Well, here we are. After 18 weeks, the NFL regular season roller-coaster has ended and we’re left with a select few teams that didn’t lose their lunch during the ups, downs and loops. It’s always fun to go back to before it started and see how my predictions fared. 

 So, let’s do that.  

My AFC playoff field prediction: Bills, Bengals, Jaguars, Chiefs, Dolphins, Jets, Ravens.
My record: 4-3. 

I feel like I can take a mulligan on Cincinnati because Joe Burrow got hurt on Nov. 16 and was lost for the season. The Bengals still finished 9-8 and were one spot out of the playoff field. It’s fair to assume that Burrow’s presence down the stretch would have been enough to get into the dance. 

Remember, the Jaguars were 8-3 on Nov. 26 after beating the Texans on the road. But for a multitude of reasons too boring to list here, they stumbled and lost five of their final six games.  

And the Jets? Well, Aaron Rodgers didn’t even make it past the team’s opening possession before blowing out his Achilles. I can’t really hold their 7-10 record against them, even though it wouldn’t be that hard. After all, their backup QB situation is just a mess. 

My NFC playoff field prediction: Eagles, Niners, Saints, Lions, Cowboys, Packers, Seahawks.
My record: 5-2. 

New Orleans and Seattle finished with identical 9-8 records, but I think the Saints deserve a little more scorn after being unable to win a very subpar NFC South. That division was begging to be won and ultimately it was the Buccaneers with a ton of dead money on their salary cap who took the crown. The Saints had way too much talent to be making vacation plans right now. 

And I must chastise myself for being a man of little faith. I’m a Rams fan and I had no optimism heading into the season. Their over/under win total was 6.5 and I was convinced they were going to be under. I had them pegged for a 4-13 record. Not only did they win 10 games, but got into the postseason and could conceivably win a playoff game. 

I should be ashamed.  

WHAT’S THE CHATTER? 

Bill Belichick: We’ve spoken a lot bout Bellichick this year on Sports Tonight.  Chris and I will do it again tonight now that his departure from New England is official.

You’re out! Black Monday came and went and some heads did roll. The Falcons firing Arthur Smith wasn’t a big shock because the team did have high draft picks for the last three years and Smith finished with 7-10 records in each of them. The Commanders predictably cut Ron Rivera loose after their dismal 4-13 season. The team has new ownership now and it makes sense that they would want to start fresh with a handpicked head coach. 

I was a little surprised at the waves made after the Titans fired Mike Vrabel after six seasons. While it’s true that he had winning records in his first four years, made the playoffs three times and reached the AFC title game once, the last two seasons showed regression. Tennessee went 7-10 in 2022 and 6-11 this year. You can’t slide like that in the NFL. Only coaches who have a Super Bowl win under their belt can get away with it, but even then, the seat will get hot very fast. 

Now, if you want to blame the Titans’ front office for not going out and getting suitable talent, that’s fair. It’s tough to make chicken salad out of chicken crap, but life isn’t fair in the NFL. The head coach will usually get the blame first because it’s easier to get rid of him. But Vrabel will be fine. I imagine he’ll get a shot with another team at some point. Hmmm, don’t you think he has future Commander written all over him? 

More coach talk: Pete Carroll got fired?! What? How? Why? Actually, it does make sense. Carroll has had a nice run in Seattle. He’s coached there for more than a decade, has a Super Bowl win and another appearance. Most people would love to have that resume. And he’s in the seventies. Everything has to end at some point.  

Oh, come on: I don’t live in the Miami or Kansas City areas. Which means I’m going to have to sign up for Peacock again because the Dolphins-Chiefs playoff game will only be available for streaming. That sucks! I canceled my account on Peacock because I never used it. Sigh. 

Will he return? Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll can relate to each other. Both of their initial NFL runs ended ugly. Both men went to the college ranks and had great success. Carroll had his vaunted USC run and Harbaugh won a national title this week at Michigan. Now would be the perfect time for the latter to come back to the pros and chase a Lombardi Trophy. But Jim, word of advice: Stay out of Carolina. Nobody should work for David Tepper. That man might be great in the business world, but it comes to football, he has no idea what he’s doing. 

THIS WEEK’S GAMES 

Browns at Texans, Saturday 4:30 pm ET 

I enjoy a laugh every year when the playoff schedule comes out because the NFL makes no bones about how they value each game. Whichever game kicks off first is the one the league thinks stinks the most. 

Cleveland and Houston faced each other recently, with the Browns pulling off a 36-24 victory on Christmas Eve. That being said, the Texans didn’t have their wunderkind QB C.J. Stroud, the likely rookie of the year, under center for that game and wide receiver Nico Collins was also out. They’ll both be on the field for this one. 

And let’s take a second to just marvel at what Stroud has accomplished in his first year. He threw for 4,108 yards, 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also had a QB rating of 100.8. Mind you, he also missed two games with a concussion. Amazing. 

How Stroud matches up against the Browns defense will make or break this matchup. Cleveland led the league in yards allowed per game, were sixth in sacks and second to the Ravens in defensive rating. The key will be for Stroud and the Texans offense to not allow negative plays, which will put them in obvious passing downs. That will allow the Browns’ pass rush to pin their ears back and rush the passer with abandon. 

When Cleveland won on Christmas Eve, Joe Flacco and Amari Cooper played out of their minds. Cooper had 11 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns. No reasonable person can imagine that happening again. It makes sense that the Texans defense will go all out to bracket Cooper and make sure he doesn’t rack up ridiculous numbers. That means the Browns will need to rely on their running game a little, which was largely bottled up the last time these two teams played.  

And keep an eye on tight end David Njoku. He has built up a nice rapport with Flacco since the latter’s arrival. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him break off some big plays. 

