- The Eagles lead the pack midway through the 2017 season, but will it still be that way in February? Our staffers predict the entire NFL postseason, including Super Bowl LII
Good luck finding a consensus when it comes to Super Bowl favorites this season. Eighteen members of The MMQB/SI NFL staff took a crack at predicting the postseason, and each voter's bracket is below. As for who we think is going to Minneapolis in February, no one got more than half the vote.
AFC CHAMPION: Patriots (9 votes), Chiefs (5), Steelers (4)
NFC CHAMPION: Eagles (9), Seahawks (4), Rams (2), Vikings (2), Saints (1)
SUPER BOWL LII CHAMPION: Eagles (4), Patriots (4), Steelers (3), Chiefs (2), Rams (2), Vikings (2), Seahawks (1)
I am all-in on the Rams, which can be pretty dangerous. The franchise hasn't finished over .500 since 2003. Their coach just began shaving in May. Also in May: Their quarterback looked like a bust. But I see what I see. I see a smart and high-powered offense that can protect the quarterback and is as scary on the ground as it is through the air. I see an imaginative coach with a good grip on his team. I see a voracious front seven with a big star (Aaron Donald) playing better than his rep. I see a team in the last three weeks that has won three, seven and three time zones away from home, respectively. (Did you know the Rams won their last three straight by double-digits at 1 p.m., 10 a.m and 10 a.m. on their body clocks?) The road thing will come in handy during the playoffs, in my calculation, because the Rams could well have to win in a hostile environment against an excellent team like Philadelphia to win it all. But will that really matter? This team is 2-8 at the Coliseum since the return of the franchise to Los Angeles, and the Rams are 5-0 away from home this year. As for climbing Mount Belichick, I'm sure some wise guy out there will point out that, on the day that Bill Belichick coordinated the Giants' defense that shut down John Elway in Super Bowl XXI, Sean McVay was 1 year and 1 day old, and how on earth could the great Belichick ever lose to a guy less than half his age? My counter: The coaches won't be putting on pads that day. The Rams, except at quarterback, will be deeper and better on Super Sunday.
Yes, the Steelers have had drama with Ben Roethlisberger. And Antonio Brown. And Martavis Bryant. And that has completely overshadowed what has developed over the last two months—Mike Tomlin has his most complete team since he and the Steelers went to their last Super Bowl seven years ago.
Before the Eagles’ win against the Broncos, we wandered the tailgates outside for our Football in America series. We found exactly what you’d expect in Philly: Hardcore fans who believe this really, finally could be the year … but also are waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. That early 2000s run of three straight losses in the conference championship and then a loss in the Super Bowl still stings. But, at the midpoint of the season, the Eagles are the best team in football, with a young quarterback who is playing beyond his years, talent in all three phases of the game and a tight-knit locker room with leaders of all ages. The Patriots do a better job than anyone masking and overcoming their weaknesses, but if the Eagles get a Super Bowl XXXIX do-over, a depleted New England defense will have trouble stopping Wentz and Co.
If it comes down to these two teams, the matchup to watch would be Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce vs. this Seahawks secondary, and Seattle has been gashed recently by some talented tight ends. I'd bet on Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner and Richard Sherman to remedy this by season's end. Shut down Kelce, and the Chiefs don't look so tough.
This most unpredictable NFL season yields a similarly unusual playoff bracket, with the NFC half particularly strong from top to bottom. You could make an argument for half a dozen teams as the best bet to win the Super Bowl. But here's the smartest thing: bet on the Patriots. Between home-field advantage, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, they're the safest, most obvious choice among the contenders. They aren't inexperienced in the postseason like the Eagles and the Rams. Their defense is playing better. And if none of that is compelling enough, just remember: Brady. Belichick. They've earned the benefit of the doubt, and in a season with no clear favorite, that's enough for me.
It's still a quarterback-driven league. Both of these offenses have expanded in 2017 to become much more vertical and aggressive. Typically, that would mean a lot would ride on how well their respective O-lines could hold up, but Brady and Wentz are two of the rare quarterbacks who can transcend poor protection. (Ideally, they won't have to.) Philly's defense is dominant up front. The Patriots' D is not nearly as far off as everyone thinks.
In the AFC, Kansas City beats Pittsburgh in a rematch from last year's postseason but falls short of the defending Super Bowl champs in Foxboro, with late-game Brady heroics carrying the Patriots to another AFC title. The NFC sees Seattle get to its third Super Bowl in five years thanks to fantastic winter play from Russell Wilson, who now has a competent left tackle. But Brady's magic continues in Super Bowl LII, and he wins his sixth Lombardi in this championship rematch.
The Eagles continue to roll through the NFC, and the Chiefs find their footing in the AFC. The Chiefs are the better all-around team, and Alex Smith outplays Tom Brady again in the AFC Championship, just as he did all the way back in Week 1. That gives us … drum roll, please … the Andy Reid bowl. We get two weeks of pregame hype about Reid and his mentee Doug Pederson, about the glory days of McNabb and Westbrook and Terrell Owens in Philly. Version 2.0 might be better. Smith, Kareem Hunt, and Tyreek Hill lead the Chiefs to the title.
