The Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks were my picks to play for the Super Bowl prior to the season, with Baltimore winning it all.
And I’m not getting off the Ravens.
They have taken a rather circuitous route by starting 6-5 after 11 games, but right now no team in the NFL is playing better, though the schedule certainly has helped. Yet, they’ve returned to their roots of pounding the rock and playing with cruel intentions on defense.
Of course, they will have to overcome their kryptonite in the Kansas City Chiefs, but I don’t like the way the defending Super Bowl champs are trending. I don’t count their B-team game with Los Angeles on Sunday when Andy Reid rested the starters, but in the seven previous games they won by a touchdown or less.
Somehow, we were able to get in a complete NFL regular season with no games being lost as Game No. 256 was played Sunday night and it determined the final playoff participant.
We’re going to have a wild wild-card weekend, with six games on tap instead of the customary four. Remember, one extra team made the playoffs this year, with just Kansas City and Green Bay receiving a bye for their respective conferences.
Here’s how I see the six weekend games:
New Orleans 24, Chicago 14 – The Bears had a strong final 6 weeks of the season as they finally relented and re-inserted perennial whipping-post Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. His time on the bench much have lit a fire under him, as he played well down the stretch. But New Orleans’ defense will shut his offense down.
Seattle 27, Los Angeles Rams 17 – The Rams are decimated by injuries, while Seattle’s defense has improved greatly. Russell Wilson was in the MVP talk halfway through the season, but his play fell off the second half. Still, the Rams are in a bad way health-wise.
Tampa Bay 35, Washington 14 – Probably the most lopsided of the NFC games. Bless Alex Smith’s courageous heart for getting Washington into the playoffs, but Tampa Bay is really rolling now as Tom Brady has been drinking from the Fountain of Youth the last 8 games of the season.
Buffalo 38, Indianapolis 24 – If the Ravens aren’t playing the best football in the AFC, then the Bills are. Josh Allen has turned into a monster and the Bills are putting up huge numbers. This may be it for Philip Rivers at Colts’ quarterback as Carson Wentz reportedly is their target in the offseason as they want to get younger.
Pittsburgh 27, Cleveland 21 – I’ve become more and more of a believer in Cleveland because of its running game, but the Browns barely won Sunday’s matchup with Ben Roethlisbeger on the bench for rest. But it’s nice to see the Browns in the playoffs after being the NFL’s longest-running joke.
Baltimore 31, Tennessee 24 – Best game of the weekend. This game will not be for the faint of heart as both teams are just so physical. But now is not the time to abandon the Ravens’ bandwagon.
So if my picks work out, we would have these semifinals:
Tampa Bay at Green Bay
Seattle at New Orleans
Pittsburgh at Buffalo
Baltimore at Kansas City
I know Chiefs’ fans believe I’m crazy and of course, I want to see the Chiefs win. But I have my reasons their playoff run will be brief:
1. The offensive line – Patrick Mahomes’ MVP chances became fainter and fainter as the season rolled along. His numbers weren’t as strong the final 6 games of the season as he took way too many hits. The line is beat up and can’t dominate.
2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s availability – Even if he’s a go after a long break, he’s not going to be 100 percent. He’s a huge piece of this offense. Le’Veon Bell isn’t a bad option, but at this point in his career he’s not CEH.
3. The defense can’t get off the field – If the Ravens and Chiefs do meet, somebody had better grab Jim Harbaugh around the neck and tell him to run, run and run the ball some more. For whatever reason, the Ravens try to have Lamar Jackson match Mahomes throw for throw. The Kansas City front can easily get pushed around and injuries at linebacker make the Chiefs even more vulnerable. If Tennessee prevails, it’s more of the same. Derrick Henry could go for 300 against this porous defense.
4. The defense as a whole – Mahomes was able to mask the deficient defense last year until it finally started to play well around playoff time. But Frank Clark has been way down (even though he somehow was named to the Pro Bowl) and there’s too much youth in the secondary.
I’m a big believer in that the Super Bowl champion may not be the best team in the NFL, but the one playing the best at the time. And right now, that’s the Ravens.