The oddsmakers have Cleveland as a 2.5-point favorite. I think that makes sense. 

Winner: Browns. 

Dolphins at Chiefs, Saturday 8 p.m. ET 

Two of the biggest enigmas in the league. The Chiefs were a little more concerning because even though they’re the defending champs, this season has been interestingly concerning, if I may coin a phrase. 

Something has been off with Kansas City’s offense and we all kept waiting for it to bust loose, but it never really did. They finished ninth in total yards, which is not bad by any means, but it’s not up to their usual standards. And the Chiefs defense, which was usually the team’s question mark during the Patrick Mahomes era, has been carrying them all season. 

But Mahomes is apparently not worried that the doldrums won’t continue in the postseason. 

“I feel like we’re going to play our best football at the right time,” Mahomes said this week. “I think if we can just score — we don’t even have to score too many points if we can just score enough points our defense will shut the door and we can find a way to get the win.” 

Meanwhile, how Miami will handle this game is anyone’s guess. Had they beaten the Bills in Week 18, they would have a home playoff game. But they didn’t and so they won’t. Too bad.  

And it’s even worse because Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium could be one of the coldest games in league history. The forecast says it’s expected to be 0 degrees at kickoff. You read that right. Zero degrees. Meaning, there are no degrees of warmth at all. And it’s expected to get into negative temperatures during the game. 

How will the Dolphins offense react? I looked at some of their higher scoring games. They scored 36 in Week 1 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, 70 at home in Week 3 and 42 at home in Week 6. Not exactly frigid conditions. I will give them credit because they did put up 45 points during a rainy day at the Commanders on Dec. 3. 

But they haven’t faced anything like they will experience on Saturday. I don’t feel good about their chances. 

Winner: Chiefs. 

Steelers at Bills, Sunday 1 p.m. ET 

This is quite a matchup between the team that I didn’t want to make the playoffs vs. the team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs. Sorry, I’m salty that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin somehow got another winning season and postseason appearance out of this rabble. 

Now, credit where it’s due: Mason Rudolph has done a solid job at quarterback for the last three weeks and the Steelers have won all three games. He’s completing almost 75 percent of his throws and has five TD tosses without a pick. Kind of makes you wonder why he wasn’t given a shot earlier, but that’s a subject for another day. 

But the key name for this game is T.J. Watt. You won’t see him on Sunday because he’s been ruled out after suffering a knee injury. That means Pittsburgh will be without the NFL’s sack leader and probable defensive player of the year.  

I didn’t have a good feeling about the Steelers’ chances in the first place. I have less now. 

Winner: Bills 

Packers at Cowboys, Sunday 4:30 p.m. ET 

Green Bay has played well and earned their way into the playoffs, but they should send a gift basket to the league schedule-makers. The Packers got to close out their season against the Panthers, Vikings and Bears. 

What’s even better is that Jordan Love is hot. He’s thrown 18 TD passes and just one interception over his last eight games and has had a QB rating of over 100 in seven of them. Aaron Jones has managed to shake off an injury riddled regular season and has been a steady hand at running back since his return.  

But they will have a handful against the Cowboys defense that was fifth in yards per game and points allowed. Meanwhile, one would think that Dallas will go where Dak Prescott does on offense, but that might not be the case. They’re in the middle of the pack running the ball, so Green Bay might go all out to defend CeeDee Lamb and dare the Cowboys to run it.  

That being said, the Packers can do that, but still fall short. The fact is the Cowboys have won 16 straight games at home. That’s enough for me. 

Winner: Cowboys 

Rams at Lions, Sunday 8:15 p.m. ET 

By now, we’ve seen all of the hype. Matthew Stafford returns to Ford Field in Detroit, where he was never able to play in a postseason game in front of a fanbase who loved him while he climbed to great statistical heights. But now, with a Super Bowl win under his belt, he can knock off a team that hasn’t had a playoff win in 32 years. 

And don’t get me started on Jared Goff. He gets to face Sean McVay, the head coach who spurned him by trading him away in favor of Stafford. Wouldn’t he love nothing more than to send McVay’s Rams packing? Absolutely he would. 

But here’s the thing: The Lions are favored by three points and they have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. The Rams are playing with house money in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. L.A. has a young defense who can get beat deep and a special teams unit that’s a complete mess. I expect to see Detroit control the tempo by grinding out yards on the ground in the early going and then using play-action to burn an inexperienced Rams secondary deep.

Simple as that. 

Winner: Lions. 

Eagles at Buccaneers, Monday 8:15 p.m. ET 

The schedule-makers tried to do Philadelphia a solid and the Eagles spit it up. Their last three games were against teams that finished well below .500. And they lost two of them and the NFC East in the process. Now they’ve got to play on the road in the wild card round. 

Unbelievable. It’s hard to believe what’s happened to the Eagles defense, but they went from one of the best units in the league at sacking quarterbacks last season to 20th in 2023. And Jalen Hurts, who’s been dealing with a knee injury, dislocated a finger in a pretty gruesome way in Week 18. 

Now Philly has to take on a Tampa team that has won five of its last six games. Do the Bucs do anything great? Not really, no. But what they’ve been doing has been good enough.  

The Eagles are favored by three. I don’t buy it. 

Winner: Buccaneers 

Sid Saraf
Sid Saraf

NFL Analyst

Currently a Mobile Editor at Yahoo, Saraf spent 5.5 years (Oct. 2010 – Feb. 2016) working for FOX Sports as an NFL Editor and Writer. Prior to that, Saraf worked for CBS Interactive for 4.5 years (May 2006 – Oct. 2010) as a Staff Editor.

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