ESNY NFL Playoffs 2018
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Elite Sports NY’s 2018 NFL Playoffs preview and predictions bring us as even a playing field as we’ve seen in quite some time.

Robby Sabo

Tom Brady. Drew Brees. Patrick Mahomes. Todd Gurley. Ezekiel Elliott. Philip Rivers. J.J. Watt. Lamar Jackson. Russell Wilson. Eddie Jackson. Andrew Luck. Todd Gurley.

Are you satisfied?

While Aaron Rodgers takes a year off, the rest of the National Football League preps for its annual tournament sure to shock the senses and halt the boredom.

It’s the 2018 NFL Playoffs, otherwise simply known around league circles as “The Tournament.” (Don’t ever buy the NHL, NBA or MLB postseasons ever coming to be known as a tournament, for a true tournament features a one-and-done format.)


What’s fascinating about 2018’s version is the even playing field ahead. Sure, the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints played themselves above the rest of the football crop, but due to circumstance beyond anybody’s control, none are clear-cut favorites.

Another intriguing factor comes from ESNY’s 2018 NFL Preview published back in August. Elite Sports NY’s Geoff Magliocchetti (along with myself) both selected Drew Brees and the Saints to knock off the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 53.

Do we stick to those picks in the official tournament preview?

Wild Card Weekend

AFC2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 33

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 11

3. Houston Texans (11-5) vs. 6. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

It’s all about Andrew Luck. It’s further about Andrew Luck with a legitimate offensive line.

Number 12 fooled his organization into thinking they were coming equipped to the party with a legitimate squad a few years in a row (prior to injury). Instead, it was the young Stanford product carrying an average team through the playoffs and eventually, once, to the AFC Championship Game. They went out and senselessly signed veterans Frank Gore and Andre Johnson instead of shoring up that horrid O-line.

We all know what happened.

Now, years later, Luck is back and the Indianapolis Colts have a team.

Of course, nobody will be surprised if the Houston Texans pull it out, but always bet on the veteran quarterback who’s done it previously. Deshaun Watson, though stuffed with calm and poise, just isn’t Mr. Luck … yet.

It’s the rubber match. Both teams own a victory against the other in two games decided by a mere six points. Look for Luck to make the difference in a thriller.

Colts 27, Texans 26

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 24

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 9

4. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) vs. 5. Los Angeles Chargers (12-4)

With the entire world leaning Los Angeles Chargers, we go with the home upset.

Though I have little confidence Lamar Jackson will enjoy a long, enjoyable NFL career as a starting quarterback, he’ll continue to get it done until defenses figure him out. Those legs are incredibly valuable in the playoffs. They frustrate defenses and cannot be game planned for.

Remember, Baltimore owns the No. 1 ranked defense in the league.

The Chargers are even 7-1 on the road this season. Many are taking them to the Super Bowl.

Not us. And yes, the Ravens can beat this mighty 12-win team twice within the span of a few weeks. The good times roll for the unexpected Ravens led by hot Lamar Jackson who makes everybody think of Tim Tebow circa Denver Broncos upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers years ago.

It’s a shame Los Angeles is forced to play on the road while tied with the best record in its own conference. But hey, this is the tournament. You have to win that division.

Ravens 23, Chargers 17

ESNY's 2017 NFL Preview, Predictions: Can Tom Brady Be Stopped? 8

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 37

Philadelphia Eagles

3. Chicago Bears (12-4) vs. 6. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

It’s just the Chicago Bears luck to draw the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Eddie Jackson and the Bears defense is sick. It’s nasty. It’s also extremely conservative. The way they play throws a Cover 4 base out there (two deep in most instances with a dual corner lag) in the attempt to force the underneath stuff.

Nick Foles is the perfect quarterback to take on this type of defense. The RPO (run-pass option) combined with his Super Bowl champion patience will work wonders against one of the NFL’s best defenses.

Eagles 24, Bears 14

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 12

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 30

4. Dallas Cowboys (10-6) vs. 5. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)

It’s the Dallas Cowboys’ time to make a little noise.

Never is it easy to bet against Russell Wilson. The man is simply incredible when it matters most. Add that to the league’s top rushing attack and a scary proposition is had for any NFL defense.

The Cowboys seventh-ranked defense led by Leighton Vander Esch will find a way to stay in each’s respective lanes to halt those Wilson legs that cause so much havoc. Offensively, Dak Prescott scares me. The offensive line does not.

Dallas comes equipped with the necessary tools that win this time of year: defense and offensive line.

