2019 NFL playoff predictions: AFC North runs through Cleveland!

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  • By NFL.com
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With the 2019 NFL season just around the corner, our analysts project the playoff field.

Participating analysts: Brian Baldinger, Judy Battista, Jeremy Bergman, Ali Bhanpuri, Tom Blair, Gil Brandt, David Carr, Charley Casserly, Brooke Cersosimo, Jeffri Chadiha, Dave Dameshek, Gennaro Filice, Akbar Gbajabiamila, Marcas Grant, DeAngelo Hall, Dan Hanzus, James Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Steve Mariucci, Shaun O'Hara, Dan Parr, Kevin Patra, Adam Rank, Marcel Reece, Gregg Rosenthal, Adam Schein, Marc Sessler, Joe Thomas, Jim Trotter.

AFC East champs

1. New England Patriots (28 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Bhanpuri, Blair, Brandt, Casserly, Cersosimo, Chadiha, Dameshek, Filice, Gbajabiamila, Grant, Hall, Hanzus, Jones, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, O'Hara, Parr, Patra, Rank, Reece, Rosenthal, Schein, Sessler, Thomas, Trotter)
2. New York Jets (1 vote: Carr)

Why Gregg Rosenthal chose the Patriots: This is the deepest, most versatile defense Bill Belichick has had in years. With a strong offensive line and the deepest backfield of the Tom Brady era, the Pats can figure out the offense as they go (like they did a year ago).

AFC North champs

1. Cleveland Browns (13 votes: Bhanpuri, Blair, Carr, Casserly, Dameshek, Hall, Jones, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, Rank, Reece, Schein, Thomas)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (12 votes: Battista, Bergman, Brandt, Cersosimo, Chadiha, Filice, Gbajabiamila, Hanzus, O'Hara, Patra, Rosenthal, Trotter)
3. Baltimore Ravens (4 votes: Baldinger, Grant, Parr, Sessler)

Why David Carr chose the Browns: There is so much talent on John Dorsey's roster, and expectations are cresting among long-downtrodden Dawg Pounders. I anticipate this gifted group will handle it well and get back to the top of the division for the first time in 30 years.

AFC South champs

1. Houston Texans (14 votes: Battista, Brandt, Casserly, Cersosimo, Chadiha, Dameshek, Filice, Gbajabiamila, Grant, Hall, Hanzus, Mariucci, O'Hara, Reece)
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (10 votes: Bergman, Bhanpuri, Carr, Jones, Jones-Drew, Patra, Rank, Schein, Thomas, Trotter)
3. Indianapolis Colts (4 votes: Baldinger, Parr, Rosenthal, Sessler)
4. Tennessee Titans (1 vote: Blair)

Why Shaun O'Hara chose the Texans: Even with the loss of Lamar Miller, Bill O'Brien's offense shouldn't fall off -- especially after trading for Duke Johnson. Quarterback Deshaun Watson continues to improve, and DeAndre Hopkins is the most valuable receiver in this league. The defense has been solid in recent years, but the biggest thing is, the other three teams have more question marks than Houston.

AFC West champs

1. Kansas City Chiefs (22 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Bhanpuri, Blair, Brandt, Cersosimo, Chadiha, Filice, Gbajabiamila, Grant, Hall, Hanzus, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, O'Hara, Patra, Rank, Rosenthal, Schein, Sessler, Trotter)
2. Los Angeles Chargers (4 votes: Casserly, Dameshek, Jones, Thomas)
3. Oakland Raiders (3 votes: Carr, Parr, Reece)

Why Marc Sessler chose the Chiefs: The Chiefs return the entire offensive core, with added weapons in Mecole Hardman and Darwin Thompson. Football heads close to the team believe Patrick Mahomes has grown even more comfortable in the offense. EVEN MORE COMFORTABLE. Fill my belly with bath salts and I'll pick someone else to win the West.

