Well, the 2016 NFL season is over.
As I sadly watch my Denver Broncos search for a new head coach and quarterback after winning Super Bowl 50, I'll have to toughen it out and watch the NFL playoffs this season after seeing my team reach the last five postseasons.
But really, this will be one of the most epic playoff tournaments in years. In the AFC, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger try to cement their legacies with a fifth and third title, respectively. The Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins look to win their first Super Bowls in decades. Also, can the Houston Texans win their first championship ever?
In the NFC, rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott lead the Dallas Cowboys. But will Matt Ryan finally shake off his playoff woes? Will Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers FINALLY win their second Super Bowl rings? Will the Detroit Lions finally win their first Super Bowl? Or could Eli Manning earn a third Super Bowl?
It's all up in the air, but here is my guess as to how the playoffs will play out.
15 Final Standings
There were a number of surprise teams to make the playoffs, and it was definitely a shock to see three of last season's final four teams miss it altogether: The Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers missed out on a trip to the postseason after playing in last year's Championship Weekend.
So here's a quick overview of how the standings went:
1. New England Patriots (14-2)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
4. Houston Texans (9-7)
5. Oakland Raiders (12-4)
6. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
The Raiders and Dolphins are in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and 2008, respectively.
1. Dallas Cowboys (13-3)
2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
3. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)
4. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
5. New York Giants (11-5)
6. Detroit Lions (9-7)
The Giants are in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, while the Falcons made it for the first time since 2012. The other four teams have all been in at least once since 2014.
12 AFC Wild Card: Pittsburgh Steelers Over Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins beat the Steelers back in Week 6, 30-15. But the Steelers are coming in hot with seven-straight wins to close out the 2016 season. Pittsburgh posted no fewer than 24 points in a game during the win streak.
Pittsburgh owns arguably the NFL's best running back in Le'Veon Bell. He gets to face one of the league's worst rushing units that allows over 130 rushing yards per game. Also, Miami's in a lot of trouble without Ryan Tannehill in this one. Matt Moore simply isn't great enough to go toe-to-toe with Ben Roethlisberger in a shootout.
Unless Miami's inconsistent defence comes out to play, it's hard not to like Pittsburgh's chances. Like we said, this should be a huge shootout, and anybody would take Ben Roethlisberger over a backup quarterback. Pittsburgh wins, 28-12.
11 AFC Wild Card: Houston Texans Over Oakland Raiders
My guess is this will be the least-watched NFL playoff game in decades.
The Texans will have Tom Savage or Brock Osweiler at quarterback, depending on the former's health. Meanwhile, Derek Carr's out for the season after a fractured fibula. Matt McGloin, the backup, may not even play in this one. That would leave third-stringer Connor Cook to start the game.
So when you have two backups playing, logic always points to the team with the better defence. Houston had the best defence in the NFL this season, allowing just 301.3 yards per game.
Meanwhile, the Raiders allowed over 20 points per game. Their defence isn't inspiring outside of Khalil Mack, so you have to think the Texans quarterback will find ways to get the ball out to DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans will win a defensive slugfest, 20-10.
10 NFC Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks Over Detroit Lions
For the third time in four years, the Lions had the NFC North in their hands, only to falter late in the season and have it slip away. With that, they have to visit the Seattle Seahawks, who are known for being one of the league's most dominant home teams. This is going to be a tough matchup for them.
Everyone remembers their matchup from Week 4 of last season. The Lions had a chance to take the lead, but fumbled at the one-yard line with a minute left. The Seahawks batted the ball out of the endzone, but the refs didn't call a penalty and the Lions were robbed of a chance to win.
The Seahawks have faced more daunting offences than Detroit's, and the Lions secondary is as leaky as it gets for a playoff team. Russell Wilson is 4-0 in home playoff games. It's easy to take the Seahawks here. Call it a 27-10 victory.
9 NFC Wild Card: Green Bay Packers Over New York Giants
This is going to be a matchup for the ages.
On one hand, you have the possible league MVP in Aaron Rodgers (who led the league in touchdowns) against one of the NFL's best defences. As we all know, Eli Manning relishes the playoffs, having won two Super Bowls and posting an 8-3 record in the postseason. He also has a pair of impressive playoff wins at Lambeau Field, so playing there won't necessarily intimidate them.
You have the Giants, who nobody wants to play. You have the Packers who have won their last six games. Only one team can win this matchup, though.
Though I feel like the Giants are going to prove me wrong, I just can't pick against the red-hot Packers. They appear to be on a mission after being counted out earlier in the season. Rodgers gets it done, leading the Packers to a 24-20 victory.
8 AFC Divisional Round: New England Patriots Over Houston Texans
Though part of me wants to believe the Texans can give the Patriots a close game (for our entertainment's sake), I must be kidding myself.
The Patriots hammered the Texans 27-0 back in Week 3 this season, while Tom Brady was in the midst of his four-game suspension. For the record, the Texans didn't have any significant injuries in that game. This Patriots team also crushed Houston 27-6 in Week 14 of 2015. On the road, too.
Houston has the NFL's top-ranked defence, but it won't mean anything if Savage or Osweiler can't move the ball. The Patriots allowed the fewest points this season. They feasted on the league's worst quarterbacks, and they should be able to take care of the Texans here.
Call it a 34-10 victory for the home team.
7 AFC Divisional Round: Kansas City Chiefs Over Pittsburgh Steelers
The Chiefs were hammered by the Steelers back in Week 4, losing 43-14. But Kansas City will be at home in this one. Their offence was off to a miserable start in 2016, but the Chiefs averaged 28.16 points per game throughout the final six weeks. Alex Smith is emerging as a pure pocket passer, and Tyreek Hill's breakout in the second half is hard to ignore.
