After watching 17 weeks of regular-season action, it's still anyone's guess as to which team passes around the Lombardi Trophy in February. It's a clear sign of parity in the NFL.
Last year's Super Bowl participants, the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, qualified for the postseason, but both teams have major question marks. In fact, the defending champions needed help from the Chicago Bears to earn their playoff spot. There are whispers about quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski's decline.
Ironically, the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs finished as No. 4 seeds last year. Now, they're on a bye with home-field advantage in their respective conferences. Will they meet in a matchup between No. 1 seeds in Atlanta?
There are intriguing elements to follow during Wild Card Weekend.
We'll see rookie signal-caller Lamar Jackson in action. At one point, some questioned whether he'd play quarterback at the professional level because of his skill set. Now, he's leading a rejuvenated Baltimore Ravens team in the postseason.
The red-hot Indianapolis Colts have won nine of their last 10 contests with Comeback Player of the Year candidate Andrew Luck under center. The Chicago Bears are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign. How far will America's team, the Dallas Cowboys, go?
Here are the final predictions for the 2019 postseason.
Wild Card Round
AFC: No. 6 Indianapolis Colts at No. 3 Houston Texans: Saturday, Jan. 5 at 4:35 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN
Like Luck, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt deserves to be mentioned as a Comeback Player of the Year contender. After missing 24 games between the 2016-17 terms, he leads an aggressive defense with 16 sacks. The Texans have a near-unstoppable tandem in quarterback Deshaun Watson and wideout DeAndre Hopkins, but it's not enough to match Indianapolis' fifth-ranked scoring offense.
As mentioned, the Colts have been on a roll in the win column. They snapped the Texans' nine-game win streak in Week 14 at NRG Stadium. Luck's ability to spread the football to his pass-catchers will frustrate Houston's 28th-ranked pass defense. Watson and Hopkins will connect on a few highlight plays, but Lamar Miller's inability to run through Indianapolis' eighth-ranked run defense leads to an offensive imbalance and a loss.
Prediction: Colts 30, Texans 23
NFC: No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 4 Dallas Cowboys; Saturday, Jan. 5 at 8:15 p.m. ET on Fox
It's a matchup between two mobile quarterbacks, who can extend plays and move the chains with their legs if necessary. Both offenses lean on potent ground attacks; the Seahawks rank first while the Cowboys list 10th in the category. There's one X-factor in this game, wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Will we see the dominant version of Cooper, who racked up 180-plus yards in two separate outings with the Cowboys? Over the last three contests, he's been a non-factor, hauling in 13 passes for 83 yards. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin and a safety over the top could limit him downfield. In a seesaw contest between two physical offenses, quarterback Russell Wilson will make one more crucial play than Dak Prescott in the clutch.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Cowboys 20
AFC: No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers at No. 4 Baltimore Ravens; Sunday, Jan. 6 at 1:05 p.m. ET on CBS
The Ravens have won six of their last seven contests with Jackson under center. The Los Angeles Chargers went down in one of those games 22-10. For Baltimore, it's more than a rookie signal-caller running and throwing the football. The defense ranks second in points surrendered and first in yards allowed.
At 37 years old, quarterback Philip Rivers doesn't have many peak years left in his career. It took him five terms to make it back to the postseason. With career urgency, a loaded offense featuring a deep wide receiver corps and two dual-threat running backs, Los Angeles will pierce through Baltimore's defense in a rematch. As a bonus for the Chargers passing attack, tight end Hunter Henry plans to suit up for the playoffs, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Prediction: Chargers 20, Ravens 17
NFC: No. 6 Philadelphia Eagles at No. 3 Chicago Bears; Sunday, Jan. 6 at 4:40 p.m. ET on NBC
In Week 17, the Bears defeated the Minnesota Vikings, which allowed the Eagles to claim the No. 6 seed. They essentially chose their playoff opponent for the Wild Card Round. Nonetheless, head coach Matt Nagy's group has no reason to avoid any team—even if it's the defending champions. Chicago fields the stingiest defense in terms of points allowed and a unit that ranks third in sacks with 50.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles exited the last outing because of bruised ribs, but he's expected to play against the Bears. The 29-year-old signal-caller has a bit of magic when he's under center, as we saw last year, but that spark will fizzle out in Chicago. Vic Fangio's defense smothers a less dynamic offense that periodically struggles to run the ball.
Prediction: Bears 27, Eagles 16
AFC: No. 6 Indianapolis Colts at No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs Chiefs; Saturday, Jan. 12 at 4:35 p.m. ET on NBC
The Colts travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face a well-rested Chiefs team with the offensive firepower to match Luck and company. It's unclear if wideout Sammy Watkins (foot) returns to action, but Kansas City won't need him. The No. 1 scoring unit will overwhelm Indianapolis' overachieving defense.
