NFL playoff predictions can be tricky. Having clear-cut division leaders to choose from helps out, but even that is tempered by the chase that takes place for the two wild card spots in each conference.
So, it is with great caution that I proceed.
Here are my NFL playoff predictions after Week 14:
First round byes: New England and Pittsburgh
(6) New York Jets at (3) San Diego Chargers
How we got to this point: It’s not pretty, particularly after a dominating mid-season stretch, but the Jets hold it together just enough to sneak in at 10-6, barely holding off the Chiefs to set up this rematch of last season’s AFC divisional round — a 17-14 Jets win.
On the other side, it’s like clockwork in San Diego. Despite having their record string of December wins snapped two weeks ago against Oakland, the Chargers again ride another solid final month into the playoffs, hoping a solid last fourth of the season doesn't lead to another playoff ouster at the hands of the Jets.
(5) Baltimore Ravens at (4) Jacksonville Jaguars
How we got to this point: Realistically, the Ravens could finish the regular season 12-4, place second in the AFC North, and be forced to go on the road for the wild card round of the playoffs, which is exactly what will happen. That said, Monday’s close win at Houston raises concerns.
The Jaguars take advantage of a rare down year from Peyton and the injury-ravaged Colts, clinching their first postseason berth since 2007. That year, they came within two scores of going to the AFC Championship.
First round byes: Atlanta and Philadelphia
(6) New York Giants at Chicago Bears
How we got to this point: Smarted by a Week 14 thumping at the hands of the Patriots, the Bears don’t exactly leave a trail of fire behind them on their way in. They claim the NFC North crown despite losing their season finale at Green Bay.
Perhaps written off by some early in the season, the Giants make a workmanlike dash for the NFC East but lose out to Philadelphia and instead settle for the No. 6 seed. Perfectly suited for the road rigors and inclement weather of January, the Giants enter the playoffs as the NFC’s most well-rounded team, ranking no lower than 12th in any major statistical category.
(5) New Orleans Saints at St. Louis Rams
How we got to this point: The Rams surely benefit from playing in the league’s sorriest division, but that does not diminish how far Steve Spagnuolo, in two seasons, has taken a franchise that won five games in the two years prior to his arrival. Now they have a home playoff game to show for their night-and-day improvement.
An absolute victim of the NFL’s current playoff seeding procedure, the Saints will have to play at St. Louis despite winning what could be as many as 13 games, including a 31-13 whitewashing of these very Rams in Week 14.