Picking a Super Bowl champ at the start of each season is a very inexact science. Over the past 10 predictions I have done, only one time did I pick the correct champion, and that was my own 2012 Baltimore Ravens. There are chalk ones, like correctly predicting the Seahawks-Patriots in 2014, and outside-the-box ones that go terribly wrong (Cowboys-Chargers in 2010). And then there was the 2013 pick of Falcons-Texans, which was followed by a season in which those two teams combined to win six games and Houston was given the first overall pick for being the worst team in football. I loved Minnesota one year, then quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was knocked out for a whole season a week later. The injuries, progressions, and game outcomes are so unpredictable that picking often seems like little more than a throw at a dart board. But, after all, that’s what makes the NFL fun.
After agonizing over the contenders and poring over magazines and web articles, I’ve finally completed my predictions. I recently posted a best- and worst-case scenario article giving my win-loss predictions for each team, and today it is time to reveal how I see the 2019 NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl LIV playing out.
For a refresher, I have the Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Eagles earning first-round byes in their respective conferences, with the Chargers, Steelers, Browns and Titans rounding out the AFC teams and the Vikings, Saints, Cowboys and 49ers completing the NFC field. Those byes will be important, because Kansas City’s Arrowhead Field, New England’s Gillette Stadium and Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field will be cold, crazy and daunting come playoff time.
The Wild Card Round will reward playoff experience over youth, with Philip Rivers and the Chargers routing the Titans, Big Ben’s Steelers holding off the ascending Browns and the Vikings sending home the playoff surprise 49ers. The exception will be a back-and-forth affair in New Orleans, in which the Cowboys pull off the low-scoring upset against Drew Brees and the Saints.
The remaining teams are all Super Bowl contenders. Kansas City and New England are the reigning powers and the teams to beat in the AFC, while the Eagles and the Rams are the past two representatives in the Super Bowl. The Charger and Steeler offenses, both led by top quarterbacks and supported by talented defensive units, are forces to be reckoned with. Minnesota will have a bounce-back campaign with one of the best rosters in football, and Dallas will build upon last year’s NFC East title. But of the four road teams, only the Vikings will come away with a victory, exacting revenge on the Philadelphia Eagles in chilly Philadelphia.
That leads us to two thrilling championship games. In Kansas City, the Chiefs’ home-field advantage will be huge, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes will pick apart New England’s defense after last year’s wild finish. The defense, which has new pieces in Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark, will be enough to hold off Tom Brady in his quest for ring number seven. Jared Goff outduels Kirk Cousins in Los Angeles and the Rams win 31-20, sending the Rams to their second straight Super Bowl.
Both the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams could win the Super Bowl, and a win by either team would be monumental. For the Chiefs, it would be the first title for accomplished head coach Andy Reid, and the coronation of Patrick Mahomes as the next face of the NFL. For the Rams, it will show last year’s Super Bowl disappointment to be merely a stepping stone and show the Rams and head coach Sean McVay to have staying power. And having watched the Rams-Chiefs 54-51 classic last season, I’d say that I’d jump at this being the Super Bowl matchup we see in Miami.
Given Mahomes stays healthy, Kansas City’s offense should be the best in the AFC. Though the running back position is unsettled, the Chiefs have playmakers across the board and have added young talent in both the backfield and receiving corps. The Mahomes-Andy Reid duo is the best in football, and I think it’s more likely Mahomes becomes more established in Reid’s system and progresses than takes a major step back. If he improves on last year’s 50 touchdown campaign, KC will be quite a chore for opposing defenses. The Chiefs’ defense could be the team’s undoing, but roster turnover and a new defensive coordinator could conceivably lead to a marked improvement.
Los Angeles is widely seen as a regression to the mean candidate, and the Super Bowl slump has been a very real trend. Add in Todd Gurley’s mysterious injury-related disappearance from last year’s playoffs and a talented NFC field, and there are definitely questions in Los Angeles. However, the Rams should be really, really good. Jared Goff having another year under Sean McVay is almost a crime, and he could jump into that elite tier of quarterbacks that is just above him. He’ll have the best receiving trio in the league at his disposal, including the return of Cooper Kupp from injury. Even if Gurley is not at 100 percent, the Rams have options in rookie Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, and having to not rely on Gurley could make the offense more balanced and better equipped for the postseason. The defense, led by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, added two veteran starters with playoff experience in safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Clay Matthews. With arguably the most talent and best coaching in the NFC, the Rams look like the team to beat in the NFC, especially if Goff progresses.
Super Bowl LIV will be advertised as two things – a look into the future of the NFL and a high-scoring affair. And it will be both things – both quarterbacks will play their best on the sport’s biggest stage. But as the game progresses, it will become clear that the Rams’ advantages on defense, in the backfield and in the coaching booth are major factors. Despite Mahomes’ best efforts, the Rams will redeem themselves after last year’s Super Bowl loss, via a 33-24 score. Goff, the beleaguered quarterback in Super Bowl LIII, will take home MVP honors, though strong efforts from Donald and Gurley will be crucial to the win. The loss will sting for the Chiefs, but they know that next year, they’ll be right back here again.
Wild Card Round
6 Chargers over 3 Titans
4 Steelers over 5 Browns
5 Cowboys over 4 Saints
3 Vikings over 6 49ers
1 Chiefs over 6 Chargers
2 Patriots over 4 Steelers
1 Rams over 5 Cowboys
3 Vikings over 2 Eagles
AFC: 1 Chiefs over 2 Patriots
NFC: 1 Rams over 3 Vikings
Super Bowl LIV
1 Los Angeles Rams over 1 Kansas City Chiefs
MVP: Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams