The NFL regular season came to an end on Sunday and the postseason bracket is officially set with all roads leading to Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta and the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The state of Texas will have two teams in this year’s playoff tournament.
The Texans locked up the AFC South in week 17 and will host the Indianapolis Colts in the Wildcard Round, but it was a loss in Philadelphia during week 16 that has fans in Houston frustrated. The loss meant they conceded the number two seed in the AFC field and a first round bye to the New England Patriots.
Instead, Deshaun Watson will compete in his first career playoff game against a division rival that has won nine of their last 10 games.
Andrew Luck led the Colts to a 10-6 record and the conference’s final spot despite a 1-5 start to the year. Indianapolis is just the third team in NFL history that can say that. The Texans and Colts split a pair of tight regular season games, so this one could go either way at first glance. Since it will take place at NRG Stadium, I give a slight advantage to Houston. But their inability to secure a first round bye could lead to their early demise against a dangerous Colts team that has embraced the underdog mentality.
Elsewhere in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens will host the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers, despite a 12-4 record, had to settle for a wildcard and will have to go on the road to face a 10-6 team. The Ravens, though, are dangerous in their own right. Baltimore has turned their season around since promoting rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson to the starting job. Jackson has led an effective ground attack while their defense has been arguably the best in the AFC.
The Cowboys locked up the NFC East title in week 16 with a home win over Tampa Bay and finished the year with a thrilling win in New York, a record of 10-6 and the number four seed in the conference. They will welcome Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks to Arlington on Saturday night.
Seattle, also 10-6, is a highly lethal team at home in the Northwest, but are quite beatable on the road. In order for the Cowboys to be successful in the playoffs, they will have to bring their elite defense. The unit surprised many as one of the most capable in the league and allowed an average offense to thrive with their assistance. If they can contain Wilson and rely on Ezekiel Elliot to carry the offense, they have a good chance in a matchup that could go either way. They cannot get down early.
In the weekend’s final matchup, the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, who snuck into the final slot with a 9-7 record, will visit the high-flying Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Like the Colts, the Bears finished the season 9-1. Unlike anyone else in football, the Bears can decimate their opponents with the world’s finest defense.
Since Nick Foles stepped in for an injured Carson Wentz, much like he did a season ago, the Eagles have been back to championship form and are on everyone’s radar for another improbable run. But this is not 2017, and Foles and the Eagles will have to try and reach Super Bowl 53 the hard way.
The road begins next to Lake Michigan in an electric environment against one of the league's best stories. Only one quarterback has escaped Chicago victorious in 2018, and his last name is Brady. This matchup will showcase offense versus defense and experience versus newcomers. But Mitchell Trubisky ended the regular season on a high note and the offense may be a bigger threat than most anticipate under first year head coach Matt Nagy.
Wildcard Round: LA Chargers over Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans over Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks over Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears over Philadelphia Eagles
Divisional Round: New England Patriots over Houston Texans, LA Chargers over Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears over LA Rams, New Orleans Saints over Seattle Seahawks
Despite a “down year” and a 41-year-old Tom Brady, the road to the Super Bowl ends up going through Foxboro anyway when the Chargers upset the Chiefs in the Divisional Round in Kansas City. Philip Rivers comes within one game of the Super Bowl for the second time of his career, but is outgunned by Brady and the Patriots once again. New England thrives when they are overlooked, which is not often. Brady reaches his ninth Super Bowl with a 31-26 win in the AFC Championship.
If anyone can take down the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome, it is the Chicago Bears. In a league dedicated to high-powered offense, the Bears recorded nearly 40 takeaways throughout the year for a turnover ratio of plus 12. Drew Brees and his elite weapons have shown vulnerability against top defenses this season, but that has usually happened away from the Superdome. Still, defense prevails as the unit proves to be up to the challenge and slows down Brees just enough. Trubisky and the offense play at a high level throughout the postseason and Chicago wins the NFC 24-20 in New Orleans.
Speaking of old versus new, the Bears will attempt to complete their journey from worst to first in Atlanta against Brady and the league's best dynasty. In a rematch of Super Bowl 20 to decide the 1985 season, the defense of the Bears will steal the show again. Chicago’s pass rush gives Brady fits and allows them to take a lead into the fourth quarter. Brady perseveres to deliver a thrilling finish, but the Bears hold on for the 21-17 victory and their first title in 33 years.