Kevin SeifertESPN Staff members AuthorNear
- ESPN.com countrywide NFL author
- ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
- Protected Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008
And so, just after 256 online games above 4 months, we last but not least know who will contend for the Tremendous Bowl LIV trophy. The 49ers’ interesting 26-21 victory Sunday night time above the Seahawks finalized the NFC bracket and set in motion the up coming 5 months of NFL playoffs.
The acquire gave the Niners the No. one seed in the meeting, though the Ravens’ period-lengthy domination secured them the AFC’s leading place. The Packers and Chiefs also acquire to start with-round byes.
Our playoff primer breaks down what all twelve groups must do to attain the Super Bowl in Miami. ESPN’s Soccer Electric power Index (FPI) also delivers these kinds of prospects for each and every playoff-sure workforce.
1. 49ers | 2. Packers
three. Saints | four. Eagles
5. Seahawks | six. Vikings
1. Ravens | two. Chiefs
three. Patriots | 4. Texans
5. Payments | 6. Titans
one. San Francisco 49ers (thirteen-three)
Initially game:vs. cheapest remaining seed in divisional round (Jan. 11 at four:35 p.m. ET, NBC)
Probability to make the Tremendous Bowl:34.8%
Cause for hope:The 49ers definitely have an spectacular win overall, but their losses have in fact been amongst their most extraordinary online games of the calendar year — which bodes effectively for postseason competitiveness. They took the Ravens to the closing perform in Baltimore. They went to additional time in their first activity versus the Seahawks. And in their just one “letdown,” they lost to the Falcons at dwelling in the ultimate seconds. In other words, this team often demonstrates up.
Motive for problem:Due to the fact of injuries and other personnel problems, the 49ers defense did not replicate its 1st-fifty percent good results in the latter stages of the period. It has ranked No. 24 in factors permitted considering the fact that 7 days nine. Most about was a three-video game stretch among Months 14-sixteen when they permitted an regular of 35.three factors per game, next-most in the NFL during that interval. There are still some elite-amount players and disruptors on this defense, but its general general performance has trended the erroneous way more than an prolonged period of time.
X component:Coach Kyle Shanahan’s playcalling. Of everything the 49ers have heading for them, the finest may be Shanahan’s potential to set up defenses and select the excellent time for an unconventional engage in. It truly is no incident when you see 49ers receivers working broad open up across the industry. It truly is also not astonishing to observe that 49ers managing backs have rated among the the NFL’s major five all year in normal yards received prior to call. Shanahan on sport working day could possibly be the 49ers’ very best weapon of all.
2. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
First recreation:vs. optimum remaining seed in divisional round (Jan. twelve at 6:forty p.m. ET, Fox)
Chance to make the Tremendous Bowl:26.six%
Rationale for hope:The Packers gained thirteen game titles without needing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to have them in any of them. There are a lot of theories about his subdued stats this season he entered Week 17 ranked No. 21 in QBR. Had he dropped a phase? Was he simply subordinating himself to a new value process set forth by 1st-12 months coach Matt LaFleur? No matter, the Packers enter the playoffs with a quarterback who has a extended and established background of keen teams to large championship-level victories.
Reason for issue:The Packers only beat two teams that will finish the season with a profitable report: the Vikings (two times) and the Chiefs when they had been actively playing without quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Packers have provided no excuses about “winning unattractive,” nor really should they. 13 wins is no joke. But not all wins are developed equal. In the one sport they confronted a championship contender at full strength, in 7 days twelve at San Francisco, they dropped by 29 factors. In shorter, a 13-win team has entered the playoffs devoid of demonstrating us that they are a dominant workforce.
X component:Tailback Aaron Jones. Why has not Rodgers been questioned to have the team? The major reason is Jones, who finished the period with one,084 dashing yards — the most by a Packers participant in five seasons. Jones also caught 49 passes, the most by a Packers jogging again in 16 seasons. The Packers will want to get him going in the playoffs if they want to re-create their normal-year achievements.
