Splash’s March Playoff Predictions

Dec 29, 2019; Los Angeles, California, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury talks to Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) during the third quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The month of March has brought chaos to the NFL and the sports world in general. Players are on different teams, and there could be a shift in the league’s balance of power.

What does this mean?

It is time to predict the 12 playoff teams.

Oops. There is a new collective bargaining agreement in place that’ll send 14 teams to the postseason, as opposed to 12.

The number in parentheses indicates the February edition of these predictions.

AFC:

No. 1 Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (last: 1)

The Chiefs will be the top seed in the AFC.

No. 2 Seed: Baltimore Ravens (last: 2)

The Ravens have bolstered the defensive line, shipping Chris Wormley out and bringing in Calais Campbell. The signing of Michael Brockers fell through, but they did pick up former Bronco, Derek Wolfe. Baltimore still has weak spots at linebacker and wide receiver, but they have three top-60 picks to draft meaningful talent.

Matthew Judon has yet to be traded or sign a long-term deal, so there are still dominoes to fall in Baltimore.

No. 3 Seed: Buffalo Bills (last: missed playoffs)

Keeping the Bills out of the last set of playoff predictions was quite harsh, but there is a shiny new toy in Buffalo: Stefon Diggs.

While wide receivers are not the most valuable position on the field, a receiver of Diggs’s caliber satisfies the biggest need on Buffalo’s roster. Instead of hoping for a late first-round pick to hit, the Bills get a sure-fire talent in Diggs. The Bills are loaded with young and talented players on both sides of the ball.

They should win their first divisional title since realignment.

No. 4 Seed: Houston Texans (last: 3)

The Texans traded their best player away for David Johnson and a second-round pick.

Despite royally messing up the DeAndre Hopkins situation, the Texans still have the best quarterback in the AFC South. Tennessee will almost certainly go 9-7 for some inexplicable reason, and the Texans should be able to split their 12 games against teams not named the Colts or Jaguars.

Having Hopkins or Jadeveon Clowney would help the Texans, but they play in a bizarre division.

No. 5 Seed: Denver Broncos (last: 5)

The “swap” of Chris Harris for Melvin Gordon (they signed in free agents in opposite cities) will likely benefit the Chargers more in 2020 and beyond, but the Broncos did trade for A.J. Bouye before free agency. Gordon is by no means a perfect player, but the one-two punch between him and Philip Lindsay should make life easier for Drew Lock and the passing game. Courtland Sutton is a stud on the perimeter, and the Broncos could add a high-profile wide receiver with the 15th pick.

Defensively, the Broncos have a pair of star pass-rushers along with a defensive wizard Vic Fangio at head coach.

There is a reason the Broncos went 7-5 after their 0-4 start.

No. 6 Seed: Los Angeles Chargers (last: missed playoffs)

As mentioned in the Broncos section, the Chargers likely benefit more from Harris than the Broncos will with Gordon. With Derwin James returning for a full season, the Chargers have a loaded defense with multiple All-Pro caliber players in the front seven and the secondary.

Offensively, the Chargers will be limited by Tyrod Taylor, a free agency acquisition, or a draft quarterback, but Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen should ease the transition from Philip Rivers.

No. 7 Seed: Tennessee Titans (last: missed playoffs)

The Titans will go 9-7 for the fifth-straight season. The defense will be pretty good for most weeks. Ryan Tannehill will be a solid quarterback for most weeks. Derrick Henry will bulldoze through NFL defenses some weeks.

There will be days that the Titans could beat a roster of prime Hall of Famers. There will be days that the Titans could not beat the 2008 Lions.

The Titans are one of the weirdest teams, but they have metronomic consistency.

Missed Inclusion:

New York Jets (last: 4)

The Bills are far more superior to the Jets for New York to win the division at this point. They should have another good defense in 2020, but the offense is a work in progress.

Breshad Perriman had an underrated breakout season with the Buccaneers, but it is tough to ask him to be the best receiver on your team. The offensive line had some off-season renovations, but it likely needs a star-level left tackle with the 11th pick of the draft.

Las Vegas Raiders (last: 6)

The Raiders have made some quality additions in the last few weeks. Cory Littleton should fit nicely as a linebacker.

Darren Waller has a history as a wide receiver, making the acquisition of Jason Witten seem more justifiable. Could the world see an even better Waller in 2020? We’ll see, but the team is on the heels of the Chargers and Titans. However, a loaded division will keep Vegas from making the cut.

New England Patriots (2019: 3)

The defense should be fine, but it was slipping in the final few weeks of the season.