Cowboys 30, Seahawks 21

Divisional Round

AFC

Kansas City Chiefs

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 11

1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) vs. 6. Indianapolis Colts (11-6)

It’s Deja Vu all over again and unfortunately for Kansas City Chiefs fans, it’s going to end badly.

Much has been discussed regarding Andy Reid’s 11-13 career playoff record. Most people miss the point. It’s not that he chokes during tournament time. It’s that his skills as a sideline boss overinflate his talent during the regular season.

This Chiefs team is not as dynamite as their 12-4 record indicates. Patrick Mahomes, the probable 2018 NFL MVP, isn’t as good as his ridiculous stat line. (This isn’t to take anything away from the kid, rather pump the brakes a bit.) Close to 10 of his touchdown passes came via an easy flip of the ball in Reid’s dominant jet-sweep concept.

Offense alone never gets it done in January.

Indy’s defense is miles better than Kansas City’s. The only worry here is Arrowhead Stadium. Can Andrew Luck overcome the loudest fan base in the league?

We think so. For the second straight game, Luck performs miracles in the fourth quarter.

Colts 38, Chiefs 33

New England Patriots

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 24

2. New England Patriots (11-5) vs. 4. Baltimore Ravens (11-6)

How lucky are the New England Patriots? Don’t get me started.

There’s no chance they deserved the No. 2 seed. There’s also no way they deserve to play a rookie quarterback in the Divisional Round, yet here’s the scenario.

Expect the Pats to roll in their first playoff action since the heartbreak of Super Bowl 52. The Lamar Jackson magic finally wears off.

Patriots 31, Ravens 10

NFC

New Orleans Saints

Philadelphia Eagles

1. New Orleans Saints (13-3) vs. 6. Philadelphia Eagles (10-7)

OK, Nick Foles, you did your job. Only one playoff win will be possible this time around.

The New Orleans Saints are, by far, the most complete team in these playoffs. With a stud quarterback, a nasty offensive line, an arsenal of weapons, and a solid defense, the Saints will handle the defending champs at home with ease.

Saints 31, Eagles 17

Los Angeles Rams

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 12

2. Los Angeles Rams (13-3) vs. 4. Dallas Cowboys (11-6)

Don’t look now, but Dem Boys are making noise.

In this game, it’s about defense and rushing attacks. I have a tough time not taking the Wade Phillips defense, but there’s a great reason not to.

Jared Goff simply isn’t primetime. He’s a nice quarterback, a Kirk Cousins type. He’s just not a bonafide superstar that’s (usually) necessary to break through. The Los Angeles Rams offense is Sean McVay’s genius combined with a great offensive line that leads the way for Todd Gurley.

The Cowboys come to the party with the fifth-best rushing defense in the league. Neutralize that rushing attack and Goff cannot win.

It’ll be a tight one, but Dallas will be celebrating an unexpected playoff run by the time Championship Sunday rolls around.

Championship Sunday

ESNY's 2017 NFL Preview, Predictions: Can Tom Brady Be Stopped? 21

New England Patriots

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 11

2. New England Patriots (12-5) vs. 6 Indianapolis Colts (12-6)

Again, how lucky are the New England Patriots?

There’s a simple rule in the Not For Long league: don’t bet against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady until each is no longer active. Year after year, things break right for this untouchable franchise. Not only do they not deserve a first-round bye, but they’ll wind up hosting the AFC title game.

No, there will be no Deflategate in this one. Andrew Luck will play phenomenally. It’ll just be less than what’s needed as this Pats team is incredible at home. They are literally two different teams: home (8-0) as opposed to the road (3-5).

Patriots are off to the Super Bowl … again.

Patriots 27, Colts 23

ESNY's 2017 NFL Preview, Predictions: Can Tom Brady Be Stopped? 23

New Orleans Saints

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 12

1. New Orleans Saints (14-3) vs. 4. Dallas Cowboys (12-6)

Who has the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC title game? Anybody?

It’s defense and that offensive line that does so many wonders in the NFL Playoffs. Sure, Dak Prescott’s star status is up for debate, but there are maximum limits a non-stud QB can reach, and Championship Sunday is the Cowboys barrier this season.

It’ll be a complete blowout. No shot for Big D after surprising so many folks in January.

Saints 33, Cowboys 14

Super Bowl

Super Bowl 53

New Orleans Saints

New England Patriots

1. New Orleans Saints (15-3) vs. 2. New England Patriots (13-5)

We had to stick with our original pick in August. Ditching it when both picks are alive and well makes no sense.

Truth be told, this New England Patriots team isn’t that good. They simply did it this year on sweat and tears (and coaching, mainly). Tom Brady doesn’t have that same second sense with his weapons and his O-line isn’t as stellar as its usually been throughout his career.