3. New Orleans Saints (thirteen-3)
First video game:vs. Minnesota in wild-card spherical (Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET, Fox)
Opportunity to make the Super Bowl:twenty five.5%
Cause for hope:The Saints overcame the biggest impediment a team can face — the extended loss of a beginning quarterback — and still concluded with one particular of the best records in the NFL. Successful all five video games that quarterback Drew Brees (thumb) skipped is not only an great self confidence-booster, but also a demonstration of the team’s depth, balance and skill to modify. All a few characteristics are significant to creating a playoff run.
Purpose for concern:On the other side of receiver Michael Thomas’ report-environment period lies a good concern: What would the Saints’ offense seem like if he was wounded or if not sidelined. Any staff would be set back by the reduction of a No. one receiver, but the Saints’ offense runs far more straight by way of him than any other receiver in the sport. Thomas led the league in targets by a mile, and experienced at the very least 120 more targets than each other Saints receiver. Irrespective of their means to adapt, the Saints do not want to have to response this problem.
Drew Brees passes for 253 yards, which includes landing passes to Tre’Quan Smith, Jared Prepare dinner and Taysom Hill in the Saints’ 42-10 victory about the Panthers.
X variable:Linebacker Demario Davis. A person of the greatest free of charge-agent signings in Saints record, Davis is the unusual three-way linebacker who is a absolutely sure tackler against the run, can deal with functioning backs and limited ends in place and also blitz properly. His versatility makes it possible for defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to use playcalls that would leave other groups vulnerable.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
Initially activity:vs. Seattle in wild-card round (Sunday at four:forty p.m. ET, NBC)
Prospect to make the Tremendous Bowl:four.5%
Purpose for hope:Quarterback Carson Wentz pulled off rather a feat in major the Eagles into the playoffs immediately after a five-seven get started. In fact, he became the 1st quarterback in NFL record to toss for at the very least 4,000 yards without having a single wide receiver who concluded the period with at least 500 receiving yards. Such was the revolving personnel doorway that Wentz and the Eagles dealt with, just one prompted primarily by accidents.
Lane Johnson. Participating in at household is preferable to being on the street, but following weekend’s starting off lineup may well glance a lot more like what we would see for a preseason recreation than in the postseason.
X element:Limited conclusion Dallas Goedert. The duty for replacing Zach Ertz (ribs, kidney) and preserving the Eagles’ tight end-centric offense falls on Goedert. He was targeted on a workforce-significant ten passes in 7 days 17, catching 4 for sixty five yards. It is really hard to envision the Eagles advancing without having an Ertz-like performance from Goedert.
5. Seattle Seahawks (eleven-five)
First video game:at Philadelphia in wild-card spherical (Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET, NBC)
Probability to make the Tremendous Bowl:4.2%
Cause for hope:Quarterback Russell Wilson has played at an MVP amount for substantially of the year and has been the NFL’s very best at completing passes with higher degrees of issue. He’s rescued them in playoff video games before and can do it once more.
Cause for worry:Dropping remaining deal with Duane Brown and the bulk of managing back again depth in late December could be a crippling blow. It truly is doable that Brown could return for the playoffs, and it really is pleasurable that the Seahawks introduced back again Marshawn Lynch. But the Seahawks have absorbed a late staff disaster that will make a deep playoff operate far more hard.
X component:Move-rusher Jadeveon Clowney. When on the discipline, Clowney is the defensive recreation-wrecker that the Seahawks haven’t had in recent seasons. The Seahawks just will need to keep their fingers crossed that he can stay nutritious.
six. Minnesota Vikings (ten-six)
Initial game:at New Orleans in wild-card spherical (Sunday at one:05 p.m. ET, Fox)
Opportunity to make the Super Bowl:4.three%
Reason for hope:Managing back again Dalvin Prepare dinner is expected to return immediately after lacking two months because of a upper body personal injury. Prepare dinner has formerly been minimal by a shoulder harm and averaged three.one yards per have in his remaining four game titles of the typical year. But the Vikings’ offense operates through his potential to strike the outdoors zone and to be a successful outlet receiver, and there is optimism that he’ll be clean and ready for the playoffs.
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Reason for issue:The Vikings did not beat a winning group on the road this year and have not won a playoff activity on the street given that 2004. In truth, their street playoff file is two-eleven above the previous a few decades, dating again to 1988. It’s tough for any crew to win absent from house in the playoffs, but there is small proof to recommend this Vikings workforce can be any various.
