2018 NFL playoff predictions: Patriots, Rams unanimous picks

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With the 2018 NFL season just around the corner, our analysts provide their predictions on individual award winners and playoff teams. Check back later this week for Super Bowl picks.

Participating analysts: Brian Baldinger, Judy Battista, Jeremy Bergman, Gil Brandt, Reggie Bush, David Carr, Charley Casserly, Cynthia Frelund, Marcas Grant, Elliot Harrison, James Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Steve Mariucci, Kevin Patra, Adam Rank, Michael Robinson, Gregg Rosenthal, Adam Schein, Marc Sessler, Nick Shook, LaDainian Tomlinson.

AFC East champs

UNANIMOUS PICK: New England Patriots (21 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Casserly, Frelund, Grant, Harrison, Jones, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, Patra, Rank, Robinson, Rosenthal, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Tomlinson)

Why Judy Battista chose the Patriots: Yes, Julian Edelman is suspended and Danny Amendola is gone and Tom Brady is 41 and blahblahblah. While there was an unusual amount of drama this offseason, the Patriots inevitably find a way around annual obstacles. And while New England's hold on the AFC might not have the iron grip of years past, the Patriots will eke out one more Super Bowl run.

AFC North champs

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (14 votes: Battista, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Casserly, Frelund, Grant, Harrison, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Tomlinson)
2. Baltimore Ravens (6 votes: Baldinger, Bergman, Patra, Rank, Robinson, Rosenthal)
3. Cleveland Browns (1 vote: Jones)

Why Adam Schein chose the Steelers: This could be the final run with the Killer Bs all together. Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will power the Steelers to a top-two offense in the NFL and Pittsburgh will win the division by multiple games.

AFC South champs

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (13 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Frelund, Harrison, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, Rank, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Tomlinson)
2. Houston Texans (7 votes: Bush, Carr, Casserly, Grant, Jones, Patra, Robinson)
3. Tennessee Titans (1 vote: Rosenthal)

Why Steve Mariucci chose the Jaguars: Any time a team has a top defense, it's often considered at least a playoff team -- and sometimes even a title contender. I don't see the Jags being any worse of a team talent-wise than they were at the end of last season.

AFC West champs

1. Los Angeles Chargers (16 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Bush, Casserly, Grant, Harrison, Jones-Drew, Patra, Rank, Rosenthal, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Tomlinson)
2. Oakland Raiders (3 votes: Carr, Jones, Mariucci)
T-3. Denver Broncos (1 vote: Robinson)
T-3. Kansas City Chiefs (1 vote: Frelund)

Why Gregg Rosenthal chose the Chargers: The rosters in the rest of the AFC West are in various states of transition, while the Chargers are loaded at nearly every position group. There's nothing standing in the way of this team and a playoff bye, except perhaps a lack of home-field advantage.

AFC Wild Card 1

T-1. Jacksonville Jaguars (4 votes: Bush, Casserly, Patra, Rosenthal)
T-1. Tennessee Titans (4 votes: Brandt, Rank, Shook, Tomlinson)
T-3 Houston Texans (3 votes: Frelund, Harrison, Schein)
T-3 Kansas City Chiefs (3 votes: Battista, Grant, Mariucci)
T-3 Pittsburgh Steelers (3 votes: Baldinger, Bergman, Robinson)
6. Los Angeles Chargers (2 votes: Carr, Jones)
T-7. Baltimore Ravens (1 vote: Sessler)
T-7. Oakland Raiders (1 vote: Jones-Drew)

Why Adam Rank chose the Titans: The Titans are one of the most-besmirched returning playoff teams I can remember. Hell, they won a playoff game. (Even though it was against the Chiefs, it's still a win.) Now they have a coaching staff with an offense that's actually suited for players in the year 2018. It's like the first time your family brought home a flat screen -- it may or may not be top of the line, but it is clearly better than that old black-and-white tube TV.

