Gridiron Confidential: Final playoff picture
There were still a number of questions to be answered heading into the the final week of regular season action but we now know the teams that will be contending this years playoffs.
Things basically went as expected in week 17 but here is a breakdown of how the final playoff picture came to be on the final day of regular season action.
Washington edge NFC East with a little help from the Eagles:
The Washington Football team lost both of their games against the Giants during the 2020 regular season but thanks to an impressive finish to the season they managed to edge their rivals from New York to claim the NFC East title and a playoff spot.
The Giants did their part by beating the Cowboys 23-19 on Sunday and were left to wait and see if the Eagles could do them a favour in the late game against Washington, however Philadelphia had nothing to play for and played like a team that was ready for the season to end. Despite only being down by three points heading into the fourth quarter the Eagles decided to bench starting QB Jalen Hurts and thus the Giants hopes were dead in the water. At the end of the day the NFC East was the weakest division in the league and the final half of football in the NFL regular season was dominated by a distinct lack of quality with fumbles, three & outs and interceptions galore. Final Score in Philadelphia, Eagles 14-20 Washington.
Washington becomes the first team to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record (7-9) since the Carolina Panthers in 2014. They will now face Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a wildcard game next weekend and baring a miracle it will be a one and done playoff experience in 2021 for Washington but that will certainly take nothing away from their achievement of reaching the playoffs this season.
Playoff Prediction: Washington 13-35 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rams take down Cardinals to claim playoff spot:
Arguably the most intriguing game of week 17 was the Cardinals visit to LA to face the Rams with a win for either team eliminating the other from playoff contention. Things started well for the Cardinals as they notched a first quarter touchdown but they lost Kyler Murray to an ankle injury. Both teams were now without their starting QB's with John Wolford starting in place of the injured Goff for the Rams.
Defence has been the key for the Rams this season and was again in their most important game of the year as Jalen Ramsey was able to nullify Hopkins and Aaron Donald was his usual dominating self. Murray did return in the fourth quarter but he was playing on one leg and despite putting together an impressive drive on his return he had lost his ability to run the football, arguably his most powerful weapon. Following a blocked field goal attempt midway through the final quarter, the fight was all but over for Arizona and Wolford showed his quality to close out the victory for the Rams. Final Score in LA, Rams 18-7 Cardinals.
There is still no confirmation on whether or not Goff will be fit to start next weeks wildcard game with division rivals Seattle. However, John Wolford showed he is more than capable of slotting in seamlessly and defence was the key when the Rams beat the Seahawks in week 9 and they will be focused on that again ahead of next week.
Playoff Prediction: Seattle Seahawks 24-20 LA Rams
Browns edge Steelers to claim playoff berth:
The Browns secured their first winning season since 2007 in week 13 but were still battling for a playoff place until the final play of the regular season. A fourth quarter td was enough to secure a two point margin of victory over the Steelers and earn the Browns their first playoff performance since 2002.
Baker Mayfield has had his critics since being selected with the no.1 overall pick in 2018 but he answered them all with his performances in 2020. The 25 year old was tasked with leading the Browns back to the post season and following his first two seasons it wasn't looking like he was up to the task but he has come of age in 2020. This is the first season he hasn't thrown 10+ interceptions, final stats showing 26 touchdown passes and 8 interceptions with a QB rating 95.9 (a career high). Cleveland have had a number of injury troubles in 2020 but Mayfield was their captain, leader, legend through the entire regular season. Final Score at FirstEnergy Stadium, Browns 24-22 Steelers.
The Browns will once again face the Steelers in a wildcard matchup next week and will certainly have the psychological edge thanks to their week 17 victory and the Steelers stuttering form to close out the season. The Browns will have a different proposition to deal with at quarterback however, with Ben Roethlisberger set to return for the Steelers. The Browns are entering their first post season for 18 years but they are more than capable of causing an upset, it will be a tall order but they are one of the form teams heading into Super Wildcard weekend.
Playoff Prediction: Browns 20-17 Steelers
Ravens blitz Bengals to secure playoff place:
Baltimore had a very disrupted 2020 regular season but thanks to 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson's form of the last four week they will be part of the post season. They eventually finished level with the Cleveland Browns (11-5) in the AFC North thanks to five straight wins to close out the season.
The Ravens were 6-5 heading into their week 13 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, their backs against the wall to secure a playoff place but Lamar Jackson remind us all just why he was league MVP in 2019 and put the team on his back and drove them to the post season. In the final five weeks of the season Jackson threw 11 touchdown passes, ran in four of his own and threw just three interceptions in what were all must win games. A favourable schedule no doubt helped Baltimore but even the greats can crumble under pressure, Jackson stepped up and now has a chance to redeem his reputation with a successful playoff run after going down in the divisional round as the no.1 seed last season. Final Score at Paul Brown Stadium, Bengals 3-38 Ravens.
The one seed Ravens were downed by the sixth seed Titans last year but will have the opportunity to redeem themselves in the wildcard game against the same opponent this season. The Titans secured the AFC South crown with victory over Houston in week 17. The teams each went 11-5 in the regular season and both have stars in form in Lamar Jackson and Derrick Henry. It should be close fought contest but the Ravens will be desperate for redemption.
Playoff Prediction: Baltimore Ravens 35-30 Tennessee Titans
Colts down lowly Jaguars to return to playoffs:
The Indianapolis Colts had tough year in 2019, going 7-9 and missing out on the playoffs, they took action in the off season and gambled on eight time pro bowler Phillip Rivers to get the back to the post season, they had to battle right to the end up but the gamble has paid off.
The Colts won four of their last five games to eventually edge the Dolphins by one win to claim the final AFC playoff spot. The Jaguars were no doubt the ideal opponent in a must win battle but nothing comes easy in this life and the Colts needed to be prepared for a battle. Rivers was certainly not at his best throwing for just 164 yards, one touchdown and one interception but it didn't stop the Colts in the mission to return to post season football. Final Score at Lucas Oil Stadium, Jaguars 14-28 Colts.
Post season football was the goal and the Colts achieved that but causing an upset is not likely on paper as they go up against the inform Buffalo Bills. The Bills (13-3) finished the season with a complete demolition of Miami, 56-26, they are one of the form teams in the league and an outside shout to go all the way to Tampa Bay for the Super bowl.
Playoff Prediction: Buffalo Bills 30-20 Indianapolis Colts
Bears lose but edge into playoffs thanks to extra team rule for 2020:
The Chicago Bears began the season like a house on fire, going 5-1 across the first six weeks of NFL action but they then hit a wall and lost six straight, however after winning three of their last four games they finished 8-8 for the season and qualified for the post season thanks to the 2020-21 expansion which allowed one more wild card team from each conference.
Like the Colts, Chicago's main aim in 2020 was returning to post season action and they have succeeded in their mission but luck was on their side as they were swept aside by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in week 17, who claimed the no.1 seed in the NFC with their 13th win of the season. Rodgers added four touchdown passes to his total in the blowout win, making it 48 for the season and putting up top of the pile in the race for MVP. In the end it was a day of celebration for the two rivals, Green Bay securing the first round bye and Chicago returning to the post season. Final Score at Soldier Field, Bears 16-35 Packers.
The Bears will now face the (12-4) New Orleans Saints in a wildcard game next week. I wouldn't be expecting any surprises out of Chicago however unless the Saints are still without their running backs for the game at the Superdome. This is likely Brees' final season of NFL football and the Saints are determined for their legendary quarterback to go out with a bang.
Playoff Prediction: New Orleans Saints 38-20 Chicago Bears