Nov 26, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders perform during the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Lincoln Financial Field. The Panthers defeated the Eagles 30-22. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
It’s been a long journey, hasn’t it, Adele?
“This is the end.”
Let the skyfall, or something.
Not a great song, but it somehow feels appropriate for the final piece in our way-too-early NFL predictions. They’ve been a good friend, taken us all the way through the offseason and given us an excuse to feature photos of Eagles cheerleaders.
Let’s all shed a tear together.
For reference, you may want to check in on at least the Week 17 preview. You can get the a look at the final NFL standings and how we arrived at this moment.
We’re going to run through it all in one shot, from the wild card games to the Super Bowl.
Let’s do this.
Wild Card Weekend
San Francisco @ Chicago (Saturday afternoon)
This will be a heck of a way to open up the NFL playoffs. Here are two teams that, thanks to some brutal schedules, started off slowly before getting on late rolls and reaching the postseason.
For the Bears, it is sweet redemption after a collapse at the conclusion of the 2013 season. They rebounded to win a division title.
For the 49ers, they managed to survive the NFC West and reach the playoffs as a wild card, forced to make run on the road if they hope to reach the Super Bowl.
They’ll take that first step here.
As much as the Bears might have going for them, the 49ers are too impressive overall and they’ve done it on this kind of stage before. They survive and advance. San Francisco 26, Chicago 17
New England @ Buffalo (Saturday night)
I’ve been riding this Buffalo bandwagon all season long. I’m high on the Bills. I like what they’ve done in building a team. I like what they’ve done in free agency. I like what they did in the draft.
In the previous two meetings between the Patriots and Bills, including Week 17 in Foxboro, I’ve gone with Buffalo. I believe that, right now, they’re the better team.
But this is reality and the better team doesn’t always win. In the playoffs, where the Patriots have made their name, success can breed success.
I’m going with that success. I’m going with Tom Brady. I wish it wasn’t true. If Buffalo was playing anyone else in the first round, I’d stick with them, but to beat New England three times in one season? That’s just too much. New England 31, Buffalo 20
Baltimore @ Indianapolis (early Sunday)
Two teams that entered the playoffs in very different ways.
The Ravens have been locked into a wild card spot for a while and have been in cruise control. In my mock season, they would have given a lot of players off in Week 17, treating it as a bye.
The Colts were chasing after a first-round bye all season, pushing to the bitter end and coming up short.
I’m not sure if either scenario gives a team an advantage, but I am certain that Indianapolis is a better team. They advance. Indianapolis 24, Baltimore 17
New York Giants @ Philadelphia (late Sunday)
It has to be tough to beat a team three times in one season. That is something the Eagles will be trying to do in this wild card game.
It has to be even more difficult to beat a team twice in the same week. That’s something else the Eagles will be trying to do in this game.
This is going to be a tough, tough game for both of these teams. They already don’t like each other, familiarity breeds contempt, and by this point they’ll be very, very familiar with each other.
Still, I think Chip Kelly and the Eagles take at least one step forward in the playoffs this season. So long as the Giants don’t figure out something and expose a hole in the Eagle defense, the Birds will find a way to get this done.
But it will be very, very close. Philadelphia 23, New York Giants 21
Philadelphia @ Carolina (Saturday afternoon)
Funny how things work out. Back in Week 10, the Eagles played the Panthers on Monday Night Football. I predicted a close loss for the Birds, a defeat that ended up costing them a first-round bye. So, instead of sitting at home and resting while watching Carolina battle the Giants, the Eagles had to play a wild card game and now take a trip to Carolina.
The Panthers are one of those teams that’s a danger to the Eagles. They have the kind of quality defense I believe can slow down Philadelphia’s attack. They have enough offense to give the Birds headaches and score points.
I don’t think the Eagles win a Super Bowl this year (spoiler alert), but I also don’t think they’re done for at this point in the playoffs. They win and keep the season alive for another week. Philadelphia 27, Carolina 24
New England @ Denver (Saturday night)
I don’t think there is any doubt that, given this matchup, the NFL picks anyone else as its prime time game on Saturday. Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning. The old guard. Two classic teams with classic quarterbacks.
I don’t think the game lives up to the hype. New England will have worked very hard in the wild card round just to make it to this point. Denver gets them at home, after a trip across the country. I’m going with Peyton. Denver 35, New England 21
Indianapolis @ Cincinnati (early Sunday)
While most of the country is catching up on yardwork, raking leaves, etc., in preparation for the late Sunday game, this one will be worth the watch to those who invest the time. Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Buffalo. This is the new blood of the AFC.
The Bengals are one of those teams that probably should have made a serious run a year ago, maybe even two. Sometimes those teams miss their window and disappear. I don’t see that happening here.
I like Cincinnati. I think their offense explodes this year. Their defense is solid. This will be a heck of a football game, one of the higher-scoring games in the playoffs. Put the leaves off for another day. Cincinnati 45, Indianapolis 41
San Francisco @ Seattle (late Sunday)
Maybe a week earlier than some would like, what has become the best rivalry in the NFL is in the playoff spotlight.
It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be ugly. It’s going to be the kind of game football fans love.
And in the end, the 49ers get a little revenge. San Francisco 16, Seattle 14
San Francisco @ Philadelphia
I am hopeful the Philadelphia Eagles will win (at least) a Super Bowl under Chip Kelly. I don’t think it happens this year, nor do I think the Eagles get there this year.
No, the 49ers are primed to make a return trip and not worry about playing anyone’s (perhaps smarter) brother this time around.
It’s going to be a heck of a season for the Eagles, but it will end like so many did under Andy Reid. NFC Championship Game. At Lincoln Financial Field. Ugh. San Francisco 29, Philadelphia 20
Cincinnati @ Denver
Peyton Manning is so close to getting back to the Super Bowl. It’s just not going to happen.
This is a time of change in the AFC. Maybe Manning or Brady will have another run in them sometime, but the young guns are taking charge. Loving the Bengals to go to the Super Bowl. Cincinnati 30, Denver 26
Super Bowl XLIX
San Francisco v. Cincinnati
And I’m seeing red. Not 49er red. But bright, red hair.
It’s the year of the Tiger in the NFL. The Cincinnati Bengals will be Super Bowl champions.
Final score: Cincinnati 26, San Francisco 23