should make for a heck of a game, but in the end, Tampa Tom comes out on top. Yes, the Ravens are well-suited to defense Brady, with corners they can put on an island and a fearsome pass rush, but the Buccaneers, with the top run defense in the NFL, are equally suited to slow Jackson and co. down. And Brady, of course, comes up clutch down the stretch to hoist trophy number seven.

AWARDS

  • Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
  • Defensive MVP: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: Chase Young, DE, Washington Football Team
  • Coach of the Year: Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Smith, QB, Washington Football Team

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