Expect Luck to battle Patrick Mahomes in an entertaining matchup. Both should showcase a quarterback clinic. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill's blazing speed coupled with tight end Travis Kelce's combination of size and reliable hands tilt the balance in Kansas City's favor. Mahomes' stellar first year as a full-time starter continues into the AFC Championship Game.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Colts 24
NFC: No. 3 Chicago Bears at No. 2 Los Angeles Rams; Saturday, Jan. 12 at 8:15 p.m. ET on Fox
It's Round 2 between the Bears and Rams. Chicago won the first meeting 15-6 in Week 14. Since the Rams' Week 12 bye, quarterback Jared Goff has put together one solid outing—against the San Francisco 49ers in the regular-season finale. He's thrown six touchdown passes and just as many interceptions in the last five contests.
Goff isn't going up against a bottom-scoring defense in this matchup. Though he's expected to suit up, running back Todd Gurley will likely have to play through a knee issue because of inflammation. There are too many red flags to trust the Rams in this spot. The Bears will turn this game into a slugfest and pressure Goff into poor throws. With Gurley at half-speed, Chicago beats Los Angeles for the second time in about a month.
Prediction: Bears 21, Rams 17
AFC: No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers at No. 2 New England Patriots; Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1:05 p.m. ET on CBS
Quarterback Tom Brady isn't playing at his best, even so, the New England Patriots will be a tough out in the postseason. Los Angeles must limit mistakes to knock off a Bill Belichick-led team. Since they're constantly battling crowd noise during their home games, going to Gillette Stadium shouldn't affect the Chargers to a significant extent.
With that said, the Patriots went 8-0 at home during the regular season. Despite all the ups and downs, they've been able to win on their turf. Coming off a bye, Belichick will have his team prepared for this matchup. Furthermore, the rest should benefit Brady and Gronkowski. New England wins a high-scoring battle and advances to an eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Chargers 27
NFC: No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 1 New Orleans Saints; Sunday, Jan. 13 at 4:40 p.m. ET on Fox
The Seahawks go to New Orleans for what likely turns into an uphill battle against the No. 3 scoring offense. Wilson can pull through with a clutch throw in a close contest, but Seattle's offense isn't designed to match pace with the Saints. The ground attack would have to control the tempo to limit quarterback Drew Brees' possessions. That's easier said than done.
The Seahawks have experienced difficulties defending dual-threat running backs such as Damien Williams, Melvin Gordon, Christian McCaffrey and Gurley. All four have eclipsed 120 total yards against this unit. The Saints have two high-end tailbacks who can run and catch out of the backfield. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram will feast on Seattle's defense at home.
Prediction: Saints 34, Seahawks 20
AFC: No. 2 New England Patriots at No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs; Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3:05 p.m. ET on Fox
The Patriots leave home for an AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs. New England won the first outing between these two teams courtesy of Gronkowski's 39-yard reception, which put Stephen Gostkowski in position to kick a game-winning 28-yard field goal.
This time around, the Chiefs may have safety Eric Berry in uniform and the composure to match the Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium. Expect the All-Pro safety to help out in covering the seam and pass-catching running backs out of the backfield. The absence of Gordon and Gronkowski's decline will show in comparison to Hill and Kelce on the opposing sideline. Mahomes uses his arm to deliver a knockout blow to the Patriots at home.
Prediction: Chiefs 35, Patriots 33
NFC: No. 3 Chicago Bears at No. 1 New Orleans Saints; Sunday, Jan. 20 at 6:40 p.m. ET on CBS
It's the classic contest juxtaposing styles between a hard-nosed defense and an electric offense. The winner of this matchup would have controlled the game flow whether it's fast-paced or methodical. Bears edge-rusher Khalil Mack will have to pressure Brees, but the front seven must thwart the Saints' sixth-ranked ground attack as well.
The Saints' No. 2-ranked run defense should be able to put the clamps on Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. As a result, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has to make enough plays to lead his team to victory. Under the bright lights, on the road, it's difficult to trust him. Despite a solid start, he threw multiple touchdown passes just once in the last five weeks of the season.
Prediction: Saints 23, Bears 17
Super Bowl LIII
No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs vs. No. 1 New Orleans Saints; Sunday, Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Prepare for a Super Bowl matchup between two explosive offenses. Spectators will also see two prolific quarterbacks, one of the best to play the game in Brees and Mahomes, a rising star at 23 years old. After holding serve on their home fields, the Chiefs and Saints will put on a show in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.
Bettors should take the over for this contest. The quarterback talent will elevate both offenses to another level on the biggest stage. However, similar to last year, a defensive play may decide this game. Kansas City has a pair of pass-rushers, Chris Jones and Dee Ford, who have a combined 28.5 sacks. For New Orleans, Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins have 20 between them.
Nonetheless, Brees has been unflappable behind a stronger offensive line. He's taken just 17 sacks, and Football Outsiders ranks the Saints third in pass protection. Mahomes will show his uncanny ability to throw off balance, but it'll cost him on a late fourth-quarter drive. The Saints triumph in Atlanta; Brees claims his second Super Bowl victory.
Prediction: Saints 38, Chiefs 35