The NFC playoffs this season will be as hard to predict as an ending in a Game of Thrones season finale. Even predicting the playoff field is tough. However, with just three weeks left in the season, the field is narrowing. Based on how that field looks right now, here is a preview of what we could see in January.
(6) Tampa Bay Buccaneers at (3) Seattle Seahawks
Not many people expected the Buccaneers to be in the playoff picture this late in the season, but first-year head coach Dirk Koetter has done a great job with his team. Jameis Winston is playing like a franchise quarterback and the defense has been a turnover machine lately. Visiting Seattle in a playoff game, though, would be a daunting task.
The Seahawks got off to a slow start and got manhandled by the Packers in Week 14 as quarterback Russell Wilson looked terrible. If Tampa Bay gets Wilson moving around and uncomfortable, they stand a chance. However, neither team is likely to put many points on the board. The first team to 24 points could win a game like this in January and Seattle still seems better equipped to do it.
While he hasn’t played in playoff games in the NFL yet, don’t underestimate Winston’s experience in big games. He won a national championship at Florida State as a freshman and turned in a huge performance in the title game. Winston is mature beyond his years on the gridiron and he won’t be as fazed by the Seattle crowd as others would be.
In the end, Seattle should be able to do just enough to pull out a tough win, though.
The prediction: Seattle 28, Tampa Bay 21.
(5) New York Giants at (4) Atlanta Falcons
Despite currently holding a better record than the Falcons, the Giants would travel to Atlanta as it stands right now, because they trail the Cowboys (whom they’ve beaten twice now) in the NFC East. New York has played tremendous defense all year long and while Eli Manning hasn’t been outstanding, he hasn’t lost them as many games with bad decisions as in years past.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has seen a resurgence behind an extremely fast offense, which often wears down its opponents. Matt Ryan looks to have returned to form this season and he could be getting desperate for some playoff success. On paper, this looks like an incredibly even game. Give the slight advantage to the team and quarterback with more playoff experience.
The prediction: New York 31, Atlanta 20.
(3) Seattle Seahawks at (2) Detroit Lions
Nobody was picking the Lions to make the playoffs when the season started much less have a first-round bye, but that’s the position they’re in right now. Having homefield advantage against an experienced team like the Seahawks will be huge for a relatively inexperienced Detroit bunch.
Matthew Stafford is playing as well as any quarterback in the league right now and that means he’s going to give them a chance to win. However, Seattle just doesn’t give up big plays in games like this and they have experience on their side. They will force enough turnovers to get back to the NFC Championship Game.
The prediction: Seattle 23, Detroit 17.
(5) New York Giants at (1) Dallas Cowboys
This would be matchup No. 3 between these two teams and the Giants won the first two, the only two losses on the season for Dallas. While New York has seemed to have Dallas’ number, it’s almost impossible to beat the same team three times in a season. Teams adjust in the NFL and they often are able to expose your weaknesses after getting beaten like that twice.
While Dak Prescott doesn’t have any playoff experience, he won’t make mistakes to put his team in a bad position. Expect a steady dose of Ezekiel Elliott behind the best line in football as the Cowboys are barely able to edge their division foes and exact revenge en route to the NFC title game.
The prediction: Dallas 24, New York 21.
(3) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Dallas Cowboys
Even after they lost to the Giants on Sunday Night Football, it’s hard to go into any given game and say the Cowboys are going to lose. Their offensive line is just too good. Unless Prescott makes mistakes by throwing into coverage or holding onto the ball too long and putting his team in third and long situations, they should be in the driver’s seat.
This should be a low scoring game with two solid defenses and two inconsistent offenses. Look for Dallas to, once again, lean on Elliott, the rookie running back, to carry the team to the Super Bowl. He shows up in big games and this shouldn’t be any different.
The prediction: Dallas 20, Seattle 14.
[Featured Image by Bill Kostroun/AP Images]