The Bills were a very good team last year, and had the talent not only to earn the 2nd seed but also to advance all the way to the AFC Championship game. Since then they've only improved through Free Agency and the draft, and since they have a relatively easy strength of schedule I think they could be talented enough to earn the 1st seed this year.
The Chiefs are a very talented and well-coached team, so they're basically guaranteed to win the AFC West again, the only question is with which seed. They could easily get the 1st seed again, but due to their relatively hard strength of schedule and some regression most likely in order, I could see them falling to the 2nd or perhaps even 3rd seed.
The Browns are an absolutely stacked team with very few weaknesses on their roster. Unfortunately they do play in a tough division, and have one of the top 10 hardest strengths of schedule, which is why I have them only earning the 3rd seed here.
The trade for Julio should give the Titans one of the best offenses in the league, but unfortunately for them most of their weaknesses are on defense, especially in the secondary. However, they get lucky that the Colts' injuries to Wentz and Nelson should give them an advantage in winning the division.
The Dolphins have a very talented roster, and barely missed out on the playoffs last year. Unfortunately they probably won't be able to win their division due to the Bills being a legit Super Bowl contender, but they did address their needs well enough to be considered a Wildcard contender this year. I have them getting the highest Wildcard seed here since they have the easiest strength of schedule out of all of the AFC teams.
As long as Carson Wentz rebounds from his terrible performance last year, the Colts should be favored to make the playoffs since they have a great coach and a very talented, balanced roster that would be considered a Super Bowl contender if Andrew Luck didn't retire. I originally predicted them to win the division, and it still wouldn't be surprising to see them do so, but because of their injuries to Wentz and Nelson I had to give the edge to the Titans.
Despite dealing with injuries, COVID opt-outs, and the toughest strength of schedule last year, the Patriots still finished with a respectable 7-9 record. Considering they return the majority of their team from last year, including a top 5 O-line, and went all in with Free Agency, I could see them sneaking into the playoffs. The Broncos are also a team to consider here as a darkhorse contender, but I don't trust any team that has Teddy as their starting QB.
You hate to see it, but it does look like the Bucs are in a great position not only to win the division, but also to earn the 1st seed. They return all of their starters from their Super Bowl winning roster, and have the 4th easiest strength of schedule. Considering they still have a future Hall of Famer at QB, and had a decent draft, they seem very well set up for another championship run.
The Rams have a very talented team, and now that they finally have a good starting QB, they are in a good position to win their division. Having to play one of the top 10 hardest strengths of schedule will hurt, but the majority of that difficulty is just from playing their own division. Losing Cam Akers for the season will also hurt, but the trade for Sony Michel should help offset that.
The Packers were lucky to convince Rodgers to come back for one last dance, since as long as they have him they should always be considered a threat to make the playoffs. While they do have the talent to win their division again, having the 4th hardest strength of schedule will make it difficult for them to earn the 1st seed again.
It seems like a safe bet to just pencil in the NFC East division winner into the 4th seed, since they're still the weakest and least talented division in the conference. Any one of their teams could be in play for this spot, but I think the Cowboys still have too many holes on their O-line and on defense for them to be a contender, and the Eagles seem better equipped for a rebuild rather than a playoff run. That leaves Washington and the Giants, and I gave the Giants the edge here since they have the easier strength of schedule. The Giants should be considered a darkhorse contender, since they appear to have found a good coach, they have enough weapons around Daniel Jones for him to take the next step, and their defense played incredibly well down the stretch last year.
I originally predicted the 49ers to miss the playoffs since they can't be trusted to stay healthy, but now that the Saints have lost Michael Thomas for the beginning of their season, another team can take advantage of that to make the playoffs. While Jimmy G is injury-prone and average at best, they still have a talented team, a good coach, a relatively easy strength of schedule, and a talented backup QB who appears to be more NFL-ready than I initially expected him to be.
Similar to the Dolphins last year, the Cardinals had a very good season and were so close to making the playoffs. I don't think they're talented enough to take the division from the Rams, but they should be good enough to earn one of the Wildcard spots.
Washington has a talented team, especially on defense, and since they were able to upgrade their WRs they should be able to make the playoffs again. Their O-line still isn't great, and they don't have any long-term answers at QB, but Fitzpatrick should be good enough to earn them a Wildcard spot.
Wild Card Round
This would be an upset for sure, but with their elite O-line, good coaching, and dominant defense, the Patriots are set up to do well in the playoffs. They've used that formula to beat the Chiefs in the playoffs before, so I could see them doing so again here, especially if Mac Jones doesn't make any rookie mistakes.
The Browns are the more talented team, are at home, and have the more playoff-experienced QB, so they should get the win here.
This game could honestly go either way, especially considering both teams are very talented and well-coached. However, the Titans are at home and are a lot more playoff-experienced than the Dolphins, especially their QB and HC, so I would give them the edge here.
If Fitzpatrick plays well, this could be an upset win for Washington since Stafford has very little playoff experience, and will be going against an elite defense. Unfortunately for Washington I just don't think their O-line will be able to handle the Rams' dominant D-line.
This should be an exciting matchup featuring two good QBs, fun offenses, and young HCs, but unfortunately for the Cardinals only one of these teams have a good defense, so I would give the edge to the Packers here.
Even though Jimmy G can't be trusted to stay healthy or to make a clutch play when his team needs him, he is more playoff experienced than Jones, which is why I give the 49ers the edge here.
The Patriots were able to get one upset win so far, but I don't see them being able to pull it off again. The Bills are simply too talented, they're at home, and they have plenty of experience playing the Patriots so unless Allen chokes against a good defense, they should get the win here.
This will be a battle of arguably the two best workhorse RBs in the league, however the winner should come down to who has the better defense, which means the Browns should win this one.
It seems fitting that Brady and his former successor in New England, Jimmy G, would meet in the playoffs. The 49ers have a good defense, but not quite as elite as the one that took them to a Super Bowl two years ago, and to beat Brady in the playoffs you need an elite defense. Brady having extra motivation from playing his former teammate should also help them get the win here.
This is another very difficult matchup to predict, as both teams are among the most talented, best coached in the league. The Rams have home field advantage which doesn't help them much, but at least they don't have the disadvantage of having to play in Lambeau. When they played last year the Packers won easily, but since they're no longer at home, and since the Rams have an upgrade at QB, this should be a much closer game. Ultimately I gave the edge to the Packers since Rodgers is the more playoff-experienced QB, and since he's personally used to beating Stafford.
This should be an exciting matchup between two talented teams both fighting to win their first Super Bowl. It should be close, but I gave the edge to the Bills since they'll be at home for a conference championship game so I'm sure Bills Mafia will be in full force.
I could easily see the Packers choking in the NFC Championship game like they always do, but I'm going to give them the edge here for several reasons. The first is that they almost pulled off an incredible comeback last year, and were only losing that much due to a few fluke plays, like a last second TD allowed by Kevin King. Now that they've given Rodgers a couple more weapons to work with, have upgraded their CB2 by using a 1st round pick on Stokes, and since this is Rodgers' Last Dance, I see them getting the win here.
If this turns out to be the actual Super Bowl matchup, I just don't see how the Packers lose this one. Rodgers will be extremely motivated to win another Super Bowl since this is his last dance, he's the more playoff-experienced QB, and the Packers' defense should be solid enough to slow down Allen. Combine that with the fact that the Bills don't have much of a run game, which is the Packers' defense's biggest weakness in the playoffs, and this looks like a game that the Packers should definitely win. Also, if we're considering superstition, Allen is one of the favorites to win MVP, and only two MVPs have ever won the Super Bowl as well.