From the Bleachers: Playoff Pandemonium
With the NFL playoffs beginning Saturday, Baily Deeter predicts that the Green Bay Packers will defeat the Buffalo Bills in this year’s Super Bowl.
It’s been two years since I wrote my first edition of “From the Bleachers” about a changing of the guard in the NFL during the 2020 playoffs.
In that piece, I told tales of an exciting new era in the NFL, one in which fading dynasties like those of the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks made way for new blood, like Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs. I discussed the possibility of players who were then seniors in college, just like I am now, becoming NFL superstars. I discussed my all-time terrible Super Bowl pick, where both my AFC and NFC champion lost their first playoff game… in the Wild Card Round.
Two years later, much has changed, but an exciting new era in the NFL is certainly well under way. Kansas City has one Super Bowl championship and two Super Bowl appearances to its name in the last two years, as Patrick Mahomes aims to make his case in the GOAT conversation — too soon? Joe Burrow was a senior in college who still watched SpongeBob regularly — just like me if I had a national championship ring. He now leads the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs for the first time in six years, hoping to bring home the franchise’s first playoff win since 1990, six years before Burrow was born.
The 2021 NFL season has been tremendous so far, and parity is higher than it’s been in a long time. For all the hate the NFL got for adding a 17th game and expanding the playoffs to seven teams per conference, both decisions have proven to be entertaining as ever. I can’t remember a more enjoyable final day of the regular season than this past Sunday. Week 18 brought hilarious upsets (apologies to Indianapolis), miraculous comebacks (sorry to the four Los Angeles Rams fans), and a poorly managed prisoner’s dilemma in a game that almost sent both teams to the playoffs on a tie (sorry to the three Los Angeles Chargers fans).
We now look ahead to Super Wild Card Weekend, which consists of six games instead of four, and the first-ever Monday Night Football game in the playoffs (how did no one think of this sooner?). Burrow, Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray, Derek Carr (finally) and Mac Jones will make their playoff debuts. Trey Lance may, too, based on evidence that the San Francisco 49ers’ general manager wanted to leave Jimmy Garoppolo on Broadway for the weekend after a devastating loss to the Tennessee Titans a few weeks ago. Rookie quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields will have to wait their turn.
In the NFC, old rivalries will be renewed as the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys meet for the first time in the playoffs since the ’90s. The two franchises dominated the early days of the NFL, combining for 10 championships in the first 29 seasons of the Super Bowl era. But Joe Burrow and I don’t remember any of that — we’re more of the “What have you done for me lately?” mindset. Neither franchise has won a ring since 1994. The quest for a sixth ring starts on Sunday in the game I’m most looking forward to this weekend.
The Arizona Cardinals and Rams will renew their NFC West rivalry on Monday Night Football with the first playoff win of both Matt Stafford and Murray’s career at stake. The teams split their season series, with each team getting the upper hand on the road. The same is true of Saturday night’s Patriots-Buffalo Bills clash. The Patriots beat the Bills in December in one of the windiest games in Bills history, and Saturday night will bring similar conditions with temperatures in the single digits. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles will pick up where they left off after meeting in the playoffs in three straight years in the early 2000s. The Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders are both trying to break embarrassingly long playoff droughts. The Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to cover a 12.5-point spread in Kansas City. There’s a lot to look forward to.
While a new playoff format and new teams are in play, one thing will never change: the presence of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. in January, and maybe February. I would be remiss if I didn’t spend some ink talking about the greatness of No. 12 in Tampa Bay. A month after I was born, Brady was drafted into the NFL. Now, he is almost my dad’s age, and he is in contention to win his eighth Super Bowl and his fifth MVP. I wasn’t sure if Brady had enough left in the tank to win a Lombardi Trophy with a new team. After watching what Brady did last season and after binge-watching Man in the Arena over winter break, I’m sold.
All of this means that making a Super Bowl pick is even harder than it was when I completely screwed it up in 2020. I’m inclined not to bet on the high-risk, high-reward teams in Wild Card weekend in fear of repeating my same mistake from 2020. But it wouldn’t be fun if there wasn’t a legitimate chance for at least one of my Super Bowl teams to be eliminated in the first round. Buffalo has the highest point differential in the AFC this season, and the Bills proved to be road warriors this season in beating the Chiefs, Patriots and nearly the Titans and Buccaneers outside of Orchard Park. Even though the Bills have a tough path ahead of them, I like Buffalo to punch their ticket to Los Angeles. Picking the Bills to make it to the Super Bowl and then lose seems like a safe enough bet.
Speaking of safe bets, I would like Green Bay to finally win a conference championship game and advance from the NFC. It’s not easy to win on the road at Lambeau Field in January, and while Tom Brady did it last season, the Bucs’ Super Bowl hangover may finally catch up to them.
So there you have it. You should watch every playoff game this weekend, and you should count on the Packers beating the Bills in the Super Bowl. I guarantee it, unless the Patriots or Chiefs beat the Bills.