This 100th NFL season has been nothing but eventful. From the beginning of the season all the way to the end, so much predictions have changed. From thinking that the Browns and Chargers being a contender, to Rams and Bears being possible Super Bowl teams, to the Patriots looking like they could be undefeated after getting Antonio Brown, and to the Colts potentially winning the AFC South, those opinions have changed quickly. There are other teams that have unexpectedly earned their reputation as a possible Super Bowl team. Some of those teams are the 49ers who started the season 8-0, the Ravens who are riding a 12 game winning streak, and the Packers who now have a potent running game and defense that can benefit Aaron Rodgers, are now carrying humongous Super Bowl ambitions going into the new decade. So how about we go into information about every team and my predictions.
1. Baltimore Ravens: This team has every reason to be excited about a Super Bowl title. Though they were 2-2 by the end of the first quarter, they reeled off 3 straight wins before a statement win against the Patriots really put the NFL on notice. Since that, they've stretched their winning steak to 12 games, finishing with the best record in football. Their coach John Harbaugh has really established a great culture with this team. One of their strengths comes in the secondary featuring safety Earl Thomas and cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. In particular, their offense has a strong set of skill players with running back Mark Ingram II, wide receiver Marquise Brown, and tight end Mark Andrews have complemented each other very well this season. The heart of the team however is Lamar Jackson. His evolution as a passer while maintaining his skills at running the football has been an amazing sight. What isn't closely analyzed, is his leadership. Though he's just in his second year, he has set a great example of unselfishness and responsibility, two things that can really make a team jell. While this core hasn't had this season under their belt, they are a legitimate threat.
2. Kansas City Chiefs: Coming into the season, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and co. were expected to build off last season's campaign that saw Mahomes win MVP leading one of the most explosive offenses. Throughout the first 4 games, it looked to be the case as they scored 28 or more points en route to a 4-0 start. Then all of a sudden, inconsistent play by the offense and defense, as well as an injury to Mahomes in the first quarter of their week 7 matchup against the Denver Broncos, put them in a position in which they were only leading the AFC West by half a game at 6-4. But just in the blink of an eye, their defense which went through major changes in the offseason finally was able to complement the offense starting in a win against the Chargers in Mexico where field conditions were atrocious. Since then, 21 points is the highest they've allowed in this 6 game winning streak. With safety Tyrann Mathieu and pass rusher Frank Clark taking over games along with Mahomes regaining his form, this team still has a legit shot at competing for a Super Bowl title just like most people predicted at the beginning of the season.
3. New England Patriots: Doesn't time go by fast in the season? The Patriots looked like they hit a major jackpot with the signing of wide receiver Antonio Brown to complement quarterback Tom Brady. Even with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, they looked like they had the best receiving core in the AFC with Brown, Josh Gordon, and Julian Edelman. They breezed out the gate winning their first 2 games, but the Brown experiment was a major failure as he was released after sexual assault allegations. Even with the failed experiment, they still reeled off 6 more wins to be at 8-0 thanks to a dominating defense led by cornerback Stephon Gilmore. After that, they've been okay at best. But they have lots of reasons to be concerned with the biggest being that they don't have a first round bye. They've always had a first round bye in the playoffs, but after getting upset in the last game to the Dolphins at home, they will have to settle for a wild card spot. The last time they were in a wild card spot, they lost to the Ravens at home. That was a long time ago however, and considering how many times they've prevailed through adversity, it's hard to write them off.
4. Houston Texans: Like Baltimore, there were questions about whether the Texans could repeat last year's campaign, which they won their division but lost to the Colts. Those questions intensified when they lost some reliable assets via free agency, and gave a lot of draft picks to get good but not great players on offense. This all-in approach which was done to support their quarterback and receiver duo of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins was looking shaky at first, but the Texans were able to jell together pretty well. Besides some surprising losses at home to the Panthers and Broncos, they had some important victories. Some of those victories included an upset of the Chiefs on the road, a Sunday Night victory against the Patriots, and securing the division against the Titans. There's a lot of reasons to be excited about a deep run. Watson is having a magnificent season, Hopkins is posting his usual numbers, but they also have huge x-factors in receiver Will Fuller and cornerback Bradley Roby. Finally, they have all pro defensive end J.J. Watt coming back from a torn pec. With a healthy roster, this all-in approach could very much work out in January.
