Post-free agency playoff predictions

A way-too-early prediction for the new seven-team playoff format in the NFL

Louie DiBiase
April 06, 2020 - 2:55 am

Basing regular season predictions off of what a team looks like on paper following their free agent moves is flat out reckless. The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles and 2019 Cleveland Browns concur.

Regardless, the sports world is on a hiatus with the COVID-19 outbreak, so let's get reckless with a post-free agency NFL playoff prediction in a new seven teams per-conference postseason world:

 

AFC:

1.) Baltimore Ravens - AFC North

The Ravens reclaim the top seed for the second straight year, grabbing the only bye week in the AFC. It is scary to think that quarterback Lamar Jackson can get even better coming off an MVP season, but it could happen if Baltimore adds more around him to compliment wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and tight end Mark Andrews.

Baltimore's defense retained cornerback Jimmy Smith to keep a talented trio of corners together in Smith, Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, but the bigger story was how much they improved their defensive line. The Ravens kept their best edge rusher Matthew Judon in-house with the franchise tag, added another star defensive end by trading with Jacksonville for Calais Campbell, and then signed longtime veteran Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe.

 

2.) Kansas City Chiefs - AFC West

Kansas City didn't have to do much to remain a championship contender. As long as quarterback Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid are the faces of the franchise, that won't change. The Chiefs didn't make a lot of noise in free agency, but they were able to bring back wide receiver Sammy Watkins on a new, cheaper one-year deal, which will keep an elite offensive core in tact.

 

3.) Buffalo Bills - AFC East

The month of March was good to Buffalo. Tom Brady leaves the AFC East after two decades with the New England Patriots, the Bills acquired star wide receiver Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings, and the front office made a number of other underrated signings on the defensive line. As long as quarterback Josh Allen doesn't replicate Mitch Trubisky's 2019 season with the Chicago Bears and regress beyond repair, this Bills team will be one of the best in the conference.

 

4.) Indianapolis Colts - AFC South

Philip Rivers looked like a guy that had very little left in the tank last year. Perhaps a rejuvenation can come with a former coach of his in Frank Reich. Reich has a history of getting the most out of his quarterbacks. Indianapolis has one of the best rosters in the conference which got even better by trading for San Francisco 49ers star defensive tackle Deforest Buckner. So if Rivers can just be better than Jacoby Brissett, this team should be able to get it done.

 

5.) Pittsburgh Steelers - Wild Card #1

The Steelers almost made the playoffs last year with a quarterback named "Duck" Hodges thanks to one of the best defenses in the league carrying the team. The return of Ben Roethlisberger and an extra seed added will make Pittsburgh a favorite to land a Wild Card spot.

 

6.) Tennessee Titans - Wild Card #2

Not sure Ryan Tannehill comes close to repeating his 2019 season, but the surrounding roster is pretty strong. Not to mention the AFC this deep into the standings gets pretty weak. The front office managed to keep the real face of the offense in running back Derrick Henry around for 2020, and head coach Mike Vrabel had this team playing the ultimate spoiler, nearly getting to the Super Bowl last year. They will ride that momentum to a second-straight postseason berth.

 

7.) Denver Broncos - Wild Card #3

The Broncos were a fun, young bunch at the end of 2019. Quarterback Drew Lock showed a ton of promise, and he'll get a new weapon in Year 2 with running back Melvin Gordon signing last month. The defense lost cornerback Chris Harris, but they were able to replace him with someone almost as good, trading for former Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye. Denver also managed to keep one of the best young safeties, franchise tagging Justin Simmons.


NFC:

1.) San Francisco 49ers - NFC West

Even if Jimmy Garoppolo doesn't get much better, this 49ers roster is too good right now to take a huge step back. The 49ers traded Buckner to the Colts, but two other core pieces of the defense in defensive tackle Arik Armstead and safety Jimmie Ward re-signed.

A first round pick from Indianapolis in the Buckner trade gives the 49ers two first rounders, including the 13th overall pick. That could bring in a top rookie wide receiver like Ceedee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, or Henry Ruggs to replace Emmanuel Sanders. A combination of one of those rookies and Deebo Samuel is a scary thought for opposing defenses.

 

2.) Philadelphia Eagles - NFC East

If the Eagles can finally avoid suffering a catastrophic amount of injuries around quarterback Carson Wentz, they should be able to return to the top of the conference for the first time since 2017. The defense got younger, faster, and more talented through a trade for cornerback Darius Slay, and the signings of defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, safety Will Parks, and linebacker Jatavis Brown.

The rest of the NFC East, meanwhile, did not get a lot better on paper compared to, what was, the worst division in football last year, so Philadelphia won't have anywhere near the competition that the other three NFC divisions will have.

 

3.) New Orleans Saints - NFC South

Drew Brees is back for another year, and he has his best No. 2 wide receiver in years after Sanders agreed to a deal with New Orleans through free agency. The Saints also landed one of the most versatile and consistent defensive players in the league after the Eagles let safety Malcolm Jenkins become a free agent.

The Saints are ready to give this thing one last shot in the Brees era.

 

4.) Green Bay Packers - NFC North

The Packers were relatively quiet in free agency as they normally are, but signing an explosive like LB Christian Kirskey could make one of the best defenses in the league even better next year (as long as the injury prone LB can stay healthy).

The rest of the NFC North got worse, so Green Bay is still the favorite to win the division.

 

5.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Wild Card #1

Goodbye Jameis Winston, hello Tom Brady.

The Buccaneers almost got to .500 despite Winston throwing for 30 interceptions in 2019, which just goes to show the talent on both sides of the ball this roster has. Brady isn't going to throw games away like Winston did.

Head coach Bruce Arians is still one of the best offensive minds in the league, and he has performed magic with an aging quarterback before. Back in Arizona, Arians took Carson Palmer and the Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game in 2015. History, very well, could repeat itself.

 

6.) Seattle Seahawks - Wild Card #2

Russell Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and he got a third wide receiver with 4.3 speed added to the offense after free agent Philip Dorsett agreed to a deal with Seattle. If the front office can work something out with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the Seahawks should be playing into January once again.

 

7.) Arizona Cardinals - Wild Card #3

The last three seasons have featured a second-year quarterback that takes a giant, sometimes MVP-like jump in production. Carson Wentz in 2017. Patrick Mahomes in 2018. Lamar Jackson in 2019.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray already was primed to be the next man up in that list after winning Rookie of the Year last season. Then the Cardinals traded for a top-five wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins for pennies on the dollar.

Murray's weapons now include wide receivers Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, as well as running back Kenyan Drake, who the Cardinals responsibly chose over David Johnson. Add the potential of wide receivers Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler into the equation and you have a dangerous display of air-raid coming your way.

The defense got better too after signing former Detroit Lions outside linebacker Devon Kennard and former Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. Phillips is coming off a 9.5 sack season, while Kennard enjoyed back-to-back seven-sack seasons. They join the sack leader of 2019 in Chandler Jones up front.

 

What do you think about these way too early playoff predictions? Let us know on Twitter: @WGR550

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