The Bengals are always a tough team to predict, because they tend to start off slow in the regular season, and then out of nowhere go on a run to the AFC Championship. However, since this team has one of the best QBs in the league in Burrow, greatly improved their weaknesses this offseason, and have an easier strength of schedule than the other AFC contenders, I could see them earning the #1 seed here.
After their playoff collapse last year, and a few rough patches in the offseason in which they lost their DC and starting LB, I really considered predicting the Bills to lose their division. However, since then the Bills have done an incredible job of filling their needs, especially by adding quality interior O-linemen, and by trading up for the best receiving TE in the draft to help fix their redzone issues. As such, not only am I predicting them to win their division, but I also think they'll be good enough to contend for a top seed.
Every year I expect the Chiefs to regress a bit after their Super Bowl run, and every year they prove me wrong by going on to win the #1 seed again. So, even though they'll definitely be in contention to do so again, I just think losing their best WRs, franchise LT, and starting pass-rusher in Free Agency will be too much for them to overcome. Granted, they should still win their division, but it will be tough for them to earn a higher seed than this.
The Jaguars should definitely win the AFC South, since the rest of their division is rebuilding, the only question is which seed will they earn. Even though the Jaguars' offense should be more consistent next year due to their additions of Ridley and a 1st-round O-lineman, I don't think they did enough to help their defense compete against the other contenders for them to earn a higher seed here.
The AFC East is going to be a tight race between the equally talented Bills and Dolphins, so whoever doesn't end up winning the division will almost definitely earn the highest Wild Card seed. While the Dolphins on paper have the talent to steal the division, I simply don't trust Tua to stay healthy in enough games for them to do so.
Everyone seems to be counting out the Steelers simply because their QB is Kenny Pickett, and for that reason I don't really blame them, since we all know that Pickett is average at best. However, people are forgetting that Tomlin still has yet to have a losing season, and that he almost dragged their team to the playoffs last year after going 9-8. So now, after an incredible draft that saw them add a franchise LT and potential CB1, I could see them challenge for a Wild Card spot. It also doesn't hurt that they have the easiest strength of schedule out of the Wild Card contenders.
The Chargers are another team that is tough to predict, since on paper they have the talent to not only challenge for a higher Wild Card spot, but also contend for their division. However, they still have Staley as their HC which automatically holds them back, and we all know that they'll inevitably struggle to stay healthy and close out games. With that being said, I do really like their new offensive coordinator hire in Moore, so I would still give them an edge over the Ravens and Jets here.
Similar to the AFC East, as well as to how their division went last year, it really seems like this is going to be a neck-and-neck race between the Cowboys and Eagles. It's tough to not pick the Eagles here after the incredible draft they had, but I am expecting them to have some regression after their Super Bowl loss, and it is important to note that there has not been a repeat division champion in the NFC East since 2005. As such, I'm giving the edge to the Cowboys, since even though their draft wasn't anything special, it didn't have to be after they had already filled their two biggest needs with the Cooks and Gilmore trades.
Assuming that Goff doesn't regress after having a career resurgence last year, the Lions should be a contender this year. They have a great leader as their HC, one of the best play-callers in the game as their OC, an amazing O-line, playmakers all around Goff, and a much improved defense. So, as long as they're able to live up to their hype, they should be able to beat the Vikings for the division, and having one of the easiest strengths of schedule in the NFC should help them earn a high seed.
The 49ers have the talent to finish with a higher seed than this, but unfortunately for them the loss of their starting RT will hurt, as well as the fact that Purdy most likely won't be available for Week 1. Even though Lance and Darnold can't be trusted as full-time starters, they should be good enough to keep them afloat while Purdy recovers, ultimately allowing them to still win their division.
It seems like a given at this point that whoever wins the NFC South will earn the #4 seed, since there simply isn't enough talent in our division for any of us to be a true contender. Even though I think Young will give us a fighting chance to contend for this spot, ultimately I would give the edge to the Saints because they had a really solid draft, and at this point Carr should be trusted over any rookie QB.
