There is becoming a clearer divide between the league’s youth and its aging veterans. This will be one of the biggest takeaways from next season as we see greats like Tom Brady consider retirement and young stars like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott continue taking over as the NFL’s newest elite athletes. Next year’s postseason could be the best ever if things go down as expected. Sure, some upsets may alter the following list. But that’s what makes the NFL so great. Things don’t go as expected. But by the end of the 2017 regular season, you’ll be seeing a very similar lineup leading to the 2018 Super Bowl.
The NFL is tough to predict. Who could have guessed the Cowboys were going to be the best regular season team in the NFC last season? Probably not many of you. But there are teams like the Patriots or the Packers who are nearly a 100 percent guaranteed playoff team. There will be upsets that will affect these predictions, but those are what makes the NFL fun to watch. But the teams at the top keep strengthening. The teams at the top of the NFL are so good and they keep getting better. The divide is getting bigger between playoff bound teams and the rest of the league. The good teams are just continuing to separate from the rest of the pack and that will be more evident than ever next season. With this divide, it's becoming easier and easier to predict the teams who will be playoff bound following the regular season.
But this list doesn't just account for the teams that will be in the playoffs. Here we predict ever game for the NFL's 2018 postseason. From the Wild Card matchups to the Super Bowl champion, here's an early look at next seasons playoff picture.
Note: recordsProjections of team regular season also included.
22 AFC Wild Card: OAKLAND RAIDERS (11-5) vs. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (8-8)
Oakland will get really close to a first round bye, but the AFC is just too good for such a young team to take the lead. But the Raiders have enough talent to slid into the playoffs ahead of the rest of the pack. Derrick Carr showed his worth last season, and that was proven even more as he was out the last two games due to injury. Once Carr was sidelined, the Raiders couldn’t hold any type of consistency on the field and went 0-2 to close out the season.
The Colts will be a consistently good team as long as Andrew Luck is at the helm. Luck is one of the highest paid quarterbacks and its deserving for what he brings to the field. When you match him with T.Y. Hilton, there’s going to be a lot of scoring. For the second straight season, Indianapolis will finish with a .500 record. This time, though, the Colts will be in the playoffs.
21 Winner: OAKLAND RAIDERS
This matchup is closer than the regular season records reflect. Although the Colts will finish with a .500 record, the team is a much better competitor than the rest of the teams in the league with a similar record. Next year will be a season where the NFC brakes out with a playoff showing of teams with outstanding records as the AFC boasts a lineup with squads that barely broke .500. But the competition will be just as fierce from the AFC.
This AFC Wild Card matchup will be highlighted by Derrick Carr and Andrew Luck. This will be the first year that Carr will get to prove himself in the postseason, and he’s got a lot to prove after missing last season’s playoffs. Carr was expected to take Oakland to a first-round victory, but he was robbed of that opportunity. Next season, he’ll be ready and lead the Raiders to a victory over the Colts.
20 NFC Wild Card: GREEN BAY PACKERS (12-4) vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (10-6)
The Bucs edged out the Panthers from this spot. Carolina and Cam have a huge rebound from their miserable season last year when the Panthers posted just six wins. The Panthers will have a winning record during the regular season, but it won’t be enough to outlast Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers will secure the final postseason spot in the NFC, though it will be a tight race.
It will be nearly the opposite for Green Bay. The Packers will slide into the playoffs, but there will be a big dived between the NFC playoff teams, and the rest of the pack. The NFC’s best will post some great records, but that will leave a good chunk of teams with subpar records. The Packers will rarely struggle next season, but they’ll miss out on a first-round bye.
19 Winner: TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Packers will post one of the best regular season records, but they’ll fall apart in the postseason. Aaron Rodgers will likely contend for the league MVP title, but his performance in the playoffs will be just as good. But Jameis Winston will shock a lot of naysayers as he outmatches the Hall of Fame bound quarterback leading Green Bay. Of course, the Packers will be good as long as Rodgers is part of the offensive attack. But the youthful Buccaneers will have no problem keeping up in this high scoring contest.
The next NFL postseason will remembered for the year when the next generation of quarterbacks takes over. Winston will start showing up more and more and will become one of the NFL’s biggest stars by the end of the regular season and he’ll continue strengthening his status in the postseason.
18 AFC Wild Card: TENNESSEE TITANS (10-6) vs. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (9-6)
Kansas City is good, but the team is in a place where most of the country tends to forget about. The Chiefs have been consistently good recently, but they have not shown worthy against the league’s elite in the playoffs. That’s another thing that won’t change by the end of next season. The Chiefs will, once again, be a solid regular season contender. Once the postseason starts, the Chiefs will fall quickly.