He’ll put up a fight in Super Bowl 53, but it’s the New Orleans Saints’ time to allow Drew Brees to collect his second Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The most complete team in football gets it done.

Saints 34, Patriots 26

Super Bowl MVP: Drew Brees

NFL Playoffs
Bruno Rouby, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

ESNY Staff Picks

Elite Sports NY

Danny Small, Editor in Chief

New Orleans Saints

AFC WILD CARD
3. HOU vs. 6. IND: HOU
4. BAL vs. 5. LAC: BAL
AFC DIVISIONAL
1. KC vs. 4. BAL: BAL
2. NE vs. 3. HOU: NE
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
2. NE vs. 4. BAL: NE

NFC WILD CARD
3. CHI vs. 6. PHI: CHI
4. DAL vs. 5. SEA: SEA
NFC DIVISIONAL
1. NO vs. 5. SEA: NO
2. LAR vs. 3. CHI: CHI
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
NO vs. CHI: NO

SUPER BOWL
NE vs. NO: NO
SUPER BOWL MVP: Drew Brees

THOUGHTS: The New Orleans Saints were cut down prematurely by the Minnesota Vikings last year. But this year Drew Brees and the Saints have home field throughout the playoffs and they thrive in the Superdome. Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears shouldn’t be overlooked, but Brees and company are playing at such a high level, it’s hard to see them failing to reach the Super Bowl.

I have watched the New England Patriots long enough to know that they are the favorites to emerge from the AFC. As great as Patrick Mahomes is, Kansas City has only won one playoff game during Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach. Don’t be surprised when John Harbaugh, Lamar Jackson, and the upstart Baltimore Ravens surprise Reid and Mahomes in Arrowhead Stadium. But Jackson’s run will be cut short by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Pats are still the class of the AFC and even though the conference appears to be wide open, the Patriots are still the Patriots.

The Super Bowl matchup between Drew Brees and Tom Brady should be epic. They’re two of the best quarterbacks of their generation. The high-flying Saints edge out the Patriots in an all-time great game and Brees will be the deciding factor.

Geoff Magliocchetti, Jets Columnist

New Orleans Saints

Colts over Texans
Chargers over Ravens

Chiefs over Colts
Pats over Chargers

Pats over Chiefs

Bears over Eagles
Seahawks over Cowboys

Saints over Seahawks
Bears over Rams

Saints over Rams

Saints over Patriots
(Drew Brees)

Doubting the Patriots is rewatching every Jurassic Park sequel. “This time the dinosaurs won’t escape!” the rich executives declare, shortly before they’re devoured by dinosaurs that have escaped. Of course, we’ve had our shares of Alan Grant’s and Ian Malcolm’s, coming in the form of the Giants and Patriots in the Super Bowl. This season, we can finally add an Ellie Sattler in the New Orleans Saints.

If the NFL awarded MVP to the guy with the most highlight-reel plays and flashiest numbers, Patrick Mahomes would be the runaway winner. But the middle initial has been best represented by Brees, who has helped the Saints grow by leaps and bounds. It seems sacrilege that Brees’ hand only bears one ring, but, with the NFC playoffs going through the cozy confines of the Superdome, it’s the best chance to remedy that situation.

Paul Esden, Jets Writer

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 9

AFC WILD CARD
3. HOU vs. 6. IND: 6. IND wins 30-27
4. BAL vs. 5. LAC: 5. LAC wins 21-20
AFC DIVISIONAL
1. KC vs. ( 6. IND): 1. KC wins 52-30
2. NE vs. ( 5. LAC ): No. 5 LAC wins 35-30
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
( KC ) vs. ( LAC ): LAC wins 42-40

NFC WILD CARD
3. CHI vs. 6. PHI: 3. CHI wins 10-5
4. DAL vs. 5. SEA: 4. DAL wins 17-14
NFC DIVISIONAL
1. NO vs. ( 4 DAL ): 1. NO wins 45-32
2. LAR vs. ( 3 CHI ): 2. LAR wins 17-15
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
( 2. LAR ) vs. ( 1. NO ): 1. NO wins 53-50

SUPER BOWL
( 1. NO ) vs. ( 5. LAC ): LAC wins 31-28 over NO
SUPER BOWL MVP: Philip Rivers

THOUGHTS: In one of the most intriguing Super Bowls in recent memory we see two old friends, who at one time were on the same roster (San Diego Chargers) compete for the Lombardi Trophy. Both teams have good offenses and defenses and I think it’ll be a back and forth game with tons of lead changes. But at the end of the day, Philip Rivers finally delivers a championship to LA and more importantly gets that elusive championship to put the final piece of the puzzle for his Hall of Fame resume.