The Eagles did an incredible job of keeping their Super Bowl team intact, and their GM performed an absolute masterclass with their draft as well, so I would not be surprised at all to see them repeat as division winners. However, I have to assume that they'll have some regression from their Super Bowl hangover, and will instead earn the highest Wild Card seed.
The Vikings are another team that should definitely expect some regression, because they won a lot of games that they shouldn't have last year, and had to cut a lot of starting talent for cap savings, so winning the division again seems very unlikely for them. However, they did fill some of their needs in the draft and Free Agency, and still have a fairly talented team led by a great HC, so I could see them still being able to make the playoffs as one of the Wild Card spots.
If the Giants didn't play in the NFC East, I could easily see them win their division and finish with a high seed. However, since they are only the 3rd best team in the toughest division in football, and still have Daniel Jones as their QB, it would be tough for them to finish much better than this.
Wild Card Round
If the Chargers couldn't beat a Jaguars team in the playoffs when they were up 27-0, I don't see how they would be able to beat a much more talented team in the Bills.
This is an interesting game, since the Steelers have the recipe on paper (great coaching, good run game, dominant defense) to get the upset win here. However, I just don't see anyway that Pickett outduels Mahomes in his very first playoff appearance, so I'm giving the edge to the Chiefs here.
This game all comes down to whether Tua is healthy, since the Dolphins have the talent on paper to win with him starting here.
I could easily see this match-up going either way, since both teams have great coaches somewhat being held back by mediocre QBs. However, I'm going to give the edge to the Lions since they'll be motivated to break the longest active drought in the NFL by winning their 1st playoff game since 1991.
Assuming that the 49ers have a healthy starting QB for this game, they should be able to easily beat the Vikings at home here.
At this point, just like how you can pencil in the #4 seed going to the NFC South, and the #5 seed going to the NFC East, you can just as easily pencil in the NFC East getting the win here. The Eagles are a legit Super Bowl contender, while the Saints will probably struggle to get 10 wins, so this shouldn't be close.
Even if Tua can stay fully healthy for this rematch, I don't think there's anyway that Burrow walks out of this game without showing Miami why he's the best QB from his class.
This would be an incredibly tough game to predict, because as we've seen in the past, these match-ups always come down to the wire and can go either way. And while the Bills have beat the Chiefs in the regular season before, proving that they can do so, the Chiefs have always gotten revenge in the playoffs. Normally I would trust Mahomes since he seems to be the Bills' kryptonite, but I'm going to give the edge to Buffalo since they'll be at home, had a better offseason than the Chiefs, and Allen should be motivated to get the monkey off of his back with a big win here.
Predicting who would win this match-up would be just as difficult as predicting which one of these teams will win their division, but since I'm giving the edge to the Cowboys to beat the Eagles for the division, it only makes sense that I would have them win here as well.
While the Lions have the talent to go on a deep playoff run, unfortunately for them they still lack playoff experience, which is why I have them losing to the battle-tested 49ers here.
Conference Championship Round
Even though the Bills greatly improved their team this offseason, and should make this game much closer than last year's playoff match-up, I just think the Bengals are too talented to lose this one at home here.
The Cowboys certainly have the talent to win this one at home, but unfortunately for them they always choke in the playoffs, so a loss here is seemingly inevitable. Keep in mind that a big reason why Rodgers is known for having a terrible record in the NFC Championship game is because McCarthy went 1-3 with the Packers there, and they'll be playing their kryptonite in the 49ers, so history is against them winning this one.
This would be an interesting game, since this would be a rematch of the Bengals' first ever Super Bowl appearance in which they lost to the 49ers, and it would ironically feature a match-up between a 1st overall pick in Burrow, and a last pick drafted in Purdy. Even though it would suck to see CMC lose in his first Super Bowl appearance, and to see a ring-deserving coach in Shanahan lose for the 3rd time, I just don't see how the Bengals lose this one here. They have the better QB, and will be motivated to avenge not only their original Super Bowl loss to the 49ers, but also their more recent loss to the Rams, to get their first ever title.