AFC Wild Card 2

T-1. Baltimore Ravens (4 votes: Battista, Brandt, Grant, Shook)
T-1. Denver Broncos (4 votes: Casserly, Frelund, Rank, Tomlinson)
T-1. Houston Texans (4 votes: Baldinger, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, Sessler)
T-4. Kansas City Chiefs (2 votes: Bush, Schein)
T-4. Pittsburgh Steelers (2 votes: Jones, Patra)
T-4. Tennessee Titans (2 votes: Harrison, Robinson)
T-7. Cincinnati Bengals (1 vote: Rosenthal)
T-7. Jacksonville Jaguars (1 vote: Carr)
T-7. Miami Dolphins (1 vote: Bergman)

Why Judy Battista chose the Ravens: Joe Flacco looked healthy, razor sharp and highly motivated in the preseason. And a reminder: The Ravens were 9-7 last year despite a string of injuries and a mostly-absent pass rush. A marginally improved pass rush, better receivers and, yes, a better Flacco -- combined with a relatively-weak AFC -- should give the Ravens all the space they need to nab a wild-card spot.

NFC East champs

1. Philadelphia Eagles (19 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Bush, Casserly, Frelund, Grant, Harrison, Jones, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, Patra, Rank, Rosenthal, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Tomlinson)
2. New York Giants (2 votes: Carr, Robinson)

Why Gregg Rosenthal chose the Eagles: Philadelphia has the depth and line play on both sides of the ball to survive what figures to be a slow start to the season as many players recover from injury. And if the Eagles fall flat, their fans are sure to handle it with quiet grace.

NFC North champs

1. Minnesota Vikings (12 votes: Baldinger, Brandt, Carr, Casserly, Grant, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, Rank, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Tomlinson)
2. Green Bay Packers (9 votes: Battista, Bergman, Bush, Frelund, Harrison, Jones, Patra, Robinson, Rosenthal)

Why Brian Baldinger chose the Vikings: Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer have built a team that is poised to thrive for years to come. The NFC North is a tough division, but I like my chances with Minnesota.

NFC South champs

1. New Orleans Saints (13 votes: Baldinger, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Casserly, Frelund, Grant, Harrison, Jones, Patra, Rank, Sessler, Tomlinson)
2. Atlanta Falcons (8 votes: Battista, Bergman, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, Robinson, Rosenthal, Schein, Shook)

Why LaDainian Tomlinson chose the Saints: With Drew Brees' clock winding down, the Saints aren't taking anything for granted. Their offense can beat you through the air or on the ground, and the defense has improved. It's hard to best a team like that.

NFC West champs

UNANIMOUS PICK: Los Angeles Rams (21 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Casserly, Frelund, Grant, Harrison, Jones, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, Patra, Rank, Robinson, Rosenthal, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Tomlinson)

Why Michael Robinson chose the Rams: On paper, L.A. might have the best team in the league.

NFC Wild Card 1

1. Atlanta Falcons (6 votes: Baldinger, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Jones, Sessler)
T-2. Green Bay Packers (5 votes: Grant, Jones-Drew, Rank, Schein, Tomlinson)
T-2. Minnesota Vikings (5 votes: Battista, Bergman, Frelund, Harrison, Patra)
4. New Orleans Saints (3 votes: Mariucci, Rosenthal, Shook)
T-5. New York Giants (1 vote: Casserly)
T-5. Philadelphia Eagles (1 vote: Robinson)

Why Marc Sessler chose the Falcons: From ownership down, the Falcons loom as one of the best-run organizations in the NFL. Top-shelf general manager Thomas Dimitroff has worked wonders alongside a Dan Quinn-led coaching staff that milks the most out of its players. The reward will be sweeter than honey from a bee. (Just wait for my Super Bowl pick ...)

NFC Wild Card 2

1. Green Bay Packers (4 votes: Baldinger, Mariucci, Sessler, Shook)
T-2. Atlanta Falcons (3 votes: Casserly, Harrison, Patra)
T-2. Minnesota Vikings (3 votes: Bush, Jones, Robinson)
T-2. New Orleans Saints (3 votes: Battista, Bergman, Jones-Drew)
T-5. New York Giants (2 votes: Brandt, Grant)
T-5. San Francisco 49ers (2 votes: Frelund, Schein)
T-7. Carolina Panthers (1 vote: Tomlinson)
T-7. Chicago Bears (1 vote: Rank)
T-7. Philadelphia Eagles (1 vote: Carr)
T-7. Seattle Seahawks (1 vote: Rosenthal)

Why Brian Baldinger chose the Packers: Any time Aaron Rodgers is on the field, you can't count the Packers out.

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