2021 NFL Playoffs Preview and Predictions: AFC Edition

As the year turns to 2021, it signifies the end to the dreadful year of 2020, and the conclusion of the NFL regular season. The 2020 NFL Season was very different from ones prior but the NFL was still able to complete a full 17 week regular season. This is the first year with 14 teams now eligible to compete for a Lombardi trophy instead of 12, which will make Wild Card weekend much more action packed. With 12 of the 14 teams set to kickoff their playoff campaign this weekend, let’s see what each team had to accomplish to get to January football. And also predict the outcome of the games that lie ahead. 


1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)

The Chiefs will be resting at home during Wild Card weekend as almost the rest of the teams will be vying to advance in the playoffs. The Chiefs ended the regular season with a loss to Justin Herbert and the Chargers. However, that loss was with Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the majority of the Kansas City starters resting for the playoffs. Besides that loss, the Chiefs have only one other falter in the regular season. That was to the Raiders back in week 5. 

It is definitely apparent that Kansas City is the team to beat in the very talented AFC. Patrick Mahomes once again seems to be competing for both another Super Bowl and MVP award. Travis Kelce led the NFL in Receiving yards per game and Touchdowns for a Tight End in a historic season. Even with the depth of teams that could contend in the AFC, I only see two possible teams that could dethrone the defending Super Bowl Champions. And if they hope to beat KC, it will have to be on the road as the path to the Super Bowl in the AFC will go through Kansas City. 


2. Buffalo Bills (13-3) 

For the first time since the early 1990s, the Buffalo Bills look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. I believe that this is one of the teams that has the best chance to knock off the Chiefs in both the AFC and NFC. The Bills have gotten hot at just the right time on both offense and defense. This team is playing like a runaway train that may not be stopped. Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll has done a tremendous job in handling the offense and molding Josh Allen into a MVP caliber Quarterback. Head Coach Sean McDermott has continued to have a top ten defense be present in games every week. 

What has been so surprising the past few games has been the offensive production. The Bills have put up over 30 points in four of their past five games including scoring 56 points versus the Dolphins who were fighting for a playoff spot. This team is legit and they will be extremely difficult to stop for most of the NFL. 


3. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)

The Steelers began the season on an 11 game winning streak. The Offense had a balanced run and pass game, the defense looked like the best group in the NFL, Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was playing like he was ten years younger, everything was going perfect for the Steelers. Now, the Steelers have ended the season losing 4 of their final 5 games.

Pittsburgh was gifted with a very easy first half of the season which included games against the NFC East and AFC South. However, playing teams like the Bills, Colts, and Browns have made their schedule more difficult. But they have even lost to teams such as Washington (7-9) and Cincinnati (4-11-1). The big question for the Steelers is if they can reignite and stabilize their inconsistent and stagnant offense. That would be necessary for Pittsburgh if they hope to take down teams like Buffalo or Kansas City. The Steelers are definitely a team currently that is not trending in the right direction entering the playoffs. 


4. Tennessee Titans (11-5) 

Tennessee has finally shaken off the label of a “mediocre” team. The Titans will finish with a record better than 9-7 for the first time in 13 years. This means that Tennessee will host a playoff game for the first time in that timespan. This is because of the emergence of a high powered offense led by Runningback Derrick Henry. Henry surpassed 2,000 rushing yards this season that puts him in legendary rushing status along with the likes of Adrian Peterson, Barry Sanders, and Eric Dickerson. 

Besides Henry, Ryan Tannehill has been a solid Quarterback for Tennessee since his arrival from Miami last season. Another bright spot for the Titans has been second year Wide Receiver  A.J. Brown who is one of the best young players in the NFL. The Titans offense has been producing for mostly the entire season. However, their defense has been extremely suspect in the latter half of the year. Last week alone, the Titans conceded 38 points to the 4-12 Houston Texans in a must win game for Tennessee. This may turn out to be the Achilles heel for the Titans in January. 


5. Baltimore Ravens  (11-5)

At the beginning of the Regular Season, I expected the Ravens to finish the season with more losses than other people believed. Baltimore will be playing in the playoffs this season, but they will not be in as good of a position as they may have thought entering the regular season. Nevertheless, the Ravens will still be playing January football. 

Baltimore has had a rollercoaster type of year, starting off the year 5-1, but losing four of their next five games. However, Baltimore finished the season on a five game winning streak. So the Ravens come into the playoffs riding a bit of a hot streak. This has been due to the improvement of Quarterback Lamar Jackson in the second half of the season. The team has talent in almost every facet of the game. But there just seems to be something about the Ravens and Lamar Jackson in the playoffs. Jackson is 0-2 in the playoffs in his career and one of those losses was to Tennessee last season: Their opponent in the Wild Card this season. It will be interesting to see what is in store for Baltimore in the playoffs this season. 


6. Cleveland Browns (11-5)

Welcome back Cleveland, it’s been awhile. The Browns are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 which was the longest playoff drought in the NFL. It came down to the final week of the season, but the Browns got the win versus the Steelers to get into the playoffs.

The Browns have been overall a pretty balanced team throughout the season. Their offense is headed by Quarterback Baker Mayfield who had a solid season that was good enough for the Browns with limited weapons at Wide Receiver. Their lead back Nick Chubb was also very productive ranking third in rushing yards per game this season. Cleveland will play Pittsburgh for the second week in a row in the Wild Card round this weekend. Most Browns fans are just happy to be here, but it is a definite possibility that Cleveland can steal a win. However, they will be without Head Coach Kevin Stefanski who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. 


7. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) 

The final team from the AFC to get a playoff spot will be the Indianapolis Colts. Like the Browns, the Colts are a very balanced team with a consistent run game and a formidable defense. They have a veteran Quarterback leading the offense in Phillip Rivers who has the job of keeping the offense moving up the field against the Bills this weekend. Their run game has really improved near the end of the season with rookie running back Johnathan Taylor. 

The Colts defense has been a staple for this team since week one with it being in the top ten for yards allowed per game, points per game, and takeaways this season. The defense has been giving up more points lately but it has been known to step up in bigger games. With the Colts balanced attack, I firmly believe they have what it takes to beat Kansas City. However, they have to get through Buffalo first to get to the Chiefs which I am not so sure they will accomplish. 


AFC Wild Card Matchups: 

Pittsburgh Steelers vs 6. Cleveland Browns 7:15 NBC (Sunday)

Cleveland is missing multiple players, and coaches due to COVID-19 for this week’s game in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have been struggling lately on offense but I believe that they will do just enough to get by the Browns. This will be a hard fought game for both sides with a possibility of either team coming out on top. I just think that losing multiple players and their head coach to Covid may be the tipping point for the Browns. 

Final Score: Steelers 20-17 


Tennessee Titans vs 5. Baltimore Ravens 12:05 ESPN (Sunday) 

The Titans and Ravens will face off for the second year in a row in the playoffs. The Titans won last season 28-14 with Baltimore being the No.1 team in the Conference. This game is a toss up with both teams having offenses that are clicking, we will definitely see a lot of points on the scoreboard. The X-Factor for Tennessee will be Ryan Tannehill and how he plays. These two played each other earlier this season with the Titans winning in Overtime so the Ravens have already seen them once this season. If the Titans can just play some defense in this game I think Tennessee will get the win, but it relies on that happening. I think Mike Vrabel can get his defense ready for Lamar Jackson just like he did last season. 

Final Score: Titans 35-31