Last week, we took a look at the AFC and predicted who will make the playoffs. This week, we will take a look at the NFC. In the AFC, the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens are the runaway favorites for a bye. However, in the NFC there are five teams with eight or more wins. Three of the four divisions are still in a tight race. The NFC North, East, and West leaders are all only ahead by one or fewer games. However, only six teams can make the postseason so let’s predict who will make the 2019 NFC playoffs.
2019 NFC Playoffs: Division Winner/Wild Card Predictions
The NFC East is a one-bid division. Neither the Dallas Cowboys (6-4) or Philadelphia Eagles (5-5) are going to push for a wild card spot. These two teams will continue to slug it out for the NFC East title. And the Cowboys should be the favorites. Because of Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson balling out, Dak Prescott hasn’t received the same MVP love. The fourth-year QB has become the engine that runs the Cowboys offense, not Ezekiel Elliott. Thanks to Prescott, Dallas has the most efficient offense according to DVOA metrics. Flanking Prescott is one of the best wide receiving groups in the league. So far, Amari Cooper is fourth in receiving yards, Michael Gallup is in the midst of a breakout year, and Randall Cobb has looked better than he has since his 2015 campaign.
The biggest question mark for Dallas is their defense. In 2018, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch had all-pro seasons. Thus far they haven’t been bad, but they haven’t been the same difference makers as they were last year. As a whole, the team ranks 24th in takeaways per game and outside of a rejuvenated Robert Quinn (8.5 sacks), there has been very little pass rush generated. That said, there is still a ton of talent on this defense, and the Cowboys roster has a lot more talent on it than the injury-depleted Eagles.
Division Winner: Dallas Cowboys
Just like the East, the NFC South is a one-bid division. Unlike the East, the South has a favorite. In fact, the South is the only division with a favorite. Despite Drew Brees missing five games, the New Orleans Saints (8-2) maintained their grip over the division. This year, the Saints are doing it differently than we’re accustomed to, and are led through the defense. In fact, the Saints defense has played like a top-ten unit most of the year. This unit has been one of the league’s elite run-stoppers, and have benefited from a spectacular year from linebacker Demario Davis. Although defense leads the way, both Brees and Teddy Bridgewater have benefited from an elite offensive line and Michael Thomas. Thomas (90 receptions) is on track to break Marvin Harrison‘s record for receptions in a season. The Saints should be a favorite to win it all.
Division Winner: New Orleans Saints
The question is, will it be the Minnesota Vikings (8-3), or the Green Bay Packers (8-2) who get a home game in the 2019 NFC playoffs courtesy of being division champs. This is the toughest call to make, but the Packers are going to get a slight edge. The Packers have two what should be easy games against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants sprinkled in their schedule. Meanwhile, the Vikings don’t have any games that can be considered a cakewalk. That said, the Packers defense needs to fix a lot of issues. Although they started the season hot, they haven’t been the same since. They rank in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards, and passing yards allowed. In recent weeks, the Packers have struggled mightily at stopping the run. Although they have an impressive 16 takeaways to their name, they’ve been an average at best defense.
But this team is better on offense than they’ve been in a few years. Although Aaron Rodgers will always be the headliner, it’s running back Aaron Jones who has exploded onto the scene and has 14 touchdowns already. If Rodgers doesn’t have to pull magic out of a hat every week, Packers fans should feel really good about their chances to make a deep playoff run.
Division Winner: Green Bay Packers
As for the Vikings, Dalvin Cook has rivaled Christian McCaffrey for the title of best back in the league all year. Averaging an astounding 4.8 yards per catch, and 11 touchdowns already, Cook has shown ability few can rival. The Vikings need Adam Thielen to get healthy and take double coverage away from Stefon Diggs for them to reach their highest ceiling. Until then, they can rely on Cook and their impressive defense to take care of them. The Vikings rank seventh with 31 sacks and possess the fifth-ranked scoring defense. With superstars all over including Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, and Eric Kendricks putting it all together, this unit will be a tough team to score on the remainder of the year.
Wild Card #1: Minnesota Vikings
Entering the year, very few people predicted the NFC West to shape up how it has. The San Fransisco 49ers are 9-1, the Seattle Seahawks are 8-2, and the pre-season favorite LA Rams are 6-4. The winners of the West will be the 49ers, with the Seahawks finishing a close second. The 49ers have very few if any weaknesses. Owning the best defensive line in football, and a great secondary, this defense trails only the New England Patriots in points allowed per game. Number two overall pick Nick Bosa has had defensive rookie of the year all but locked up since his week five breakout game. Richard Sherman is in the midst of his best season since the legion of boom days. And on offense, when Emmanuel Sanders and George Kittle both get healthy, nobody will be able to stop them.
Division Winner: San Fransisco 49ers
Unlike the 49ers, the Seahawks do have a weakness in their lack of pass rush. Although Jadeveon Clowney has come on lately, the team has the fourth-fewest sacks in the NFL with 20. The defense as a whole gives up a ton of yards and puts Russell Wilson into a position of having to win the game week in and week out. Out of the ten games that Seattle has played, only two of them have ended in more than a two-possession game. And in the NFL, luck plays a role in who wins one-possession games. Seattle has been very lucky that they have an MVP candidate at QB to help them in these close games. But overall, the Seahawks play a style of football that promotes close games by leaning on the running game (fifth-most attempts in the league), and that will prevent them from challenging the 49ers.
Wild Card #2: Seattle Seahawks
The 2019 NFC Playoffs Will Be One To Remember
As we can see, the NFC is going to be a slugfest for the remainder of the year. Along with divisions being up for grabs, first-round byes are up for grabs as well. All of these six teams predicted can be considered threats to win the Lombardi Trophy come February. The 2019 NFC playoffs should be one to remember. So until then, all we can do is speculate, sit back, and enjoy the fact that the NFL has more parity in it this year than it has in a long time.
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