X aspect:Quarterback Kirk Cousins. We have witnessed far more of “Fantastic Kirk” than “Poor Kirk” this season, but “Poor Kirk” in a playoff activity suggests just about specified defeat. His worst performances of the year, in Months 2 and fourteen against the Packers (eight.3 and twenty five.1 QBR, respectively) and 7 days four in opposition to the Bears (21.1) all arrived in Vikings losses.
one. Baltimore Ravens (fourteen-two)
Very first sport:vs. lowest remaining seed in divisional spherical (Jan. 11 at 8:fifteen p.m. ET, CBS)
Probability to make the Super Bowl:forty two.4%
Explanation for hope:No just one figured out how to cease an offense centered about the unique capabilities of quarterback Lamar Jackson, and if anything, the Ravens got extra successful about time. They averaged 30 details per match in the course of the very first fifty percent of the year and 36 in the course of the next fifty percent, not counting the 7 days seventeen matchup against the Steelers when they rested several starters. The closest any person arrived was the 49ers in 7 days 13 — and the Ravens nonetheless scored 20 factors and received. If there is a blueprint for halting them, somebody is likely to have to debut it in the playoffs.
Rationale for problem:Operating back again Mark Ingram II experienced a strained calf in Week sixteen, and although he’ll have a comprehensive two months to rest, such injuries can linger and are specially limiting for a runner. Ingram averaged five. yards for each have and scored fifteen total touchdowns in 15 online games, serving as an crucial counterpunch when defenses loaded up in opposition to Jackson. Gus Edwards is a good backup, but like any crew, the Ravens want to be at entire energy in the postseason.
X aspect:Kicker Justin Tucker. What coach would not cherish the safety Tucker gives? He produced 24 of twenty five attempts all through the typical year, and his only overlook bounced off the upright. Tucker has the highest profession conversion level (90.6%) of any lively kicker, and there is no greater option to consider a activity-profitable kick in the playoffs.
two. Kansas Metropolis Chiefs (12-4)
Initial sport:vs. highest remaining seed in divisional round (Jan. 12 at three:05 p.m. ET, CBS)
Prospect to make the Super Bowl:40.three%
Explanation for hope:Were it not for the emergence of the Ravens’ Jackson, Patrick Mahomes may well have recurring as MVP — inspite of a knee personal injury that cost him two online games. Mahomes has roared again in the 2nd 50 percent of the time, leading the Chiefs to victories in five of the 6 games because his return, and is participating in at the exact same level at which he concluded 2018. There is nothing that could give the Chiefs more self-assurance as they enter the playoffs.
Reason for concern:If the Chiefs want to operate the ball, as teams usually do all through the playoffs, do you trust that section of their offense? The Chiefs entered Week seventeen with the cheapest for every-sport typical of rushing yards (ninety three.eight) of any workforce that had capable for the playoffs. Foremost rusher LeSean McCoy, who is 31, has been deactivated for several games — presumably to ensure he is healthful for the playoffs.
Kansas Town experienced an impactful offensive activity with 4 touchdowns, such as Mecole Hardman’s 104-lawn kickoff return landing.
X aspect:Pass-rusher Terrell Suggs. The Chiefs set in a waiver claim for Suggs in section to hold him from the Ravens. But visualize what a postseason raise he could give, even if for only a handful of plays for every activity. The Chiefs defense finished the season nicely, but any playoff crew could benefit from a move-rush expert this kind of as Suggs.
3. New England Patriots (12-four)
1st game:vs. Tennessee in wild-card round (Saturday at 8:fifteen p.m. ET, CBS)
Likelihood to make the Tremendous Bowl:thirteen.seven%
Motive for hope:The Patriots constantly discover a way. Even after just one of the extra hoping and discouraging seasons of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era, they are just a few games away from the Super Bowl. If they could earn twelve common season game titles though Brady developed his most affordable-ever QBR, then what cannot they do? (QBR was initially tabulated in 2006.) Their league-major defense has carried it by means of the yr, and protection is in no way extra worthwhile than in the playoffs.