Pittsburgh will be led by the Triple B's of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Their defence has also been stingy through 2016, but they'll have it in tough against the Chiefs' surging offence.
This game's a toss-up, but you just figure that the Chiefs have to break out at some point. Their defence is top-notch and they have the personnel to keep the Steelers in check. This game will go down to the final minute, but Smith finds a way to get through the Steelers. Kansas City wins, 27-24.
6 NFC Divisional Round: Green Bay Packers Over Dallas Cowboys
Please don't tell my boss I wrote this. (He's a Cowboys fan).
I sound like a moron for picking against the Cowboys at home. Dak Prescott's the real deal, Ezekiel Elliott was the league's top running back while Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Jason Witten round out one of the NFL's most explosive offences. So why in the world am I picking the Packers, who lost 30-16 at home to Dallas earlier in the season?
At the end of the day, pure logic points to this game being an absolute shootout. And in that case, I have to take the seasoned veteran Rodgers over a rookie making his first playoff start.
The Packers will be coming in hot after an emotional win over the Giants, and with seven-straight wins coming into this game, it's tough to see Rodgers losing to a team he feasts on (he's won four of the last five meetings against them). Packers take it, 34-28.
5 NFC Divisional Round: Seattle Seahawks Over Atlanta Falcons
This will be a fun one.
The Seattle Seahawks identity is having the league's best secondary - The Legion of Boom.
Atlanta's identity? An explosive offence carried by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. You've got a classic case of the unstoppable force (Atlanta) vs. the immovable object (Seattle).
These teams met back in Week 6, with Seattle just barely pulling out a 26-24 victory (though many believe Seattle got away with defensive pass interference in the final minute to seal a victory). They also met in Atlanta during the 2012 NFC Divisional Round, with the Falcons just barely pulling out a 30-28 victory.
But I'm going with the Seahawks here. In the playoffs, defence trumps offence. The Seahawks offence is also on a roll, and they get to face a defence that allowd 25.4 points per game during the regular season. The Seahawks win in Atlanta and erase a bad memory, 30-27.
4 AFC Championship: Kansas City Chiefs Over New England Patriots
You probably didn't see this one coming.
Not many people are going to be high on the Chiefs in the playoffs, but there's a lot to love about this team. As we talked about earlier, their offence is simply coming on at the right time.
This is also a defence that only allowed 19.4 points per game, despite playing both Derek Carr and Philip Rivers twice, the Steelers offence, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston and likely MVP, Matt Ryan. The Chiefs have faced the NFL's best offences and kept them all in check.
We all know how great Tom Brady and the Patriots are. They allowed just 15.6 points per game (lowest in the NFL). But keep in mind they also played 10 games against teams ranked in the bottom-14 in scoring offence. The best team they beat were the Big Ben-less Steelers.
Kansas City has the formula to tire out New England's defence with short-efficient running plays and passes. They have the secondary to lock down the Patriots' receivers. Kansas City pulls off a major upset, winning 24-17.
3 NFC Championship: Seattle Seahawks Over Green Bay Packers
Oh, the fun and joy.
If we really get Aaron Rodgers vs. the Legion of Boom, Part VI, this will be one for the ages. What else is there to say?
Green Bay simply hates playing in the Emerald City. The controversial loss in Week 3 of the 2012 season and the epic meltdown in the NFC Championship two seasons ago. But Rodgers has won the last two meetings against the Seahawks - both coming in dominant performances at home.
You have arguably the NFL's best quarterback against the league's best secondary. You have the red-hot Packers against a team trying to redeem itself from a meltdown in Super Bowl XLIX. Both teams are looking for redemption, but only one of them can go to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for the Packers, this is the end of the line. Rodgers has just two touchdowns and three interceptions in his last three visits to Seattle. Also, the Packers defence gives up far too many points. Seattle wins, 30-16.
2 Super Bowl XLI: Seattle Seahawks Over Kansas City Chiefs
The Seahawks were a Super Bowl contender coming into 2016. But people are going to overlook them in a crowded NFC. After all, the top-seeded Cowboys, surging Packers and always-dangerous Giants do make for a tough road to the Super Bowl. But the Seahawks love being overlooked, and they'll take advantage of it here.
You see, Russell Wilson is as clutch as it gets in the playoffs. This team was one yard away from winning two of the last three Super Bowls. Their window is slowly closing, and they know the time is now to start adding more Lombardi Trophies.
The Chiefs and Seahawks provide an instant classic. Two game-managing quarterbacks carried by strong ground games and two elite defences. Why am I taking Seattle? Because, Wilson has shown his ability to rise to the occasion.
Seattle wins a thriller, 24-23. For good measure, Wilson runs it in from the one-yard line in the final minute to seal the Super Bowl.
1 Super Bowl MVP: Russell Wilson
Wilson deserved the MVP in the Super Bowl XLVII game, but it went to Malcolm Smith. He would have won it if the Seahawks ran the ball in Super Bowl 49...or if Wilson didn't throw the interception.
In this one, Wilson will come through for Seattle. Facing one of the league's best pass-rushes, Wilson will post the game of his life. He will finish with 25 completions on 346 attempts for 301 yards, two touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown without committing a turnover.
This will be a disappointing loss for the Chiefs, but it's simply a sign that their best days are on the horizon. There will be no shame in losing a close game to the Seahawks. But Wilson always comes through in crunch time, and he will do it again as he (finally) gives Seattle its second Super Bowl.