Justin Weiss, Staff Writer

New Orleans Saints

AFC WILD CARD
3. HOU vs. 6. IND: Colts
4. BAL vs. 5. LAC: Chargers
AFC DIVISIONAL
1. KC vs. IND: KC
2. NE vs. LAC: LAC
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
KC vs. LAC: LAC

NFC WILD CARD
3. CHI vs. 6. PHI: CHI
4. DAL vs. 5. SEA: SEA
NFC DIVISIONAL
1. NO vs. SEA: NO
2. LAR vs. CHI: CHI
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
NO vs. CHI: NO

SUPER BOWL
LAC vs. NO: NO
SUPER BOWL MVP: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

THOUGHTS: The Chargers pulled off impressive road wins against the Seahawks, Steelers and Chiefs during the regular season. San Diego uncharacteristically turned the ball over seven times in the final two weeks, but they are still one of the best at controlling the football. The Super Chargers have good coaching, an elite starting QB and one of the top defenses in the league — a recipe for success.

Meanwhile, the Saints have consistently been the best team in the league this season. The strength of the team is on offense, with Drew Brees running the show. But the club has steadily improved on defense as the season has progressed, with Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davison paving the way in stopping the run. The Saints haven’t dropped at the Superdome all season, and it’s hard to envision any other team in the NFC knocking them off.

Aaron Case, Staff Editor

2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1 11

AFC WILD CARD
3. HOU vs. 6. IND: IND
4. BAL vs. 5. LAC: BAL
AFC DIVISIONAL
1. KC vs. (IND): IND
2. NE vs. (BAL): NE
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
(NE) vs. (IND): IND

NFC WILD CARD
3. CHI vs. 6. PHI: CHI
4. DAL vs. 5. SEA: SEA
NFC DIVISIONAL
1. NO vs. (SEA): NO
2. LAR vs. (CHI): CHI
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
(NO) vs. (CHI): NO

SUPER BOWL
(NO) vs. (IND): IND
SUPER BOWL MVP: Andrew Luck

THOUGHTS: I’m totally picking with my heart. With a little luck, I could be right!

Ricky Keeler, Staff Writer

Los Angeles Rams

AFC WILD CARD
3. HOU vs. 6. IND: – COLTS
4. BAL vs. 5. LAC: – RAVENS
AFC DIVISIONAL
1. KC vs. 6. IND: – CHIEFS
2. NE vs. 4. BAL – PATRIOTS
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
1. KC vs. 2. NE – CHIEFS

NFC WILD CARD
3. CHI vs. 6. PHI: – BEARS
4. DAL vs. 5. SEA: – SEAHAWKS
NFC DIVISIONAL
1. NO vs. 5. SEA: – SAINTS
2. LAR vs. 3. CHI:- RAMS
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
1. NO vs. 2. LAR – RAMS

SUPER BOWL
1. KC vs. 2 LAR – RAMS
SUPER BOWL MVP:
RB Todd Gurley
THOUGHTS:
In a wide-open NFL playoff, I think most of the home teams are going to hold serve with the exception of a couple of games. On the AFC side, I think home field plays a big factor. If the Chiefs can get by the AFC Divisional round and win that first game, playing in Arrowhead against Tom Brady will give them the edge in a shootout since the Patriots finished 3-5 on the road this year. So, that Miami miracle may end up costing Tom Brady a trip to a 9th Super Bowl.

On the NFC side, the Saints are the team to beat, but the Rams still have a high-powered offense and a defense that can get after the quarterback. Their home field against the Bears will help them in the divisional round and with Gurley expected to be healthy, they are one of the only teams in the NFC that can beat the Saints in a shootout.

It sets up a rematch of one of the most entertaining games of the year and I think the Rams find a way to win a high scoring affair as they force Mahomes into a couple of mistakes late as they did back in November with Gurley taking home the MVP.

