NFL Wild Card Weekend won't be without football royalty this season.
While Carson Wentz and Josh Allen are among the quarterbacks that will make their playoff debuts on the first weekend of the 2019 NFL postseason, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, two of the most accomplished players in the history of the sport, will also participate as they look to add an additional Super Bowl title in the twilights of their respective careers. Russell Wilson and Michael Thomas, both of whom find themselves on Hall of Fame tracks, will also be active on Wild Card Weekend.
If that doesn't get you excited for the NFL postseason, nothing will.
Ahead of the 2019-20 NFL playoffs, here are predictions on how the postseason will play out:
Uncertainty Looms Over the New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are in trouble.
No one wants to end up on Old Takes Exposed, but it doesn't seem to be a hot take right now to say that the New England Patriots are more likely to lose on Wild Card Weekend than make a run to the Super Bowl.
On Oct. 28, I wrote about the uphill battle that the Patriots, then 8-0, faced to completing a perfect regular season. Those words proved to be more prophetic than anyone could have imagined, as the Patriots were blown out the following week on Sunday Night Football by the Baltimore Ravens.
That game proved indicative of what was to come the rest of the season. The Ravens haven't lost a game since Week 4, and quarterback Lamar Jackson is the heavy favorite to win the NFL MVP. Jackson and the Ravens will rest on Wild Card weekend, as they secured a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Patriots lost four of their final eight games, including a Week 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins, a team they defeated 43-0 in Week 2.
Over their final eight games, the Patriots averaged just 21.25 points per game. The only time they scored over 24 points was in Week 15, when they scored 34 against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that finished with a league-worst 2-14 record. For much of the second half of the season, they looked like a team desperate for the game-breaking element that Antonio Brown added to their offense in Week 2, his only game with the team before he was released after sending intimidating text messages to a woman that accused him of sexual misconduct.
By losing in Week 17, the Patriots coughed up a chance to have a first-round bye and a home playoff game in the divisional round of the playoffs, should they make it there. Though they'll have a home playoff game on Wild Card Weekend, it's no guarantee they'll defeat the Tennessee Titans. Led by the NFL's leading rusher Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Titans won seven of their final 10 regular season games.
Even if the Patriots defeat the Titans to open the playoffs, history suggests they won't win the Super Bowl without a first-round bye. They've won three Super Bowl titles in the 2010s, all of which came when they had a first-round bye. This will be the first time since 2009 that they don't have a first-round bye. Not only have they have a first-round bye all six times that they've won a Super Bowl during the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era, but all nine times they've won the AFC title.
Right now, it's hard to imagine the Patriots going into Kansas City in the AFC Divisional Round and Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game and coming out victorious in both cases. Frankly, the Patriots would be comfortable underdogs in either game - they lost to both the Chiefs and Ravens during the regular season.
Hanging over all of this is uncertainty about the future of the Patriots. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is already being mentioned for multiple head coaching vacancies. Tom Brady isn't under contract for 2020. It's possible he retires, but if he chooses to play, the Patriots can't franchise tag him.
It's entirely possible in early February that screenshots of this article are indeed featured on Old Takes Exposed. But things just feel different for the Patriots this time. Perhaps they'll win one playoff game, but that may be their ceiling this January.
What Future Head Coaches Will Be Coaching During the Playoffs?
Depending upon how the game plays out, it's possible that Saturday evening's New England Patriots-Tennessee Titans Wild Card matchup will be Josh McDaniels' final game as the team's offensive coordinator.
Despite reneging on his commitment to become the Indianapolis Colts head coach two offseasons ago, McDaniels has already been connected to head coaching vacancies for the Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers and New York Giants.
McDaniels could ultimately wait for Bill Belichick to retire, as he would likely be his replacement in New England. That said, Belichick, 67, said in October that he could see himself coaching into his 70s. Plus, who wants to be the successor to arguably the greatest coach in sports history? When you couple that with uncertainty at the quarterback position after 2019, this offseason (whenever that begins) may be the perfect time for McDaniels to take a second shot at head coaching.
While McDaniels - who coached the Denver Broncos from 2009-2010 - would be a second-time head coach, many of the other notable candidates still coaching in the postseason would be first-time head coaches.
ESPN's Adam Schefter says that both the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers have requested an interview with Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. The 50-year-old has been on Andy Reid's staff since 2013, and the offensive coordinator since 2018. Reid's two previous offensive coordinators in Kansas City - Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy - have gone on to become head coaches. If it were up to Reid, Bieniemy would have gotten a head coaching job last offseason.
Schefter also says that the Cleveland Browns, who fired Freddie Kitchens after one season, have requested an interview with Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. The Browns may prefer to hire a head coach with prior experience, but it's hard to ignore the success that Roman has had working with Alex Smith, Colin Kapernick Tyrod Taylor and Lamar Jackson as an offensive coordinator.
The Browns appear to be casting a wide net, with Ian Rapoport of NFL Network saying that they've requested an interview with San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Though it would seem curious to hire a defensive-minded head coach given Baker Mayfield's regression in his second season, the 49ers finished the season with the No. 2 overall defense. As RADIO.COM's Ross Tucker noted in October, it's not hard to imagine an owner and general manager falling in love with the fire of Saleh.
Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is an interesting name as well. Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot says that the Browns hope to interview Stefanski for the second consecutive offseason. Perhaps more interesting is that Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports suggested that if the Vikings are embarrassed in their Wild Card matchup with the New Orleans Saints, it could leave them at a crossroads with head coach Mike Zimmer, who is under contract through 2020. Robinson added that Vikings' ownership "likes Stefanski a lot," which leads you to think he could be a legitimate candidate if Zimmer and the Vikings were to part ways.
Long-time Carolina Panthers' head coach Ron Rivera appears likely to be the new Washington Redskins' head coach, while former Green Bay Packers' head coach Mike McCarthy has been connected to multiple vacancies as well. When you couple that with the prominence of college names - Urban Meyer, Lincoln Riley, Matt Rhule - in discussions about head coaches, this may not be a great year to get a head coaching job if you are a coordinator. Whether it's this offseason or in the future, though, the four candidates mentioned here are going to be head coaches.
What Team Is Capable of a Cinderella Run?
It's really hard to factor any NFC team into this discussion.
The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers both went 13-3 and will have first-round byes. The New Orleans Saints also went 13-3, and employ a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees, a top-five head coach in Sean Payton and wide receiver Michael Thomas, arguably the game's most dominant player currently. Even with a slew of late-season injuries, as long as the Seattle Seahawks employ Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, it's hard to view them as too much of an underdog.
Perhaps the Minnesota Vikings or Philadelphia Eagles could make a surprise run to the Super Bowl - or even the NFC Championship Game - though from here, neither of those outcomes are likely.
That leaves us with the AFC as we look for a Cinderella.
One postseason win may be enough for much of America to fall in love with the Tennessee Titans, who won seven of their final 10 games before the postseason. But while a win in New England isn't impossible, it would be hard to imagine Ryan Tannehill and company going into Baltimore and coming out victorious in the AFC Divisional Round.
From here, the winner of the Buffalo Bills-Houston Texans AFC Wild Card Game may have the best chance to go on a surprising playoff run.
The Texans have been a bipolar team in 2019. In the final eight weeks of the season, the Texans defeated both the Patriots and Titans. They were also blown out by the Baltimore Ravens and, inexplicably, the Denver Broncos. Deshaun Watson is a superstar, and if he has a healthy Will Fuller V and Laremy Tunsil in the postseason, they are a team capable of playing with just about anyone. Then again, it's hard to get the 41-7 loss to the Ravens in Week 11 out of your head.
The Bills have the No. 3 overall defense in the NFL. That said, the Bills have perhaps leaned on their defense to win games too much for their own good.
In the Bills' 10 wins, Sean McDermott's defense never allowed more than 21 points. To a degree, that's a sign of a dominant defense. However, they only scored 28 or more points three times in 2019, twice against the Dolphins and once against the New York Giants. To beat the Houston Texans - and the Baltimore Ravens and/or Kansas City Chiefs if they advance - the Bills will have to open things up more offensively. Josh Allen, Devin Singletary and John Brown give the Bills game-breaking potential. If a defensive-oriented coaching staff opens things up, they could make a run.
Who Will Win Super Bowl LIV?
As rain poured on Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 1, he rushed for 101 yards in a 20-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers. The guess here is that those two teams - who enter the postseason as the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences - will meet in Miami on Feb. 2 for a rematch in Super Bowl LIV.
Let's start with this; if the New Orleans Saints had gotten home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, it would have been hard to pick against them to come out of the NFC.
Never mind that Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and Sean Payton is one of the best offensive minds in the history of the sport, Michael Thomas is arguably the best overall player in the sport right now. Despite Brees missing nearly six games, Thomas turned in one of the greatest seasons that a wide receiver has ever had, hauling in a record 149 passes for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns.
All that said, despite going 13-3, the Saints didn't even secure a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, let alone home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Saints will host the Minnesota Vikings on Wild Card Weekend, and if the 49ers are upset in the NFC Divisional Round, it's possible the Saints could host the NFC Championship Game. They would, however, have to go into Green Bay in the second round of the NFC playoffs. We can look forward to a potential rematch of the Saints-49ers Week 14 tilt, which saw the 49ers pull out a 48-46 win in arguably the best game of the 2019 regular season. The guess here, though, is if the two teams ultimately meet in the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco, the 49ers will be victorious.
In the AFC playoffs, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs could potentially go into Baltimore and win the AFC Championship Game, though that feels less than likely. There's an it factor with the Ravens, who haven't lost a game since Week 4. Lamar Jackson is going to be the league MVP, and there's no reason to think he'll be slowed down in the playoffs. A bye week will hopefully allow Mark Ingram II to rest a calf injury, but even in his absence, Gus Edwards ran for 130 yards in a Week 17 win.
The Ravens finished the season with the No. 1 overall rushing attack, one spot ahead of the 49ers. If the 49ers lean on their three-headed rushing attack, they'll meet the Ravens in Super Bowl LIV. The feeling here is that the Ravens will win a close game over the 49ers, but what their Week 13 matchup showed is that the 49ers are perhaps best suited to end a Ravens' winning streak that extends back to early October.