AFC Wild Card 1

1. Los Angeles Chargers (10 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bhanpuri, Grant, Hall, Mariucci, Patra, Rank, Schein, Trotter)
T-2. Kansas City Chiefs (6 votes: Casserly, Dameshek, Jones, Parr, Reece, Thomas)
T-2. Cleveland Browns (6 votes: Bergman, Chadiha, Filice, Gbajabiamila, Hanzus, O'Hara)
4. Baltimore Ravens (3 votes: Blair, Jones-Drew, Rosenthal)
T-5. Buffalo Bills (1 vote: Brandt)
T-5. Jacksonville Jaguars (1 vote: Cersosimo)
T-5. New England Patriots (1 vote: Carr)
T-5. New York Jets (1 vote: Sessler)

Why Kevin Patra chose the Chargers: The cloud surrounding the Chargers is grim. From the Melvin Gordon holdout to Derwin James' crushing injury to Russell Okung's absence on a still-wobbly offensive line, it has not been a sunshine-and-rainbows offseason in L.A. for the Bolts. Still, this team -- with Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, two capable stand-in RBs (Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson), Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Casey Hayward and rising first-round pick Jerry Tillery -- has plenty of firepower to blast past the glut of teams battling for wild cards in the AFC. After years and years of being offseason hype-bunnies, perhaps flying more under the radar will be a positive for the Chargers.

AFC Wild Card 2

T-1. Cleveland Browns (6 votes: Baldinger, Cersosimo, Parr, Rosenthal, Sessler, Trotter)
T-1. Los Angeles Chargers (6 votes: Bergman, Brandt, Carr, Chadiha, Jones-Drew, O'Hara)
T-3. Baltimore Ravens (4 votes: Bhanpuri, Filice, Hall, Patra)
T-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (4 votes: Casserly, Dameshek, Mariucci, Rank)
T-5. Buffalo Bills (2 votes: Schein, Thomas)
T-5. Jacksonville Jaguars (2 votes: Battista, Reece)
T-5. New York Jets (2 votes: Blair, Hanzus)
T-5. Oakland Raiders (2 votes: Gbajabiamila, Jones)
9. Indianapolis Colts (1 vote: Grant)

Why Adam Rank chose the Steelers: The Andrew Luck retirement has a domino effect on the competitiveness in the AFC. I had the Steelers as a "first out" in the beginning of the summer, but they move ahead of the Colts here. Mostly because the defense looks much more competitive, thanks in no small part to Devin Bush. And sign me up for Browns vs. Steelers in the opening round of the playoffs.

NFC East champs

1. Philadelphia Eagles (23 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Bhanpuri, Carr, Casserly, Cersosimo, Chadiha, Dameshek, Filice, Gbajabiamila, Grant, Hanzus, Jones, Mariucci, O'Hara, Parr, Patra, Rank, Reece, Rosenthal, Schein, Sessler)
2. Dallas Cowboys (6 votes: Blair, Brandt, Hall, Jones-Drew, Thomas, Trotter)

Why Steve Mariucci chose the Eagles: The Eagles return their key offensive pieces, including Carson Wentz, and added depth to the backfield with Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders, while the defense also returns plenty of starters. From top to bottom, Doug Pederson's group is the best in the East.

NFC North champs

1. Minnesota Vikings (13 votes: Bergman, Carr, Casserly, Cersosimo, Chadiha, Dameshek, Grant, Hanzus, Jones-Drew, O'Hara, Parr, Patra, Rosenthal)
2. Chicago Bears (10 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bhanpuri, Blair, Brandt, Hall, Mariucci, Rank, Reece, Trotter)
3. Green Bay Packers (6 votes: Filice, Gbajabiamila, Jones, Schein, Sessler, Thomas)

Why Marcas Grant chose the Vikings: Last year, Kirk Cousins wasn't quite the guy a lot of people expected him to be when the Vikings added him as a high-priced free agent. But it doesn't mean that he was all bad. This year, he'll be more comfortable with his cast of characters and hopefully will have a fully healthy Dalvin Cook to take some of the pressure off. The only concern will be the offensive line -- especially in a division that will force Minnesota to see Khalil Mack and the Bears twice. As long as Mike Zimmer is hanging around, the defense won't be a concern. This might be the most competitive division in the NFL, but with a couple of good breaks, the Vikes should end up on top.