5. Buffalo Bills: Despite having one of the easiest schedules in football, no one really gave the Bills a chance to make the playoffs. But with a very stingy defense, this team started out fast at 3-0. It only got better as after the first quarter of the season, sophomore quarterback Josh Allen finally showed drastic improvement on cutting down his turnovers. Their four come from behind victories shows a lot of growth in a young team and that'll be essential for the playoffs. However, the main strength of this team is the defense. With cornerback Tre'Davious White tying the league lead for interceptions with 6 along with a solid front 7 to complement his play, this defense has allowed 24 points or fewer in 15 of their 16 games. While there's not much concern for the defense, the factor that will determine this game is the offense. They need their 2 best offensive players not named Allen in running back Devin Singletary and wide receiver John Brown to take pressure off of Allen. If the defense plays like they've played all season and Singletary and Brown can prevail, a deep playoff run is definitely possible.
6. Tennessee Titans: Sometimes, a desperate move can provide more than just a spark. That's what happened when backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill was promoted to starter in week 7. Since then, he's in the top 5 in passer rating and QBR. Perhaps more important, is the fact that they went 7-3 since the change occurred. Tannehill isn't the only one doing all of the work. Running back Derrick Henry has been one of the best running backs in football, winning the rushing title with a ridiculous 1,540 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, and 16 touchdowns. He's also been a better player than than the last time he played in a playoff game, which he also dominated. However, both of those players also have a lot of help at the receiving end in A.J. Brown. With 52 receptions, 1,051 yards, and 8 touchdowns, he's basically a lock for offensive rookie of the year and will probably be essential for this team in the years to come. On defense, they have a strong secondary led by one of the best ballhawks in Kevin Byard and one of the top slot cornerbacks in Logan Ryan. This year may not be their year, but they will have all of the tools to contend in the future.
1. San Fransisco 49ers: This team had a roster that was capable enough to make a playoff appearance, but most people viewed it as unlikely as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was coming back from injury and the defense with high profile additions may need some time to jell together. However, this team instead chose to finish the season with a 13-3 record with all of their losses coming in the final minute. Without question, there's a lot to be excited about. On offense, Garoppolo has regained his form, tight end George Kittle has proved that his breakout campaign last year wasn't a fluke, and they have one of the best rushing attacks in all of football with the trio of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Matt Breida. What has been spectacular, is the defense. Their front 7 which I previously mentioned in my article about teams to keep an eye on, overachieved to the point where even I didn't expect it. The defensive line of Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, and Nick Bosa has been one of the best in the league, while Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander formed a solid linebacking duo. Even with Alexander's season ending injury, that didn't stop them from still dominating. The secondary lead by cornerback Richard Sherman has also been a strong unit. With some of their wins in the second half coming against potential playoff opponents, this team has a lot of reasons to make a Super Bowl appearance.
2. Green Bay Packers: When you surround a great quarterback with other assets that are apart of different units of the team, you deserve to be 13-3. That's the case with the Packers. Aaron Rodgers has still been the brilliant passer that he's always been and his chemistry with Davante Adams is still one of the best in the league. But then again, they have lots of overachieving players on both sides of the ball. Running back Aaron Jones put up brilliant numbers this year. All of them career highs and there's been some games where they won because of him instead of Rodgers. On defense, Their front 7 of Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, and Blake Martinez has been strong throughout the entire year while Jaire Alexander has been able to build off his rookie campaign from last year. By the midway point they started off 7-1 and eventually finished with 13 wins. The only reason why people may not be so sold on them is because of their blowout loss to the 49ers in November. But then again, that was back in November, and with a team that's been good on both sides of the ball, there is a lot of optimism for a 14th NFL championship.
