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2018 NFL playoff predictions: Patriots, Rams, Chiefs all locks

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  • By NFL.com
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With the 2018 NFL season at its midpoint, our analysts revisit/revise their preseason award winners, playoff predictions and Super Bowl picks.

Participating analysts: Judy Battista, Jeremy Bergman, Gil Brandt, Reggie Bush, David Carr, Charley Casserly, Jeffri Chadiha, Cynthia Frelund, Dan Hanzus, Elliot Harrison, Daniel Jeremiah, James Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Adam Rank, Adam Schein, Marc Sessler, Nick Shook, Herbie Teope, Jim Trotter, Reggie Wayne.

AFC East champs

UNANIMOUS PICK: New England Patriots (20 votes: Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Casserly, Chadiha, Frelund, Hanzus, Harrison, Jeremiah, Jones, Jones-Drew, Rank, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Teope, Trotter, Wayne)

Why Judy Battista chose the Patriots: That little early-season blip by the Dolphins was tantalizing, but let's get real. The Patriots are doing what they always do -- stumbling early to make everybody think that they are vulnerable, then building toward a postseason surge. Book it.

AFC North champs

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (15 votes: Battista, Brandt, Casserly, Chadiha, Hanzus, Harrison, Jones, Jones-Drew, Rank, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Teope, Trotter, Wayne)
2. Baltimore Ravens (3 votes: Bergman, Carr, Frelund)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (2 votes: Bush, Jeremiah)

Why Jim Trotter chose the Steelers: They've won three in a row, lead the division by 1.5 games, and have only one remaining road game against a team with a winning record. Oh, and they're expected to get back one of the game's top players (Le'Veon Bell) within the next two weeks.

AFC South champs

1. Houston Texans (16 votes: Battista, Brandt, Bush, Chadiha, Carr, Casserly, Frelund, Hanzus, Harrison, Jeremiah, Jones-Drew, Rank, Schein, Shook, Teope, Trotter)
2. Indianapolis Colts (3 votes: Bergman, Sessler, Wayne)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (1 vote: Jones)

Why Maurice Jones-Drew chose the Texans: The Texans are playing well on both offense and defense right now. So well that they've reeled off five straight wins to claim the top spot in the division. It helps that the rest of the AFC South clan hasn't been great. With a ton of talent on the roster, the Texans could be a scary team down the stretch.

AFC West champs

UNANIMOUS PICK: Kansas City Chiefs (20 votes: Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Casserly, Chadiha, Frelund, Hanzus, Harrison, Jeremiah, Jones, Jones-Drew, Rank, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Teope, Trotter, Wayne)

Why Dan Hanzus chose the Chiefs: It has all come together for the Chiefs, who bet big on Patrick Mahomes and hit blackjack. Last year we saw a mid-year swoon for Kansas City's dynamic offense. Don't expect that to happen again.

AFC Wild Card 1

1. Los Angeles Chargers (18 votes: Battista, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Chadiha, Frelund, Hanzus, Harrison, Jeremiah, Jones, Jones-Drew, Rank, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Teope, Trotter, Wayne)
T-2. Baltimore Ravens (1 vote: Casserly)
T-2 Pittsburgh Steelers (1 vote: Bergman)

Why Nick Shook chose the Chargers: They're not far behind the division-leading Chiefs, but with Kansas City showing no signs of slowing down and a favorable schedule ahead for the Chargers, they cruise into the first wild-card spot. With Philip Rivers playing some of the best football of his career and an opportunistic defense improving with each week, Los Angeles presents a serious threat to any opponent moving forward.

AFC Wild Card 2

1. Baltimore Ravens (9 votes: Chadiha, Hanzus, Harrison, Jones-Drew, Rank, Sessler, Shook, Teope, Wayne)
2. Cincinnati Bengals (3 votes: Brandt, Carr, Schein)
T-3. Los Angeles Chargers (2 votes: Bergman, Casserly)
T-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (2 votes: Bush, Frelund)
T-5. Indianapolis Colts (1 vote: Jeremiah)
T-5. Jacksonville Jaguars (1 vote: Battista)
T-5. Houston Texans (1 vote: Jones)
T-5. Tennessee Titans (1 vote: Trotter)

Why Jeffri Chadiha chose the Ravens: In a year where offensive firepower is a dominant storyline around the league, Baltimore is trying to still win with defense. That should be enough to get them into the postseason in the mediocre AFC.