It feels like cheating to go with the most established teams in the playoff picture, but it also feels like we’re destined for one more Belichick/Carroll; one more Brady/Wilson. In my mind, it’s one of the few ways the NFL season ends in the good graces of its disappointed, tired fan base. Super Bowl XLIX was the greatest sporting event I’ve ever seen in person, and a rematch with all parties still in their prime would be something special. This selection is taking a lot of gambles; bets that Jimmy Graham will start catching the ball again and Blair Walsh gets rid of the yips. Bets that Tom Brady stays healthy and Matt Patricia spackles his defense together. But is that any more wild than gambling on a Ben Roethlisberger resurgence, or the Eagles being able to sustain this monstrous run?
In a season as up for grabs as any in a while, Pittsburgh’s defense is rounding into shape while the offense, though still having trouble delivering the knockout blow (Pittsburgh has yet to score 30 points in a game this season), has the best trio of weapons in the league in Bell, Brown and Big Ben. I wouldn’t put anything past Carson Wentz and the Eagles, as we watch a new star and a new power emerge in the NFL, but Pittsburgh’s experience and defense will ultimately be the difference in a Super Bowl pitting the established team against the upstart.
The team with all the quarterbacks over the team with The One, provided Brady makes it this far, his being 59 years old (or whatever we've all been told a thousand times now). I can't explain how the Pats get here, but when has it ever been the case that we knew in November how Belichick will turn around a disastrous defense? Never. O.K., really I'm just going all in on Zimmer's D, which would have to stop Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Brady in the scenario I paint. That and I don't trust a single team out there. None of 'em.
I can’t not pick the team currently boasting eight wins to go all the way. The Carson Wentz-led offense is firing on all cylinders, and based on his performance last week against the 49ers, Jay Ajayi is going to be a huge boost on the ground for Philadelphia. The only thing that we know about the AFC right now is the fact that the Patriots and the Steelers are the heavy favorites to appear in the championship game. No matter who advances to the Super Bowl, it will be two prime offenses squaring off—the game will come down to the defenses, and the Eagles have the edge.
It has been the year of the Eagles from the start. They have been winning without their best cornerback (Ronald Darby), their most versatile offensive weapon (Darren Sproles), their best linebacker (Jordan Hicks), their best offensive lineman (Jason Peters) and even blew out the Broncos without their best receiving target (Zach Ertz). They have a top 5 defensive line, a top 5 offensive line and a top 5 quarterback. They have beaten teams on subpar offensive days and on subpar defensive days, and have blown teams out when both have clicked. And Doug Pederson has Andy Reid's creativity with a freshness to it that is fun to watch. In one of the more stunning turnarounds in NFL history, they are the team to beat and it doesn't even look particularly close at this point.
I almost picked the Patriots simply because I still really don’t want to bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. But are they a better team than the Steelers or the Chiefs or the Eagles? No, they are not. So I’m going to go with logic over instinct. Andy Reid has created one of the more dynamic and exciting offenses in the league this year, matched only by Doug Pederson and the Eagles. We would get Reid exorcising old demons and beating the team that fired him. We would get Alex Smith completely rewriting the narrative on his career. We would get Travis Kelce end zone dances and Kareem Hunt doing Kareem Hunt things. This is the fun Super Bowl that the NFL needs to save what has been an incredibly not fun season.
As it stands, only a handful of teams have shown the ability to play complete football on both sides of the ball. The Steelers are actually not one of those teams—they’re 20th in points per game and have yet to score more than 26 in a single contest. But I expect Ben Roethlisberger and his many weapons to hit their stride at the right time. And I’m more comfortable penciling two Hall of Fame quarterbacks into the Super Bowl rather than a couple second-year surprises.
After the Eagles demolished Denver, 51-23 in Week 9, cornerback Jalen Mills checked his phone at locker. He had a text from his grandma, Wanda Lewis, watching from Dallas: "Did Denver forget to show up to work today?" Granny Wanda is an astute observer, and though Denver is not top competition by any means Philadelphia has been football's most consistent team this season. This is finally the Eagles year to win it all. They've got a great one at the most important position in Carson Wentz, and are complete in all three phases of the game. Halfway through the season, the Eagles own the best record in football, and I don't think they'll tail off in the second half. (And a side note: Those Super Bowl viewers who are torn as to who to root for can just cheer, "Go Steagles!" a nod to the temporary merging of the teams during World War II. How fun!)
The NFC Divisional matchup between the Cinderella Los Angles Rams and the 15-1 juggernaut Philadelphia Eagles is the true Super Bowl LII. Goff's Rams edge Wentz's Eagles in an all-time classic. Old-man Drew Brees' last best shot at a title ends in a half-empty Los Angeles Coliseum. The Kansas City Chiefs grind through three tough playoff games, overcoming the Bills, Steelers and the Patriots. Weary from the cold and brutal road to the Minneapolis, the Chiefs fall short and the once-dead Rams franchise wins its first Lombardi trophy since 1999, and Tinseltown is now home to the Oscars and the 2017 Super Bowl Champs.
Just imagine what will happen once they’ve finally settled the QB situation two months from now. The Vikings have been cycling through passers, and it hasn’t mattered because this defense is so good. (Not to mention, the improved offensive line and sneaky good receiving corps has been more than good enough.) In January, Xavier Rhodes confirms his standing as football’s best cornerback by putting the clamps on Michael Thomas, Dez Bryant and (showing off his diversity after shutting down two big guys), speedster Brandin Cooks. Meanwhile, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Co. overwhelm Tom Brady's shaky protection. As usual, all it takes is a play or two from Tedase Bridkeewaternum, and in front of a raucous-ish home crowd (the wine and cheese folks still take up a lot of seats) the Vikings bring home Minnesota's first Lombardi Trophy.
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