3. New Orleans Saints: At first, their Super Bowl hopes appeared to have taken a big hit when quarterback Drew Brees injured his thumb in the second week of the season. However, Teddy Bridgewater came in relief and went undefeated as a starter, propelling the Saints to a 6-1 record. When Brees came back, he picked up from where he left off last season as one of the most prolific passers with 27 touchdowns while only throwing for 4 interceptions But Brees wasn't the only one dominating. Wide receiver Michael Thomas had one of the greatest seasons for a wide receiver in NFL history by setting an NFL record for receptions in a single season while leading the league with 1,725 receiving yards along with 9 touchdowns. Running back Alvin Kamara has appeared to regain his form as one of the best all purpose backs in the league, and the offensive line after committing a lot of penalties early in the season, has tremendously cut down on them. In addition, they have 2 playmakers in Taysom Hill and Deonte Harris. On defense, they have a ton of studs in defensive end Cameron Jordan, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, safety Marcus Williams, and linebacker Demario Davis. Hopefully, this team won't have to deal with any one in a million plays such as Stefan Diggs' Minneapolis Miracle and a terrible no call on pass interference in the championship game last year against the Rams. If none of those kinds of plays happen, Super Bowl title is very likely.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Last year, everyone had the Eagles written off for good and this year was the same. At 5-7 fresh off a loss to the lowly Dolphins, things weren't looking good in any way. But then, quarterback Carson Wentz finally woke up and led the Eagles to 4 straight victories. Even with the division title however, there aren't a lot of high expectations. This team played in the worst division in all of football, but they are riding lots of momentum. With Wentz playing this well along with rookie running back Miles Sanders emerging as one of the top all purpose backs in the league, the offense has been playing very well, but if they want to play better, they need tight end Zach Ertz to return from injury. The defensive roster still has many players from their Super Bowl roster, but they have shown lots of weaknesses and that won't help come playoff time. However, they've been 4-1 in playoff games in the last 2 years and both they've entered every game as an underdog so maybe they'll make noise in the playoffs once again.
5. Seattle Seahawks: One minute they were in a golden position to have home field advantage in the NFC for the playoffs. The next minute, they are now a wild card team. That doesn't necessarily mean that a deep playoff run is impossible. Quarterback Russell Wilson has put together arguably the best season of his career thanks to his ability to create amazing plays even if it breaks down. He's also formed one of the best QB WR duos of him and Tyler Lockett, which has been effective throughout this season. In addition, rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf has turned into a reciever with effectiveOn defense, the front 7 led by league's leading tackler and all-pro linebacker Bobby Wagner is one of the best in the league. Shaquill Griffin has also emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFC as well. However, there is lots of concern and that is injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. On offense running back Chris Carson is on IR and while fan favorite Marshawn Lynch is back, it may not make a huge difference. While Wilson was able to overcome the injury of red zone favorite Will Dissly, it could very much affect them come postseason time. On defensive, their end Jadeveon Clowney who's best skill is always being around the ball, is nowhere to be found since his dominating performance against the 49ers. But Wilson and coach Pete Carroll know how to make the best even in heavy adversity. This January could be another example.
6. Minnesota Vikings: After the first quarter of the season. There seemed to be no flow with this team. Their $84 million quarterback Kirk Cousins wasn't forming any chemistry with his top 2 receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. As a result, rumors of a potential Diggs trade began to heat up intensely. Then just in the blink of a eye, Cousins finally began to play consistent football. They went 8-4 for the rest of the season en route to a 10-6 record. This roster is very balanced. Cousins, Thielen, and Diggs have formed one of the best passing attacks in the league and even when Thielen was hurt, the attack remained very potent. The running game is also very superb. Third year back Dalvin Cook has put up a career year putting up 1,135 yards along with 13 touchdowns while rookie Alexander Mattison has emerged as one of more reliable no. 2 running backs in the NFC. The strength of this team however, is the defense. At every area, they are loaded. At the line, ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter have been creating havoc on opposing quarterbacks, linebackers Erik Kendricks and Anthony are entering their primes, and the safety duo of ball hawk Anthony Harris and the hard hitting Harrison Smith is one of the best in the league. What will be important is the play of Cousins who still could be more consistent against good teams and the health of Cook and Thielen. Those factors will determine whether this team can make a playoff run.
Tennessee Titans 17
New England Patriots 21
New England Patriots 13
Kansas City Chiefs 27
Kansas City Chiefs 31
Baltimore Ravens 34
Houston Texans 16
Baltimore Ravens 30
Buffalo Bills 20
Houston Texans 24
New Orleans Saints 34
Baltimore Ravens 24
Minnesota Vikings 21
New Orleans Saints 31
New Orleans Saints 28
Green Bay Packers 24
New Orleans Saints 20
San Fransisco 49ers 17
Seattle Seahawks 17
San Fransisco 49ers 34
Seattle Seahawks 26
Philadelphia Eagles 17