Offensively, the Patriots have a glaring hole at quarterback, and their recent first-round picks have been invisible. Julian Edelman and James White are fabulous players, but with a new quarterback, will they be as successful?

Bill Belichick is still in charge, but he has just one playoff appearance and two winning seasons in his seven seasons that Tom Brady did not make multiple starts.

NFC:

No. 1 Seed: New Orleans Saints (last: 2)

Emmanuel Sanders is a nice addition to the New Orleans offense. Defensively, the Saints have a lot of playmakers including Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, and Marshon Lattimore.

Losing Vonn Bell will hurt, but the Saints have no holes outside of a viable backup for Drew Brees.

If Brees plays 16 games, the Saints should return to the top of the NFC.

No. 2 Seed: Dallas Cowboys (last: missed playoffs)

The 2019 Cowboys are one of the largest aberrations in recent history.

They had an expected win tally of 10.7, but they won just eight games. They outgained 14 of their 16 opponents. They had a positive turnover differential. They had an efficient passing game, rushing attack, passing defense, and rush defense. The Cowboys were good at everything, but Brett Maher could not kick field goals between 40 and 49 yards.

Of the seven losses that Maher played in, he missed field goals in six of them, including a pair against the Packers and Bills. The Cowboys were a significantly better team than their record showed.

No. 3 Seed: Seattle Seahawks (last: 1)

Jadeveon Clowney has yet to make a free agency decision. If he returns to the Seahawks, they could secure one of the top two spots, but if he does not return, the Seahawks might slip behind Minnesota.

If the Seahawks don’t lose Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny in a matter of moments, the Seahawks probably make the Super Bowl. They will be very good in 2020.

No. 4 Seed: Minnesota Vikings (last: 4)

The Vikings traded Stefon Diggs and will not be retaining Everson Griffen, but they have the best roster in the NFC North.

Kirk Cousins has his flaws, but he does not restrict the ceiling of the Vikings as much as people claim he does. Dalvin Cook could be a dark horse for Offensive Player of the Year.

Minnesota should win the NFC North.

No. 5 Seed: San Francisco 49ers (last: missed playoffs)

The 49ers have a lot of talent, but they lost Emmanuel Sanders to New Orleans, and they traded DeForest Buckner to Indianapolis. George Kittle and Nick Bosa can account for some of the lost production, but losing two key cogs will hurt.

If the 49ers fell to the fifth seed, they could make a Cinderella run to the NFC title game or Super Bowl just on scheme and talent.

No. 6 Seed: Green Bay Packers (last: missed playoffs)

The Packers acquired three stop-gaps in free agency: Christian Kirksey, Rick Wagner, and Devin Funchess. None are stars, but they should be solid players in 2020.

The 2019 Packers were the inverted 2019 Cowboys: a fairly average team that routinely won despite allowing more yards than they gained. Mason Crosby hit on 92 percent of field goals, and the Packers dominated the turnover battle.

They will regress in 2020, but nine wins should be enough for the playoffs.

No. 7 Seed: Arizona Cardinals (last: 6)

With DeAndre Hopkins in the fold, the Cardinals should set their sights on the best available tackle in the draft. Marcus Gilbert will return to play right tackle, and the Cardinals can use their later picks on defensive players to surround superstar Chandler Jones.

The Cardinals were 4-2 when their opponent failed to get 400 yards of offense. They were also 4-2 when their opponent failed to score 25 points.

With a dismal 5-10-1 record, the Cardinals were 1-8-1 in the other games. Any defensive improvement will help the Cardinals into the playoffs for the first time in the Kyler Murray era.

Missed Inclusion:

New York Giants (last: 3)

The Giants have made some under-the-radar additions in free agency, but it will be difficult to compete in the NFC East with Dallas, Philadelphia, and a potentially resurgent Washington squad.

Joe Judge has work to do on the blue side of East Rutherford.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (last: 5)

Well, this is awkward. The Buccaneers signed Tom Brady, and the NFL added another playoff team in the NFC, but the Buccaneers have returned to being on the outside looking in.

They have three of the best players at their position in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Shaq Barrett, but the best attributes of Evans and Godwin might be underutilized with Brady (just as the best attributes of Julian Edelman and James White shined with Brady).

Philadelphia Eagles (2019: 4)

The Eagles fall prey to a superior Dallas team. Carson Wentz and Miles Sanders are good players, and the trenches have gobs of talent.

The surrounding pieces need work to put the Eagles back in the playoffs, but they should be in the fight for a spot down to Week 17.

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