NFL Playoffs 2020: Projecting AFC, NFC Bracket Before Final Games

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 22: Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles passes the ball against the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

As we go into Week 17, one club in each conference has to clinch a spot to solidify the field of 12 playoff teams set to compete for a Lombardi Trophy in 2020.

Because of the NFL's scheduling format, all season-finale matchups are in-division games, which add some excitement to the contests with playoff implications.

For the most part, teams within the division know their rivals' tendencies. So we can't just pencil in the Philadelphia Eagles as winners over the New York Giants en route to the NFC East title, especially because of injuries for the division-leader.

Keep in mind, the Dallas Cowboys can still win the NFC East title with a win and an Eagles loss. If the Titans lose, they would open the door for the Pittsburgh Steelers and possibly the Oakland Raiders if four other games result in the Silver and Black's favor.

Before the outcomes of Sunday's games, we will project what could happen and how the playoff picture would materialize with those results.


AFC Projection

1. Baltimore Ravens (13-3)

2. New England Patriots (13-3)

3. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

4. Houston Texans (10-6)

5. Buffalo Bills (10-6)

6. Tennessee Titans (9-7)


NFC Projection

1. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)

2. Green Bay Packers (13-3)

3. New Orleans Saints (13-3)

4. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

5. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)

6. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)


Wild Card Round Projections


No. 6 Tennessee Titans at No. 3 Kansas City Chiefs

Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

If the Tennessee Titans close out the season with a win over the Houston Texans, who have already clinched the AFC South title, we'll see a Week 10 rematch.

In November, the Titans beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-32 in a scoring shootout. Quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Patrick Mahomes combined for five touchdown passes and zero interceptions. The latter made his return from a dislocated kneecap in that outing.

In a prospective wild-card matchup, the Titans would face stiffer competition on the road against a stingier defense. Kansas City hasn't allowed more than 17 points since its loss to Tennessee.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has pushed the right buttons with his unit, which helped solidify the group, per ESPN's Adam Teicher.

"We talked a lot about trust," Spagnuolo said. "We started talking about 'Trust our way to improvement,' which is the way we put it, the way the coaches fed it to the guys. To the guys' credit, they embraced it."

With a victory Sunday, the Titans would snap a two-game skid. Over the past couple of outings, Tannehill's completion percentage has dropped below his season rate at 70.7 percent. He would have some difficulty going against the Chiefs' seventh-ranked scoring defense.


No. 5 Buffalo Bills at No. 4 Houston Texans

TAMPA, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 21: Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans points during the second quarter of a football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 21, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Image
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills have rushed for 104 yards in 12 out of 15 contests. Running back Devin Singletary leads the charge with 775 rushing yards. Don't overlook Frank Gore, who had a solid start to the season, and quarterback Josh Allen's ability to tuck and run.

The Bills' fifth-ranked ground attack would test the Texans front seven, which felt apart after defensive end J.J. Watt went down with a pectoral injury in Week 8. Houston has allowed 106-plus rushing yards in five of the past six outings.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo, the Texans designated Watt for return from injured reserve, which bodes well for Houston's defense as it prepares for a playoff run.

Because of Buffalo's stifling pass defense (ranked third leaguewide), we could see a low-scoring matchup between these two clubs. Quarterback performances will take precedence. Either Deshaun Watson or Allen will need a late-game play to push their squad over the top for a victory.

Allen's ability to extend plays will put immense pressure on the Texans' 30th-ranked pass defense down the stretch.



No. 6 Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 New Orleans Saints

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - AUGUST 09: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings talks with Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints after a preseason game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on August 09, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Im
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

According to ESPN's Courtney Cronin, the Minnesota Vikings will use Week 17 as a rest period for their top players. The NFC North club can't improve their seeding, which slots them in the No. 6 spot for the postseason.

The San Francisco 49ers should beat a Seattle Seahawks team that's short-handed at running back, with Rashaad Penny (torn ACL) and Chris Carson (hip) on injured reserve. This squad is heavily reliant on its third-ranked ground attack.

In addition, the Green Bay Packers will likely take care of business against the Detroit Lions, with undrafted rookie quarterback David Blough under center for the latter.

With those results, the Vikings and New Orleans Saints would square off in a rematch from the 2017-18 divisional round. This time, don't expect a miracle to push Minnesota over the top in the final seconds.

The Vikings will likely head into the playoffs having lost the final two games of the season. On the flip side, the Saints have momentum, winning five of their past six outings. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the team hosted wideout Antonio Brown for a workout. If he signs, New Orleans offense could push its production to another level.

With or without Brown, the Saints seem equipped to start their postseason journey on a strong note. Drew Brees is healthy, and Michael Thomas has put together an extraordinary campaign, hauling in 145 passes for 1,688 yards and nine touchdowns. Minnesota would struggle to handle that quarterback-wide receiver tandem.


No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 4 Philadelphia Eagles

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 22: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks drops back to pass against the defense of the Arizona Cardinals during the game  at CenturyLink Field on December 22, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Par
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Eagles will be looking to clinch the NFC East title with a victory over the Giants on Sunday. That's not a given, but quarterback Carson Wentz earned the benefit of the doubt. 

Despite the absences of Alshon Jeffery (Lisfranc) and Nelson Agholor (knee), Wentz has looked sharp over the past three weeks. He hasn't thrown an interception since Week 13 against the Miami Dolphins. Zach Ertz played through most of the last contest with a rib injury. Yet fellow tight end Dallas Goedert, running back Miles Sanders and wide receiver Greg Ward have stepped up to contribute in prominent pass-catching roles.

We'll see more of the same against the Giants, who field the 26th-ranked pass defense. Even without Ertz, Philadelphia should come out on top and host a wild-card playoff matchup. 

While Wentz and the Eagles may be able to stitch together a winning performance against the lowly Giants, the Seahawks present a much tougher challenge.

Seattle won't have its top two ball-carriers. Marshawn Lynch and rookie sixth-rounder Travis Homer will see a lot of action, but quarterback Russell Wilson could carve up the Eagles' 19th–ranked pass defense. Philadelphia will have some issues with wideouts Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf downfield.

Both clubs will go into this contest short-handed on the offensive side of the ball, which makes it an intriguing wild-card battle.