Thayer’s Thoughts: NFL playoff preview

After a crazy 14th week of the NFL season, it is clear there are many teams ready to battle in what will be one of the most entertaining NFL Playoffs in recent memory. Baltimore, San Francisco, New England, New Orleans, Kansas City, Seattle, Houston, Buffalo, and Minnesota have shown all season they are capable of making it deep into the playoffs. The Tennessee Titans and the Los Angeles Rams have also made runs of their own of late and find themselves right on the postseason bubble. 

To start things off, any comparisons between Lamar Jackson and Michael Vick have to stop. Michael Vick’s famous 2004 season on the Falcons is not even close to as amazing as what Jackson has been doing all season. 

Vick threw for 2,313 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and ran for 902 yards and three touchdowns, while leading his team to 11 wins. 

Jackson has 2,677 yards through the air, along with 28 passing touchdowns and only six interceptions, while also being ninth in the league in rushing yards with 1,017 and seven touchdowns, to go along with an 11-2 this season so far. 

Lamar Jackson is different from any quarterback ever seen in the NFL before, and part of that is due to such a great system by Ravens coach John Harbaugh that is focused on running the ball. The Ravens are by far the scariest team in the NFL post-Week 15, pacing the league at 11-2 with wins over other top title contenders, such as San Francisco, New England, and Seattle. 

The Patriots are right behind the Ravens in the AFC at 10-3, but look destined to finish as at least the second seed. New England has suffered three losses in their last five games to other top AFC contenders in Kansas City, Houston, and Baltimore. The offense has looked stagnant at times, but you can never count out Tom Brady and Bill Belichick – especially in the regular season. 

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are starting to find their rhythm sitting at 9-4 and at the top of the AFC West. After a big 23-16 victory over the Patriots this week, the Chiefs look as if they are ready to go far into the postseason. 

Josh Allen has the Buffalo Bills right there at the top of the AFC at 9-4, one game behind the Patriots in the AFC East. The team plays smash mouth football, running the ball down other teams’ throats and dominating on the defensive side of the ball. 

They proved they’re real contenders on the national stage after a win against Dallas on Thanksgiving, and then keeping it close with Baltimore up until the end. 

Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans are a real contender in the AFC South at 8-5. Watson has once again shown this season he is an MVP-caliber quarterback. The Texans won against both Kansas City and New England, and look poised to host a home playoff game in January. 

Ryan Tannehill has looked like a completely different player since being named the Titans’ signal caller going, 6-1 in his seven games at the helm. The team also has an elite defense that can put any opponent in tough situations. 

Currently tied at sixth in the AFC and in the second wild card spot with the Steelers, the Titans look certain to overtake the Duck Hodges-led Steelers. 

The NFC is currently led by the young, dominant 49ers with starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who is proving he is worth his contract so far. The team’s offense is dynamic – they have many young receivers, such as rising star Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Emmanuel Sanders, in what is an elite passing attack. 

Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Matt Breida also lead a great rushing attack, with notable performances to date from all three backs. Coming off a last-second 48-45 win in what was probably the game of the year against the Saints, the 49ers look like the team to beat in the NFC. 

The New Orleans Saints are once again first in the NFC South with a first-round bye in sight. After strong play by backup Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 while future hall of famer Drew Brees nursed a thumb injury, the Saints look ready to compete for the Super Bowl in Miami. Even though they lost against San Francisco, they were in the game until the very last second, and an NFC Championship rematch looks likely. 

Russell Wilson looked like the league MVP up until Week 10, but he has the Seahawks one game behind San Francisco in the division and could potentially overtake the conference’s top seed if they finish tied or with a better record. 

You can never count out Wilson, and with a loaded receiving corps with speedy Tyler Lockett, second-round rookie D.K. Metcalf, and Josh Gordon, who has not yet gotten involved in the offense – the Seahawks can beat anybody in the league and are dangerous heading toward the postseason. 

The Green Bay Packers are a new team this season after signing Matt LaFleur to be the head coach in the offseason. Under LaFleur, the Pack is 10-3 and in first place in the NFC North with Minnesota right on their tails. 

Aaron Rodgers has looked aged at times and again faces the underwhelming receiving play that has hindered his success before. Aaron Jones has been everything they could have asked for this season, proving he is an elite running back. The Packers could make a run this postseason. 

Jason Garrett, somehow, is still coaching in the NFL in the year 2019, even though his team is 6-7. The Cowboys have severely underperformed this season, despite having arguably the best team on paper in the league. 

A playoff run does not seem likely, but is possible given the immense wealth of talent on the roster led by Dak Prescott in a contract year. 

Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings find themselves as the last team in the potential NFC playoff bracket at 9-4. They are only a game back in the division and could take over at any moment. 

The team is once again led by a solid defense and above-average offensive play. Kirk Cousins can be average or worse at times, but when he rises to the occasion, the Vikings can beat anyone. 

The Mike Zimmer-led team looks to get back to the NFC Championship after a bitter loss against the Eagles in 2018.