Marcus Mariota is part of the NFL’s newest elite group of quarterbacks. The next wave of superstar quarterbacks will be led by guys like Mariota, Derek Carr and Jameis Winston. Mariota will continue to show that through the regular season as the Titans become one of the toughest teams to beat. Mariota has tools like DeMarco Murray and Delanie Walker surrounding him and the Titans will find a spot in the postseason.
17 Winner: TENNESEE TITANS
For the second-straight year, Kansas City will put together a good regular season that will be followed by an absolute dismal display in the postseason. The Chiefs have tools that will propel them through a pretty successful regular season, but they will just be a slightly above average team amongst the best in the NFL. Kansas City will have trouble through the regular season getting consistent scoring from its offense and that will be a continuing trend into the playoffs. As much as it seems postseason experience will help the Chief, their fan base will be in for another disappointing year.
While Kansas City fades away, the Titans will be one of the most talked about success stories in the beginning of the next NFL postseason. It’s going to be such a good story as Marcus Mariota proves to be one of the league’s best quarterbacks. He’ll continue to improve on the stat sheet and this will begin proving how well he’s able to win.
16 NFC Wild Card: NEW YORK GIANTS (11-5) vs. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5)
The Giants have been one of the most consistent winning teams since Eli Manning was acquired in a draft-day trade. Eli Manning has started every game since he’s been in the league and is better than a lot of people give him credit for. Being Peyton Manning’s younger brother really has stunted the appreciation fans have for the younger Manning’s career. But there’s still a lot of time for Eli to gain some more fans. And he’ll continue to take New York to the postseason next season. But with the strength of the NFC, he won’t be seeing a first-round bye.
Seattle has been a consistent playoff presence, and the team will continue to play in the postseason next year. The Seahawks defense will still be presenting some of the league’s most talented players and that will lead to many regular season victories. The Seahawks have some work to compete against the NFC’s best, but they’ll have a platform to make a mark.
15 Winner: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
This is a great pairing for the Wild Card round of the playoffs. With matchups like this, we’ll get to see a better postseason than we got to watch this past year. Two exciting teams lead off the AFC Wild Card round, and two better teams begin the NFC’s side of the bracket. The Giants have a poised Eli Manning taking the lead, but the Seahawks defense will keep him in check.
It just seems too good to be true to expect that Manning will have another flawless season in terms of staying healthy. He’s not the oldest quarterback in the league, but age will reveal itself in Manning’s game next season. He’s got a good postseason history, but it will take a step back next season.
14 AFC Divisional Round: PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-3) vs. TENNESSEE TITANS (10-6)
The extra week of rest will be well deserved and very much needed for the Steelers by the time the next postseason rolls around. Ben Roethlisberger may not have much time left, and he needs all the time he can get to rest. Luckily, the Marcus Mariota led Titans won’t need any downtime and will be firing on all cylinders entering this matchup. The Titans will be very confident after their easy victory over the Chiefs in the opening round of the playoffs.
As much as Pittsburgh is fueled by Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are the reasons the Steelers will crush in the regular season and continue with dominant performances into the playoffs. Bell and Brown are two of the NFL’s best athletes and they will be that way for years to come.
13 Winner: PITTSBURGH STEELERS
The Titans just won’t have the firepower to take down the Steelers in this Divisional Round matchup. Ben Roethlisberger will miss some time during the regular season because of injuries, but his record will allow him to skip the final week of the regular season. That matched with his first-round bye will provide an opportunity for Big Ben to play at his best. And that will be a scary thing given the fact that Roethlisberger isn’t even one of the top two players on Pittsburgh’s offense.
But Tennessee will still deserve a lot of credit. The Titans will post a playoff win after a great regular season and you can expect they will continue with that type of great play for the foreseeable future. This will seem like a setback at first, but the Titans will have a great base to build on for at least a few more seasons.
12 NFC Divisional Round: DALLAS COWBOYS (14-2) vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (10-6)
The Cowboys will spend the entire regular season solidifying their spot as one of the league’s best teams. With young talented stars leading the offensive attack, there’s no telling how long Dallas will be good for. It’s safe to assume that this team will be competing in the playoffs as long as Dak and Zeke lead the way for the Cowboys. Sure, some other factors need to be maintained, but with that type of star power in two of the most important offensive position, Cowboys fans shouldn’t be worried.
Although both of these teams are led by young talent, it’s much more of a surprise seeing Tampa Bay reaching this point of the postseason. Especially since the Buccaneers will need to take down a powerhouse in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams should count their seasons as a win for making it this far, but Tampa Bay won’t have as much pressure entering the game compared to the scrutiny that will be placed on the Cowboys.
11 Winner: DALLAS COWBOYS
The Cowboys will have just too much riding on this game to screw it up. After failing in the postseason this past year, a youth-led team highlighted by quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott will be feared by all. The Cowboys are going to put together a frighteningly good regular season run and this time they will have more opportunities in the postseason.
This game will actually prove to be quite the easy win for Dallas. Prescott and Elliott are hungry after last season and after waiting nearly a year for this chance, the duo will not be easy to stop. And Tampa Bay surely won’t have the ability to keep them down after a week of rest because of the first-round bye. The Buccaneers will be able to take solace in making it this far, but their postseason run will end abruptly when they meet the Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
10 AFC Divisional Round: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (15-1) vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (11-5)
Everyone will be talking about how Tom Brady is some sort of robot or extraterrestrial life force as he’ll continue dominating even though he will be 40 years old. Tom Brady will once again lead the Patriots to an unbelievable regular season and they’ll go into the postseason as Super Bowl favorites. Looking at the AFC, it doesn’t seem like there is another team who will come close to disrupting the Patriots. Barring any upset, it seems like this team will slide into the Super Bowl with ease.
Here’s where we’ll finally get to see Derek Carr’s true character as an NFL athlete. Going up against the Patriots is a tall order, especially when they’re coming off a first-round bye. But Carr has got a good chunk of experience to fall back on and he’ll be able to handle any curveballs coming from the New England defensive attack. This game will be a great opportunity for Carr to further strengthen his case as one of the NFL’s rising stars.
9 Winner: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Raiders will keep this a surprisingly close contest, but the young team just won’t have the experience to take down the New England Patriots. By this point, a lot of people who hate New England will be hoping they win the Super Bowl so that Tom Brady can call it quits in the NFL and move on to retired life. If Brady doesn’t win the Super Bowl, it seems like a safe bet that he’ll be back for another year. Looking back at how good his career has been, it seems like he wouldn’t end his career any other way than a victory in the NFL’s biggest game.
This game against the Raiders will be eerily similar to the Patriots/Falcons Super Bowl. The Raiders will jump out to an early lead and we’ll all start talking about how Brady’s time must be over. But the soon-to-be Hall of Famer will shock us all again as he eases into the AFC Championship game. It’s beginning to look like another New England Super Bowl appearance.
8 NFC Divisional Round: ATLANTA FALCONS (12-4) vs. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5)
The Super Bowl hangover has affected many teams in the past. It’s something that we’ve seen before and unfortunately, we’ll see it again. Losing a Super Bowl has got to be the toughest blow as a coach or player, and putting together that type of run is tough to do in two-straight seasons. It seems so often that a team loses in the Super Bowl and than fails to compete for a spot in the playoffs.
Well, the Falcons shouldn’t worry too much about that possibility. The Falcons will continue their dominance over the NFC and ease into the playoffs, securing a spot well before the end of the regular season. With Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and a couple of good running backs to pick from, the Falcons are just as poised as ever to make a run at a Super Bowl. Here, the experienced Falcons will meet an equally experienced Seahawks squad. It will be another matchup between two of the league’s best playoff teams in this Divisional Round matchup.
7 Winner: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
You know what they say. Offense is fun to watch but defense breeds championships. Although Seattle’s defensive attack won’t be good enough for another Super Bowl run, it will propel them past the Falcons. Atlanta is good and will continue to show that in the regular season. This will be a tough loss for the Falcons as their roster seems to be one of the best and most talented in the NFL. But Seattle’s defensive power will be just too much for the Falcons to overcome.
The Seahawks defense just seems a bit unfair. They’ve got Richard Sherman, who is one of the best defensive talents in the league. The craziest thing is that Sherman may not be the best player on the defensive unit. Seattle also has powerful talent coming from Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett.
6 AFC Championship: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (15-1) vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-3)
The AFC Championship game will include the two teams that pretty much everyone will expect throughout the entirety of next season. The AFC will be divided between teams like New England and Pittsburgh, both of which will rarely lose a game. And then there will be teams like the Cleveland Browns that struggle to find a win. The gap between those two spectrums will increase and we’ll continue to see more of a divide between the top of the league and the bottom, especially in the AFC where an 8-8 team will make the playoffs.
