One of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory has narrowed the field down to 14 teams and 13 games. Wild-card weekend has been spread out to include Super Duper Monday (or whatever the league is calling it), and this is one week later than we’re used to doing things, but the format is the same as last season’s.
With only one team in each conference earning a bye, how spread out are our staff’s Super Bowl picks? Our panel of seven has six different teams in the big game, but only three champions. And you probably won’t be surprised to see the one team more than half of our crew has raising the trophy in the end.
Here are our pickers:
Albert Breer, senior NFL reporter
Conor Orr, staff writer
Michael Rosenberg, senior writer
Greg Bishop, senior writer
Andrew Brandt, business of football columnist
Gary Gramling, senior editor
Mitch Goldich, editor/writer
Packers 38, Bills 35
MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers will finally get his second ring—and I’m sticking with my preseason Super Bowl pick (both teams and the score are the same, you can look it up). Interestingly, the Bills’ having to survive Buffalo elements this weekend will give them a big and immediate hurdle on the road to L.A., but that team has gotten tougher over the last month and a half, and is equipped for a run. And as for Rodgers and the Packers, after falling short in the conference title game two years in a row, things seem to be lining up for them with guys like David Bakhtiari, Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander getting healthy. Which will only go to show Rodgers just how green the grass he’s standing on really is (as he raises another Lombardi Trophy).
Packers 37, Bills 29
MVP: Aaron Rodgers
I apologize in advance for mushing the Packers, but this feels like the safest Super Bowl pick I have made in a very long time. I have a feeling A.J. Dillon is going to be cruising this winter en route to a featured role in 2022; it’s a draft pick we probably won’t be making fun of for very much longer. The AFC is a different story altogether. The Titans are among the most vulnerable No. 1 seeds we’ve seen, and those assuming the return of Derrick Henry means a return to form aren’t considering the seriousness of a Jones fracture and how difficult that might be for his planting and cutting. That said, the Titans are among the best-coached teams in football. If the Bills can get by the divisional foil Patriots, it seems like they are on a collision course with the Chiefs to determine a conference champion. Maybe we’re hoping for a changing of the guard. Maybe we’d just like to see what will happen in Buffalo if the Bills actually make it to the big game. Regardless, we’re all in for some new blood this Super Bowl season and a formidable personnel matchup.
Bills 30, Rams 27
MVP: Josh Allen
Even more than in most years, this feels like an anything-can-happen tournament. The only teams I really cannot imagine making the conference championship games are the Eagles and Steelers. But I keep thinking about how narratives around several teams do not line up with reality. So many people want to see the boom-or-bust Rams go bust that it’s easy to forget they went 12–5 and won the toughest division in the league. If you just listened to the analysis about the Bills, would you guess they had the best point differential and allowed the fewest points of any team in the NFL? I feel much better about the Bills’ path than the Rams’, but those are my Super Bowl teams.
Super Bowl: Packers 31, Chiefs 28
MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Let’s start with the NFC. I like chalk this weekend, based on overall talent levels and the disparity between favored teams and their visitors. I considered a Cardinals upset, and I believe they would have beaten the Rams at many points throughout this season. But not now. I see the Super Bowl favorite when I look at the Packers, and I picked Cowboys over the Bucs for two reasons: Dallas’s improved defense and Tampa Bay’s growing injury list, plus the Antonio Brown saga. With more key players available, and less drama to deal with, I would have picked the Bucs to challenge the Packers in the conference title game. Instead, I believe the conference’s best team will emerge, despite a season as wild as any I can remember for a contending team.
Now, for the AFC. It’s a tough conference to call—as tough as any I can remember, because it really seems like almost every team that’s in the playoffs could get hot and run through the postseason bracket. The Chiefs and Bengals were easier choices for me in the wild-card round. I went back and forth on Bills-Patriots, and I gave the tiebreaker to Bill Belichick, in large part due to division familiarity and his track record in befuddling the Bills. I have a funny feeling about the Titans, which led to another upset pick, with New England winning on the road again. And I saw Chiefs-Bengals as, more or less, a coin flip, given how the Bengals’ offense caught fire toward the end of the year. My vote went to experience, and in the conference championship, one player titled my decision: Patrick Mahomes over New England.
Which would (but won’t, because I picked these games) set up a dream Super Bowl matchup. Aaron Rodgers vs. Mahomes. Old guard vs. newer. Rematch of Super Bowl I. Young genius coach vs. older genius coach. Rodgers’s season (beef with management, MVP, vaccine debates) compared with Mahomes’s season (forcing too much, fortitude drawn on, defense rounding back into form). For those reasons, I shudder at the hype but would look forward to a close game, one decided in the final minutes. I believe Green Bay will win, on the strength of Rodgers, Matt LaFleur and the Packers’ offense.
Packers 31, Bills 21
MVP: Aaron Rodgers
I picked the Packers over the Bills in the Small Market Super Bowl back in August, and I am sticking with it. In the NFC, I think the Eagles are a revelation with their old-school bashing of opponents in the trenches and am picking a large upset over the Bucs, where the losses of Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette will be conspicuous. The Rams will persevere over the Cardinals and Cowboys, two teams that confound in big games, and set up an ideological showdown: the win-now, all-in Rams against the draft-and-develop, sustained-success Packers. And you know where I lie on that prediction: 10 years with the Packers is hard to shake.
In the AFC, I know the Chiefs have won all these games lately and their defense looks better, but I continue to think something is off with them—more even on the offensive side than on defense. To me, the Bills and Titans are a tossup, and I know the return of Derrick Henry is large, but I will go with Josh Allen over Ryan Tannehill. And speaking of which, I will go with Aaron Rodgers over anyone, thus my Super Bowl prediction. As to whether Rodgers will stay in Green Bay after that, well, you need to tune in to my columns in February.
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Chiefs 28, Cowboys 24
MVP: Travis Kelce
The Chiefs are the best team in the AFC, and the Cowboys are the best team in the NFC, and if the past two years have taught us anything it’s that home field advantage is meaningless. (As for the mini-upsets, I don’t trust the Packers’ defense against an elite quarterback, and I don’t trust the Titans minus Derrick Henry against any quality opponent.) The Cowboys finished the season first in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, weighted DVOA and in my luck-adjusted point differential. Their only real speed bump down the stretch was against a Cardinals team that surprised them with some defensive schematic tweaks (loooottttssss of simulated pressure), but I think the days of catching them off-guard are over. Patrick Mahomes would probably win Super Bowl MVP, but whatever. I’ll vote for Travis Kelce. Even if the Chiefs don’t play in the Super Bowl.
Packers 37, Bengals 26
MVP: A.J. Dillon
No, your phone is not malfunctioning: I have the Bengals in the Super Bowl. After years of picking the Chiefs, I feel like they’re more vulnerable than they’ve been heading into the playoffs since before the Mahomes era. I think they can handle the Steelers and eke past the Bills, but someone is going to pick them off (and I nearly picked the Bills to do it). Most great young quarterbacks suffer a playoff loss before getting all the way to the Super Bowl, but this has been such a weird season that let’s do something fun and put Joe Burrow in the big game. They’ll be next year’s AFC preseason darlings anyway, so let’s get ahead of the curve and pick a season sweep in the rematch with the Chiefs.
In the NFC, I think the Bucs’ recent injuries leave the Packers in a tier to themselves. The Rams will give them a competitive game in the NFC championship game—a closer game than the Super Bowl, in which A.J. Dillon will run through the Bengals and force voters to decide whether they’d really give him MVP consideration over the guy who’s clearly been the most valuable player in the league all season.
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