NFC East champs

1. Philadelphia Eagles (10 votes: Brandt, Bush, Carr, Hanzus, Frelund, Jeremiah, Jones-Drew, Rank, Schein, Shook)
2. Washington Redskins (8 votes: Battista, Bergman, Casserly, Chadiha, Harrison, Jones, Sessler, Trotter)
3. Dallas Cowboys (2 votes: Teope, Wayne)

Why Jim Trotter chose the Redskins: They're my pick not only because they've won three in a row and have a two-game lead in the loss column, but also because they've tapped into a time-tested formula for success: good defense + strong running game + ball-security quarterback = high probability for victory, particularly when the weather turns bad.

NFC North champs

1. Minnesota Vikings (14 votes: Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Casserly, Chadiha, Harrison, Jeremiah, Schein, Shook, Sessler, Teope, Wayne)
2. Green Bay Packers (4 votes: Hanzus, Frelund, Jones, Trotter)
3. Chicago Bears (2 votes: Jones-Drew, Rank)

Why Judy Battista chose the Vikings: The Vikings and Bears are similarly balanced between offense and defense. But if you have to pick a quarterback to win a game, Kirk Cousins would be the pick over Mitch Trubisky, and it may come down to just that on the final Sunday of the regular season with the division on the line.

NFC South champs

1. New Orleans Saints (18 votes: Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Casserly, Chadiha, Frelund, Harrison, Jones-Drew Jeremiah, Rank, Schein, Shook, Sessler, Teope, Trotter, Wayne)
2. Carolina Panthers (2 votes: Hanzus, Jones)

Why Herbie Teope chose the Saints: The Saints will face a challenge in this division from the Panthers, but the team from The Big Easy is built to win now. Sean Payton has a perfect foundation of veterans -- anchored by Drew Brees -- and youth, all of which proves more than enough to put the Saints on top.

NFC West champs

UNANIMOUS PICK: Los Angeles Rams (20 votes: Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Bush, Carr, Casserly, Chadiha, Frelund, Hanzus, Harrison, Jeremiah, Jones, Jones-Drew, Rank, Schein, Sessler, Shook, Teope, Trotter, Wayne)

Why Jeremy Bergman chose the Rams: Undefeated through eight games, the Rams are a shoo-in to win the West. It'd be journalistic malpractice to suggest otherwise. The Cards and Niners have eyes on the lottery, and the Seahawks won't make up enough ground to take the division, though a playoff spot is still attainable.

NFC Wild Card 1

1. Carolina Panthers (10 votes: Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Frelund, Harrison, Jeremiah, Sessler, Shook, Trotter, Wayne)
T-2. New Orleans Saints (2 votes: Hanzus, Jones)
T-2. Green Bay Packers (2 votes: Casserly, Teope)
T-2. Minnesota Vikings (2 votes: Jones-Drew, Rank)
T-5. Chicago Bears (1 vote: Schein)
T-5. Philadelphia Eagles (1 vote: Chadiha)
T-5. Detroit Lions (1 vote: Carr)
T-5. Washington Redskins (1 vote: Bush)

Why Gil Brandt chose the Panthers: Cam Newton's pairing with Norv Turner has paid huge dividends for the Panthers, as the quarterback is on pace for a career-best completion percentage (66.4) while posting a TD-to-INT ratio of 13:4. Notably, Newton has also been sacked just 10 times despite playing behind a patchwork offensive line. Carolina has a chance to catch the Saints in the NFC South, with two games left against New Orleans (part of a three-game stretch of divisional games to close the season), but even if the Panthers fall short, I like them as the best of the wild-card field.

NFC Wild Card 2

1. Carolina Panthers (6 votes: Bush, Carr, Casserly, Chadiha, Jones-Drew, Teope)
T-2. Green Bay Packers (3 votes: Harrison, Schein, Wayne)
T-2. Seattle Seahawks (3 votes: Brandt, Rank, Trotter)
T-2. Minnesota Vikings (3 votes: Hanzus, Frelund, Jones)
T-5. Chicago Bears (2 votes: Bergman, Jeremiah)
T-5. Philadelphia Eagles (2 votes: Battista, Sessler)
T-7. Washington Redskins (1 vote: Shook)

Why Adam Rank chose the Seahawks: The Seahawks are a sneaky playoff contender in the NFC because they can run the ball so well. They averaged around 100 yards per game in the first month, but are now clocking in at around 170 per over their last three games. By doing that, Russell Wilson can do what he does best: operate off of play-action. The Seahawks are now a team with a legit offense and a not-too-bad defense. It's not the Legion of Boom, but it's good.

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