This will be a much anticipated matchup, but next year the NFC will be on everyone’s mind. People are used to seeing these two teams win and it won’t get any extra attention from the fans. However, this will still end up being one of the most thrilling games to watch all of next season.
5 Winner: PITTSBURGH STEELERS
This will force Tom Brady back into the NFL for at least one more season. Some people will be thrilled while a lot of the league will be pissed. Next season will continue to prove that Brady has a lot left in his tank and no one will want to compete against the over-40 quarterback. It’s not often that people are worried to go against an athlete who’s over 40, but Brady isn’t your average quarterback.
But in this game, Brady will look average as the Steelers defense tears apart the Patriots. For once, Brady will look confused on the field and will be fuming by the end of the game. All of this angst will stump any previous thoughts of retirement for Brady and this big win will put Pittsburgh in a prime position heading into the Super Bowl. A beat up Ben Roethlisberger will worry Steelers Nation, but the superstar quarterback will get a week of needed rest before the big game.
4 NFC Championship: DALLAS COWBOYS (14-2) vs. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5)
Dallas will get here from young talent and Seattle’s run will be fueled by the best defensive attack in the league. At this point of the season, Seattle will be hungrier for a victory, but that won’t necessarily help them. The young stars in Dallas are expected to make the postseason, but it’s still unclear if they have the mental fortitude to make it through the opening round of the playoffs. Once they clear that hurdle, the critics will fade away and they’ll be applauded for their second-consecutive postseason run. No one will care by this point if Dallas makes it to the Super Bowl because that’s an outrageous expectation out of a team led by two guys who are in their second year in the NFL.
For the Seahawks, this will be a game where it will be hard to keep emotions in check. Despite their much worst regular season record, Seattle will be the overwhelming favorite after the league watches them manhandle opponents in the first two postseason games.
3 Winner: DALLAS COWBOYS
This will be a much sloppier game than we’re used to seeing in the postseason. Seattle’s crushing defense will stump Dak and Zeke, while the youthful duo will have some tricks to disrupt Seattle’s rhythm. It’ll be a constant back-and-forth that will look nothing like we’ve grown to expect from two teams that have reached this point of the postseason. Seattle will be too overconfident going against a team led by guys who haven’t yet experienced much disappointment in the NFL. The Seahawks will plan on bringing the pain, but they’re confidence will quickly turn to cockiness and the yellow flags will rain down on the field. In this sloppy game, the Cowboys will benefit from a slew of penalties against the Seahawks for a much-needed edge in this close game.
But once it’s finished, the media and fans alike will be praising the Cowboys for their postseason run. It will be a run that no one will expect, even though the team will, once again, have the best record in the NFC. In the end, this will come as a crushing blow to the Seahawks who will be expected to power past the Cowboys in this championship game.
2 Super Bowl LII: DALLAS COWBOYS (14-2) vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-3)
The Cowboys would have been better suited going up against the Steelers without the week off before the Super Bowl. Giving a guy like Ben Roethlisberger more time to recover and dissect your defensive plan is never a good thing. The rough thing about this additional week off is that it will strengthen the pressure that will be put onto the Cowboys. Dallas will go from a no pressure team in the NFC Championship to a huge amount of pressure in the Super Bowl. Once Dallas secures its spot in the big game, Dak and Zeke will be the focus of everyone’s attention.
Sure, there’s some veteran leadership in Dallas, but the Steelers threatening offensive/defensive combo will be a really tough opponent. But you shouldn’t expect anything else…this is the Super Bowl. And since Roethlisberger has Bell and Brown, it will continue the streak of spectacular Super Bowls.
1 Super Bowl LII Champions: PITTSBURGH STEELERS
The ironic thing about this victory is that it will end up being Ben Roethlisberger’s last game in the NFL. As we all planned to say farewell to Tom Brady, Roethlisberger will shock the league in announcing his retirement after winning one more Super Bowl and being named the MVP of the league’s biggest game. Roethlisberger has had an amazing career, but this Super Bowl win will solidify his spot as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
This will be a crushing loss for Dallas. Finally, “America’s Team” reaches the NFL’s biggest game. Unfortunately for the Dallas fans, the young guns leading the charge will succumb to the pressure. Dak will struggle for completions and Zeke will cough up the ball. This will be uncharacteristic compared to their season leading up to this point. Although it will seem like these two are unfazed by pressure, the world will be watching here and they will fail to perform as we all have grown to expect.