NFC South champs

1. New Orleans Saints (24 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Bhanpuri, Blair, Carr, Casserly, Chadiha, Gbajabiamila, Grant, Hall, Hanzus, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, O'Hara, Parr, Patra, Rank, Reece, Rosenthal, Schein, Sessler, Thomas, Trotter)
2. Atlanta Falcons (5 votes: Brandt, Cersosimo, Dameshek, Filice, Jones)

Why Joe Thomas chose the Saints: The Saints are returning the most dynamic offense in the NFL. It's a unit that can beat you in conventional ("Drew, go throw a touchdown pass") and unconventional ("Taysom, go draw up a Wildcat play in the dirt and score a touchdown") ways. They have quietly built a defense that gets after the quarterback and finds a way to force turnovers in bunches. Sacks, takeaways and historic efficiency at the quarterback position -- that's a recipe for the Saints to easily win another NFC South title.

NFC West champs

1. Los Angeles Rams (25 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Bhanpuri, Blair, Brandt, Carr, Casserly, Cersosimo, Chadiha, Filice, Gbajabiamila, Grant, Hall, Hanzus, Jones-Drew, Mariucci, O'Hara, Parr, Patra, Rank, Reece, Rosenthal, Schein, Sessler)
T-2. San Francisco 49ers (2 votes: Dameshek, Jones)
T-2. Seattle Seahawks (2 votes: Thomas, Trotter)

Why Adam Schein chose the Rams: Sean McVay is sensational. Aaron Donald is the best defensive player on the planet. Yes, Todd Gurley's knee scares me, but McVay will make it work. And don't go crazy over the preseason 2.48 ypc: Rookie back Darrell Henderson can play. (Not to mention, he's already proving effective in the passing game.) Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp form a prolific and high-powered passing attack under McVay's watchful eye (and play-calling).

NFC Wild Card 1

1. Dallas Cowboys (8 votes: Baldinger, Bergman, Bhanpuri, Chadiha, Dameshek, Filice, Parr, Sessler)
2. Seattle Seahawks (6 votes: Battista, Blair, Carr, Gbajabiamila, Rank, Reece)
3. Atlanta Falcons (4 votes: Hall, O'Hara, Patra, Schein)
T-4. Carolina Panthers (2 votes: Hanzus, Rosenthal)
T-4. Chicago Bears (2 votes: Casserly, Grant)
T-4. Los Angeles Rams (2 votes: Thomas, Trotter)
T-4. Minnesota Vikings (2 votes: Jones, Mariucci)
T-4. Philadelphia Eagles (2 votes: Brandt, Jones-Drew)
9. New Orleans Saints (1 vote: Cersosimo)

Why Jeffri Chadiha chose the Cowboys: It feels like the Cowboys are better when they have drama around them. They will start slow and finish with enough fury to make the postseason on the final week.

NFC Wild Card 2

1. Atlanta Falcons (6 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bhanpuri, Carr, Gbajabiamila, Mariucci)
T-2. Chicago Bears (5 votes: Bergman, Jones, Jones-Drew, Parr, Sessler)
T-2. Dallas Cowboys (5 votes: Casserly, Grant, Hanzus, Reece, Schein)
T-4. Carolina Panthers (2 votes: Chadiha, Trotter)
T-4. Green Bay Packers (2 votes: Rank, Rosenthal)
T-4. Philadelphia Eagles (2 votes: Blair, Hall)
T-7. Detroit Lions (1 vote: Patra)
T-7. Los Angeles Rams (1 vote: Dameshek)
T-7. Minnesota Vikings (1 vote: Brandt)
T-7. New Orleans Saints (1 vote: Filice)
T-7. New York Giants (1 vote: O'Hara)
T-7. San Francisco 49ers (1 vote: Thomas)
T-7. Seattle Seahawks (1 vote: Cersosimo)

Why Judy Battista chose the Falcons: Remember, it was injuries that doomed Atlanta last season -- and the offense is still loaded, with Dirk Koetter back in charge. The Falcons will have to claw for this spot in a brutal division and against one of the league's toughest schedules.

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