Purpose for problem:The Patriots have breezed through the Belichick/Brady period primarily with two kickers: Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski. Just about every created kicks that secured and validated a dynasty. But Gostkowski’s season-ending hip injuries has still left the Patriots bouncing as a result of several replacements. In a year when details were being presently at a top quality supplied their offensive struggles, the Patriots won’t be able to rely on generate-ending bailouts from the kicking recreation.
X component:Cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The Patriots’ best participant this season, Gilmore need to be at the center of Belichick’s postseason method. As he advised NFL Films previously this year, Belichick abides by the Sun Tzu advice that teaches: “Attack weaknesses and make use of strengths.” Gilmore possible will be asked to tackle some of the most tricky assignments of the playoff operate. The Patriots will count on him to manage it.
4. Houston Texans (ten-6)
1st activity:vs. Buffalo in wild-card spherical (Saturday at 4:35 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)
Likelihood to make the Tremendous Bowl:one.3%
Reason for hope:The Texans have successfully tackled 1 of their largest issues from 2018: missing yardage from quarterback Deshaun Watson having 62 sacks (for a league-high 384 yards). This season, Watson cut the sacks by virtually 30%. The Texans are likely to have a challenging time distinguishing them selves in a loaded conference, but sacks are one particular way they have objectively improved just after preceding playoff flameouts.
Will Fuller V. When he just isn’t sidelined by injury, Fuller is a match-changer. He managed to capture 49 passes in eleven games in the course of the regular period, and inspite of numerous leg accidents, he still has the potential to stretch the protection. The Texans’ offense is unique when he is accessible.
five. Buffalo Costs (ten-six)
First match:at Houston in wild-card spherical (Saturday at four:35 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)
Chance to make the Tremendous Bowl:1.one%
Motive for hope:If you are in the “defense wins championships” group, you almost certainly take into account the Payments a authentic contender. They entered Week 17 ranked No. 5 in defensive DVOA and No. two in details allowed. They have an active entrance, numerous playmakers in the again conclude and make opponents perform for almost everything. This is a team developed to stifle opponents and hope that the offense can uncover a way to score ample to acquire.
Purpose for concern:Quarterback Josh Allen has no question improved from his rookie year and offers a one of a kind set of playmaking competencies. Most notably, he is a very good more than enough runner for the Expenditures to design performs for him. But any objective position of playoff passers would put him at or in close proximity to the bottom. There would not be a ton of optimism if the Expenses need to throw to earn a video game.
X issue:Basic safety Micah Hyde. Of all the Bills’ defensive playmakers, Hyde might be the most versatile and potentially the just one most very likely to make a astonishing recreation-modifying engage in. He is a strong tackler, has some burst as a blitzer and generally finds a way to get in close proximity to the ball.
six. Tennessee Titans (nine-seven)
1st activity:at New England in wild-card spherical (Saturday at eight:fifteen p.m. ET, CBS)
Probability to make the Super Bowl:one.1%
Purpose for hope:There is a cause the Titans were being the last AFC workforce to clinch. They’ve bought some holes. But they can enter the postseason recognizing that they are seven-3 since quarterback Ryan Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota in the starting off lineup. From that level on, the Titans ended up the NFL’s fourth-best-scoring offense.
Reason for problem:It’s one particular matter to get on a run to clinch the No. 6 seed. But are the Titans actually all set to go to Foxborough, Massachusetts, and defeat the Patriots? The past time they gained at New England, the 12 months was 1993 and the franchise was regarded as the Houston Oilers. Because then, the Titans are -6 at Gillette Stadium, like the playoffs. Total, the Patriots are eight-2 in opposition to the Titans due to the fact 1993.
Derrick Henry rushes for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns in a gain towards the Texans, securing his location as the NFL’s primary rusher for the 2019 season.
X issue:Wide receiver A.J. Brown. Alongside with Tannehill, Brown’s emergence has been crucial to the Titans’ operate. He experienced at minimum one hundred obtaining yards in 4 of the Titans’ last 6 game titles, demonstrating elite-degree ball abilities as very well as a powerful potential to operate right after the catch. He is the type of playmaker who can make up for deficiencies in other spots.