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NFL Playoffs 2019: Projecting AFC, NFC Bracket Before Final Games

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2018

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 16: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens looks to throw the ball in the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at M&T Bank Stadium on December 16, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

As we go into Week 17, there are two certainties in the seeding order. The New Orleans Saints have locked up home-field advantage, and the Dallas Cowboys have the No. 4 seed in the NFC bracket.

There's still one spot up for grabs between two teams in the NFC. In the AFC, two seats remain open and three clubs have an opportunity to win the south division. With a Houston Texans loss, the winner of the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts matchup would host a playoff game.

Will rookie signal-caller Lamar Jackson lead the Baltimore Ravens to a postseason berth? Can Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins deliver under the bright lights?

We'll make a prediction for each conference and highlight the projected matchups for the Wild Card Round. Once it's all said and done, which teams are going to extend their seasons?

                     

AFC Projection

1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

2. New England Patriots (11-5)

3. Houston Texans (11-5)

4. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

5. Los Angeles Chargers (12-4)

6. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

                             

NFC Projection

1. New Orleans Saints (14-2)

2. Los Angeles Rams (13-3)

3. Chicago Bears (12-4)

4. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)

5. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)

6. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

               

Wild Card Round Projections

AFC

No. 6 Indianapolis Colts at No. 3 Houston Texans

Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

The Houston Texans will go into Week 17 banged up. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins played through an ankle injury over the past few games, but he's logged consecutive 100-yard performances leading into the season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Running back Lamar Miller missed Week 16 because of an ankle issue, and he'll return to action. Wideout Keke Coutee (hamstring) remains questionable. 

The Texans' bumps and bruises on the offensive side of the ball raise some concerns because they are facing the fifth-ranked scoring defense in the league. The Jaguars don't have a shot at the playoffs, but they have shut out the Colts and held the Miami Dolphins to a single-digit point total in the past four gameweeks.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Jacksonville plans to move on from quarterback Blake Bortles, but he took over for Cody Kessler in the team's most recent outing. It's likely his last start for the Jaguars and a final audition for the league. Expect him to perform at his best, but Miller's return bodes well for Houston when going against the 18th-ranked run defense.

The Jaguars and Texans will come down to the wire, but head coach Bill O'Brien's group should win a low-scoring matchup and claim a third division title in four years. 

In the final game of the regular season, the Colts will take advantage of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey's absence (MCL sprain) and clinch the last playoff spot in the AFC.

              

No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers at No. 4 Baltimore Ravens

CARSON, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 22:   Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens and Philip Rivers #17 of the Los Angeles Chargers meet on the field after a 22-10 Ravens win at StubHub Center on December 22, 2018 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Get
Harry How/Getty Images

Assuming the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium, the Los Angeles Chargers would lock into the No. 5 seed in the AFC whether they win or lose to the Denver Broncos.

In a matchup featuring a pair of rookie quarterbacks, Jackson and Baker Mayfield, the Ravens and Cleveland Browns have each won five of their past six contests. It's possible this game foreshadows an AFC North power struggle for years to come.

Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams talked about treating this contest as their playoff game. Expect his team to play loose with nothing to lose or gain from the outcome. However, Baltimore's No. 1-ranked defense will remain steady and blanket Cleveland's offense in a low-scoring matchup. Jackson should run through the Cleveland's 24th-ranked run defense.

In the playoffs, we will see a Week 16 rematch between the Ravens and Chargers.

             

NFC             

No. 6 Philadelphia Eagles at No. 3 Chicago Bears 

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 23: Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles passes the ball against the Houston Texans at Lincoln Financial Field on December 23, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Texans 32-30. (Photo by Mitchell Lef
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears can move up to the No. 2 seed if the Los Angeles Rams lose to the San Francisco 49ers. With that scenario alive, head coach Matt Nagy should play his starters on a full snap count against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings' playoff hopes hang in the balance; they are in if they win. There's immense pressure on Cousins to justify his $84 million guaranteed contract in one game.

Cousins didn't fare well against the Bears defense in the Week 11 matchup at Soldier Field. He threw two interceptions and tossed his first touchdown pass with four minutes and 51 seconds left in regulation. Chicago's third-ranked scoring defense will frustrate Minnesota's signal-caller and thwart a rejuvenated ground attack that's racked up 320 yards over the past two outings.

As a result of the Vikings' loss, the Philadelphia Eagles would squeak through the back door of the playoffs with a win over the Washington Redskins, who have lost five of their past six games.

Ironically, the Eagles would play the team that helped them clinch a postseason berth in the Wild Card Round, assuming the Rams beat the 49ers at home.

                   

No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 4 Dallas Cowboys

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

The Dallas Cowboys will host a playoff game as the No. 4 seed, but they are waiting on either the Vikings or Seattle Seahawks to secure the top wild-card spot in the NFC.

The Seahawks have a home game against the Arizona Cardinals' inept offense, which ranks last in points scored and total yardage. Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Week 12.

Regardless of Seattle's approach to this game, the defense shouldn't have much trouble with a team in the driver's seat for the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. Running back David Johnson hasn't eclipsed 50 yards on the ground in the past three contests. 

This year, Arizona has struggled to move the football through the air or on the ground. Seattle will apply a bit of pressure, and the Cardinals likely fold in a non-competitive matchup. We will see the Seahawks vs. the Cowboys for the second time this year.

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