Marcus Lamar, Radio/Video Personality

New England Patriots

AFC WILD CARD
3. HOU vs. 6. IND: IND
4. BAL vs. 5. LAC: LAC
AFC DIVISIONAL
1. KC vs. ( IND ): KC
2. NE vs. ( LAC ): NE
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
( NE ) vs. ( KC ):

NFC WILD CARD
3. CHI vs. 6. PHI: PHI
4. DAL vs. 5. SEA: SEA
NFC DIVISIONAL
1. NO vs. ( PHI ):
2. LAR vs. ( SEA ):
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
( LAR ) vs. ( NO ):

SUPER BOWL
( NE ) vs. ( NO ): NE
SUPER BOWL MVP: Tom Brady

Ryan Honey, Staff Writer

New England Patriots

AFC WILD CARD
3. HOU vs. 6. IND: 6. IND
4. BAL vs. 5. LAC: 5. LAC
AFC DIVISIONAL
1. KC vs. (6. IND): 6. IND
2. NE vs. (5. LAC): 2. NE
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
(2. NE) vs. (6. IND): 2. NE

NFC WILD CARD
3. CHI vs. 6. PHI: 3. CHI
4. DAL vs. 5. SEA: 5. SEA
NFC DIVISIONAL
1. NO vs. (5. SEA): 1. NO
2. LAR vs. (3. CHI): 3. CHI
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
(1. NO) vs. (3. CHI): 1. NO

SUPER BOWL
(NE) vs. (NO): NE
SUPER BOWL MVP: Tom Brady

Brian Paget, Contributor

New Orleans Saints

AFC WILD CARD
3. HOU vs. 6. IND: IND
4. BAL vs. 5. LAC: LAC
AFC DIVISIONAL
1. KC vs. (IND): KC
2. NE vs. (LAC): NE
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
(KC) vs. (NE): KC

NFC WILD CARD
3. CHI vs. 6. PHI: CHI
4. DAL vs. 5. SEA: SEA
NFC DIVISIONAL
1. NO vs. (SEA): NO
2. LAR vs. (CHI): CHI
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
(NO) vs. (CHI): NO

SUPER BOWL
(NO) vs. (KC): NO
SUPER BOWL MVP: Drew Brees

THOUGHTS:

The Saints’ offense is simply unstoppable. The lethal tandem of Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Alvin Kamara will carry New Orleans to a 2019 Lombardi Trophy. They’ll have home-field advantage in the divisional round and the NFC championship, and the Super Bowl takes place in a dome as well. New Orleans’ home-field advantage, Drew Brees’ playoff experience, and the team’s overall offensive firepower, makes the Saints my pick to win Super Bowl 53.

Donny Savitsky, Contributor

New Orleans Saints

AFC WILD CARD
3. HOU vs. 6. IND: IND 30-24
4. BAL vs. 5. LAC: LAC 28-27
AFC DIVISIONAL
1. KC vs. ( IND ): KC 35-24
2. NE vs. ( LAC ): NE 28-17
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
( KC ) vs. ( NE ): KC 28-24

NFC WILD CARD
3. CHI vs. 6. PHI: PHI 27-20
4. DAL vs. 5. SEA: DAL 24-14
NFC DIVISIONAL
1. NO vs. ( PHI ): NO 38-24
2. LAR vs. ( DAL ): LAR 35-20
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
( NO ) vs. ( LAR ): NO 31-28

SUPER BOWL
( NO ) vs. ( KC ): NO 42-37
SUPER BOWL MVP: Drew Brees

THOUGHTS: The 2018 NFL Playoffs are one of the most anticipated in recent memory, and they’ll be sure not to disappoint.

The AFC is a mess and there’s a real case for every team to come out as conference champions. But that right will have to reside with the Kansas City Chiefs who after cruising by a Colts team to flawed in terms of talent to compete, host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

This is a regular season rematch that New England won by only three points. But one significant thing is different this time around, location.

The Week 6 matchup between these two was in Foxborough where Brady and co are a whopping 19-2 in the postseason. As opposed to on the road where Brady is 3-5 and has lost five of the last six playoff games he’s played on the road.

Kansas City isn’t an easy place to play and the Chiefs will make the Pats chase for a sixth Super Bowl on hold for another year.

The NFC is a little clearer but maybe just as entertaining.

Nick Foles will start another potential run to a Super Bowl by upsetting the Bears in Soldier Field, but fall the next week to the number one seed New Orleans Saints in the Divisional round.

The Cowboys will travel to the LA Coliseum to take on the Rams and won’t be able to keep up with the Rams high powered offense. Setting up another conference championship that is a rematch from the regular season.

The Rams and the Saints. Two high-powered offenses ready to explode in the Superdome with a trip to Atlanta on the line.

The game will resemble the week nine meeting between these two and the result will be the same, a Saints victory.

So that will set up a Super Bowl between arguably the two leading candidates for the MVP award in Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes.

The game will be a track meet and will feature plenty of offensive highlights. But it will be the Saints “D” (like the Eagles last year) that makes the one big play late that will secure their team a championship.

Elite Access
ESNY City Stream

NYY

NYM

NYG

NYJ

NYK

BKN

NYR

NYI

NJD

SJU