NFL playoff picture through week 13

Luke Smith , Sports Writer

With 4 weeks left in the NFL regular season, we have a good idea of who is making the playoffs. However, there are teams that still have a shot at making a wildcard spot. Here is a look at the current playoff projection along with team analysis.


AFC Divisional: At 11-1, the Pittsburgh Steelers hold the 1st round bye in the AFC. The Steelers have surprised many people this year, as they went on an 11 game win streak before losing to Washington in Week 13. The key for the Steelers has been an incredible defense that is top 3 in yards allowed per game and also leads the league in sacks and turnovers. The Steelers also have a talented and underrated wide receiver corps with Juju Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and James Washington. However, also sitting at 11-1, the Kansas City Chiefs could still claim the 1st round bye before the season is over, so these next 4 games will be crucial to determine who will clench the bye.


NFC Divisional: At 10-2, the New Orleans Saints hold the 1st round bye in the AFC. The Saints offense has adapted well to playing without quarterback Drew Brees, who has been out after sustaining a rib injury in Week 10. The Saints named Taysom Hill their starting quarterback over Jameis Winston, which has worked out well. The dual threat quarterback has kept the offense productive, along with star wide receiver Michael Thomas and star running back Alvin Kamara. The Saints defense also allows the least yards per game in the league and is top 5 in sacks. The Saints will look to ride their 9 game win streak to the end of the regular season and clench the 1st round bye. It will be interesting to see who the Saints will name starting quarterback, as Brees is expected to return again in a few weeks. 


AFC Wildcard Games~


Kansas City Chiefs vs. Indianapolis Colts: The Colts (8-4) are one of the more underrated teams this year, getting big wins over the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans. The Colts also have a defense that is top 5 in yards allowed per game and turnovers. However, they’d be going up against reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, who leads the league in passing yards along with 31 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Not only that, Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce are both top 5 in receiving yards. Overall, the Chiefs are best in the NFL in terms of total offense and are arguably the best team. The Colts beating them would be shocking. 


Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins: Bills (9-3) quarterback Josh Allen has proven himself as an elite player. Allen is top 5 in passing yards with 26 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. The Bills also have strong wide receivers with Cole Beasley and Stefon Diggs, who is top 5 in receiving yards. After a 5-11 season last year, not many people would’ve thought the Dolphins would have a real shot at the playoffs this year. Now, they’re 8-4 and will more than likely make the playoffs. The Dolphins offense is led by Tua Tagovailoa, the rookie quarterback out of Alabama who is fairly inconsistent but shows promise, along with the young wide receiver DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki. This would be a good game, but I’d take the Bills because of the elite season Josh Allen is having and the fact that the Dolphins are a very young team. The Dolphins should consider starting Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback in the playoffs because he has more experience and has performed well in games this season.


Tennessee Titans vs. Cleveland Browns: The misery for Browns fans is finally over; the Browns are 9-3 and will more than likely clench a wildcard spot this year after not making a playoff appearance since 2002. The Browns prolific offense is a run-first team with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt who are both top 10 in rushing yards. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has proven he can put up impressive numbers but is still fairly inconsistent. On the other side are the Titans (8-4) who also have a run-first offense with Derrick Henry. Henry leads the league in rushing yards along with 12 touchdowns. The Titans also have a solid pass attack with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receivers AJ Brown and Corey Davis. Both the Browns and Titans also have defenses that are top 5 in turnovers. The Browns beat the Titans 41-35 in Week 13. This would be a very entertaining matchup; I’d go with the Titans because of the sheer volume and power of Derrick Henry that took them to the AFC Championship last year. 


NFC Wildcard Games~


Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings: After a 1-5 start to the season, the Vikings are 6-6 and are looking to clench a wildcard spot. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has improved his performance from the beginning of the season with the help of wide receivers Adam Theilin and Justin Jefferson, the rookie out of LSU who is top 5 in receiving yards. Running back Dalvin Cook has put up excellent numbers this season; Cook is 2nd in rushing yards behind Derrick Henry along with 13 touchdowns. However, the Vikings are 23rd in terms of total defense, which will make it very difficult to stop the Packers offense. The Packers are 2nd in total offense with star playmakers Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, and Davante Adams. Given this and the fact that the Vikings can still easily miss the playoffs with the 6-6 Arizona Cardinals right behind them, the Packers would be the correct choice for this game.


Los Angeles Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: After going 7-9 last season, the Buccaneers made big moves over the offseason and acquired Tom Brady, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Brown. Now, at 7-5, they have a shot at making the playoffs for the 1st time since 2007. The Buccaneers have a talented backfield with Fournette and Ronald Jones, who is top 5 in rushing yards. Brady also has wide receivers Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin as his disposal, as well as tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Rams are also a very talented team this year. The Rams are top 3 in total offense with the dynamic wide receiver duo of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, as well as a top 3 defense with defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. This is a difficult choice; the Rams have more talent but the Buccaneers have more playoff experience. I give the advantage to the Buccaneers simply because of Tom Brady’s playoff experience and the big names on the offense.


Seattle Seahawks vs. New York Giants: As usual, Seahawks (8-4) quarterback Russell Wilson has put up impressive numbers; Wilson is top 3 in passing yards and leads the league in touchdowns with 32. The high-powered Seattle offense also includes breakout wide receiver DK Metcalf, who leads the league in receiving yards, wide receiver Tyler Lockett and running back Chris Carson. However, the Seahawks one of the worst (31st) in the league in terms of total defense. Russell Wilson also has a bit of a turnover problem with 11 interceptions, one of the worst in the league, and 4 fumbles lost. Normally, a 5-7 team wouldn’t be considered a playoff contender. However, the Giants play in the NFC East, which is currently the worst division on record. The Giants also have a 4 game win streak, including a win against Seattle in which their defense stifled Wilson and held him to 1 touchdown. But for this playoff matchup, I’d go with the Seahawks over the highly questionable Giants.